Les Arts Florissants are renowned worldwide as a pioneering ensemble of singers and instrumentalists specialized in the performance of Baroque music on period instruments.
Les Arts Florissants
Musical Director & Founder: William Christie
Associate Musical Director: Paul Agnew
An ensemble of singers and instrumentalists specialized in the performance of Baroque music on period instruments, Les Arts Florissants are renowned the world over. Founded in 1979 by the Franco-American harpsichordist and conductor William Christie, the Ensemble, named after a short opera by Marc-Antoine Charpentier, has played a pioneering role in the revival of a Baroque repertoire that had long been neglected (including the rediscovery of countless treasures in the collections of the Bibliothèque Nationale de France). Today that repertoire is widely performed and admired: not only French music from the reign of Louis XIV, but also more generally European music of the 17th and 18th centuries. The Ensemble is directed by William Christie who, since 2007, has regularly passed the conductor’s baton over to British tenor Paul Agnew.
Since the 1987 production of Lully’s Atys at the Opéra Comique in Paris, which was triumphantly revived in May 2011, it has been on the opera stage that Les Arts Florissants have enjoyed their greatest successes. Les Arts Florissants enjoy an equally high profile in the concert hall, as illustrated by their many acclaimed concert or semi-staged performances of operas and oratorios.
Each season Les Arts Florissants give around 100 concerts and opera performances in France—at the Philharmonie de Paris, where they are artists in residence, the Théâtre de Caen, the Opéra Comique, the Théâtre des Champs-Élysées, the Château de Versailles, as well as at numerous festivals—and are an active ambassador for French culture abroad, being regularly invited to New York, London, Brussels, Vienna, Madrid, Barcelona, Moscow, and elsewhere.
The Ensemble has produced an impressive discography under the baton of William Christie and Paul Agnew: nearly 100 recordings (CD and DVD) and its own collection in collaboration with harmonia mundi.
In recent years, Les Arts Florissants have launched several education programs for young musicians. The most emblematic is the Academy of Le Jardin des Voix: created in 2002, it is held every two years and has already brought a substantial number of new singers into the limelight. The Arts Flo Juniors program, launched in 2007, enables conservatory students to join the orchestra and chorus for the length of a production, from the first day of rehearsals up to the final performance. And then there is the partnership between William Christie, Les Arts Florissants and New York’s Juilliard School, which since 2007 has allowed a fruitful artistic exchange between the U.S. and France.
Les Arts Florissants also organize numerous events aimed at building new audiences at the Philharmonie de Paris, in the Vendée, in France and all around the world. Linked to each year’s concert program, they are designed for both amateur musicians and non-musicians, adults as much as children.
In 2012, William Christie and Les Arts Florissants created the festival Dans les Jardins de William Christie, in partnership with the Conseil départemental de la Vendée. An annual event, the festival brings together artists from Les Arts Florissants, pupils from the Juilliard School and finalists from Le Jardin des Voix for concerts and promenades musicales in the gardens created by William Christie at Thiré, in the Vendée.
In addition to the Festival, Les Arts Florissants are working to establish a permanent cultural venue in Thiré. This anchorage strengthened in 2017, through some noteworthy events: the settlement of Le Jardin des Voix in Thiré, the creation of a Spring Festival (Festival de Printemps) directed by Paul Agnew, a new annual event at the Fontevraud Abbey and the reward of the national label “Centre culturel de Rencontre” for Les Arts Florissants—an award which distinguishes projects associating creation, patrimony and transmission. In 2018 has been created the Fondation Les Arts Florissants – William Christie. William Christie gifted his entire Thiré estate to the Foundation.
Les Arts Florissants receives financial support from the French state, the Pays de la Loire regional direction of cultural affairs (DRAC), the Département de la Vendée and the Région Pays de la Loire. The Ensemble has been in residence at the Philharmonie de Paris since 2015 and has obtained the French national label « Centre Culturel de Rencontre ». The Selz Foundation, American Friends of Les Arts Florissants and Crédit Agricole Corporate & Investment Bank are Principal Sponsors. In 2019, Les Arts Florissants celebrates its 40 anniversary!
Musical Director & Founder, Les Arts Florissants
William Christie, harpsichordist, conductor, musicologist, and teacher, is the inspiration behind one of the most exciting musical adventures of the last 30 years. A pioneer in the rediscovery of Baroque music, he has introduced the repertoire of 17th- and 18th-century France to a very wide audience across the globe. Born in Buffalo, and educated at Harvard and Yale, William Christie has lived in France since 1971. The turning point in his career came in 1979, when he founded Les Arts Florissants.
As director of this vocal and instrumental ensemble, William Christie soon made his mark as both a musician and man of the theater, in the concert hall and the opera house. Major public recognition came in 1987 with the production of Lully’s Atys at the Opéra Comique in Paris. From Charpentier to Rameau, through Couperin, Mondonville, William Christie is the uncontested master of tragédie-lyrique as well as opéra-ballet, and is just as comfortable with the French motet as with music of the court. But his affection for French music does not preclude him from exploring other European repertoires as Monteverdi, Rossi, Scarlatti, Landi, Purcell, Handel, Mozart, Haydn or Bach.
Notable among his most recent operatic work are “Rameau, maître à danser” created at the Théâtre de Caen and then at the Brooklyn Academy of Music, Handel’s Jephtha at the Opéra de Paris and Ariodante at the Wiener Staatsoper, The Beggar’s Opera on European tour and Monteverdi’s L’incoronazione di Poppea at the Salzburg Festival.
