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The Thorny Business of Conducting in France

Jun Märkl
Conductor Jun Märkl
There is apparently trouble brewing among the leadership of the Orchestre national de Lyon. You may recall Jun Märkl, whom we last reviewed conducting the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra: in his position as music director in Lyon he has been butting heads with that orchestra's general director, Laurent Langlois, since the latter's appointment last May by Lyon's mayor, Gérard Collomb. Märkl has charged that Langlois's meddling has violated the terms of his contract. Marie-Aude Roux has the details in an article (Combat de chefs à l'Orchestre national de Lyon, February 5) for Le Monde (my translation):
[In response to the accusations, Langlois said:] "I was recruited for a project undertaken by the mayor's office, in order to have an artistic mission take effect. We can no longer be content with stringing together nice symphonies with good conductors." Jun Märkl replied: "M. Langlois's project is not in the interest of the Orchestre de Lyon, but in that of his own career." The situation is now in such a state of conflict that the conductor brought a law suit against the city in November 2009, calling on it to respect his contract. The terms are clear: Märkl decides what works are given on concerts, chooses the guest conductors and soloists. He accuses M. Langlois of having hired musicians without consulting him. "He has even planned meetings behind my back, in locations that were kept secret!" Märkl is referring to a meeting, on October 19, in a room rented at the Hôtel Villemanzy, in the neighborhood of the Croix-Rousse.
Serge Sobczynski, a cultural administrator in the government "does not deny Langlois's blunders," having known him previously in Rouen. He also recalls that the musicians were divided a few years ago over Märkl's appointment, a conflict that led to the resignation of Langlois's predecessor, Anne Poursin, last January. In the wake of these events, Märkl has opted not to renew his contract, which is set to end in 2011. Anne Poursin had settled on former NSO music director Leonard Slatkin as a successor, but now Langlois is making noises about "redefining the role of the music director," perhaps to make artistic decisions less the exclusive territory of the music director. Would any conductor in his right mind really want to step into this kind of situation?

Stéphane Denève
Conductor Stéphane Denève
As a follow-up to l'affaire Haïm at the Opéra national de Paris last month, consider the troubles faced by another French conductor with that company's orchestra. The backstory was mentioned in a review of Stéphane Denève's concert with his Royal Scottish National Orchestra at the Théâtre des Champs-Elysées earlier this month, by Marie-Aude Roux (Stéphane Denève, un "frenchie expatrié" à Paris, February 6) in Le Monde (my translation):
[The RSNO post] was a breath of fresh air in Denève's life, balm for his artistic heart. In effect his career in France had begun well, with about ten productions at the head of the Orchestre de l'Opéra de Paris. But it stumbled following a violent disagreement with a musician during a rehearsal of Mozart's Le Nozze di Figaro in 2003. Stéphane Denève, like others including Philippe Auguin, Daniel Harding, Marc Minkowski, and most recently Emmanuelle Haïm, had to call it quits. "Up to that point, I had had good relations with them," he recalls. "Everything went well, Les Dialogues des carmélites, Così fan tutte, Magic Flute and Massenet's Don Quichotte. And then, over the course of time, their lack of discipline became more difficult for me to tolerate..." (emphasis added)
Denève appears happy with his position in Scotland, making a home with his family (including a young daughter) in Glasgow, and after five years, subscriptions have doubled and attendance has risen by 40%. For the moment, according to Roux, he "has refused to come back to direct a French ensemble."

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I would love to know if Mayor Langlois could get away with such things elsewhere. It is obviously for the music director to make the musical decisions.