David Robertson (2000-2004)
On 18 December 1998, the Mayor of Lyon, Raymond Barre, announced the appointment of David Robertson with effect from 1 September 2000. This American conductor, who had previously worked with the Ensemble intercontemporain and was thoroughly conversant with avant-garde music, had a very different profile to his predecessor. Whereas Emmanuel Krivine had managed to merge the role of administration of the orchestra and of the concert hall, both under the general management of Patrice Armengau, David Robertson went a step further by becoming at once the ONL’s music director and the Auditorium’s artistic director (these functions were separated again after his departure).
A new repertoire
David Robertson was innovative not only in the repertoire embraced but also in the concert form itself. He devoted memorable weeks to four great modern-day composers: Luciano Berio (May 2001), Steve Reich (April 2002), Pierre Boulez (June 2002) and György Ligeti (April 2003). The Boulez week led into the recording of a disc and a tour in the United States, which took the ONL from Carnegie Hall in New York to the Royce Hall in Los Angeles (January-February 2003).
The ONL tackled American music (Bernstein and Copland in particular), more avant-garde contemporary music, the great 20th century classics, which it had not performed much before then (Nielsen, Berg, Sibelius, Bartók, Janáček, Szymanowski and lesser-known works by Stravinsky). In August 2002, the ONL played Messiaen’s monumental Turangalîla-Symphonie at the Edinburgh Festival, along with Stuart MacRae’s Violin Concerto, with Christian Tetzlaff as soloist. Next day, at the BBC Proms in London, together they performed a programme of Ravel (Pavane pour une infante défunte), Stravinsky (The Song of the Nightingale), Berg (Concerto “To the Memory of an Angel”) and Sibelius (Symphony No. 5). In November 2003, the Schola Witkowski celebrated its centenary with Le Poème de la maison, written by its founder, Georges Martin Witkowski, who is also the “father” of the ONL.
As part of Yo-Yo Ma’s Silk Road project, in November 2001 the ONL and Robertson did a European tour, taking in Cologne, Amsterdam, London, Florence and Milan. The programme stretched from the 17th century (Gabrieli) to the most recent musical compositions, including new works inspired by the countries crossed by the silk road: Peter Lieberson’s The Six Realms concertos and Richard Danielpour’s Through the Ancient Valley, which use Persian instruments, and Claude Vivier’s Siddharta.
Innovative concert formats
The Expresso concerts were introduced in November 2000. Originally marketed by the Tati retail chain, these short concerts for the general public were presented by the conductor or one of the musicians and the tickets sold at a very modest price. The ONL ventured outside the realms of classical music to accompany Abdullah Ibrahim, Dianne Reeves, Wayne Shorter, Christian Escoudé and David El-Malek. In collaboration with the Institut Lumière, the ONL organised cinema concerts, where the orchestra provided a live accompaniment to the screening of the great classic silent films.
The orchestra also forged ties with various other institutions in Lyon in theatre, dance, the fine arts and contemporary art (the Théâtre des Célestins, Maison de la danse, Musée des Beaux-Arts and Musée d’Art contemporain). The educational and outreach initiatives introduced under Emmanuel Krivine were given fresh impetus: the musical Wednesdays were a sort of “guided visit” of the repertoire for children, the musical gardens were organised for young children to coincide with concerts for adults, the school concerts were prepared in the classrooms, the musical creation workshops involved primary school children in the creation of a musical work, the ONL academy combined two youth orchestras (youth orchestra and junior orchestra) while pre-concert sessions introduced the works to be heard. The ONL also introduced a free annual concert reserved for students.
Chamber music also gained momentum, with 16 concerts in the year, distributed between the Auditorium and the Salle Molière (Lyon 5).