Who or what inspired you to take up conducting and pursue a career in music?
I like to take the broad view of works: their historical and philosophical context, their structure, the issues surrounding them. As an artist, I like that music expresses itself using the body. Conductors are not far removed from dancers.
Who or what have been the most important influences on your musical life and career?
My time as a student in Vienna was unforgettable: the language, the repertoire, those life-changing sessions with Abbado and Harnoncourt. Those Nordic and English musical influences set me on my musical path.
What have been the greatest challenges of your career so far?
There have been several! Creating a professional chamber choir in France, then developing a structure which brought together artistic discoveries, new technology… transmission… and now the creation of Insula Orchestra, playing on historical instruments.
Which performance/recordings are you most proud of?
I’m very proud of our recording of Richard Strauss’s monumental choral works, and, more recently, of Gluck’s Orfeo ed Euridice with Franco Fagioli.
Which particular works do you think you play best?
I feel an affinity for many composers, starting with Bach. As a conductor, I particularly enjoy performing Beethoven, Weber, Schumann…
How do you make your repertoire choices from season to season?
It’s a very delicate operation: you must find a balance between your own wishes regarding the repertoire you want to create for yourself and your orchestra, soloists you’d like to work with, rare and unjustly neglected pieces, pieces by women composers, what the programme creators want…
Do you have a favourite concert venue to perform in and why?
There are several halls which really inspire me with their beauty and their acoustic… In France, the Philharmonie de Paris, soon to be the Cité musicale de l’Ile Seguin, Theater an der Wien, the Barbican in London, and the Teatro Colon in Buenos Aires. There are also lovely halls in Tokyo and in the US.
Favourite pieces to perform? Listen to?
I would like to come back to the final Schumann Ballades, they’re nothing less than little operas. I also enjoy conducting Mendelssohn’s ‘[Die erste] Walpurgisnacht’, Beethoven’s ‘Pastoral’… But also Bach’s St. John Passion. As a listener, I like listening to the big Romantic symphonies; Bruckner, Mahler, Shostakovich. At home, chamber music or Lieder.
What is your most memorable concert experience?
With the Brussels Philharmonic, I performed Schumann’s “Das Paradies und die Peri” semi-staged. It’s a spiritual tale from which no-one escapes unscathed, and the music is sublime from start to finish.
What do you consider to be the most important ideas and concepts to impart to aspiring musicians?
It’s important to make your vision of the work, its artistic issues, clear to the musicians, and to speak to them about your view of it. On the other hand, the most important thing is to let the musicians communicate their musicality and feelings themselves. As a conductor, you are there just as much to understand their emotions and the colours they bring, and to relish them. You shouldn’t lead, you must be followed.
Could you tell us a bit about the Insula orchestra?
Insula is a period-instrument orchestra that focuses mostly on music from the Age of Enlightenment, the Classical style, and the pre-Romantics. We play symphonies and oratorios and also operas. There are 50 musicians, with the string section enlarged to fill today’s halls. We try to find a balance between a very cultivated, historically-informed style and one compatible with the size of concert halls.
Insula are making their UK debut on 21 September, how did you choose the programme for this?
I proposed a programme to the Barbican that typifies our current artistic goals: Zelenka’s Miserere, a real forgotten masterpiece. Then, the Solemn Vespers, a famous work by Mozart, a composer central to our project, and whose Requiem we recorded earlier this year. Finally, a piece to which I feel particularly attached, Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach’s rarely-performed Magnificat.
What are Insula’s plans for the 2015-16 season?
Insula’s highlights for this season include the release of Orfeo in September on Archiv, then the Magnificat programme at the Barbican and, on tour, an all-Beethoven programme, with the 3rd piano concerto and Nicholas Angelich, as well as the Eroica symphony. After that, Mozart’s Lucio Silla with Franco Fagioli, in a semi-staged performance which will go on tour to Paris, Aix-en-Provence, and Vienna.
Where would you like to be in 10 years’ time?
I would like to have been involved in some exciting, innovative projects which bring in a big audience, and to have played in the greatest halls.
What is your idea of perfect happiness?
I am always searching for it.
What do you enjoy doing most?
Giving concerts, and connecting with the public, an “être merveilleux”, as Novalis said.
What is your present state of mind?
Insula make their UK debut on Monday 21 September at London’s Barbican Hall
Mozart Solemn Vespers K.339
C.P.E. Bach Magnificat in D Major H.772
Insula orchestra, accentus choir, Laurence Equilbey conductor
Judith Van Wanroij soprano, Wiebke Lehmkuhl alto, Reinoud Van Mechelen tenor, Andreas Wolf bass
21 September 2015, Barbican Hall, London, 7.30pm
Gluck’s Orfeo ed Euridice
CD release: 11 September 2015
Insula orchestra | accentus Choir
Franco Fagioli | Malin Hartelius | Emmanuelle de Negri
Conductor and musical director of Insula orchestra and accentus, Laurence Equilbey is acknowledged for her demanding, yet open-minded approach to her art. Her exploration of the symphonic repertory has seen her conducting the orchestras of Lyon, Bucharest, Liège, Leipzig, Brussels Philharmonic, Café Zimmermann, Akademie für alte Musik Berlin, Concerto Köln, Camerata Salzburg, Mozarteumorchester Salzburg, etc. In 2015, she performs Beethoven’s König Stephan with the Frankfurt Symphony Orchestra.
She has recently conducted Britten’s Albert Herring (at the Opéra de Rouen Normandie and the Opéra Comique), Weber’s Der Freischütz (Opéra de Toulon), Sous apparence (Opéra de Paris) and Reynaldo Hahn’s Ciboulette (Opéra comique).
She regularly conducts the Orchestra of the Opéra de Rouen. Since 2009, she has been working with accentus as an associate artist of the Paris Chamber Orchestra and will be joining up with them again for a Gounod/Liszt programme. She is also an associate artist of the Grand Théâtre de Provence in Aix-en-Provence and a companion of the Philharmonie de Paris.
In 2012, with support from the Conseil départemental des Hauts-de-Seine, she founded Insula orchestra, an ensemble devoted to the classical and pre-Romantic repertory, using period instruments. In 2014, she recorded with her musicians Mozart’s Requiem on the Naïve label and she continues to honour the Austrian composer in 2015-2016, with Vesperae solennes de confessore, and also Lucio Silla, including at the Theater an der Wien. Their second album – Gluck’s Orfeo ed Euridice with Franco Fagioli – will be released in September 2015 on the Deutsche Grammophon label (Archiv Produktion).
With accentus, Laurence Equilbey continues to interpret the great vocal music repertoire. She conducts a Bruckner program in the spring with the Orchestra of the Opéra de Rouen Normandie. The extensive recorded work of accentus (on the Naïve label) has received wide critical acclaim. Laurence Equilbey supports contemporary creation and she’s also Artistic Director and Director of Education at the Department for Young Singers at the Paris Conservatory.
Laurence Equilbey has studied music in Paris, Vienna and London, and conducting, notably with Eric Ericson, Denise Ham, Colin Metters and Jorma Panula.