This coming July, Sébastien Daucé will be conducting Combattimento: The Black Swan Theory, a new Festival d’Aix-en-Provence production, staged by Italian director Silvia Costa. The French conductor participated in a question-and-answer session with Vincent Meyer, a major donor of the Festival d’Aix-en-Provence, member of the Cercle Lily Pastré, and supporter of the production.
— What if the dust of time, instead of burying events and artistic works, actually polished them and made them more universal, more current? What do you think of that premise, and how it relates to the production Combattimento: The Black Swan Theory?
SÉBASTIEN DAUCÉ: Time only leaves dust on things that are not watched. When I discover an unknown motet, opera or aria composed several centuries ago, I don’t see it as something ancient that you have to dust off or update to today’s taste, but rather as the thought of an artist, of a creator who has come before me. Then, I forge an opinion about the potential emotions it can convey. Of course, certain texts, certain subjects and certain styles of music touch us more individually, but also collectively: certain eras resonate with others, and the repertoire we like today wasn’t necessarily popular 50 years ago. For me, what makes a work “current” lies precisely in this balance between the performer who embodies it with passion, the era the work is from, and the audience’s availability to be transported by it. Everyone will find harmony in it, find a story, or find vibrations that will transport them elsewhere, and will forget about the fact that the vehicle was conceived of in the head of a seventeenth-century man.
VINCENT MEYER: Like all human activities, a musical work is part of the era it’s from, part of its sociocultural and political context. Some of these works, those that are revolutionary or trailblazing, are celebrated when they first come to be, and others are discovered or rediscovered.
Monteverdi, a genius among geniuses, won the admiration of his peers while he was alive. After his works hibernated for several centuries, they were rediscovered by enlightened musicologists, performers ad composers in the early 1950s, and slowly appeared in the programmes of concerts and operas, as well as in discographies thanks to the invention of LP records.
The musical language of an exceptional composer is universal, because it will survive a journey through time and space. It is profoundly human, because it gives free rein to the interpretation and imagination of each of us.
Sébastien and Silvia’s project, constructed around Monteverdi’s “Combattimento,” one of the high points of Book 8 of Monteverdi’s madrigals, introduces us to the musical landscape of his time and illustrates the notion of stylistic and aesthetic freedom that is characteristic of the baroque movement.
— How would you describe the gesture of donating, in this kind of project? And what role does the donor, as part of a tradition, play in this adventure?
SÉBASTIEN DAUCÉ: In the twenty-first century, projects that don’t fit easily into an existing “box” are unlikely to see the light of day. Yet, what motivates artists the most is the search for language, for shapes, for blends of colours, and for new sounds, even though this searching is intertwined with archaeology. Silvia and my project—taking “Combattimento,” which is a pure prototype, and developing and pursuing it four centuries after Monteverdi creative act—is typically that kind of project. And in this case, a donor is no longer a faraway figure, an outsider: he or she makes the impossible possible.
VINCENT MEYER: Those are complex questions, because each donor has his or her own reasons, which we are often not aware of, or many and varied personal motivations, which make answering your question very difficult! Therefore, I can only share my own personal experience as a Festival donor.
Convinced that culture in general, and music in particular (let us not forget Nietzsche: “Without music, life would be a mistake”), are essential for a balanced development of society, I see donating as a civic act. Of course, the form and size of the donation depends on individual circumstances. Sometimes donors themselves develop a project and then support its realization after choosing their various partners, and sometimes they’re presented with a project that they accept to support. In the case of Combattimento, it was Sébastien’s and Silvia’s personalities and the dynamics of this project that appealed to me, not to mention my passion for Claudio Monteverdi. Backing a project of this nature also involves convincing all the actors in this artistic and cultural undertaking that their efforts are appreciated and encouraged.
I wanted to support the artistic momentum of this original project, and am convinced that the spirit of the performers and the beauty of the music will delight the Festival audience.
Remarks compiled by Mathias Coullaud in January 2021