Have you further projects in store for eighteenth-century music?
Eighteenth-century music is certainly as vast a store as that of the seventeenth-century. There are yet many works yet to be discovered, in particular the post-Rameau repertory for orchestra—that is to say, for the years 1760-1780. The evolution of the French symphony by composers such as Simon Leduc, Le Chevalier de Saint-George, Gossec, Gretry et Philidor is eloquent testimony to the remarkable development of an instrumental synthesis that reflects a new cosmopolitan taste. Germans like Schobert should also be included. We have currently a project to record, together with Patricia Petibon, airs of opéras comiques of the period. I recall a similar recording made by Christiane Edda-Pierre about twenty years ago.
Let us speak about Handel. What draws him to you?
I have considerable experience of Handel, having directed Orlando, Semele and Rodelinda. I like his operas. We are at the moment rehearsing Israel in Egypt and I don’t let a year go by without including one of his works on the programs of our tours. Everything about him is beautiful. First of all, he is a remarkable melodist; I appreciate his nobility, youth, extraordinary freshness. What touches me most about Handel is the human truth of his music, just as with Monteverdi. We have just presented Rodelinda at the last Montreux Festival the arias of which are particularly lovely. I should like to record Theodora, which we gave at Glynebourne three years ago. We will do Alcina, a fully mature work, during the month of June at the Opera of Paris. Alcina and Ruggiero are character of great psychological depth. Because of their complexity, their roles are among the most important in Baroque theater. I had the good fortune for Alcina to work with my best stage designer, Robert Carsen, and to have available an absolutely dazzling array of talent: Renée Flemnig (Alcina), Susan Graham (Ruggiero), Natalie Dessay (Morgana), Laurent Naouri (Melisso). Our most recent project was to record l’Allegro, il Penseroro ed il Moderato.
Les Arts Florissants will soon celebrate its twentieth anniversary. Several most promising events are announced for 1999. We mentioned Alcina, not to forget Les Indes Galantes. I want now to speak of your startling new approach to a rapprochement between ancient and modern, between early music and creations of our own times. I refer to the commission you have given to Betsy Jolas at the end of next year. I believe it will be the most interesting musical experience of the end of the twentieth century, particularly in the light of our present interview. What do you think?
I regret that such a dialogue about interpretation using ancient instruments and contemporary music creation, however obvious in the rest of the world, simply does not exist here in France, except for rare exceptions. The blame must be laid at the door of Pierre Boulez and others who have an unconditional hatred of Baroque music. I believe that there exists a place for all forms and expressions of music, and this for all periods. I remember well in the United States and in England, twenty-five or thirty years ago, that playing on ancient musical instruments and experimenting with new forms of composition was not considered in the least shocking. This regrettable break between freedom of musical expression and the choice of new sonorities which I find here in France simply did not exist. Consider for a moment the work of Feldman or of Berio in Gesualdo and Monteverdi. Yes, the choice of Betsy Jolas is only a gesture. Both of us live between two cultural traditions, between France and The United States. Betsy Jolas is also a product of the same American University background as me.
You have a particular passion for gardens?
I am fond of the idea of a garden as a place of retreat, as a place of refuge. It is certainly for me a means of self-protection. This passion corresponds to an occupation which is vital for me: to bring to birth, to create in fleeting time, to bring and to give life.