First of all our apologies to the conductor for the spelling of her name adopted by our URL above - it's a matter of not inserting special characters into the URL but her name of course is spelled Haïm.
Opera Lively is honored to present to our readers an interview with such a prestigious conductor. It was collected this past summer in Aix-en-Provence. We did meet the charming and down-to-Earth artist in person afterwards but this interview was conducted over the phone in a plaza next to a street saxophone player and some five or six parts were omitted due to the tape recording being unintelligible - if the conductor later suggests corrections to the omitted parts or has other changes to make, we will include them (the text has been sent to her).
This coverage is part of our Aix-en-Provence portal - see all the other interviews and articles including review of her performance by clicking [here].
Photo Credit Marianne Rosenstiehl, fair promotional use
Artist - Emmanuelle Haïm
Nationality - French - Born in Paris on 11 May 1962
Specialty - Conductor (mainly Baroque music and opera, early music), harpsichord player
Founder of - Les Concerts d'Astrée
Web sites - http://www.askonasholt.co.uk/artists...mmanuelle-haim
Facebook - https://www.facebook.com/EmmanuelleHaim/
Emmanuelle Haïm is highly acclaimed as a performer and champion of the Baroque repertoire, both as a keyboard player and conductor. In 2000 she founded Le Concert d’Astrée, which has quickly established an international reputation. This past season, they performed three new opera productions; a re-creation of Xerse by Cavalli and Lully in Lille, Caen and Vienna; Mitridate by Mozart in Paris and Dijon and Handel’s Il trionfo del Tempo e del Disinganno at the Aix-en-Provence Festival [where we met Emmanuelle].
They also performed a special concert project entitled "Monstres, sorcières et magiciennes"; Patricia Petibon and Christopher Purves perform music by Handel and Purcell, and Anne Sofie von Otter and Laurent Naouri perform music by Rameau, Lully and Charpentier. These performances are taking place throughout Europe, including Théâtre des Champs-Elysées (Paris), Theater an der Wien (Vienna) and the Philharmonie (Berlin).
This season, Emmanuelle Haïm is making her debut with the Wiener Philharmoniker, with performances in Vienna and at the Lucerne Festival. She has a regular relationship with the Berliner Philharmoniker, with whom she has collaborated on three occasions. Emmanuelle Haïm has also worked with the Los Angeles Philharmonic, Concerto Köln, Frankfurt Radio and City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra.
Emmanuelle Haïm has conducted regularly at Glyndebourne Festival Opera, including Theodora (Handel) and L’Incoronazione di Poppea (Monteverdi). She has also performed Rodelinda (Handel) with Glyndebourne Touring Opera and was the first woman to conduct at Chicago Lyric Opera (Handel’s Giulio Cesare).
Le Concert d’Astrée and Emmanuelle Haïm have a very extensive discography with Erato/Warner Classics. Their recordings have won numerous awards including Victoires de la Musique Classique (for Lamenti and Carestini), the Echo Deutscher Musikpreis and nominations for the Grammy Awards. Their most recent releases are a DVD of La finta giardineria (Mozart) and a CD of Handel’s Messiah.
Emmanuelle Haïm is a Chevalier de la Légion d’Honneur, an Officier des Arts et des Lettres and an Honorary Member of the Royal Academy of Music. She lives in northern France and is a passionate and active ambassador for this region.
Exclusive Opera Lively Interview with conductor Emmanuelle Haïm – Wednesday July 6, 2016 - Aix-en-Provence, France
This is our interview #208. Copyright Opera Lively; all rights reserved. Reproduction of excerpts is authorized for all purposes as long as the source is quoted and a link to the full piece is provided. Reproduction of the entire interview requires authorization - use the Contact Us form. Photos unless otherwise stated with specific credit are fair promotional use (we often do not know the names of all photographers; will be happy to include them if we are told who they are). One of the photos was sent to Opera Lively by the Bureau de Presse of the Festival d'Aix-en-Provence; authorized use.
