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Laurence Equilbey, Music Director of the Insula Orchestra, Creates a ‘Creation’
July 27, 2018

 
 
 
 
Laurence Equilbey, Music Director of the Insula Orchestra, Creates a ‘Creation’
 
 
 

The New York Times had a chance to talk to Ms. Equilbey, where she shared her story of growing as a leading woman conductor and explained her admiration for multidisciplinary projects she works on with Insula Orchestra. Her ambition and work ethic inspire those around her, including Laurent Bayle, the general director of the Cité de la Musique in Paris. In the New York Times, Mr. Bayle states, “She was really hard-working and resilient […] Today, she is a pioneer for women who want to make a career in that field.” To read more on the New York Times Article featuring Ms. Equilbey:
 



The New York Times
By Roslyn Sulcas

July 18, 2018


PARIS — Laurence Equilbey stopped the rehearsal. “No, no,” she said, her tone more sorrow than anger. “There is first pianissimo, then fortissimo. You’re playing half-soft, half-loud; it’s horrible.”

The Insula Orchestra, a period-instrument ensemble that Ms. Equilbey founded in 2012, tried the phrase again. “Much better,” she called out. “Remember: No muscular force, just the force of joy.”

The 47 musicians were rehearsing Haydn’s “The Creation,” the blithely triumphant 1798 oratorio that Ms. Equilbey, 56, and her two groups — Insula and the Accentus choir — are bringing to Lincoln Center’s Mostly Mozart Festival on Thursday and Friday.

It will not be the sort of concert you’ll want to enjoy with your eyes closed. This “Creation” is staged by Carlus Padrissa, of the Barcelona-based theater troupe La Fura dels Baus, and it features a 30-foot crane, huge helium-filled balloons, singers submerged in an aquarium, and a chorus dressed in rags and holding iPads.

The production is proof of Ms. Equilbey’s stubbornly individual approach to leading her orchestra, the resident ensemble at La Seine Musicale, the egg-shaped wood-and-glass performance center that opened last year on the Île Seguin, an island on the Seine just west of Paris. She has made a name for herself by tenaciously embarking on unusual projects like “The Creation,” embracing technology, and programming neglected repertoire, particularly the work of female composers.

“My whole path has been taken alone,” Ms. Equilbey said in an interview in her dressing room at La Seine Musicale. “It was quite difficult to establish myself as a conductor,” she added, “although I didn’t really think about it at the time. But no one helps you. You have to motivate yourself.” Her realization of the “disastrous” inequality in the field came late, she said. “Only four percent of conductors who are programmed are women, and with the numbers we have, it should be around 20 percent.”
 

When Ms. Equilbey began her career, it was even harder for women than it is today, said Laurent Bayle, the general director of the Cité de la Musique in Paris. “She was really hard-working and resilient,” Mr. Bayle added. “Some say she is very ambitious, and she is, but she knew you can’t be a conductor without conducting and she created those opportunities.”

“Today,” he added, “she is a pioneer for women who want to make a career in that field.”

Ms. Equilbey grew up in Paris and Germany and discovered classical music at boarding school, where she learned several instruments and sang. When she took a conducting course at the Sorbonne while studying the history and theory of music, it was, she said, “a revelation.”

She spent two years in Vienna, studying with Claudio Abbado and Nikolaus Harnoncourt — “a great mentor,” she said, who inspired her love of the sound of period instruments. When she returned to Paris in 1991, she created Accentus.

“Unfortunately for music,” she said, “French culture was interrupted by the Revolution, and the kind of choral ensemble I knew and loved in Vienna and London just didn’t exist.”

That meant state funding for choral music was nonexistent, but Ms. Equilbey managed to raise money from private sources and to establish Accentus as a force on the French music scene, partly by commissioning new work. She also created a school for young singers that is now part of the Regional Conservatory of Paris, and which is being used as a model for similar institutions around the country.

The creation of Insula was much easier, since Ms. Equilbey was invited by the Hauts-de-Seine region to form a resident orchestra at La Seine Musicale. Although there are several period-instrument orchestras in France, Insula is largely alone in embarking on experimental, multidisciplinary projects.

“I want to open things up for the public,” Ms. Equilbey said. “I like to take risks. But that’s not my manifesto. I can also do completely traditional things. I think one should do both.”

“The Creation” was her opening salvo at La Seine Musicale’s inaugural concert in April. “When I think about it, we were crazy, doing all this technological stuff in a new hall, which we really didn’t know,” she said. “But it immediately conveyed the ideas of innovation and openness.”

She was captivated by Mr. Padrissa’s vision. “Haydn begins with the concept of a black hole, compression — and then light, explosion,” Mr. Padrissa said in an interview. “At first there is chaos and obscurity, then light.”

The chaos of our time, he added, “is economic, war, refugees. In America this is so current, with the Mexican border and what is happening now. We are fine in our paradise in the West, but there are many people in chaos, not paradise.”

There are fanciful sequences: Adam and Eve, for example, emerge from a large aquarium and hang suspended in the air while singing. “We have to stay underwater for five minutes at first, so it’s really hard to sing afterwards,” said the baritone Thomas Tatzl, a soloist alongside Christina Landshamer and Robin Tritschler. “But you get used to it, and I really like the production; it’s really not boring.”

 
Jane Moss, the artistic director of Lincoln Center, said that she had long admired Ms. Equilbey. “I would argue that it’s inspired by Haydn’s “Creation” rather than being an interpretation,” she said of the Padrissa staging. “It’s about the power of artistic creation itself.”

“It’s a perfect introduction for anyone under 30,” she added, “because it does transcend your basic classical music expectations.”

Ms. Equilbey aims to create two interdisciplinary productions each year, and has another project with La Fura dels Baus planned for the celebrations of Beethoven’s 250th birthday in 2020. She said she is also always thinking about how to bring in more female musicians, composers and conductors.

“My thesis is that if we manage to get the arts to a more balanced state, society will evolve,” she said. “It’s not the other way around.”
 


 
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