As a guest conductor, William Christie often appears at opera festivals such as Glyndebourne or at opera houses such as the Metropolitan Opera of New York, the Zurich Opernhaus, or the Opéra National de Lyon. His extensive discography includes more than 100 recordings. The most recent ones – “Si vous vouliez un jour”, Airs sérieux et à boire vol.2; Bach’s B Minor Mass; Monteverdi’s L’incoronazione di Poppea (DVD) – were issued by harmonia mundi in the “Les Arts Florissants” collection.
Wishing to develop further his work as a teacher, in 2002 William Christie created Le Jardin des Voix, Les Arts Florissant’s biennial baroque Academy for young singers, now established at Thiré in Vendée. Since 2007 he has been artist in residence at the Juilliard School in New York, where he gives master classes twice a year accompanied by the musicians of Les Arts Florissants.
In 2012, he launched the festival Dans les Jardins de William Christie in his own gardens, located in the French village of Thiré in the Vendée, where he welcomes every summer young musicians from the Juilliard School and singers of the Jardin des Voix along with the musicians and singers of Les Arts Florissants.
In November 2008, William Christie was elected to France’s Académie des Beaux-Arts, and gave his official inaugural speech under the dome of the Institut de France in January 2010. William Christie has bequeathed his real-estate assets to the Foundation Les Arts Florissants–William Christie created in 2017.
Associate Musical Director, Les Arts Florissants
An artist of international renown and an accomplished teacher, Paul Agnew was born in Glasgow and began his musical education with the Birmingham Cathedral choir. He continued his musical studies at Magdalen College, Oxford, and afterwards joined the Consort of Musicke with which he performed music from the Italian and English Renaissance.
In 1992, just as the triumphant Atys tour was coming to a close, he was auditioned by William Christie. With Les Arts Florissants, Agnew became the performer of choice for the high-tenor roles of the French Baroque repertoire with William Christie. He has also performed with conductors such as Marc Minkowski, Ton Koopman, Paul McCreesh, Jean-Claude Malgoire, Sir John Eliot Gardiner, Philippe Herreweghe and Emmanuelle Haïm
Paul Agnew was acclaimed in operas by Rameau (Les Fêtes d’Hébé, Les Boréades, Les Indes galantes), Charpentier (Médée, Actéon), Handel (Acis and Galatea, L’Allegro, il Penseroso ed il Moderato) and Purcell (King Arthur, Dido and Aeneas).
In 2007, Agnew’s career took a new turn when he began conducting certain projects for Les Arts Florissants. He made his début as guest conductor with a program of Vivaldi’s Vespers, performed at the Cité de la musique, the Théâtre de Caen and the Konzerthaus in Vienna in January 2007. Among subsequent notable programs were Handel’s Odes and Anthems, and, the following year, Lamentazione, a concert of Italian Baroque polyphony which would became his first recording as Associate Conductor of Les Arts Florissants.
In 2010, Agnew conducted Les Arts Florissants once again in Purcell’s The Indian Queen. He then undertook the complete cycle of Monteverdi’s madrigals, a project for which he conducted nearly 100 concerts throughout Europe until 2015, and recorded for harmonia mundi “Mantova” (2014), “Cremona” (2015 – Gramophone Award 2016 in baroque vocal category) and “Venezia”, an anthology of madrigals from Monteverdi’s eight books.
In 2013, Paul Agnew became Associate Musical Director of Les Arts Florissants. Since then he has conducted the Ensemble in the reprise of the ballet Doux Mensonges at the Opéra de Paris and in the new production of Platée, which was performed at the Theater an der Wien, Paris’s Opéra Comique and New York’s Lincoln Center. He also conducts conduct Les Arts Florissants in five different programs: “Les maîtres du motet français” (Sébastien de Brossard and Pierre Bouteiller); “Cremona”, and “Mantova”, selections of madrigals from Monteverdi’s first books; “Women in Love”, a program on the theme of feminine amorousness as seen by Monteverdi and his contemporaries; and the international tour of “In an Italian Garden”, the latest edition of Le Jardin des Voix. The 2016-2017 season is marked by various important projects as part of the celebration of Claudio Monteverdi’s 450th anniversary, notably a new production of L’Orfeo, whose artistic direction Paul Agnew Will assume at the Théâtre de Caen, the Musikverein in Vienna, the Opéra royal de Versailles, the Teatro del Canal in Madrid and the Philharmonie de Paris.
The creation of a Spring festival in the churches of Vendée, under the direction of Paul Agnew, is another highlight of his activity for Les Arts Florissants.
Agnew is co-director of Le Jardin des Voix, Les Arts Florissants’ academy for young singers. This interest in the training of new generations of musicians has also led him to conduct the Orchestre Français des Jeunes Baroque on many occasions, as well as the European Union Baroque Orchestra. In 2017, Paul Agnew directed the European baroque academy in Ambronay. Dedicated to musical education for all, and especially the youngest, he devises educational concerts too, such as Monsieur de Monteverdi and La Lyre d’Orphée.
As a guest conductor, Paul Agnew conducts regularly orchestras using modern instruments: the Staatsphilharmonie Nürnberg which he conducted in 2016 for Rameau’s Les Indes Galantes stage directed by Laura Scozzi at the Nürnberg Opera House, the Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra, the Royal Scottish National Orchestra, the Norwegian Chamber Orchestra, the Finnish Radio Symphony Orchestra, the Seattle Symphony Orchestra, the Houston Symphony Orchestra, the Maggio Musicale Fiorentino orchestra…. He conducts regularly Baroque Music ensembles as Music of the Baroque (Chicago), Trondheim Barokk, Akademie fur Alte Musik Berlin… Among forthcoming engagements, Paul Agnew will be the Musical Director of a new production of Platée staged by R. Villazon at the Semperoper Dresden.