Luiz Gazzola for Opera Lively - First let’s talk about Il Trionfo del Tempo and del Disinganno. It is both Handel’s first and last oratorio, given that decades later he revised it twice, with the work acquiring its final form as The Triumph of Time and Truth, which is dated after his last one, Jephta. It is uncertain how much Handel participated in the third revision, anyway, but please tell us about the historical importance of this piece.
Emmanuelle Haïm - Yes, it’s a very important piece for Handel, because it is one of his very first big works. He has just arrived in Italy and is very thirsty about composing and embracing the Italian culture in all aspects – paintings, sculptures – all the fantastic richness of Italian culture. With that he meets a lot of important patrons and writers such as Ottoboni, Ruspoli, and here we have great opportunity for him to shine and to show what he is capable of doing and writing. So, also Rome offered very important orchestras such as the one sponsored by Pamphili; everybody is fighting to have him after he is seen performing at the organ and everybody sees how brilliant he is, therefore he is offered very good orchestra forces including brilliant players; he is given the best to be able to write the best music.
OL - The music is of course extraordinarily beautiful, including the spectacular “Lascia la Spina,” which he later re-worked into “Lascia chi’o pianga” for Rinaldo. Please tell us about the music in this oratorio. What should we pay attention to, in this work, and how do you describe its musical structure?
EH - Yes, what is great is that the inspiration he has is very florid and rich and spontaneous. He uses every kind of forces that he has in the Italian style. The ripieno, the grosso, the concertino for example which he puts to honor all the time, alternating the soloists from the opera and the full members of the orchestra in contrast. As you mention he is very richly melodic, and simple at the same time. There are melodic scenes that he will reuse because we shouldn’t forget that the Trionfo was played only once, and right after, it was over. It is kind of a waste if you play it once and you throw it away right after, so he will reuse some in Aggripina, for example the “Come nembo” which is quite incredible for the singers and for the players.
We have here an Italian style overture because he wrote in the French style and Corelli complained [Editor’s note: She is probably referring to the fact that Arcangelo Corelli, the famous violinist and composer, refused to play a passage that extended to A in altissimo in the overture, and felt seriously offended when the composer (32 years his junior) played the note]. So he will use that again alternating with the solo for two violins of the concertino, the solo for two oboes of the concertino, and bassoon, two celli and the rest of the orchestra.
What is very striking in the music? Yes, the arias have a lot of very different forms, already. He uses accompagnato with incredible harmonies for Beauty, modulations for Time. He uses for Disinganno the flute in her two arias, in a very soft and well-balanced harmony. For example the first aria of Disinganno in one of the two violin and continuo sonatas, he will reuse that scene very differently. So the variety of writing for a 21-year-old man is quite incredible.
OL - A curiosity – why do you think Handel changed the title from Disillusionment to Truth when he reworked the score [The Triumph of Time and Truth]?
EH - Disinganno is a weird word. We don’t quite have a translation for that because disillusionment is not quite right. Ingannare is really to fool somebody, I mean when you cheat on somebody, and disingannare is “let the truth be seen” or take off the veil that is on our eye and therefore see the truth. Yes, so in the work it is two different allegories, and Disinganno describes truth at some point. She is wearing white and she looks at the sky and can see God. He rewrites all the arias which are quite different, first of all in the first rework in 1737, and then when he completely rewrites it later on. I think it is a philosophical reflection on an important point for a human being, somehow: what is life made of? What is it, getting old? And strengths? When you say beauty, it is also strengths, health, richness, and letting go – what is the meaning of life, somehow? That’s how I understand how he uses these feelings a few times.
OL - What is your approach to interpreting a score by Handel, especially one that is staged as an opera?
EH - I don’t know if it is really staged as an opera, to tell you the truth. With Krzysztof [Warlikowski - stage director], I think it was a more theatrical and cinematic approach where it is not really action; it is more a reflection. Is it real people, or it is obsessions that Beauty has in her kind of delirium of the abuses she herself has committed in her life, going so far that she cannot have common judgment anymore. Her own family is too bossy to her and not in a nice way, is what I read in some of the non-explicative staging of Krzysztof. Sometimes it looks like the father is somebody really cruel, and more than cruel. It was not safe for a young girl to be his daughter, basically. So I think the piece is quite open to stage representation, somehow.
