New on medici.tv a superlative concert in which Laurence Equilbey conducts Beethoven at the Philharmonie de Paris. The performasnce is brilliant, but it also illustrates three themes in the news this week :
The Legacy of Nikolaus Harnoncourt
Equilbey's career is based on firm foundations in baroque and early 19th century repertoire. Her style embodies the principles that Harnoncourt so passionately believed in. But read my article Nikolaus Harnoncourt : his true significance for more detail. Equilbey also inherits long-standing French cultural values, which go back to Descartes, Rameau, Voltaire and even Louis XIV - the values of clear-headed intelligence, clarity of concept, audacity and inventiveness. It is no accident that Pierre Boulez was French, and exceptionally well informed. Modern European performance practice absolutely stems from the combination of these influences. It is also no accident that there are many specialist orchestras that can experiment with highly individual approaches. Equilbey works with the Insula Orchestra, which uses period instruments. Listen to their Beethoven, where valveless horns and gutsy (literally) strings created a taut, muscularity which makes Beethoven feel radical. Assumptions based on 1960's and 70's styles elsewhere are irrelevant, a sign of generalization based on guesswork rather than real understanding.
The Importance of a World Class Concert Hall
This concert took place in the new Philharmonie de Paris. Even on broadcast, the sound quality is exceptional. yes, you can hear audience noise but that only makes the experience more direct. The Paris Philharmonie ( based on Boulez's idea of a Cité de la Musique) raises the benchmark for everyone. Since the future of music almost certainly lies with an international market and with new technology, such standards of excellence are paramount. London absolutely needs a truly world-class concert hall if it is to compete . It's all very well to prefer second rate and small time but that is short sighted and petty minded. London needs a world-class centre maybe more than it needs Julian Lloyd Webber! Please read my article London's New Concert Hall - the wider perspective and many others on the lack of vision in British arts policy (and indeed in modern Britain).
Women in Music
Perhaps the BBC and British media don't really take the idea of women in music seriously. If they did, they'd realize that there are quite a few top-rank, world-class women conductors around. What's more, some of them have the originality and panache that marks them as world class. It's simply not enough to rely on the novelty of gender. Why doesn't the British media wake up to Equilbey, Susanna Mälkki, Emmanuelle Haïm and others. Women conductors aren't necessarily niche unless they're forced to be. Tokenism is a niche, too, and far less worthy of respect. In any case, it's offensive and insensitive to make too much about "milestones" about women conductors that mean nothing to the millions of women all over the world who struggle simply to stay alive, and often don't succeed.