At Ircam, Janus unites baroque and creation

The Factory 22.06.2023

The two-faced Roman god lends his name to an absolutely original project, which, like him, looks to the past and the future: "Janus", the joint program of the Centre de musique baroque de Versailles and Ircam, invites four young European composers to draw inspiration from French Baroque music to compose new works. This long-term project will run from 2022 to 2024, with an initial creation phase as part of the Manifeste 2023 festival.

We met with Fabien Armengaud and Clément Buonomo, the artistic and musical director and the assistant director of the Maîtrise du CMBV, to discuss the preparatory work for this musical encounter..

Repertoires of the past, music of the future, yesterday and tomorrow: at first glance, one might think that there is little in common between the CMBV andIrcam's fields of study. And yet...

Creating bridges between repertoires
"Wrong! " insists Fabien Armengaud. These are two major research centers, and there are many similarities in our respective approaches, whether at the CMBV, founded in 1986, which focuses on Baroque music, or at Ircam, founded in 1977, which focuses on contemporary music and electroacoustic creation in particular. The teams at the two houses are constantly questioning repertoires, notions of interpretation, restitution and dissemination...". Together, the two houses aim to build bridges between repertoires. "What our structures have in common is a relationship with time - music of the past, present and future - but also... the time to carry out long-term projects. A real necessity these days!" explains Clément Buonomo.

Creating alchemy
The Janus project brings together two musical worlds. That of the Pages and Chantres, trained in the ancient repertoires, and those, all different, of four young composers from the four corners of Europe: Spain's Ariadna Alsina Tarrés, Lithuania's Justina Repečkait, France's Adrien Trybucki and Serbia's Jug Markovic. "At the Maîtrise, we work with students - children and young adults - most of whom are completely unfamiliar with the contemporary repertoire! It 's a real dialogue that we've had to establish over the past year," insists Clément Buonomo.
We've had to get to know each other, and then create an alchemy. And for that, time was of the essence. A luxury in today's projects. "We didn't want a project where we said, 'Come on, we're going to make creations, period'. There's a real common path, a real companionship between the Maîtrise and the four composers, not forgetting the sound engineers from Ircam," says Fabien Armengaud. 

Familiarizing themselves with the codes of the Baroque
Adrien, Ariadna, Jug and Justina had several exploratory visits to the CMBV before setting to work. In Versailles, they familiarized themselves with the Maîtrise's way of working and, of course, the sound of the choir. "We introduced them in detail to a wide range of works representative of the French Baroque, and the CMBV's partners introduced them to several early instruments with their particularities and technical and expressive possibilities, such as the organ or theorbo, which offer an exciting field of possibilities for today's composers. The exploration and familiarization went both ways," continues Fabien Armengaud. " As for the composers, Ariadna Alsina Tarrés and Justina Repečkaitė already had some knowledge of early music, but this was less the case for Jug Markovic and Adrien Trybucki, who were arriving on virgin territory," recalls Clément Buonomo.

Reading today's music
The second stage arrives in June 2022: a major day of work and a public "performance practice" at Le Centquatre, Paris, around a selection of pieces by Adrien and Ariadna. They had chosen samples that already foreshadowed what their future creations would be like, just to whet our appetites, and always with the aim of immersing our choristers in musical universes unknown to them," explains Fabien. From an artistic point of view, this is a virtuous circle: it makes our young performers realize that music can be expressed in many different ways."
The challenge for the Pages and Chantres, who are used to reading Baroque and even older scores, was to decipher the notation of today's music and the scores of these electroacoustic pieces. Each of the works includes parts recorded in advance by Ircam engineers and parts that will be sung live. For our musicians, the live parts raise more questions than the recorded parts," explains Clément Buonomo. They're very active and question the meaning of what they're singing. Our job is to guide them, to explain the interpretation of these pieces and their aesthetic understanding. In short, if not to popularize, at least to translate these works for them.

Digesting, incorporating a heritage... and playing with it
Ariadna's work will be premiered tonight, June 22, atIrcam, as part of the Manifeste festival, the other three in spring 2024. In each case, the composers have incorporated elements of the French Baroque heritage. Fabien Armengaud is enthusiastic: "In Split screen vestiges, Ariadna was inspired by Lully's little-known motets for three voices above." Ariadna's transformation of a Lully motet, with different pitches, was very well received by the young musicians: "They threw themselves into it as if it were a game," enthuses Fabien Armengaud. We read the score as Lully wrote it... and then with Ariadna's suggestions and transformations. A real treat! There were some quite magical working days at Ircam, particularly the recording with Ariadna, where we were all together, musicians and composers, with our different musical backgrounds, in the same sound research process. It was very intense... and moving!

The other scores have not yet been presented to the Maîtrise in their entirety, but a few hints have leaked out: "Adrien was taken by the very particular architecture of the double choir, which is one of the specificities, one of the signatures of French Baroque music. We already know that the Serbian composer, Jug Marković, is tempted to write a piece for six voices, and that the Lithuanian composer, Justina Repečkaitė, wants to write about the moulting of children's voices, an issue that touches us every year! How were molted voices used at the time in choir schools and chapels, and what became of those known as molted tops? So she's working on a piece that will feature an interplay of textures between the different tessituras of the Maîtrise's voices".

Recreating the acoustics of the Chapelle Royale
So, tonight, let's meet at Ircam'sEspace de projection, where the unique acoustics of Versailles' Chapelle Royale have been recreated. At the start of the project, the composers were given a guided tour of the Chapelle. They were able to test out the acoustics, and kept it in mind as they composed. Like Lully, Lalande, Charpentier and many others before them, they wrote for this venue. " Beyond the technical prowess of the Ircam teams, the reconstitution of the acoustics of the Chapelle Royale makes sense musically speaking. We know what great acousticians the founders of the Chapelle were, and many of the works were conceived for this venue... and for no other, " explains Fabien Armengaud. And Clément Buonomo adds: "It's also a question of common sense and musical comfort. We work on the works on the program every week at the Chapelle Royale, according to this very specific acoustic. Performing them in a venue with different acoustics would do justice neither to the work of the Maîtrise nor to the works on the program!"

Suzanne Gervais

Photos © Morgane Vie
Photos © Ben Viaperalta
Photos © Déborah Lopatin
Photos © Marije van den Berg
Photos © Pascal Le Mee


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