Posts Tagged ‘Orchestre National de France’

Good News for the Radio Orchestras?

Thursday, June 15th, 2017

By: Frank Cadenhead

June 15, 2017. An article in Tuesday’s Le Figaro newspaper gives some positive news about the future of the two radio orchestras in France, the Orchestre National de France and the Orchestre Philharmonique de Radio France. As we reported in 2015 in Musical America, there was panic when proposals were floated to combine the two orchestras into a single formation.

Mathieu Gallet, the new and young manager of the vast Radio France organization, suggested such a plan. It seemed to be one of those “Yes, Minister” moments from the 1980s U.K. comedy series about a clueless politician put in charge of a ministry. Gallet soon learned that the two orchestras each had a distinct musical personality and history, had their serious advocates and were highly competitive.

To be fair, Gallet was following a recommendation from the National Assembly and also aware that the income of the entire Radio France organization, something akin to the UK’s BBC Radio, was shrinking. It is largely financed by an annual tax on television sets and the numbers of sets in an average house have been sinking with the growth of the internet. Nevertheless, the two orchestras were maintained and are now stronger than ever. With Emmanuel Krivine music director of the National and Mikko Franck heading the Philharmonique, the two orchestras have popular leaders and strong artistic directors, Eric Denut for the National and Jean-Marc Bador for the “Phil.”

The continuation of the two orchestras is assured but there have been financial “adjustments” that the Figaro article has detailed. On March 31st, after long consultations, a convention was signed to aid the continuation of the two orchestras. This nouvel accord d’enterprise reduced the size of the National from 122 to 114 and the Philharmonique from 141 to 132 and was mostly achieved by not replacing retirees. The Radio France choir took the biggest hit, going from 114 to 90. Other minor economies, the number of Sunday performances and the length of breaks were adjusted as well as another not publicly discussed: the new accord allows musicians from one orchestra to fill in for an absent or sick colleague in the other orchestra instead of hiring supernumeraries from outside.

While these adjustments are not world-shaking, they do allow some savings. One obvious result of the economies allowed French film director Luc Besson to hire the Orchestre National to record the music for his new film, Valerian, when it usually would be one of the competitive London orchestras or an orchestra from Eastern Europe. While the changes can be seen as progress, unless the financing structure of the two orchestras evolve in the coming years, their long-term existence is still not secure.

Two Concerts in Paris

Sunday, January 15th, 2017

By:  Frank Cadenhead

Two concerts, Thursday and Friday, January 12 and 13, 2017, give a view to the future of the Paris music scene. The Thursday concert, with the first appearance of the new music director of the Orchestre National de France in his new role, gives a positive impression.

Emmanuel Krivine, 69, is not among the handful of world-famed conductors. His predecessor, Daniele Gatti, is moving on to lead the Concertgebouw Orchestra. His appointment as Gatti’s successor was a bit of a surprise to some given his lack of top status and his history of leaving behind unhappy orchestras, one of which was the sister radio orchestra, the Orchestre Philharmonique de Radio France, which he lead from 1976 to 1983. Although French (born of a Polish mother and Russian father), he does not often appear on the scene in France; his other job is principal guest conductor of the Scottish Chamber Orchestra. He seems to have found a rapport with his new colleagues and their playing was involved, focused and on a high level. One hopes that can continue.

The way he approaches the classics was indicated in the first piece, the Rachmaninoff Third Piano Concerto with the towering Russian pianist, Denis Matsuev, at the keyboard. The approach of most conductors is to race through the orchestral noodling to sail with the grand melodies. Krivine’s style is more analytical and you suddenly discover the noodling is actual complex music and reminds you that this concerto is indeed a 20th Century work (1909). The clarity of Krivine’s vision has you hearing this warhorse with new ears and this focus added important intensity to the concerto’s finale. Matsuev is breathtaking in his easy mastery of this fiendishly difficult concerto and his sense of style and elegance never lags. He is easily classed as one of today’s great interpreters of Rachmaninoff and any appearance near you should not be missed.