OL - You have also worked in vocal coaching, so now as a conductor, how closely do you work with your singers in rehearsal? What are your main pieces of advice for singers venturing into this repertory?
EH - I like to work with them as close as possible. I’ve seen all the singers months before, really. First of all because one knows that the ornamentation and da capo writing for the singers require a lot of practice. The singers at the time had worked for so many weeks and months and years since young age; it was like second-nature for them, so they would do it from the spot without confusion.
Now singers do all kinds of styles at the same time – modern music, Romantic music, Baroque music, Liederabend, ensemble, opera, lots of stuff; so when they come to a production that is going to be staged, memory-wise you absolutely have to fix what notes we are choosing together; so, in order to do this really together and see what we will do for that, so close to the production, we have to really see each other. I have to understand their voices and they have to guide me, also – how is it good for them, how do they breathe? The more I work with the singers, the better I understand them, the better I do with them and vice-versa, I think.
OL - I’ve always been curious about the relationship between a conductor and a stage director. You have for this piece a very talented one, Krzysztof Warlikowski. Please tell us about matters of creative process and artistic ownership of the final product, and how a conductor and a director coordinate these tasks among themselves.
EH - It depends very much on the personality of both of us, really, and the types of works. I mean, all relationships that I have had with directors have been very different from one director to another one. Some people you see very much in advance and you work kind of closely on the music – I think for example of David Lescot when we did La Finta Giardiniera; very soon we talked about how we were doing that piece, and in the middle of the piece all of a sudden you are transported to another place. It’s magic. How do I do that magic? So he sings, we sing, then gradually we come to a tradition that we exchanged enormously. He was Parisian and so was I, so we talked about it very longly and precisely, each of the cuts we wanted, etc.
Somebody else like Jean-François Sivadier I explained my point of view about the music when we met. We did two operas together, one of them being Poppea. I told him “I think this music is almost more theater than music so the freedom that you have is very big in terms of rhythm. You have lots of flexibility that you wouldn’t have in any other music, so you can use that.” And then he took that, and we met and talked again. Then he came to my music rehearsals and I came to his, and somehow it worked. I mean, you can feel when it all comes together, or when it is less good. If I’m not convinced… I go and see the plays of a stage director if he does plays, or if he does opera I come and see; sometimes they come to listen to my concerts and we try to meet. When the meeting is good, we try to do another project together [laughs].
OL - I haven’t seen the production yet – I’ll see tonight’s performance. I hear that Mr. Warlikowski’s concept for this piece is very avant-garde. Baroque is often revived in very daring productions – I wonder why it is more the case for Baroque than for later operas. What do you think of this? Are there excesses that negatively impact on the music?
EH - What I actually did buy quite well from Krzysztof is the fact that this libretto if you read it like that, if a 25-year-old person reads it, it really talks to a 16 or 20-year-old person. It is very tricky. I would very much like that the music and the pieces I do have a resonance, something that resounds in the person, for his life or her life today. So I think the proposition of a quite contemporary staging of very ancient music and libretto when they are very actual and modern in their content, somehow, I don’t find that shocking.
The suicide scene - photo courtesy of the Bureau de Presse, Festival d'Aix, authorized use
Sabine Devieilhe (Bellezza in Il Trionfo del Tempo e del Disinganno)
I think there are many ways to communicate with nowadays audience, and we have to think of one way or another. I don’t think in that case it went against the music. I mean, it’s a very personal look on the piece, with the character Beauty committing suicide. If you are going to end your life, if you are going to renounce nowadays pleasures and beauty, let it go, because you are promised eternal future pleasure forever in Heaven. And maybe that is what some very excessive young people have done. You know, the first cause of death for the young ones is suicide, so somehow it is not out of context. I see the point. If I would think that it was really damaging the music I wouldn’t do it, then.
OL – Interesting! Let’s move away from Il Trionfo and address other topics. I believe it was Sir Colin Davis who was a staunch enemy of the period instrument trend, saying that the historically informed orchestras were somehow robbing modern orchestras of this repertory, and I’ve interviewed conductors who doubt that nowadays, in spite of all the research, we can actually come up with an accurate historical rendition. It is also said that the changed pitch is hard on the singers. Given that you are a specialist in this repertory and the founder of a historical ensemble, Les Concerts d’Astrée, how would you respond to this criticism?
