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14.1.04

Happy Anniversary to Les Arts Florissants

William ChristieIn an article (Un double anniversaire pour les Arts florissants, January 14) in Le Monde, Renaud Machart writes about the celebrations for the 25th anniversary of Les Arts Florissants, perhaps the best Baroque performance ensemble in the world, founded by William Christie (shown at right) in 1979. Since it also happens to be the 300th anniversary of the death of Marc-Antoine Charpentier, the group is giving semistaged performances of two of his operas, La Descente d'Orphée aux enfers [The descent of Orpheus into the underworld] (1686-87) and Les Arts Florissants [The flourishing arts] (1685-86).

Twenty-five years have passed since the creation of Les Arts Florissants by William Christie, then a young American and francophile keyboard player—before becoming orchestra conductor and a French citizen—who was watering the tender blossoms of what would become a vibrant musical garden. Those younger than 20 don't know about the period we are talking about, when the first early music groups were created, at the end of the 1970s [...] a time when one risked expulsion from conservatories if one dared to make sounds other than those approved by the official teaching.

The public followed the hoodlums, who quickly gained entrance to the Opéra-Comique, in Paris, for an opera by Lully, Atys, produced by William Christie and the director Jean-Marie Villégier, in 1976, which became at once a legend and a point of no return: this music, formerly enjoyed by the "happy few" and faithful listeners of Jacques Merlet's program on France Musiques, was going to win a lasting place in the hearts of the crowds.

While he could work with big stars (which opera theaters sometimes require him to do, for better or worse), William Christie obstinately continues to trust in some very young performers for his concerts. Since 1979, the personnel of Les Arts Florissants has changed a lot, even if the "overlapping" of the generations has assured a continuity of sound and style, nurtured by the strong personality of its leader, a formidable musician who is never better than in the intimacy of small works like the two mini-operas he is directing now.
The group was at the Cité de la musique in Paris yesterday and today (January 13 and 14) before taking the show on the road around Europe (Utrecht, Brussels, London, Caen, Vienna, and Zurich) and then here in the United States. They will be at Symphony Hall in Chicago on February 1, at the Kennedy Center here in Washington on February 3, at Alice Tully Hall in New York on February 5 and 7, and at Emory University's Schwarz Center in Atlanta on February 9. You should go help them celebrate.

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