Opral, the first permanent orchestra
André Malraux had been head of the Ministry of Arts and Letters since 1959, but had paid little attention to music. The appointment of the composer Marcel Landowski as Music Director in 1965 ushered in a significant change. After having reorganised symphony orchestras and concerts in Paris by creating the Orchestre de Paris in 1967, Landowski contacted his friend Proton de la Chapelle to pool their thoughts on setting up a permanent orchestra in Lyon. If Lyon was chosen first, rather than Bordeaux or Strasbourg, which were also in the running, it was because of the solidity of the Société philharmonique. It served as the nucleus of the new orchestra, once the incumbent players’ musicianship had been tested and some of the “old” players reclassified and 25 young musicians recruited. The new orchestra was named the Opral, for “Orchestre philharmonique Rhône-Alpes”. Financed by the City of Lyon with an initial French government grant, it was originally composed of 95 musicians. Its official founding document was signed on 22 December 1968. The Société philharmonique subsisted and was tasked with managing the orchestra’s subscriptions.
The Opral’s inaugural Music Director was Louis Frémaux (1921-2017), who had been working in Monte-Carlo until then. He was seconded by a young conductor, Jacques Houtmann, revealed through the Besançon competition for budding orchestra conductors. The orchestra also appointed a world-class solo violin in the person of Milan Bauer, a Slovakian political refugee who retained this position until his retirement in 1981.
A symphony and opera orchestra
In 1969, at the end of the concession granted to Paul Camerlo, the opera house returned to municipal management and was headed by Louis Erlo. The Opral naturally took up position in the pit (a situation that is actually much the same as at the time of the Philharmonique, when the same musicians played in both orchestras). Erlo was tasked with giving “New Opera” fresh breadth and scope, and formed a first-class team for the purpose. Serge Baudo was appointed Music Director. Erlo offered Louis Frémaux the job of conducting a number of operas, but he declined the offer.