EH - The thing is, we are not trying to totally recreate what happened, because we are living with electricity, with cars, in a modern world. But some of the balance is so different in a modern orchestra, especially for the winds! Some instruments used today didn’t even exist in the Baroque.
For the singers, the pitch is fundamental. If you take Monteverdi, that should be played very high, 465. You just cannot do that with a modern orchestra. If you take the French repertoire, that has to be played basically at 400. If you take the Baroque flute, if you use modern flutes, for the singers it is very tricky. Physically speaking you can’t achieve it. Some music you can do, of course, but some music pitch-wise is really a problem.
So, I think, first of all, that nowadays the movement is almost 50 years old, and ever since, modern players have changed very much. Modern conductors have changed also quite a lot. Some players are now trying to re-appropriate some of the repertory.
Myself, I basically conduct period instrument orchestras but it is a pleasure to share this music also with modern orchestras. I think they shouldn’t be separated from it. You need the specialist, but the others should also have the experience of at least touching it a bit.
OL - Wow, great answer, thank you! Another curiosity I have regarding conductors, is the issue of conducting you own orchestra versus guest-conducting. How do you approach musicians who are totally new to you when you guest-conduct? You’ve conducted some very prestigious orchestras. We wonder if such accomplished musicians are a bit set on their ways and very faithful to their own habitual conductor. So, when you approach such an orchestra like the Wiener Philharmoniker, what are the challenges and hurdles you need to get around to get them to adapt to your style?
EH - If I go to these orchestras it’s when they ask for me. I wouldn’t really have a reason to go, but it is a pleasure and honor to share the music with any incredible musician. I come with modesty to present the music I do love and I think I know well, to people who maybe don’t know it that well, for the sake of the pleasure of sharing it, really. I wouldn’t do it with a repertoire that is not my specialty. I think that with this music the conducting is a bit different. If you are mainly conducting from the keyboard like Handel definitely did, it’s another vision of conducting.
The tricky thing is when we perform in spaces that have more distance and want to adopt the practices of the time; we do need to adapt the conducting. I do my best to keep it faithful to the time but to also use the experience of those orchestras that have another richness for me. When you conduct the Berliner [Philharmoniker] which has such an ensemble thinking, such an experience of that, we work very differently, and I find it very interesting. Honestly I don’t come as a conqueror [laughs]; it’s not my point of view at all.
OL - Right. In the Baroque repertoire you often conduct while playing the harpsichord. Is it challenging to do both at the same time, or is it second nature for you?
EH - It is absolutely second nature. It is like completely normal. I don’t even think of it. The contrary, like in Il Trionfo I don’t play because I was a bit afraid of the very wide pit, and I was afraid that if I played the singers would not hear it, and sometimes they don’t hear. I have to conduct some of the continuo arias which you normally never do, it is counter nature, but here because it was above and wide I had to, so I did leave my instrument, with tears. [laughs]
OL - A glance at your numerous recordings would appear to suggest that you have interest in both instrumental and vocal music. What are the challenges in conducting opera?
EH - Balance is definitely a question so you really have to choose the right players. If you take an opera by Lilly people used to play it very high and turn the other way around, facing the stage, and you have a hole in the middle for the king and the queen to be able to see the opera. The music somehow is written that way. You have big, big numbers that are really high, and they could see what was going on.
When I conduct an opera I always find very sad if the orchestra cannot listen to the singers and vice-versa. Communication between pit and stage is fundamental in my repertoire. I try to have this movement, this fluidity between both members as big as possible. The players come to see the dress rehearsal, we plan the spots for the players; they see one day at least what is going on, etcetera.
OL - You have a very extensive discography. If you were to offer advice to a classical music lover trying to get to know your works, which pieces you’d advise the person to buy first? And maybe those would be different, but what recordings of yours offered you the best artistic pleasure and are most cherished by you?
