Parallel activities

Very early on, without knowing why, I was attracted to the organization and dissemination of music. This really started with the Villa Médicis. Concerts were organized there to perform the music of resident Fellows. I soon saw that this was pointless and of little interest. We were living in a foreign capital and our concerts took place within the Villa, cut off from the outside world. The one annual moment of external contact was a concert organized by the RAI, in rather poor conditions and in summer, when no one was around. I therefore suggested to my composer colleagues that I create an event to showcase our work. I spoke about it to the then Secretary General (Mrs. Pompelia Ulysse), who supported the initiative. Despite a structure that was not at all geared to this type of event and a willing but inexpert staff, we created the “Villa Médicis Contemporary Music Week”, opening the doors to composers other than those in residence. This happened gradually but, since we were in only residence for two years, it soon ended. The management then proposed that I continue beyond my period as a Fellow. I therefore returned to the Villa Médicis, as an “employee”, to keep the initiative going. The Villa’s prestige and the connection to Italy changed everything. The festival very soon became highly popular and the Fellows’ works were no longer performed in secret but before audiences from Italy and beyond. During the four years that I continued running this and partly thanks to a new and very helpful Secretary General (Michel Pelissier), I was able to invite all the great composers of the time, including Franco Donatoni, Luciano Berio, Goffredo Petrassi, Luigi Nono and John Cage.

At that time, Maurice Fleuret had been appointed Director of Music at the Ministry of Culture. He soon spoke to me of his desire to create a major festival of contemporary music in France. He was looking for a city. Strasbourg was chosen and I participated, at an early stage, in the birth of this festival. I remember the winstub where we had the first festival-preparation lunch. I was on the first Board of Directors, since Maurice Fleuret wanted to open this new festival to other countries – and thus to the Villa. He suggested creating a Strasbourg/Rome link, so “musica 83” was organized, as a dual project between the two cities, with the participation of G. L. Gelmetti for the city of Rome part. I had asked Pierre Boulez to put on a Varèse evening and this program was repeated at Musica, in Strasbourg. We had erected a marquee on the piazzale of the Villa and the concert with the Ensemble Intercontemporain was performed in this marquee. After four years of programming at the Villa Médicis, I decided to devote my time entirely to composing.

At that time (1985), I founded the Caput Mortuum company. Why? I was interested in the combination of the stage and music but had seen that opera companies were not able to provide the means for my research – which would always be the case. The rare contemporary productions contented themselves with repeating already known approaches. This is how, gradually, several “poor” attempts came about – poor in the sense of lacking the considerable resources of an opera house (Ligeti, Kagel, Schnebel, Berio, Aperghis, etc.). I therefore launched this idea of a different way of creating a production: lengthy rehearsal, based on improvisation, by non-musician performers (dancers, mime artists, actors, etc.). I wanted to reinvent the “quality” of the voice and of body movement (instead of opera’s worn-out, narrative style) and work without narrative, other than that of the body. This way of working preserved individuality. Each artist worked without seeing the work of the other. Then came a period of working together. The improvisation sessions were filmed. We then viewed these videos, in order to rework them, choose sections, etc. I also wanted to redefine the space (working with scenographers). Resources were limited and the sound was produced by midi files and/or by samples, without musicians, except in company’s last creation, Fragments (see the Caput Mortuum chapter). I had a first composer-in-residence appointment at the Mâcon Cultural Center, which meant we could coproduce several of the company’s productions. I liked this idea of a “company” – a form that does not exist in music. This was not without reason. Gradually, we obtained increasingly important co-productions, culminating in Fragments, which was co-produced with Ircam, Musica, the Atelier Lyrique de Tourcoing and the Festival d’Automne. At the same time, in 1991, I was invited by Christopher Crimes, of La Filature, in Mulhouse, to be composer in residence. This was an opportunity to undertake, for the first time, the creation of a program that would attract a new audience, since La Filature was newly established. In this residency, Christopher Crimes asked me to come up with a cycle of concerts, which I entitled Traverses. The concept was to construct highly original programs that united different eras (see Traverses at La Filature) and integrated contemporary works as well as works I would write while in residence. This was a real responsibility, which delighted me and helped me confirm my ideas about the decompartmentalizing of different eras, styles and specializations. After four years of this fascinating experience, I returned to my main preoccupation, composition. In 1999, faced with the impossibility of obtaining new funds and after endless hassles with the administration, I decided to close Caput Mortuum and transform the association into something new, to be called Attentat, that brought together three other composers (Marc-André Dalbavie, Philippe Hurel and Philippe Leroux), whose work I greatly appreciated. I liked this name, because it was “shocking” and announced from the start that things were going to get dynamic. Unfortunately, the individualism of the composers soon aborted the new project. I regret this failure, since it became clear, later, through various actions by composers, that there is a total lack of solidarity and collective reflection in our profession, unlike other disciplines.