The second part of the concert, the Dvorak Seventh Symphony, also was a musical triumph. The orchestra was excellent form and the driven intensity brought cheers from those in the Radio France Auditorium. This concert can be seen on and is recommended.

Quite a difference experience Friday night in the Salle Pierre Boulez at the Philharmonie de Paris. The Chicago Symphony was on their first stop of a European tour with their music director Riccardo Muti. This is a great orchestra with masterful musicians and their maestro has them in brilliant form. The two works in the first half, Paul Hindemith’s Koncertmusik, Op.50, and Edward Elgar’s In the South (Alassio), also an Opus 50, were both unfamiliar to me but were found to be engaging, splendid music. We sometimes need to be reminded that composers have a lifetime of compositions worthy of attention and the dull focus on a few of the popular ones leaves most others on the shelf.

The second half had no such mission with Modest Mussorgsky’s two orchestral hits, Night on Bald Mountain (with the Rimsky-Korsakov transcription) and Pictures at an Exhibition (in Ravel’s orchestration). This allows many in the audience to compare (unfavorably) the recording they have at home with the spectacular brilliance of the Chicago Symphony’s reading under Muti. Cheering and long applause ended the evening and the extra money you paid for the tickets was certainly, by the last note, forgotten. As an encore, the rambunctious overture to Verdi’s The Sicilian Vespers was enthusiastically welcomed. You can see that its ranking among the top world orchestras is no exaggeration. It is virtuosic and profound at the same time with a consistency reminding you of the Berlin or Vienna Philharmonics.

The new Philharmonie, which opened only on the 14th of January of 2015, was the first stop of the Chicago forces but the next two nights are the Elbphilharmonie in Hamburg which had its opening night only last Wednesday. Muti and Chicago have, of course, no previous experience with the new Parisian hall which has received much praise. Acoustically alive, the hall sounded a bit overwhelmed by Muti’s forceful music making. I kept wanting a but less volume.

The Paris hall, on its opening, was the subject of much criticism. The original cost had ballooned three-fold and the delay was years. The Berlin hall, however, has been the mother of all cost-overruns and delays and, thankfully, that story has been occupying space in the press for some time while the diatribes about Paris’ Philharmonie are only a memory. While the architects were different, the “vineyard” layout and closeness of the audience to the podium are similar. Another similarity was the acoustical consultants, Nagata Acoustics and their renowned acoustician, Yasuhisa Toyota.

Reading the early critical reaction an item sticks out. While the sound is very “present” critics have noted that individual instruments can be heard clearly even in tutti passages and thus the full orchestra sound seems fragmented. The same thing was noted by me and others in Paris and the Philharmonie management decided, after the January opening, to close the hall in July and August and tinker with the acoustics some more. With the new season that followed, an orchestra full-bore sounded like an orchestra full-bore and the sigh was audible. Visiting orchestra and soloists are full of praise and love the visceral impact of the Philharmonie’s musical experience. The reputation of the hall is at the top of world rankings and it may be that Hamburg might need a short pause to put into effect the acoustical polish of Paris.

This is a high-profile event in the life of Hamburg, who has always competed with Munich as to who is the “second city” in Germany. Hamburg has always come up short in the classical music arena but the new hall will certainly go a long way to revitalize Hamburg’s musical life. The Paris Philharmonie has certainly done so for Paris.

The Opening Night “Train Wreck” This Weekend

Tuesday, September 13th, 2016

By: Frank Cadenhead

Where is Stephen Colbert when you need him? He certainly could do a comedy routine about the train wreck that is the opening of the musical season in Paris this year. The goofiness of multiple openings of world-class events on the same day would get lots of laughs. In his absence I will try to fill in.

