Music & Arts

Does opera need to be politically correct?

Does opera need to be politically correct? October 2016:  Jewish activists are laying on the ground in front of the Metropolitan Opera, demonstrating their opposition to “The Death of Klinghoffer”, John Adams’ opera they are accusing of anti-Semitism.  2014:  in London and Paris, African activists are actively demonstrating against “Exhibit B”, a theatrical installation by Brett Bailey based on the first genocides committed by European in Africa at the beginning of last century. A South-African artist, “white” stage-director engaged in the fight against apartheid, Bailey is accused of cultural appropriation and humiliation towards African actors in his show. A few years before, this production had been seen in Avignon, Brussels and more cities, and had been very well received by antiracist activists. Today in the U.S., more and more opera intendants are hesitating to produce “Butterfly”, because of its colonialist background, or “Turandot”, because of the clichés of Chinese people such as Ping-Pang-Pong.  This kind of demonstration and question about political correctness in opera almost never took place during the last century. What happened in between? I see two main reasons: During the 20th century, opera has been mainly regarded as a sort of entertainment. People came for the voices, the orchestra, set and costumes, but were not really interested in the meaning of the opera, and in its dramaturgical content. Second reason:  “Me too” movement, antiracism and “decolonial” movement are becoming more and more visible and efficient, activists pay more and more attention to the content of films, books,

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My life with Bach’s music

Text written for The Bach Cantata Website (BCW http://www.bach-cantatas.com). My oldest memories about Bach’s organ music go very far into my childhood: when I was very young, my parents, my sisters and I were listening almost every Sunday to Bach’s cantatas and to the organ recordings played by Helmut Walcha or Pierre Froidebise. I still remember some of them very precisely, and when I played later on in Capel, Lübeck or Alkmaar, it revived beautiful old sound memories. When I was 5 years old, I wanted to start playing the organ, but this was impossible, of course. So I started playing the piano, with J.S. Bach as my favorite composer. And at the age of 15, I entered the organ class at the Conservatoire Royal de Musique de Liège, where I studied four years with Hubert Schoonbroodt. In 1972, at the age of 19, I got the chance to meet and work a bit with violin player Sigiswald Kuijken. Very inspiring experience! He also introduced me to Gustav Leonhardt, and I went several times to Amsterdam to study with him. I still remember each minute of these lessons. Gustav Leonhardt was very encouraging when I started recording the first Bach CD’s in the 80’s, he invited me several times to give organ recitals there and he facilitated some contacts to be able to record a CD there. I also listened to the early concerts given by the Collegium Vocale Ghent and Philippe Herreweghe. It was incredible to hear such a

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About the beautiful and uncomplete Choral Fantasia “Durch Adam’s Fall ist ganz verderbt” by Jacob Praetorius

Franz Schubert’s “Unfinished” Symphony is still one of his most popular pieces. And if Bach’s last Contrapunctus in “The Art of the Fuge” is uncomplete, its performance finishing “in the air” after his signature B.A.C.H. always provokes a strong emotion. But these are exceptions! Most of the time, uncompleted pieces are rarely performed, and even seldom studied. This is a pity because, as in the field of architecture and visual arts, fragments can sometimes provide a strong impression. Years ago, my attention was drawn to Jacob Praetorius’ choral fantasia on “Durch Adam’s Fall ist ganz verderbt”, one of the most important Lutherian chorales. That piece is one of the very first ones to be written explicitely “in echo” for three manuals and pedal. But I never took the time to really study it carefully until I started the preparation of a CD dedicated to this important composer. I found it so beautiful, so expressive, that I decided to compose an ending, in his style. Praetorius’ composition stops after the first four verses A – B – A – B, so that it was clear that the rest of the fantasia should be built on C – D – E – F, bringing the choral to its conclusion. Of course, writing that ending took me a lot of time, and I had to question many aspects ot his style, as well as the work of his contemporaries such as Heinrich Scheidemann. In that sense, my “composition” is not more than a

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Le travail pictural de Fabienne Verdier en dialogue avec la musique

