Biographie Les Arts Florissants and Paul Agnew

Les Arts Florissants
The vocal and instrumental ensemble Les Arts Florissants is one of the most renowned and respected early music groups in the world. Dedicated to the performance of Baroque music on original instruments, the ensemble was founded in 1979 by the Franco-American harpsichordist and conductor William Christie who directs it to this day, and takes its name from a short opera by Marc-Antoine Charpentier. Les Arts Florissants played a pioneering role in the resurgence of interest in the French musical world for a repertoire which had up until then been neglected (in particular unearthing many treasures from the collections of the Bibliothèque Nationale de France) but which is now widely performed and admired: not only 17th-century French repertoire but also European music of the 17th and 18th centuries more generally.

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 in front of the heads of state of the G7 in 1982, Armide), Handel (Orlando, Acis and Galatea, Semele, Alcina, Serse, Hercules, L’Allegro, il Moderato ed il Penseroso), Purcell (King Arthur, Dido and Aeneas, The Fairy Queen), Mozart (Die Zauberflöte, Die Entführung aus dem Serail), Monteverdi's lyric trilogy, and also rarer composers such as Landi (Il sant'Alessio), Cesti (Il Tito) and Hérold (Zampa).

The ensemble has collaborated on productions with renowned stage directors 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 and Andreas Homoki, as well as with choreographers Francine Lancelot, Béatrice Massin, Ana Yepes, Shirley Wynne, Maguy Marin, François Raffinot, Jiri Kylian, Bianca Li, Trisha Brown, Robyn Orlin, Sasha Waltz and José Montalvo and Dominique Hervieu.

Les Arts Florissants enjoys an equally high profile in the concert hall, as illustrated by their many acclaimed concert or semi-staged performances of opera and oratorio (Zoroastre, Anacréon and Les Fêtes d’Hébé by Rameau, Actéon and La Descente d'Orphée aux Enfers by Charpentier, Idoménée by Campra and Idomeneo by Mozart, Jephté by Montéclair, L’Orfeo by Rossi, Handel's Giulio Cesare with Cecilia Bartoli, The Indian Queen by Purcell) as well as chamber music programmes both secular and sacred (petits motets by Lully and Charpentier, madrigals by Monteverdi and Gesualdo, court airs by Lambert, hymns by Purcell...) their programmes for large-scale forces (Gluck/Haydn/Mozart Concert, Grands Motets by Rameau, Mondonville or Campra, oratorios by Haydn…) and also oratorios by Handel: Messiah, Israel in Egypt, Theodora, Susanna, Jephtha and Belshazzar).

The ensemble has an impressive discography: nearly one hundred recordings for Harmonia Mundi, Warner/Erato and Virgin Classics. Their most recent releases are Lamentazione, the first recording conducted by Paul Agnew, and Duetti, a recording of duets with countertenors Philippe Jaroussky and Max Emanuel Cencic, conducted by William Christie. Their DVD catalogue has recently expanded with La Didone by Cavalli (Opus Arte) and David et Jonathas (Bel Air Classiques). In autumn 2013 Les Arts Florissants will bring out a recording of Handel's Belshazzar on their own label, to be followed by that of the sixth edition of Le Jardin des Voix, Le Jardin de monsieur Rameau.

For twenty years, Les Arts Florissants have been artists in residence at the théâtre de Caen, and each year they present a concert season in numerous towns of the Basse-Normandie region. They also pursue an outreach policy towards new audiences at both a regional and national level. The ensemble also tours widely within France, (Bordeaux, Paris, Lyon, Marseille, Toulouse, Versailles, Grenoble, Vannes, Belfort… and in festivals such as Lessay, Beaune, Ambronay, Aix…), and is an active ambassador for French culture abroad, regularly invited to the Brooklyn Academy, the Lincoln Center in New York, the Barbican Centre in London and the Vienna Festival, Madrid's Teatro Real, the Edinburgh Festival, Madrid and Barcelona, the Bozar in Brussels, the Salzburg Festival…).