The French go on holiday in August. On September 1 they all arrive home and start unpacking and restocking their refrigerators. For those who work in opera or orchestras, after some days they are off to rehearsals to prepare for opening night. This year, “opening night” is all on one night, September 16. That night is the remarkable opening of internationally important season at the Opéra National de Paris. Their daring risk is to open with an almost unknown opera, Eliogabalo of Francesco Cavalli (composed in 1667). This effort is part of a recent laudable effort to revive interest in lesser known opera composers and return their works to the stage. The audience at the Palais Garnier will hear a much anticipated local debut of Leonardo Garcia Alarcon in the pit with Franco Fagioli in the title role. Young Thomas Jolly will stage this work and it is expected to raise the artistic bar for the whole season (which will include productions staged by Calixto Bieito and Dmitri Tcherniakov.)

But wait! On that very same night, the Orchestre de Paris is having a flashy opening in their glamorous new home at the Philharmonie de Paris with their exciting new music director, Daniel Harding. The opening program is the entirety of Scenes from Goethe’s Faust by Schumann. This spotlight makes a statement about the work, a magnificent and little-played masterpiece with soloists and chorus and will feature the masterful baritone Christian Gerhaher as Faust. Harding has been particularly engaged by this opus and has featured it in broadcasts when he appeared with the Berlin Philharmonic and has recorded it with the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra and Chorus. How could this singularly important event be scheduled on the same night as the opening Eliogabalo?

Easy… A complete lack of management. Here is Norman Lebrecht’s writing about the Orchestre de Paris on his website Slipped Disc on September 12:

“There was widespread discontent when the Orchestre de Paris sacked Didier de Cottignies ahead of the arrival of its new music director, Daniel Harding.
No-one in the music world has a bigger contacts book than Didier and few know more about music.
However, Didier went and Daniel was said to be considering an English mate for the job. Apparently, that was greeted by the French like a Brexit-burger with HP sauce.
So the French establishment chose one of its own.
The new Délégué Artistique at the OdP is Edouard Fouré Caul-Futy, a producer at France-Musique. His experience is entirely with baroque music. He has a lot to learn.
He also happens to be the son-in-law of Martine Aubry, former presidential candidate and still a power-broker in the Socialist Party.
Aubry’s daughter, Clémentine, is Administrator of the auditorium at the Musée du Louvre.”

Edouard Foure Caul-Futy

Edouard Foure Caul-Futy

Googling the name Edouard Foure Caul-Futy today, September 13, made it absolutely clear that there is no current information in the French language about any such appointment on any French site. Are all the culture reporters still unpacking? Scrolling down his personal Facebook page, we see that he is just 35 and entered a note that he has left Radio France at the end of August. “Délégué Artistique, Orchestre de Paris,” is now shown as his current title. The Facebook page of the Orchestre de Paris shows nothing. Neither does their website and the only press contact listed on that site is for the excellent Annick Boccon-Gibod, who let us all know, on June 27, that she had left the orchestra. The speculation of Mr. Lebrecht, that this was an insider favor, seems more and more believable when the slim career of the new artistic director is more visible. It would be hard to image a serious job search resulting in the selection of someone with such a light CV, concentrated almost entirely in the early music scene.

But wait again! That same evening’s vital openings are not finished. September 16 has yet another important opening night, that of the Orchestre Philharmonique de Radio France in the auditorium at Radio France. Conductor Mikko Franck, starting his second year as music director, has recharged this orchestra and every concert shows the new excitement. This opening night has Einojuhani Rautavaara’s Lapsimessu (Children’s Mass). Rautavaara died just seven weeks ago and Franck, a fellow countryman of the composer, will conduct this work with the Maîtrise de Radio France, the children’s chorus. The Bruch Violin Concerto No. 1 is to be played by France’s most renowned violin virtuoso, Renaud Capuçon, and Franck, a well-appreciated interpreter of Richard Strauss, will finish with the Alpine Symphony. It would be hard to imagine a music lover willing to pass on that concert.

