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14.12.04

Interview with Ambassador William Christie

I mentioned recently that William Christie and his Baroque performance group, Les Arts Florissants (see my review of their performance in Washington this past February) are performing Handel's opera Hercules this month, in a fully staged production, at the Palais Garnier. An article-interview (William Christie, de l'utilité de la musique baroque, December 11) by François Delétraz for Le Figaro Magazine has the subtitle "Orchestral conductor, lover of gardens [to understand that reference, see my post on William Christie's Secret Garden, from June 8], the Franco-American William Christie is not happy about the lack of understanding between France and the United States." Here is a partial translation:

If, in life, there are terrible good ideas, at the Opéra de Paris these days, there are supposedly new productions which are actually revivals of productions mounted elsewhere. After Kát'a Kabanová [see my post Kát'a Kabanová in Paris, from November 9], here is Hercules, an oratorio selected by Stéphane Lissner for his Aix-en-Provence Festival, which is now coming to the stage of the Palais Garnier. It's one of the important oratorios by Handel, for which William Christie, the Baroque conductor, is taking over the musical direction. This is a way to celebrate the 25th birthday of Les Arts Florissants and the 60th birthday of its conductor. After many successful years, Baroque music is now found everywhere in musical programming: William Christie should be satisfied about that.

"But I am not a star," he clarifies, as if to dispel the rumor. "I make alternative music." And he insists on the "great collegiality" of the Baroque world. "Of course, there are jealous people, discontents, mean people, as in any field." But Baroque music, he adds, is a world where "nothing is sacrosanct." "So much the better, because the star system, truly pernicious, can make an artist's career very risky." And he cites "the unhappy and tragic lives of the stars." He is content himself, he says, with a "fair notoriety," greater in Europe than in the United States. So, when he is in his garden, William Christie tends to his trees while thinking about the enormous works that he so likes to perform, like this four-hour Hercules. An enormous work, yes, but with reduced forces: "There are two violins, a flute, two cornetts, and a handful of continuo instruments in my orchestra, all accompanied by around ten singers. By comparison to what many of my operatic colleagues are conducting right now, that doesn't seem like much," this passionate musician quips.

[...] But [he] suffers from something new these days: the total lack of understanding between Americans and France. As the Franco-American he has become, he claims "to be part of a long tradition of people who merge the values of two educations and two cultures." He explains that "if, in France, anti-Americanism is very pronounced in the ruling class, in the United States, it is the reverse. The leaders are fixed on doing all they can to convince those on the bottom. The educated class, which is not the group in power, is much more inclined toward the international community. The religious right is defending its way of feeling superior, of justifying the country's isolation, of justifying immorality while at the same time claiming the opposite." This artist who has created multiple works to the glory of humanity's potential forcefully deplores the advance of religious fundamentalism in the whole world: "It's the same thing in all the monotheistic religions."
I like to think of William Christie as my true American ambassador to France. Clearly, the "real" ambassador, businessman and Bush crony Howard H. Leach, has been concerned about the same issues as Bill Christie, since the presidential election here. His most recent speech, delivered on December 1, addressed the subject of Franco-American Relations After the Nov 2 Elections before a meeting of the Forum du Futur. You may be surprised by what the Ambassador claims is going to be a major part of the agenda for President Bush's second term:
President Bush is also concerned about the environment and is committed to devoting resources to protecting the environment. The United States under President Clinton decided not to support the Kyoto Protocol, because it considered it to be a flawed approach, not because we disagree with the objective. President Bush has made it clear that he remains committed to addressing climate change, including the reduction of greenhouse gases domestically and internationally. The United States is an active participant in the work taking place under the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change. A world leader in Climate Change Research, the U.S. continues to commit billions of dollars of resources to better understand the changes occurring in the polar regions, the oceans, and the atmosphere. The first Bush Administration provided the leadership behind the highly successful Global Earth Observation System, in which countries share research on climate science, seek to harmonize basic data about earth science, and better understand the gaps in our knowledge of the climate.
Yeah, right. Bill Christie had better start giving more interviews.

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