Soprano Renée Fleming and Baritone Thomas Hampson, Soloists at Carnegie Hall on February 20, 2017
US Premiere of Celephaïs by Guillaume Connesson, ONL Associate Composer
Antar, Incidental Music by Ravel after Works by Rimsky-Korsakov, with New Text by Amin Maalouf (English Language Debut)New York, NY – Beginning February 18, the Orchestre National de Lyon, “probably the most refined ensemble of the world” (The Guardian), tours the United States for the first time since 2003, playing concerts with music director Leonard Slatkinon a six-city tour. The Orchestra performs in renowned venues such as Carnegie Hall, New Jersey Performing Arts Center, and at the University of Georgia, Wake Forest University, and others. Special guest artists at Carnegie Hall include two of classical music’s most treasured American voices, soprano Renée Fleming and baritone Thomas Hampson. The New York program will feature debut performances of Guillaume Connesson’sCelephaïs and a new Ravel arrangement of Rimsky-Korsakov’s Antar with text by Amin Maalouf.
The programs predominantly feature music of French composers, namely Berlioz and Ravel, whom the Orchestra performs and records extensively. At Carnegie Hall, the program opens with a reconstructed version of Ravel’s incidental music to Antar, after works by Rimsky-Korsakov. The ONL has pioneered what is essentially a new work, after commissioning French-Lebanese writer, Amin Maalouf, to compose a contemporary text to add new dimension to the music. Mr. Maalouf, whose work has included the libretti for four of Kaija Saariaho’s operas, collaborated closely with Maestro Leonard Slatkin to create a libretto with narrator (Thomas Hampson). The text is declaimed during and in between the musical movements. This inventive version of music and text premiered in France in 2014; an English translation by Matthew Hurt and Sarah Vermande makes its debut at Carnegie Hall on February 20.
The program continues with the United States premiere of Celephaïs by Guillaume Connesson, the Orchestre National de Lyon’s Associate Composer, a title shared with John Adams. Inspired by much of the music of his countrymen, Berlioz, Debussy, Ravel, and Dutilleux, French musicologist François-Gildas Tual describes Celephaïs, which is based on a story from American fantasy writer, H.P. Lovecraft: "Of the many cities that we discover in the romantic mythology of H. P. Lovecraft (1890-1937), Celephaïs is perhaps the most enchanting and heavenly," he states. "Guillaume Connesson’s orchestral piece is structured as a voyage to an imaginary city, with five sections linked together as a symphonic poem. The bronze is depicted by grand implacable chords, the onyx by a widening of the sound world, the shimmering turquoise by brilliance in the winds and the transparency of crystal by the strings who play in harmonics either arco (with bows) or pizzicato (plucked strings). To unify the work, Guillaume Connesson uses the same theme throughout, although it is presented in full in 'Entry into the City with Onyx Streets' but already alluded to in 'The Bronze Gates'." Celephaïs was commissioned by the Orchestre National de Lyon and the Nederlands Philharmonisch Orkest.
Renée Fleming joins the ONL with Ravel’s Shéhérazade, named for the heroine in the famous Arabian fable, One Thousand and One Nights. The concert concludes with Daphnis et Chloé, which the ONL recorded with Slatkin just released on Naxos in January 2017. “Many consider Daphnis et Chloé to be Ravel’s masterpiece, but that can be said of so many of this composer’s works,” states Slatkin. “However, Daphnis stands as the exemplar of orchestral writing during the early part of the twentieth century. With its exotic story, incredible orchestration and concise musical ideas, this work is a joy from start to finish.” In Slatkin’s tenure as music director of Orchestre National de Lyon, the seven-time Grammy Award winner (and 64-time nominee) has led the ensemble in nearly a dozen recordings, with forthcoming projects planned.
Concert programs in other cities include more works by Ravel, Berlioz’s beloved Symphonie fantastique, Barber’s virtuosic Violin Concerto, Liszt’s Piano Concerto No. 1, and Mr. Slatkin’s own composition, Kinah, written for his late parents, violinist Felix Slatkin and cellist Eleanor Aller. Soloists include distinguished violinist Gil Shaham, young Chinese-American pianist George Li,and Orchestre National de Lyon’s own concertmaster, Jennifer Gilbert.