There is good news. With the new halls, the Philharmonie and the Radio France Auditorium, both with outstanding acoustics, the possibility of scheduling all opening nights on the same day is easier. Also, when you look at seat availability for all those events on the 16th, you will see that all will be full. The Parisian audience is ever-expanding and it is clear that the new halls, particularly the Philharmonie, have attracted new ticket buyers.

But the bad news is the failure of management to understand the need for more public notice about what the classical music community offers the public. Since newspapers everywhere have been giving more space and notice to more popular music-making, classical music has seen a sag in their amount of space in the media. While Parisian concert reviews are still a feature in major publications and newspapers, the fact that editors and journalists have to choose events to cover and exclude others would be totally unnecessary if there was a reasonable consideration, by managers, of how to space your major events to achieve the maximum notice.

Here is my concert and opera schedule for the next few days. Thursday is the opening concert of the new season for the Orchestre National de France. With Daniele Gatti taking over the Concertgebouw Orchestra of Amsterdam this season, we are awaiting performances by the new Music Director, Emmanuel Krivine. Since any decision takes a great deal of time bouncing around the long halls of Radio France, his appointment was only announced in June, long after the schedule was fixed. Opening night will be conducted by the French conductor Stéphane Denève (who some imagine might have been a better choice than Maestro Krivine.) The all-French program features Ibert, Saint-Saëns, Ravel and Florent Schmitt’s La Tragédie de Salomé. The next night, the famous “train-wreck” Friday, I will be again at the Radio France Auditorium for the opening concert of the Orchestre Philharmonique de Radio France, already noted. I was forced to make that choice because this concert, unlike the other events on the same night, will not be repeated. Saturday night was free and I will see the revival of Tosca as the first opera at Bastille (with Anja Harteros, Marcelo Alvarez and Bryn Terfel) because after the previous night’s multiple openings, nothing was repeated the next night. It is Sunday afternoon for the Harding debut with the Orchestre de Paris. The Monday night ticket is for the second performance of Eliogabalo at Palais Garnier. I might write again after the experience is over but the concentration of delights is even now a bit numbing. Music critics cannot write about every event and editors will not consider making space for such a concentration of events. In almost any other city, managers would work together to fashion a two to four week opening so that all events get the attention they deserve. This idea has yet to occur to the musical establishment in Paris.

A Surprise Choice: Emmanuel Krivine as head of the Orchestre National de France.

Saturday, June 18th, 2016

by:  Frank Cadenhead

On Wednesday, during a morning interview on France Musique, Emmanuel Krivine was blunt. “I’m trying to go to the end by being a little less of an ass than at the beginning” His selection as the new music director of the Orchestre National de France, starting with the coming season, was much delayed and many see it as controversial. His statement is certainly a reference to his reputation as a difficult taskmaster. At 69, he also bucks the trend toward young music directors by Paris orchestras. Mikko Franck, 37, is the new head of the Orchestre Philharmonique de Radio France and Daniel Harding, 40, is the incoming director of the Orchestre de Paris. Philippe Jordan, 41, is music director of perhaps the most talented orchestra of the four majors, the one at the Opera National de Paris.

Krivine replaces Daniele Gatti, who is going on to lead the Concertgebouw in Amsterdam and is among top-ranked conductors, with regular appearances in Vienna, Berlin, Salzburg and Bayreuth. But Krivine’s career has not at that level and his leadership of the Barcelona Symphony and the Catalonia National Orchestra will come to end with this season. Since September, 2015, he has been the principal guest conductor of the Scottish Chamber Orchestra and he has recently ended a nine year stint as music director of the Luxembourg Philharmonic. He continues his direction of La Chamber Philharmonique, a chamber orchestra he founded in 2004. Like Krivine himself often does, It focuses on the original instrument performance style but mostly for the Romantic repertory.

