Montreal tribute concert for Leonard Cohen

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A mural of Leonard Cohen in the Montreal neighborhood that was his home. CreditAndrea Kannapell/The New York Times

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Andrea Kannapell, an editor at The Times, made the pilgrimage from New York to Montreal for the tribute concert for one the city’s best known native sons, the musician and poet Leonard Cohen, who died a year ago this month. Here’s her report.

I confess that I went as a neophyte on Cohen, so this was a real voyage of discovery.

A colleague who is a much deeper scholar of his work told me about the tribute concert and connected me to the Leonard Cohen Forum, which offers aficionados the latest about events related to the singer. On a whim, I bought tickets to the concert at the Bell Center and also booked a spot on a tour the day before that was organized by a forum member.

On Sunday morning, more than 100 of us piled into two tour buses by one of the big hotels. People seemed to be from all over — the Netherlands, Germany, Ireland, even Andorra and Cyprus.

The atmosphere was of a happy reunion — many of the pilgrims had been attending Cohen events for years, including an every-other-year visit to Hydra, the Greek island Cohen happened onto as a young man. There, he bought a house, wrote, and had one of his most iconic affairs (that’s the story behind “So Long, Marianne”).

Befitting his songs’ use of sacred terminology and often transcendent tone, our tour was bookended by houses of faith. One early stop was the synagogue of Cohen’s youth, Shaar Hashomayim, and our last was at the Notre-Dame-de-Bon-Secours Chapel in Old Montreal (which plays into “Suzanne”).

At the temple, the very personable cantor, Gideon Zelermyer, gave an entrancing history of Cohen’s relationship with the synagogue and the evolution of the synagogue choir’s backing on “You Want It Darker.”

In the evening, at the 300-year-old chapel, the lights were warm and the altar painting of Mary was resplendent as two performers, Li’l Andy on guitar and Sylvie Simmons (Cohen’s biographer) on ukulele, sang a suite of his songs, elegies of loves indulged and lost, and his somehow uplifting regret.

As a fellow tour-taker, Ute Egle from central Germany, told me later, “If church would be like this, I would go more often.”Here’s a review and a few clips from the tribute concert, which will be televised by the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation in January, featuring Sting, k.d. lang, Adam Cohen and Lana Del Rey. The Musée d’Art Contemporain de Montréal is presenting a special exhibition of Mr. Cohen’s work and the art he has inspired, including projections of lyrics from his songs on a grain elevator that dominates Montreal’s port, as well as a concert series of full performances of five of his albums.

 

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