Both men have earned critical acclaim for their music and both have a flair for non-musical activities; Hamburger as a successful cardiologist and Boucher as Founder of the immensely popular Festival Classica.

This is a story of two immensely talented musicians who also possess the organizational skills to develop and program concerts, including a feature performance of a once-lost opera; Der Kaiser Von Atlantis composed by Viktor Ulmann. The back story of this work is at once chilling and inspirational.

Since its founding by Marc Boucher, Festival Classica has grown to one of Canada’s largest classical music festivals. Originally staged in the spring and held in beautiful and historic churches on the South Shore in the communities Longueuil, Brossard, Varennes and St. Lambert; the festival has expanded beyond into other months and has moved into concert halls on the Island of Montreal.

Japp Hamburger and Marc Boucher - Festival Classica

Composer Japp Hamburger (left) and Marc Boucher, opera singer and Festival Classica Founder
Photo: Heidi Hollinger / Rondo Banks

This year’s Festival promises to be another celebration of classical music. Marc and his team have also produced outdoor orchestral concerts of The Wall by Pink Floyd, and this year they will offer Starmania, a rock opera in a symphonic version composed by Michel Berger and Luc Plamondon.

True to the musical roots of Founder Marc Boucher, Festival Classica in recent years has established an operatic division; Nouvel Opéra Métropolitain (NOM). NOM is personal with Marc, as he had to travel extensively and perform in Europe in order to make a living for his family, due to a very limited number of performances in Montreal. “My objective is to offer more opportunities to up and coming singers, and to continue to build an audience for opera here in greater Montreal. In Europe, opera is popular across many socio-economic sectors of society, and it can be here as well.”

Three of the four operatic presentations will take place in Salle Claude Champagne, and the fourth in the architecturally beautiful Sainte-Antoine-de-Padoue Co-Cathedral in Longueuil. “Each hall has excellent acoustics and a capacity of approximately 950 people. We don’t use microphones in opera, so it’s important for the hall to be an instrument to deliver our voices,” explained Marc during our conversation.

The festival will also present a once-lost opera Der Kaiser Von Atlantis composed by Viktor Ullmann, with an introduction in English and French by Jaap Nico Hamburger.

Jaap Nico Hamburger is a rare individual who possesses an impressive intellect that has enabled him to make significant achievements in the fields of medicine and music. Born in Amsterdam in the Netherlands, he started studying music when he was just three years old. His mother (a single parent) encouraged his interest in music at an early age. However, as a practical parent, she advised him to study medicine when it came to choosing a profession. “You can play the piano all you want, but medicine is more stable than being a musician.”

Despite his love of music, Jaap took his mother’s advice and enrolled in medical school. He simultaneously enrolled in music and graduated with degrees in medicine and concert piano performance at the same time. When it came to paid work, Jaap stuck with medicine and became a skilled cardiologist. During his 35-year career, he estimates that he performed some 30,000 angioplasties around the world. Jaap moved to Canada in 2000, settling in Vancouver where he continued to practice cardiology surgery for eighteen years. He also served as a clinical professor at the University of British Columbia.

Jaap relocated to Montreal in 2019, and decided to retire from medical practice and return to composing, performing and recording music. When visiting his studio, I couldn’t help but notice an impressive variety of acoustic and electric guitars. Turns out that Jaap is also a rock ‘n’ roll musician!

Jaap’s talents were quickly recognized by the LEAF classical music label; and he has recorded four albums with this industry-leader in classical music in collaboration with ensembles such as Orchestre Métropolitain de Montréal and Ensemble Caprice. Jaap’s works have been nominated for JUNO Awards, including Best Classical Album of the Year in 2023. In 2021, the United Nations and the Government of The Netherlands commissioned Jaap to compose a concerto for the 75th Anniversary of the International Court of Justice. Since 2019 Jaap is the Composer in Residence for Mécénat Musica.

Marc Boucher came to music in his late teens, a bit unusual in the world of classical music. “We had music in the house, as a couple of my siblings studied piano. Somewhat impetuously, Marc decided that he wanted to be an opera singer. “I studied science in my CEGEP years, but decided that I would audition at Vincent D’Indy for their vocal program. I didn’t have the years of practice needed for a musical instrument. For voice – all you had to do was sing. Somewhat to my surprise, the admissions committee accepted me.” Marc went on to the Université de Montréal and obtained his Master’s degree, before signing on with Opéra de Montreal as a trainee from 9194 to ’96.

“In 2008 I was performing La Tosca in Europe, and I asked myself, ‘What could I do for my town?’, and I came up with the idea of starting a classical music festival. I started to work on the idea, approached some sponsors and with the help of our Board, we launched in 2011. This year we’ll celebrate our 13th Anniversary.”

While vacationing at a family cottage on Iles de la Madeleine, Marc received a call from Jaap, unknown to Marc at the time. Jaap introduced himself as a composer of classical music and opera, and suggested that since Marc was the producer of a classical music festival that included opera and that and Marc was also the founder of the nascent Nouvel Opéra Métropolitain, the two musicians had a lot in common. Marc notes; “That quick first call lasted nearly an hour, and I decided that I had to meet Jaap when I returned to Montreal with my wife and sons. As they say, ‘the rest is history’. Today, Jaap Nico Hamburger is an important contributor to Festival Classica and Nouvel Opéra Métropolitain.”

To learn more about this year’s Festival Classica schedule, visit: Festival Classica 2024 – “Classical Beyond Limits”

Der Kaiser Von Atlantis

During WWII, the Nazis established a concentration camp in the city of Terezin. The authorities had rounded up writers, musicians, composers and actors and used the camp for propaganda films to show how well the inmates were being treated. Composer Viktor Ullmann and lyricist Peter Kien were among the inmates.

During their internment, the two composed an opera titled Der Kaiser Von Atlantis, a reference to the mythical lost city of Atlantis. They rehearsed the orchestra and vocalists for a premier performance of the opera, which was and still is a critique of authoritarianism. The night before the performance, Ullmann gave a leather satchel containing his musical scores to Dr. Emil Utitz a trusted friend, a Professor of Philosophy and the camp librarian. Ullmann beseeched him to guard and protect the music, in the hopes that Dr. Utitz might survive captivity.

Knowing that the camp guards and authorities heard the rehearsals, Ullmann was concerned they assumed that the opera was critical of Hitler. Unfortunately, his premonition was correct. The morning of the premiere performance, Ullmann and the musicians were loaded onto to trains and taken to Auschwitz, where they all perished.

The manuscripts were passed along, and eventually lost, although not destroyed. They were discovered almost by accident in 1973, and the first performance of Ullmann’s Der Kaiser Von Atlantis took place in 1975 in Amsterdam. The Festival Classica performance by the Nouvel Opéra Métropolitain of the one act opera will take place on Thursday, June 6 at Salle Claude Champagne at 220 Vincent D’Indy in Outremont. Jaap Nico Hamburger is an expert on the history of this and he will give a pre-curtain talk in English and French. The evening will be concluded by a performance of Hamburger’s first symphony, titled ‘Remember To Forget’.