|Equilbey in action|
Your London concert is on International Women’s Day. This annual event has gained prominence at an extraordinary speed over the past few years. Why do you think it’s important to mark it?
There is definitely a greater appetite from audiences to hear music from female composers of the past than there has been previously, and when is a greater opportunity to celebrate this than on International Women’s Day! However International Women’s Day is not the only day that Insula orchestra will be celebrating female composers. In upcoming programmes we will be performing Fanny Mendelssohn’s Hero et Leander, and Clara Schumann’s Piano Concerto, and I would love to tackle the work of even more rarely performed female composers, like Clemence de Grandval.
For those who haven’t yet heard of Louise Farrenc, please tell us a bit more about her. What appeals to you in her music? Why should we all come along and discover her?
I love to always keep an ear out for rare and undervalued works. I discovered the work of Louise Farrenc a few years ago, but I wanted to wait for the perfect moment to perform her Symphony no.3, as it is her finest work. This symphony has been immaculately constructed, and uses fascinating rhythmic motifs, very powerful orchestration, and has beautiful melodic themes which I think are evocative of Mendelssohn (Felix!). It definitely deserves to be a mainstay in the performance canon.
The concert has three female soloists in the Beethoven Triple Concerto and a symphony by Louise Farrenc. How did you decide on the pieces and the performers?
Symphony no.3 was actually premiered alongside Beethoven’s 5th, so I wanted to be paired with Beethoven again. I think these works not only enhance each other, but help to complete a broader understanding of 19th century musical life in Paris. Farrenc and Beethoven are also linked in other ways, as they shared a teacher, Antoine Reicha.
|Laurence Equilbey at La Seine Musicale|
Photo: Julien Benhamou
It was not a case of gender with the three female soloists – Alexandra Conunova, Natalie Clein and Alice Sara Ott. All three are simply superb musicians who are at the top of their game.
How and why did you start your own orchestra? What is its mission statement, and why?
Insula orchestra is resident at La Seine Musicale, and we performed the inaguaral concert there in 2017. The venue also provided the inspiration for the name ‘Insula’, the latin for ‘island’, as La Seine Musicale is located on Ile Seguin, just a few miles downstream from Paris. The Insula cortex is also the part of the brain linked to emotion.
Starting a new orchestra like Insula orchestra and having a fantastic new venue like La Seine Musicale gives us the perfect opportunity to approach classical music from a fresh perspective. We have the freedom to take risks, and our ethos is to preserve a place of artistic experimentation, innovation and openness. We have plans to incorporate visual arts, theatre, and technology in many exciting ways.
What are your views generally on the issues facing women in the music business, especially conductors and composers? Have we put up with sexism and discouragement on the grounds of gender for too long? Do you think the situation is improving now?
There are definitely prejudices against women in the music business that have existed for a long time, but we should celebrate that now we have some opportunities to finally enjoy the work of long neglected female composers, like Louise Farrenc. One must not forget however that there are many forgotten composers who were neglected due to racial bias or their social situation, not just due to their gender.
For performers, conductors, soloists, stage designers, the path is a hard one, and there is a need to take some specific measures for more inclusive programme ideas.
What further measures can be taken to aid this process?
We can make amends to these women, and in turn benefit female composers of the future, by first and foremost exploring their music. For performers, the French government has proposed quota objectives to fill. I also read recently that UK festivals are taking actions to achieve greater gender equality on the stage. It is very important that culture opens itself up to women.
The new concert hall in Paris on the Seine is the second important music venue to open in the French capital in the past few years, the other obviously being the Philharmonie. But London is still struggling to build its first since the 1980s. Why do we need new, proper concert halls in this day and age?
At La Seine Musicale we have been very lucky to have the support and commitment of our local government, Departement des Hauts de Seine. In that area of Paris there was previously no big concert hall which could be used for staged projects, with all the modern technical equipment. La Seine Musicale was an unprecedented investment in the musical sector, so we can only hope that similar opportunities will arise in London. Having said this, the Barbican’s willingness to welcome Insula orchestra and our ethos is hugely encouraging.