Paul McCreesh on Forgotten French Opera & Rattle Mania

Welcome to my new blog for Gabrieli. I hope it’s going to be a good opportunity not just to celebrate some of Gabrieli’s projects but to give our audience a better idea of what makes me tick artistically and perhaps a deeper understanding of my sometimes maverick personality! The music business is a slightly strange one, because we’re all somewhat hidebound by etiquette. Nevertheless, as all my Gabrieli colleagues know very well, give me a pint or two I’m quite happy to stick my head above the parapet.

I’ve spent the last few weeks, as is my normal lifestyle, whizzing around various European countries, including working on Figaro with the Gulbenkian Orchestra in Lisbon where I’m Artistic Director, and meeting old friends in Wroclaw. Most recently I’ve been in Paris preparing the early rehearsals for a production at the Opéra Comique, of Hérold’s Le pré aux clercs. If you haven’t heard of this opera, don’t worry, neither had I! Superficially it’s incredibly light, and while it’s certainly true that Hérold is no Mozart, this opera was performed over 1000 times at the Opéra Comique, in the hundred years following its premiere in 1834. As with all popular pieces there has to be a reason. Many a conductor can make a Messiah or Mahler symphony sound fantastic, but it’s much harder to make lighter music really work. Hard indeed, but certainly not impossible, as in this sort of music an in depth knowledge of style, orchestral colour and concern over the delicacy of the scoring really becomes important. It’s also an opera with much spoken dialogue; it’s been very rewarding to see singers working in an environment where they can’t just rely on singing! In some operas the musical forms have to lead, but here, the stage has to determine the pace and the overall colour of the performance. The production looks especially elegant and stylish as only the French know how!  If anyone reading this post is in Paris over the coming month we have performances on 23, 25, 27, 29, 31 March & 02 April 2015 – do come along, we have a fantastic cast and direction by French actor/director Eric Ruf.  I like to be taken out of my ‘comfort zone’ and I’m looking forward to getting back to more rehearsals.

Whilst I was in Paris, I picked up the latest instalment of Rattle Mania…I’ve got nothing against Simon Rattle, who of course is an outstanding conductor; the one time I met him he could not have been more genuinely charming and friendly. Nevertheless, I’m inclined to believe that if Sir Simon requested Buckingham Palace at the moment, Her Majesty might seriously have to move out!  Of course he’s right that London’s halls don’t cut the mustard compared to Birmingham or Newcastle, or indeed many European cities, but that’s not in my opinion the biggest problem facing music in the UK. One only has to walk around the streets of Paris to see a vastly more eclectic offering of cultural activity, underwritten by huge levels of public subsidy.  Particularly noticeable is the huge range of opportunity given to period instruments groups like Gabrieli, not just in concert halls but also in opera productions. It was only recently that I met the director of one of our most famous UK halls who lamented that his promoting budget was half of what it was a few years ago.  Inevitably the problem arises that we can build as many concert halls as we like, but we need to expand support of the cultural sector to offer a wider range of activity than is currently on offer, both in London and across the UK. It is true that Rattle has always spoken eloquently for the need for music education, but it’s always difficult to prioritise; to invest yet more money in infrastructure when school music services are closing on an almost weekly basis cannot be sustainable long term. However attractive it may appear to see Sir Simon conducting a hand-picked group of young musicians in the Barbican – and I’m sure he would be the first to agree – this can never replace extensive cultural provision within schools, which is now under attack more than ever.  Fewer glamorous photo opps, and more grass root provision…

Tuesday 03 March 2015