Pioneering music ensemble plans baroque birthday bonanza

14th October 2009, Comments 0 comments

Les Arts Florissants, one of the world's most respected baroque music groups, are embarking on an international anniversary tour.

Paris -- The ensemble credited with most reviving interest in baroque music, the Arts Florissants, marks three decades performing their music on period instruments with an anniversary tour and new releases.

The group will feature at over 80 events between now and the summer of 2010. These include concerts, operas, radio programmes and films about their work with performances planned for Madrid, Paris, London and New York.

Specially produced CDs and DVDs will also be released to mark the ensemble's 30th birthday.

The group was set up by American-born performer and musicologist William "Bill" Christie in 1979. At the time, few people were interested in the Arts Florissants' repertoire of 17th and 18th century European classical music.

"At that time Pierre Boulez was very influential and he thought we weren't very serious," Christie said, referring to one of France's best-known contemporary conductors.

"In the conservatories people treated us like we had the plague," he added.

Since then things have changed and the Arts Florissants are now one of the world's most respected baroque music ensembles, specialising in works by French composers such as Rameau, Charpentier and Lully.

The ensemble has played over 1,500 concerts and accompanied more than 500 operas. They have also recorded around 100 albums and today have an annual budget of over five million euros (seven million dollars).

The group first came to international attention in the 1980s with their hugely influential 1987 performance of Lully's lyric tragedy Atys, generally considered as a turning point in the ensemble's fortunes.

After Atys life changed, remembers Christie.

"I was recognised in the street," said the musician. Nevertheless, the group's 1993 interpretation of Medee by Charpentier was, "as important for me from a musical point of view," he added.

In 1995 Christie, who was born in Buffalo in the US state of New York, took French citizenship, a decision he seems to have no regrets about making.

"I owe a great deal to this country, which on the whole has made me feel very welcome," he told AFP.

When Christie first set up Les Arts Florissants, after working as a classical musician for around eight years in other ensembles, he said he wanted to create a kind of musical "laboratory."

He and his fellow musicians saw themselves as researchers looking at "the colours, the aesthetic, the rhetoric," of baroque music.

"We spent as much time in the national library as we did in rehearsal rooms, which I regret today," he said.

Christie is not only passionate about baroque music himself, he is also deeply committed to passing on his passion top a new generation of musicians.

In 2007 Les Arts Florissants and the Julliard school in New York --- an internationally renowned performing arts academy whose alumni include jazz legend Miles Davis, Israeli violinist Itzhak Perlman and German choreographer Pina Bausch -- agreed to work together to train singers and musicians in 17th and 18th century baroque music.

"Most of them have only worked on modern instruments up to now and would like to learn the techniques of instruments of those times," the two organisations said in a joint statement released to announce the partnership.

But despite his commitment to ensuring the emergence of a new generation of baroque music lovers, the Franco-American performer, who will be 65 this year, does not seem ready to hand over the reins of his beloved ensemble just yet.

Joked Christie: "I'm still extraordinarily young!"

Benoit Fauchet/AFP/Expatica

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