It was the end of his term as music director of the Orchestre Philharmonique de Radio France (1976-1983) that I first heard about him. I remember the orchestra being more than a little unhappy with Krivine who had an difficult reputation with the musicians and who even avoided engagements with the orchestra during his last years at the helm. He also lead the Orchestra National de Lyon from 1987 through 2000 and, some say, brought them greater unity and international recognition but with much of the same grumbling by orchestra members and relief at his departure.

Monday’s announcement, by the CEO of Radio France, Matthieu Gallet, and the Director of Music and Cultural Creation at Radio France, Michel Orier, presumably was made after consultations with musicians of both radio orchestras; the Philharmonque’s office is a few doors down the hall from the Orchestre National, and there should be musicians there who remember his rule. We hear nothing about the ONF interim artistic director, Steve Roger, who was appointed for a one year term in July of 2015. One can assume that M. Orier or perhaps Gallet himself are taking on the role of artistic director (to save money?). The same is apparently true for the Orchestre Philharmonique with the angry departure of Eric Montalbetti, after 18 year of service, in late 2014. One does note that both Mikko Franck and now Maestro Krivine are found to be discussing an overall artistic concept and ideas for guest conductors, etc. in the press and interviews. One could assume that both orchestras have made the post of artistic director redundant.

The threats of combining the two radio orchestras and the subsequent strikes and controversy of more than a year ago are now in the past. Krivine seems assured that the budget threats are behind the orchestra and Radio France will not shrink its musician numbers. Much has been made of the fact that Krivine will be the first French conductor of the National since Jean Martinon (1968-1973). Not known for his French repertory, Krivine will not be, in his words, a “jingoistic missionary” but comments that “French music, it must be delt with, it’s very interesting.” He admits his repertory in this area is “limited.” “Therefore, I will invite whoever does the best work that I do not know, the type that would be absolutely appropriate for that composition.”

Regarding his previous experiences with the Orchestre National, he was equally candid: He recalls a 2004 engagement: “It was messy. It is true that it was not at all messy with Kurt Masur and with some other conductors. I’m just saying that I, that time, I felt I had too much to take care of with discipline.” His more recent experiences, in September of last year, were more positive. He found the discipline “was by listening, and that’s very healthy.” We will certainly know more about his alleged mellowing in the coming months and years.







The Largest Orchestra Audition in the World?

Tuesday, September 15th, 2015

By: Frank Cadenhead

You think you can play as well as any of those musicians on stage? As part of a celebration called “Viva l’Orchestre” you are invited by the Orchestre National de France to perform as part of an orchestra of grand amateurs on stage in Paris at the new Auditorium at Radio France, sitting side by side with the regulars. This activity was a success last year, the first year, and seems to be a winning formula to reach out and make contact with the larger public.

This concert, on May 29, 2016 happens to have this season a large percentage of American music, including Barber’s Adagio, Gershwin’s American in Paris plus Copland, John Williams (music from Catch Me If You Can), Bernard Hermann’s music for Psycho and even John Cage.

There are some restrictions: You must be between the ages of 7 and 97. There doesn’t seem to be any country restrictions but some smattering of French would certainly be helpful. And plan to visit Paris for rehearsals, two in March, four in April and six in May. You have to self-evaluate yourself as a debutant, medium, good or excellent. They ask for any diplomas you might have in music and the date you received that but this is not a requirement for inclusion. You will be assigned to play music during the concert which would correspond to your level and thus you should not be required to attend all rehearsals.

They will want to know a little about your experience, if any, and the form asks if you have some experience with chamber music and, if so, what did you play. Another question is why you want to participate in this project. Minors need their parent’s signature.

You have to have filed an application, accompanied by a photo, by October 31. You will be contacted about the rehearsal schedule for the works you have been assigned  in January and there is a caution that the selection process is limited to the number of places available. It your pile of frequent flyer miles is thin, you can choose to wait until your local symphony orchestra discovers the same idea. It might be soon because of its obvious engagement with the public and because it would be cheap to organize and fun to do.

If you can’t wait, more information is available at Bon Courage!