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How to Program a Summer Festival

Not all of us are so lucky to be in Salzburg this summer, but we are happily following several festivals remotely by Internet, including the Festival de Radio France et Montpellier Languedoc-Roussillon. Renaud Machart sat down for an interview recently with René Koering, the composer who founded this festival in Montpellier twenty-five years ago, about his approach to programming, specifically about how he manages to include so many works audiences would not consider favorites or even expected fare. Here are a few excerpts from the article ("Je découvre en partition des oeuvres tous les mois", July 31) in Le Monde (my translation):
Why, after twenty-five years of "education" from you, did the audience flee the hall for the second half of the opera Wuthering Heights by the Hollywood composer Bernard Herrmann on July 14?

I really think that a part of the audience thought the work was over after an hour and a half. Another part displayed the usual disdain for American music (like it would for Finnish, Dutch, or Portuguese music, which is not often in the ears of ordinary music-lovers). I would add that the "cultivated" public finds it odd to offer a film music composer a place of honor at the opera. [...]

"If Paul Hindemith had not existed, that would not have changed the course of music history," Pierre Boulez recently declared...

Who would have thought forty years ago that Mahler was going to become so important, at least in France? Hindemith was not Mahler (although ...) but who knew, in 1920, that Verdi had written Simon Boccanegra, that Bellini was a great composer, that Vivaldi even existed? Who, other than Boulez, could predict the place of composers in music history? Arnold Schoenberg claimed, "In the near future, people will play my music everywhere." A musician responded, "So, why must we play it now?"

Most big orchestral conductors know only a limited repertory, that which they conduct. With how many of them can you reasonably expect to talk about these pieces in the shadows?

Contrary to what you might think, a large number of them are very interested in such music: Muti, Conlon, Abbado, Järvi, Svetlanov, Gergiev, sometimes Maazel... At the same time there are a few incorrigibles, like the one who told me, "I know 30 symphonies, 12 operas, 20 concertos, and that is enough to live on!" That sort of thinking has not been successful for him, as it turns out!

Your knowledge of music is as eccentric as it is encyclopedic and voracious. Are there any lacunae, any thirst not quenched?

Of 4,000 operas catalogued by my research, I know barely a thousand of them chapter and verse. I have not only lacunae, but many more frustrations and a few passions interrupted in the act. I discover works in score study every month: Halévy's La Magicienne, Catoire's piano concerto, Hasse's Adriano in Sitia, which I think is a major work like the very beautiful Piramo e Tisbe, which I just presented with Fabio Biondi, a work from 1768 that sounds far ahead of its contemporaries. And I don't plan to stop there!
In case you missed it before, here is another reminder that you can listen to that performance of Piramo e Tisbe, with Fabio Biondi and Europa Galante, through the Web site of France Musique.

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