The French-Canadian chamber orchestra Les Violons du Roy has a distinctive sound, produced by the use of modern instruments with Baroque bows, and an unusual repertory that stretches as far forward as the 20th century.
The group has played a major part in Quebec's cultural life, appearing at such events as the funeral of Quebec separatist leader René Lévesque. Les Violons du Roy were founded in 1984 by conductor Bernard Labadie, who assembled the group from recently graduated string players who had performed in productions of two Baroque operas, Purcell's Dido and Aeneas and Monteverdi's L'incoronazione di Poppea, at Quebec City's Laval University. Les Violons du Roy has remained headquartered in Quebec City (since 2007 at the Palais Montcalm) but has also established ongoing concert series in the larger city of Montreal. Its name, meaning "the violins of the king," was adapted from that of "Les vingt-quatre violons du Roy," the court string ensemble of King Louis XIV in the 17th century. At first composed of volunteers, the group was made fully professional in 1992. Another factor contributing to the group's consistency and its development of a consistent sound was Labadie's longevity as director; he held the post until 2014 and continues to serve the orchestra as founding conductor. Jonathan Cohen succeeded him beginning in 2017. Sometimes performing with the choral group La Chapelle Québec, founded by Labadie in 1985 as the Ensemble Vocal Bernard Labadie, Les Violons du Roy became more popular across Canada and then beyond in the '80s and '90s. They toured Europe in 1988 and appeared in Washington, D.C., in 1995. In 1997 they made the first of seven appearances at New York's Carnegie Hall. Les Violons du Roy backed Marc Grauwels on a recording of Mozart flute concertos on Hyperion in 1989. In 1994 they signed with the U.S.-based Dorian label and have continued to record there, as well as for ATMA Classique in Quebec. Their recordings have included not only Baroque and Classical-period music, but also works by Britten and Glass, the latter on a 2018 release on Decca Gold by countertenor Anthony Roth Costanzo.