In recent years Les Arts Florissants have launched several cultural transmission programmes. The “Arts Flos Juniors” programme, launched in 2007, enables students from French-speaking conservatoires to join the orchestra and chorus for a production, from the first day of rehearsals up until the last performance; the “Le Jardin des Voix” academy, created in 2002, is held every two years at the théâtre de Caen and has already revealed a substantial number of new singers; the partnership set up between William Christie and Les Arts Florissants and the Julliard School since 2007 provides opportunities to build bridges between Europe and America; a large number of short-term educational actions are also carried out, in particular in the Basse-Normandie region (aimed at both amateur and non-musicians, adults and children) and also in conservatoires of the Paris suburbs.

In the course of their 2013-2014 season, placed under the sign of the “Rameau Year”, Les Arts Florissants will be performing in a programme of Music for Queen Caroline, composed of works by Handel (W. Christie); the second part of the Jardin des Voix tour – Le Jardin de monsieur Rameau (W. Christie); the revival of the ballet Doux Mensonges at the Palais Garnier (P. Agnew); a programme of court airs by Lambert and other composers (W. Christie); the continuation of the complete cycle of Monteverdi’s madrigals by Paul Agnew, with the Sixth and Seventh Books; Rameau's Platée in Paris, Vienna and New York (W. Christie, staged by Robert Carsen); a programme of airs and dances by Rameau (J. Cohen); a concert of sacred works by Henry Purcell (P. Agnew); a production staged by Sophie Daneman and choreographed by Françoise Denieau: Rameau, maître à danser, created in Caen (W. Christie) and grands motets by Rameau and Mondonville (W. Christie).

Les Arts Florissants receive financial support from the Ministry of Culture and Communication, the City of Caen and the Région Basse-Normandie. They are artists in residence at the théâtre de Caen.

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Paul Agnew
received his first musical education with the Birmingham Cathedral choir. He then entered Magdalen College Oxford where he continued his musical studies. He joined the Consort of Musicke and performed music from the Italian and English Renaissance. In 1992, just as the triumphant Atys tour was coming to a close, he was auditioned by William Christie. The meeting would be fruitful. Paul Agnew made his debuts as a soloist performing Hippolyte in Rameau's Hippolyte et Aricie, conducted by William Christie in a production by Jean-Marie Villégier for the Palais Garnier.

With Les Arts Florissants, Paul Agnew became the performer of choice for the counter tenor roles of the French Baroque repertoire. He was acclaimed in the major roles of Rameau's operas (Platée, Les Boréades, Les Indes galantes). He is regularly invited to festivals such as the Edinburgh festival, the BBC Proms or the Lufthansa Festival. He frequently sings with groups such as the Berlin Philharmonic, the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra, the Orchestra of the Komische Oper Berlin, the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra, the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment and the Gabrieli Consort and Players. He appears with conductors such as Marc Minkowski, Tom Koopman, Sir John Eliot Gardiner, Philippe Herreweghe and Emmanuelle Haïm.

Among the productions he has taken part in: the title role of Lully's Thésée at the Théâtre des Champs-Elysées and the role of Renaud in Armide, also by Lully, produced by Robert Carsen. His discography includes, among others, Beethoven Lieder for Naïve, L'Enfance du Christ for Harmonia Mundi, the Monteverdi Vespers, La Descente d’Orphée aux Enfers by Charpentier, Rameau's Grands motets.

In 2006, Paul Agnew's career took a new turn. He began to take up the musical direction of certain projects for Les Arts Florissants. His first programme as guest conductor was dedicated to Vivaldi's Vespers (performed at the Cité de la musique, the théâtre de Caen and the Konzerthaus in Vienna in January 2007). This was followed by Handel's Odes and Anthems in 2008, and in the following year Lamentazione, a concert devoted to Italian Baroque polyphony. In 2010, he conducted Les Arts Florissants once again in The Indian Queen by Purcell. Paul Agnew is also co-director of Le Jardin des Voix, Les Arts Florissants' academy for young singers. This interest in the training of new generations of musicians has also led him to conduct the French Baroque Youth Orchestra on several occasions.

Now associate conductor of Les Arts Florissants, this season sees Paul Agnew launch the complete Monteverdi Madrigals. This monumental project, spread over nearly 100 concerts, will continue into 2014.

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