We regret to announce that the planned discussion with the conductor and soloist of the evening will not take place due to time constraints. For visitors of the Gürzenich-Orchester Köln concert on June 1, 2022 in the Municipal House, we are preparing a discussion with conductor François-Xavier Roth and violist Tabea Zimmermann from 6.30 pm in the Rieger Lounge of the Municipal House.
„Les Siècles think as one, feel as one. They even bow to the audience as one, with an elegance uniquely French.”The Times
The orchestra will be appearing in Prague for the very first time. And it will be an extraordinary debut. “Under the leadership of its chief conductor and founder François-Xavier Roth, Les Siècles is one of today’s most remarkable and progressive ensembles”, says Prague Spring programming director Josef Třeštík. The orchestra profiles itself as performing music from the Baroque through the present, always on the relevant period instruments.
To the Prague Spring Festival, they are bringing a programme of French classics by Claude Debussy and César Franck; 2022 will see the 200th anniversary of Franck’s birth. “The anniversary lets us present unjustly neglected works as well as familiar ones in an extraordinary interpretation”, says Třeštík. “I am convinced that the performance of Franck’s Symphony in D minor by Les Siècles and François-Xavier Roth will be one of the festival’s highpoints”, he adds. “We already can’t wait to be in Prague”, says Roth, who will actually appear twice at the festival. The day after the concert with the French orchestra at the Rudolfinum, he will appear in Smetana Hall at the Municipal House leading the Gürzenich-Orchester from Cologne.
The French conductor François-Xavier Roth (* 1971) is one of the most prominent artists of his generation. According to Neil Fisher, critic for The Times, “If he hasn’t already got the nickname Special FX, then Roth should adopt it”, praising his “empathetic musicality and flair for colour, sometimes conjuring up such startling touches that the players look stunned.” The son of the acclaimed organist Daniel Roth, he is sought after for his exciting charisma, inventive programming, and profundity of interpretation. At the 77th annual Prague Spring Festival, he is making his very first appearance in the Czech Republic, and he will perform on two concert programmes. First he will be at the helm of the period instrument orchestra Les Siècles at the Rudolifinum’s Dvořák Hall (31 May), then he will lead the Gürzenich-Orchester from Cologne in Smetana Hall at the Municipal House (1 June).
Since its founding in 2003 by the conductor François-Xavier Roth, Les Siècles has focused on performing works of the 17th through the 21st centuries from today’s perspective and always on historically appropriate instruments. During their concerts, the players sometimes alternate between several types of instruments. They might, for example, begin with a Baroque instrument for a suite by Lully, continue with an instrument from the 19th century in compositions by Saint-Saëns, Massenet, or Délibes, and conclude the evening on an instrument from the early 20th century in music by Igor Stravinsky. At the Munich festival Musica Viva, Les Siècles combined on a single programme the music of Jean-Philippe Rameau, Edgar Varèse , and the contemporary composer Philippe Manoury. At other times, they have devoted entire programmes to the music of Viennese Classicism. The result is an amazing variety of sounds and colours, fascinating experts and laypersons alike. There is no ensemble comparable to them today.
Critics especially acclaim the players’ ability to achieve the highest order of technical and expressive mastery of their instruments. The British newspaper Guardian calls the ensemble “very distinctive”, and the critic David Cairns from the Sunday Times says “Never have I heard so dramatic a performance, with the dramatic contrasts so violent and vivid.” The composer and journalist Robert Hugill praises “…the sheer brilliance and amazing sound of the orchestra. The balance between strings, wind and brass is shifted radically, and the woodwind has a far narrower, more edgy sound, as does the brass.”
These words are confirmed by the number of prestigious prizes they have won, including the Deutschen Schallplattenkritik three times, multiple awards of the Diapason d’Or, the 2019 Choc de Classica, and the title of Recording of the Year from the website Presto Classical for a recording of Debussy’s Jeux and Nocturnes. Les Siècles is also the only French orchestra to receive multiple nominations for a Gramophone Award, which they earned in 2018 for Maurice Ravel’s Daphnis et Chloé.
