Hétu made his Canadian debut in 1963, conducting the MSO in a concert organized by the JMC. Claude Gingras described this debut in Montreal's La Presse (6 Mar 1963): 'You do not become a conductor, you are born one, and I think it can be said that Pierre Hétu is a born conductor.' Appointed assistant to Zubin Mehta, the MSO's artistic director, Hétu was responsible for conducting the Matinées symphoniques; he held the position until 1968. He premiered André Prévost's Fantasmes in November 1963 with the MSO and Maurice Dela's Projection in 1967. He also conducted Prévost's Terre des hommes during the opening of the World Festival of Expo 67. He was music director 1968-72 of the Kalamazoo Symphony Orchestra in Michigan, combining that responsibility with the job of associate conductor 1970-3 of the Detroit Symphony Orchestra. He was artistic director 1973-80 of the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra. He was absent from the podium for several months in 1977 due to a heart attack.
Commenting on a performance of Shostakovitch's Symphony No. 10, a work which 'can only be sustained by a conductor possessing authority, panache, and an intuitive feel for the music,' Gilles Potvin wrote: 'Hétu literally propelled the MSO to a grandiose and spacious performance, with an inspirational sweep that did not let up for a single moment and called to mind a Kondrashin or a Mravinsky' (Montreal Le Devoir 30 Jan 1975).
A guest conductor in Canada and abroad, during the opening concert of the 1976 Olympics he conducted the JM World Orchestra, which he also conducted at the Orford Arts Centre and in Quebec City. In 1977 he led the Nouvel orchestre philharmonique de Paris in works by Jacques Hétu, Matton, and Prévost (see Musicanada). Also in 1977 he was awarded the Canadian Music Council prize for his conducting of Strauss' Salome. He led the Brussels, Lausanne, and Strasbourg orchestras in Europe, and conducted many operas, mainly for the Théâtre lyrique de Nouvelle-France, the COC, the Opéra du Québec, the Calgary Opera, the Edmonton Opera, and the Vancouver Opera.
Hétu conducted Canada's leading orchestras and took part in CBC radio and TV recordings during the 1980s. He taught conducting and was a jury member in national and international competitions. He ran unsuccessfully for Parliament in 1988. From 1991-1994 he taught conducting at the University of Toronto where he also conducted the University of Toronto Symphony Orchestra. He cut back appearances in the mid-1990s due to ill health, making his last appearance as conductor of Saint-Saëns' Samson et Dalila for the New Orleans Opera Association in October 1998.
Author Pierre Rochon, Betty Nygaard King
Healey Arctic Images - J. Hétu Concerto. Vallecillo piano, Louisville O. 1979. Louisville LS-769/(Hétu) 4-ACM 31 (CD)
J. Hétu Symphony No. 3 - Borodin Symphony No. 2. CBC Montreal orch. 1976. RCI 436
Moussorgsky Pictures at an Exibition - R. Strauss Till Eulenspiegel - Dvořák Slavonic Dance Opus 46, No. 8. JM World O. 1976. 2-Musicus MS-2-45101/(Strauss and Dvořák) 5-RC1 512
See also Colas et Colinette and Discographies for Edmonton SO, and MSO.
Gingras, Claude. 'Pierre Hétu: un métier exigeant,' Montreal La Presse, 17 Jan 1976
Angrignon Sirois, Maryse. 'Pierre Hétu, chef d'orchestre,' Aria, vol 9, Summer 1986
Kaptainis, Arthur. 'From the podium to politics,' Montreal Gazette, 28 May 1988
Pierre Hétu, 62, conductor and teacher, Montreal Gazette, 5 Dec 1998