William Christie, Musical Director, Founder
Paul Agnew, Associate Musical
Director, Associate Conductor
Jonathan Cohen, Associate Conductor
Dedicated to the performance of Baroque music on original instruments, Les Arts Florissants was founded in 1979 by the Franco-American harpsichordist and conductor William Christie. The Ensemble has played a pioneering role in the resurgence of interest in the French baroque repertoire which had long been neglected.
Over the past thirty-some years, they have unearthed innumerable treasures from the collections of the Bibliothèque Nationale de France, particularly the French repertoire from the 17th century but also more generally European music of the 17th and 18th centuries which is now widely performed and admired. The Ensemble takes its name from a short opera by Marc-Antoine Charpentier.
Since the 1987 production of Lully’s Atys at the Opéra Comique in Paris, triumphantly revived in May 2011, it has been in the field of opera that Les Arts Florissants have enjoyed their greatest successes. Notable productions include works by Rameau (Les Indes Galantes, Hippolyte et Aricie, Les Boréades, Les Paladins), Lully and Charpentier (Médée, David et Jonathas, Les Arts Florissants—performed for the heads of state of the G7 in 1982—Armide), Handel (Orlando, Acis and Galatea, Semele, Alcina, Serse, Hercules, L’Allegro, il Penseroso ed il Moderato), Purcell (King Arthur, Dido and Aeneas, The Fairy Queen), Mozart (Die Zauberflöte, Die Entführung aus dem Serail), Monteverdi (his opera trilogy), and also rarer composers such as Landi (Il Sant’Alessio), Cesti (Il Tito), and Hérold (Zampa).
These productions were created with renowned figures of the stage such as Jean-Marie Villégier, Robert Carsen, Alfredo Arias, Pier Luigi Pizzi, Jorge Lavelli, Adrian Noble, Andrei Serban, Luc Bondy, Graham Vick, Deborah Warner, Jérôme Deschamps and Macha Makeïeff, Andreas Homoki, as well as with choreographers Francine Lancelot, Béatrice Massin, Ana Yepes, Shirley Wynne, Maguy Marin, François Raffinot, Jirí Kylián, Bianca Li, Trisha Brown, Robyn Orlin, Sasha Waltz, José Montalvo, Françoise Denieau, and Dominique Hervieu.
Les Arts Florissants enjoy an equally high profile in the concert hall, as illustrated by their many acclaimed concert or semi-staged performances of operas and oratorios (Rameau’s Zoroastre, Anacréon, and Les Fêtes d’Hébé, Charpentier’s Actéon and La Descente d’Orphée aux Enfers, Campra’s Idoménée and Mozart’s Idomeneo, Montéclair’s Jephté, Rossi’s L’Orfeo, Handel’s Giulio Cesare with Cecilia Bartoli, Purcell’s The Indian Queen) as well as secular and sacred chamber-music programs (petits motets by Lully and Charpentier, madrigals by Monteverdi and Gesualdo, court airs by Lambert, hymns by Purcell, among others), large-scale works (including grands motets by Rameau, Mondonville or Campra, and oratorios by Haydn), and also oratorios by Handel (Messiah, Israel in Egypt, Theodora, Susanna, Jephtha, and Belshazzar).
Les Arts Florissants present each year a season of concerts and opera performances in France—at Philharmonie de Paris, where they are artists in residence, the Salle Pleyel, the Cité de la Musique, the Opéra Comique, the Théâtre des Champs-Élysées, the Château de Versailles, as well as in numerous festivals (including Septembre Musical de l’Orne, Beaune, Ambronay, Aix-en-Provence)—and are an active ambassador for French culture abroad, being regularly invited to New York, London, Edinburgh, Brussels, Vienna, Salzburg, Madrid, Barcelona, Moscow, and elsewhere.
The Ensemble has produced an impressive discography: nearly 100 recordings for Harmonia Mundi, Warner Classics/Erato, and Virgin Classics. Their DVD catalogue recently expanded with La Didone by Cavalli (Opus Arte), David et Jonathas (Bel Air Classiques), and Rameau, Maître à Danser (Apha). In 2013, Les Arts Florissants launched their own recording label, Les Editions Arts Florissants. After Belshazzar and Le Jardin de Monsieur Rameau, the “Mantova” and “Cremona” volume of Monteverdi’s madrigals, directed by Paul Agnew, and Music for Queen Caroline by Handel are the label’s most recent releases.
In recent years, Les Arts Florissants have launched several education programs for young musicians. The most emblematic is the Academy of the Jardin des Voix: created in 2002, it is held every two years, and has already brought a substantial number of new singers into the limelight. The Arts Flo Juniors program, launched in 2007, enables conservatory students to join the orchestra and chorus for a production, from the first day of rehearsals up until the last performance. And then there is the partnership between William Christie, Les Arts Florissants, and the Juilliard School, which since 2007 has allowed a fruitful artistic exchange between France and the U.S.
Numerous events aimed at building new audiences are also programmed each year, principally in the Basse-Normandie region of France. They are conceived with both amateur musicians and non-musicians in mind, adults as much as children.
In 2012, William Christie and Les Arts Florissants created the festival Dans les Jardins de William Christie, in partnership with the Conseil Général de la Vendée. An annual event, the festival brings together artists from Les Arts Florissants, pupils from the Juilliard School, and laureates of the Jardin des Voix for concerts and “musical promenades” in the gardens created by William Christie at Thiré, in the Vendée. With the creations of an endowment fund “Les Jardins de Musique de William Christie”, Les Arts Florissants act in order to develop a permanent cultural space in Thiré.
During 2015-16 season Les Arts Florissants will present a new version of Theodora, conducted by William Christie at the Théâtre des Champs-Elysée, by Stephan Langridge, which will go on tour for a concert version in New York (Lincoln Center) and Amsterdam (Concertgebouw); Monsieur de Pourceaugnac of Molière/Lully, staged by Clément Hervieu-Léger; “Musique à Versailles: a day with Le Roi Soleil”, a French program given to celebrate the tercentenary of Louis XIV’s death; the recovery of Campra’s Fêtes Vénitiennes (staged by Robert Carsen) at the Toulouse Capitole and the New York BAM; the B Minor Mass of Bach; a concert version of Il re pastore of Mozart with a cast led by Rolando Villazon; the second volume of “Airs sérieux et à boire” of Lambert and friends and also a program of Bach’s Cantatas.
At the same time, Paul Agnew will conduct “Les Maîtres du motet français” (Sébastien de Brossard et Pierre Bouteiller), “Cremona”, a selection of Monteverdi’s first madrigaux and also “Women in love” (the loving women as seen by Monteverdi and his coeval). He will also share with William Christie “In an Italian Garden” ’s direction, 7th edition of Le Jardin des Voix.
The season will end with the fifth edition of the festival Dans les Jardins de William Christie that will occur from August 20 to August 26, 2016.