“For me, the ideal way to do music is to have this philosophy in mind, that we are not a museum, we are an organic group that has to recreate, every time, the original impact of the works”, said Roth in describing his approach to the Deutsche Welle television network.
Since 2018 the orchestra has been recording on the Harmonia Mundi label, for which they realised the world premiere of Saint-Saëns’s opera Le Timbre d’argent, the ode-symphonie Christophe Colomb by Félicien David, and the cantata Velléda by Paul Dukas. At present they are recording the complete orchestral works of Berlioz, Ravel, and Debussy, and continuing with the Mahler symphonies. Other successes include a featured appearance on the television programme Presto, which was watched on the channel France 2 by several million viewers and was issued on CD with the support of the CNDP. Les Siècle is based at the Atelier Lyrique in Tourcoing, a city in the Hauts-de-France region of northern France. There, it works in close cooperation with many institutions, including the Cité de la Musique in Soissons, the Théâtre-Sénar, and the Berlioz Festival in La Côte-Saint-André.
The orchestra’s performance of Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring at the 2013 BBC Proms on the occasion of the 100th anniversary of the work’s premiere was literally a sensation. The result was breathtaking. The colours of the instruments “sounded like absolutely no other that I, or I suspect anybody who isn’t about 120, have ever heard”, wrote Paul Kilbey for Bachtrack. Three years later, the orchestra gave its debut at the Royal Festival Hall in Debussy’s Jeux and La mer, to which the conductor François-Xavier added Ravel’s Ma mere l’Oye and Piano Concerto for the Left Hand with the renowned pianist Jean-Efflam Bavouzet. The orchestra returned to the BBC Proms in 2017 with a programme of music by Saint-Saëns and Franck. According to the magazine Gramophone, the concert “was a feast for the musical gourmet.” Among the highpoints of this year’s season of Les Siècles are a production of Debussy’s opera Pelléas et Mélisande at the Théâtre des Champs-Elysées in Paris and a tour with Isabelle Faust playing Stravinsky’s Violin Concerto.
The pianist Bertrand Chamayou is an important interpreter of the French repertoire in particular, which he covers in all of its breadth from famous works to forgotten compositions, rarities, and contemporary works. His playing stands out for its imaginativeness and confidence and for the remarkable thoroughness of his artistic approach. In 2019 he won a Gramophone Award in the Best Concerto category for an album of Saint-Saëns’s second and fifth piano concertos, which he made with the Orchestre National de France and the conductor Emmanuel Krivine. He also earned the 2016 ECHO Klassik prize for his recording of Maurice Ravel’s complete piano music. He is highly acclaimed by music critics. “Chamayou is a remarkable musician, no question” wrote Tim Ashley for the British newspaper Guardian. In a January 2021 review of Good Night!, a CD of lullabies, the critic Norman Lebrecht said “Chamayou is one to watch out for in the New Year.” Chamayou is a frequent guest at the best concert venues both as a soloist and in chamber music, and his appearances this season include performances with the Leipzig Gewandhausorchester under the baton of Lorenzo Viotti, the Orchestre de Paris led by Cristian Măcelaru, and the Czech Philharmonic and its chief conductor Semyon Bychkov. His regular chamber music partners include the violinist and the cellist Renaud and Gautier Capuçon, the violist Antoine Tamestit, and the cellist Sol Gabetta.
César Franck (1822–1890), unjustly neglected in Czech concert halls, was one of the greatest French composers of the Romantic era, and it was also he who won over the French to the virtues of German music. This was also thanks to a considerable degree to Anton Reicha (1770–1836), the famed Parisian pedagogue and a passionate creator of fugues who taught Franck the rudiments of counterpoint towards the end of his life.