(Texte pour le catalogue de Patrick Derom). La peinture et la musique entretiennent avec le temps et l’espace des rapports fondamentalement différents, elles se rencontrent dès lors rarement. Il y a bien les tableaux représentant des musiciens ou des instruments de musique, ou, plus rares, des œuvres musicales se référant à des peintures (Les Tableaux d’une Exposition de Moussorgski…), mais peut-on parler alors de dialogue ?  Fabienne Verdier, riche de son expérience et de la fréquentation de l’art chinois, passionnée de musique, opère une rencontre inédite entre les deux arts : sa résidence à la Juilliard School lui a permis d’explorer, d’expérimenter, de créer en résonance avec la matière sonore. Qu’est-ce qui peut réunir aujourd’hui, et de manière prospective, peintres et musiciens ? D’abord le silence, sans lequel la musique ne peut se déployer. La musique doit naître du silence, être habitée par lui, et cela, un peintre peut le comprendre et le vivre de manière particulièrement intense, vu la nature même de son travail solitaire. Ensuite, l’abstraction. Celle-ci est au cœur de la musique, de toutes les musiques. Il n’est donc pas étonnant qu’une artiste qui a fait l’expérience approfondie de l’abstraction puisse développer un langage susceptible de se mettre en résonance avec le monde musical. Plus délicat : l’expression. Un mot bien dangereux, l’expression ; un mot très connoté, qui risque de créer de sacrés malentendus. C’est un mot que j’aime toutefois associer à l’abstraction, et cela me renvoie au travail d’une immense artiste new-yorkaise, la chorégraphe Trisha Brown, qui a su, dans

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What role for the artists in our society?

Speech given in Palermo at the Association européenne des Conservatoires. It is a great pleasure to be here in Palermo, the city of King Roger and of so many great artists, in Sicily, “la patria di tanti artisti”, a country of very ancient culture, where musical styles and forms from all origins have created such a wonderful cultural life and heritage. It is also a great honour and a privilege to open this conference of the Association Européenne des Conservatoires.  I have spent a lot of time in European conservatoires myself, first as an organ student in Liège, then as a teacher  of musical analysis in Liège, Brussels and Paris, and more recently as organ professor at the Conservatoire Royal de Musique de Bruxelles. As general manager of the Aix-en-Provence Festival and the Académie européenne de Musique since 2007 I have been in touch with a lot of conservatoires, Musikhochschulen and Music Academies all over  Europe but also in the South and East of the Mediterranean area and in America. It is therefore a real pleasure to greet so many friends and colleagues this morning. Allow me today to speak as a member of your community. I would like to question four main points: the need for creation, the question of the public, the role of the artist, the intercultural dialogue. But first I would like to share with you a very recent experience. The Indian Queen in Madrid A few days ago I was in Madrid in order to

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Réflexions sur l’avenir de l’orgue dans la vie culturelle européenne

Intervention dans le cadre du Symposium international de l’orgue, Zürich. Dans son livre “Vingt mille lieues sous les mers” paru en 1870, Jules Verne met en scène un être étrange et fascinant, le capitaine Nemo, un homme qui  vit loin de la société, parcourt les océans, étudie les fonds sous-marins,  et joue l’orgue qu’il a installé dans son sous-marin, le Nautilus. « Quelquefois, dit le narrateur,  j’entendais résonner les sons mélancoliques de son orgue, dont il jouait avec beaucoup d’expression, mais la nuit seulement, au milieu de la plus secrète obscurité, lorsque le Nautilus s’endormait dans les déserts de l’océan ». L’orgue, instrument de la solitude…  La résolution « Orgue 2011 » adoptée hier par ce congrès de Zürich met en évidence le risque de marginalisation de l’orgue dans la vie musicale actuelle.  La situation va-t-elle se détériorer durant le 21e siècle, ou avons-nous une chance de l’améliorer ? Il est vrai que la position même de l’instrument dans la plupart de nos églises, très hauteur, lui confère un côté inaccessible, magique, quasi divin. C’est d’ailleurs le rôle qui lui était assigné dans la liturgie : l’orgue, souvent surmonté d’anges et de saints, représente le Ciel, alors que les chantres représentent le peuple de l’Eglise. En outre, le fait que l’orgue puisse tenir des sons plus longtemps que n’importe quel autre instrument  renforce ce caractère sacré, ce sentiment d’éternité. Le langage polyphonique témoigne parfaitement de la conception de la musique considérée comme reflet de la perfection de la Création. Cet instrument véritablement « céleste » va néanmoins progressivement

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