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25.06.2019 Europe

Les Arts Florissants marks 40 years of modern baroque

By Rosslyn Hyams - RFI
Patrick Berger
JUN 25, 2019 EUROPE

One of the finest 20th and 21st century Franco-American cultural ventures must be Les Arts Florissants, a baroque music ensemble begun by William Christie in 1979. Under Christie, and more recently, Paul Agnew, Les Arts Flo is credited with reviving 17th to mid-18th century European music worldwide.

The spotlight falls on 74-year-old US-born William Christie on this 40th anniversary, who modestly recognises how the French culture system has been instrumental in the nurturing and flourishing of Les Arts Florissants. 

The future-present
A magician of the harpsichord, Christie leaves most of the talking to his right-hand man, Paul Agnew. This is indicative of Christie's concern about legacy.

While accumulating fame for the ensemble worldwide, in 1985 in Thiré, western France, in 1985, he began restoring a splendid house and gardens which he turned into a venue for a summer festival of baroque music and song.

Also a temporary residency for young musicians and landscape gardeners, the Thiré site has been included on a special list of disused historical monuments, known as a centre culturel de rencontre. The sites, built centuries ago have been restored and given a new lease of life.

Since 2007, Les Arts Florissants had been sharing expertise with students at the Julliard School in New York.

Paul Agnew says that a big part of their work is introducing your people from all over to perform or just enjoy baroque music, which he says, "gives them keys to understand a period of European history and culture".

Celebratory mode
This year will not be so different for the highly active ensemble which performs around 100 times each year.

From opera to motet, from Paris' Théâtre des Bouffes du Nord to the Cité de la Musique in the northeast of the French capital, 2019 will not be so different from every other for Christie, Agnew, their musicians, singers and gardeners.

However, three events stand out in France. Two of them will be held in Thiré in August. The Garden of Voices, Le Jardin des Voix perform Mozart's "La finta giardiniera". Singers and musicians who have left their mark on Les Arts Florissants over the 40 years, will perform "Baroque Odysee", a journey in baroque music guided by Charpentier, Handel, Lully, Purcell and Rameau.

Last but not least, Les Arts Florissants will return to Paris for a weekend at the Paris Philharmonic. Alongside the concerts, the weekend events include a masterclass, a costume exhibition, a film about Christie, and even a baroque dance lesson.