EH - Oh my God, it’s difficult because I liked making all of them, but I would say maybe “The Ten Years of Astrée. Also “Une fête baroque” because it has all the singers you know, Natalie [Dessay], Philippe [Jaroussky], Anne-Sofie [von Otter], all the singers who are very important for us, and it was such a joyful moment! Twenty-five singers came to this ten-year anniversary of the orchestra and they all sang for free. All the money went to a very big cancer hospital in Paris. It was very spontaneous. We hardly attempted to rehearse at all. It was just great and joyful and sunny to do. The audience sang Handel’s “Hallelujah.” We put the score in the program. It was such a party, really. On top of it, the money going to the hospital, we are very proud of it, including all the singers. Whenever you buy the recording, the money goes there, so I think it’s great!
[A trailer of "Une fête baroque," great stuff:]
OL - I do know about the circumstances of your beginnings as a conductor, but for the sake of our readers, please tell us a bit how you went from pianist, accompanist for recitals, and vocal coach to full blown conducting.
EH - Yes, as a child I had a piano at home. I started as a very young one. Music was important in my family. From my father’s side, a Jew from Istanbul, there were musicians. My aunt was a pianist. From my mother’s side there were organ players and makers in Britany, so music was very much there. My mother remarried to a Hungarian and we had a lot of Hungarian musicians coming home. So from very young age I had brilliant players coming there and very soon it was clear that that was going to be my life. I couldn’t imagine anything else, really.
I came to play the organ, and when I entered the Conservatory I entered a room with a harpsichord. I started to play it and very clearly that was going to be my instrument, so I specialized in harpsichord.
I was a student of William Christie's, also. He took me as his assistant and accompanist as well. Then I discovered enormous amount of repertoire from the 17th century, the French Baroque, the German Baroque, the English 17th century music. I went into production and discovered the world of opera, and adored the feeling of that. So, I learned and learned, and gradually it became quite clear to me that I needed to grow up and he said “Yep, you got to do the next step, now!” and so I did.
OL - I’m sorry if this question has been asked of you to death, but have you ever found that as a female conductor, your path was or is harder than that of your male counterparts?
EH - I think I was not conscious of that at all when I was younger. I thought of conducting when I was ten, eleven, and even when I was fourteen, fifteen, and somehow I wasn’t encouraged. It is not that I was discouraged, but nobody really pushed me. So, I was not conscious of why. I took that off my mind and did other stuff, as you know, but it came back, and now when I look back I think that somehow it was linked to the fact that I was not a young man, but a young woman. Maybe. But anyway now I don’t want to listen to those voices. I do what I have to do. It doesn’t matter. It happens that I am a woman. I don’t care.
OL - Nice. As a Chevalier de l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres, what do you feel is your artistic responsibility in terms of a mission to foster French culture? What are your projects related to this?
EH - It’s very important not only to me but to the members of the orchestra and to the members of the administration of Les Concerts d’Astrée. We have given a lot of our energy to the social and educational projects in the North region. We developed a lot of that. We do a lot a lot of rehearsals in colleges, in schools, in hospitals, with people. We want to be part of our towns and cities and country, and definitely also bring it to the outside. I think culture is such a way of preventing people from fighting stupidly against each other! When you see the extraordinary El Sistema in Venezuela… of course that is not only music. Art in general is fundamental to our life. We’d die without it.
OL - The busy life of a conductor – is it strenuous, or a great ride?
EH - I try to balance it the best I can so that I can have also freedom in my mind and freshness when I’m in music, and energy. I balance it with my family life and with things that have nothing to do with music. I like going to the sea and sailing.
OL - Yes, so, tell us a bit about your extra-musical hobbies and interests.
EH - I definitely like nature. Sometimes I go skiing because it is nice to be out in the mountains. I love walking outside. I like my friends very much, and partying with them. I absolutely adore my daughter and my family, and I try to share with them my pleasure with music, and also what they like. I’m a family person. It’s very important in life to share. My mother had eight brothers and sisters and my father had four so I have plenty of cousins. Almost everywhere I go there is a cousin and I say “come to my concert!”
OL – Thank you so much! It was a lovely interview.
EH – My pleasure.
Here Emmanuelle conducts the overture to Giulio Cesare; notice the expressive body language:
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