In 2001, I once again transformed the association Caput Mortuum and Attentat association into Cerise Music but this time just to support my own work, particularly in editorial and IT matters.

I was then invited by the Hippodrome de Douai state-subsidized theater, for much the same role as La Filature. This only lasted two years, which was not long enough to build an audience. In structures managed by non-musicians, championing a musical project is always difficult.

With programming in mind again, I was invited by the Cité de la Musique to create a week of concerts and end up by becoming Artistic Director of Printemps des Arts de Monte-Carlo, under the Presidency of H.R.H. the Princess of Hanover – a twenty-year-old festival – with the aim of revamping its identity and its audience.

Since 2003, in Monaco, I have undertaken in-depth work on the form of the festival, its concerts, the interrelation of works programmed, communication, ticket prices, etc. (see

So, since the Villa Médicis, I have gradually developed an activity parallel to composition, in order to put my ideas about music into practice. I find this essential for better understanding the structural process, what supports it and how to change it. In the past, composers took real control of institutions (one thinks of Haydn, Handel, Berlioz, Wagner or, more recently, Boulez) but the bureaucratizing of culture – especially in France – is causing a migration of responsibilities either to opera directors (which, because of their position, often leads to trading of their personal work between opera houses) or managers often unable to read a score. You would not dream of giving a composer the responsibility of running a nuclear power station but it would seem that culture is a “secondary” matter that anyone can deal with. I don’t think so. Over the years, composers have proved that creative imagination in sound can generate imagination in programming. This “normalizing” concept that means that I try, with a festival, to devise programs in the way that I might compose a work. In this programming, I have avoided any hint of “specialization” or populism. For example, I refuse to do “the complete…” programs, unless they constitute, for the audience, something musically exceptional. I am thinking of the Beethoven Sonatas, which give a magnificent overview of Beethoven’s entire evolution. I also avoid ragbag programs, where some overture or other sits beside a symphony, after the usual concerto. I nonetheless do envisage putting together “patchwork” concerts, in the way this was done in the past (for example Mozart’s concerts). I have also refused concerts of contemporary music in the conventional form of four first performances – which does not make for a good listening experience and which limits this music to a very restricted audience. On the contrary, I want a broad audience for it, just as I do for music of the 18th century or any era. Attracting an audience is always the main thing, but this must be outside the confines of specializations such as medieval, baroque, classical, contemporary, etc. Thus, in eight years I originated over 35 commissions that I would describe as “integrated” into the overall programming.

For me, then, the work of programming is a work of composition. I try not to repeat myself, although I may not always succeed. I also make an effort to ensure that the team managing all this work does not fall into the trap of habit, which stifles creativity. Even so, in the current climate, I feel limited here too. I could be more inventive, indeed without limit, for the greater good of the generous audience that follows this adventure, but this would require more resources. I must say, though, that I am amazed by what I have been able to achieve in Monaco. I did not know the Principality and I never imagined I could carry out such a project there. It took me a while to respond to the proposition and it was only after some natural difficulties linked to a change of artistic director that I realized that it was possible, thanks to the Festival’s President, the Princess of Hanover. I don’t know exactly how far this work will go but when I had renewed and put together a new team, found venues and developed the budget, while providing an entirely new artistic policy, a whole new audience followed this transformation. To me, this is proof that the challenge is possible and that despite 72 commissions, the audience has not run away – on the contrary, in fact. In 2021, I decided to bring this work to close, after 19 years spent running the festival, to devote myself entirely to composition.

I end by pointing out that when there is an intelligent political will to make things happen, things are indeed possible and that with non-persnickety management autonomy, dynamic initiatives can come into being.