“On my recent N.Y.C.B. visits, I noticed first that the orchestra is considerably improved (…) Fayçal Karoui has added rhythmic verve and a sensuous feeling for timbre. Karoui thrived especially on the Adès score, teasing lyrical lines and visceral rhythms out of its dark, dense orchestration”
What strikes first about Fayçal Karoui besides his great artistic talent is his extraordinary natural dynamism and remarkable commitment in whatever he is taking up. That is how he managed in ten years to bring the Orchestre de Pau Pays de Bearn to the high level they are at now. This is also what made all critics and professionals in New York praise his impressive artistic work with the New York City Ballet Orchestra from 2006 to 2012 and this is now what he is instilling to the Orchestre Lamoureux where he was appointed music director in 2012 until 2014, taking over from Yutaka Sado. Under his leadership, the orchestra has already been invited to major festivals in France and Japan, and has gained impressive interest and support from major media. His talent and personality also convinced the Théâtre des Champs-Elysées‘s general manager to choose Fayçal Karoui and the Orchestre Lamoureux for his production of Fauré’s Pénélope in 2013, with Roberto Alagna and Anna-Caterina Antonacci.
Fayçal Karoui has been invited to guest conduct such prestigious orchestras as the Accademia di Santa Cecilia di Roma, the Orchestre Philharmonie de Radio-France, the Orchestre de Paris, the Orchestra Verdi di Milano, the Orchestre de Chambre de Lausanne, the Orchestre Philharmonique de Monte-Carlo, the Orchestre National du Capitole de Toulouse, the Orchestre Philharmonique de Liège, the Orchestre Philharmonique de Strasbourg, the Orchestre de l’Opéra National de Paris, the Hong-Kong Sinfonietta, the New Japan Philharmonic, the Brussels Philharmonic. In 2014 he will conduct the Wiener Philharmoniker for a ballet in Vienna.
Between 2006 and 2012, Fayçal Karoui was music director of the New York City Ballet and was soon noticed by New York critics and professionals, unanimously praising his work there. The New York Times wrote in 2008 that “One of the best reasons for watching City Ballet these days is listening, especially when its music director, Fayçal Karoui, is conducting”. Two years later the same paper wrote: “an important factor is the conducting of Fayçal Karoui: under his leadership, the sheer discipline of the company’s orchestral playing has returned to pre-1990 levels”.
In 2010 he launched the first edition of a festival involving a series of commissions to composers such as Esa-Pekka Salonen, Thomas Adès, Thierry Escaich at the Lincoln Center.
In Pau, where he has been music director since 2001, Fayçal Karoui also regularly commissions works and offers residencies to leading French composers. He has been extremely active in developing outreach projects and concerts to make music accessible to everyone. He and his dynamic team have managed to triple the number of subscribers in the last 5 years. He conducts a series of 15 yearly concerts, inviting international guest soloists such as Nelson Freire, Nicholas Angellich, Renaud Capuçon, Gautier Capuçon, Xavier de Maistre, Patricia Petibon, Natalia Gutman…
In Paris with the Orchestre Lamoureux, Fayçal Karoui chose to return to the orchestra’s fundamentals and specialize on the French repertoire and commissions of new works, paying homage to the orchestra’s prestigious past in the early 20th century when they premiered such major works as Debussy’s La Mer, Ravel’s Bolero and piano concertos and many others.
Just months after obtaining a First Prize in Conducting at the Conservatoire National Supérieur de Paris in J.S Bereau’s class in 1997, Fayçal Karoui was granted the Aida scholarship which allowed him to work during the season with Michel Plasson and the Orchestre National du Capitole de Toulouse. In June 1998, Michel Plasson offered him to become his assistant. He has since then regularly collaborated with the Orchestre National du Capitole de Toulouse. In 1999 he was a prize winner at the Besançon International conducting competition.
1- C. Von Weber 1786-1826)
Overture (from Oberon)
2- J. Sibelius (1865-1957)
Concert in D minor for violin and Orchestra op.47 (solo violin: Hildegarde Fesneau)
- Allegro moderato
- Adagio di molto
- Allegro, ma non tanto
3- L.V. Beethoven (1770-1827)
Symphony No. 5 in C minor Op. 67
- Allegro con brio
- Andante con moto – Più moto
- Allegro – Presto
And so, it begins. Beethoven’s fifth symphony sounds its hammer blows of fate; or perhaps those four notes are a transcription of the song of a Viennese yellow-hammer; or a symbol of war-time victory; or a transformation of a Cherubini choral song. Those first notes of Beethoven’s symphony have been heard, interpreted, and explained as all those things and more. It’s the single most famous symphonic trajectory of expressive minor-key darkness to coruscating major-key light.
They’re notes that are so familiar that we don’t even hear them properly today. Quite possibly the only life-forms who now really hear the ambiguities in the opening of Beethoven’s 1808 symphony are infants or extra-terrestrials. What I mean is that this symphony doesn’t begin in C minor – the key it says it’s in on the title page. In fact, it’s not until the four-note rhythm is played a third time that we really know we’re in C minor, rather than what could be E flat major. You see, if you hum the first four pitches of the symphony – da-da-da-DUM; da-da-da-DUM, you could still conceivably be listening to a symphony in a major key, if you were next to sing the note of your first “DUM” and harmonise it with a major chord… Apologies if this is getting a bit da-da-ist, or quite possibly dum-dum-ist, but the point is that this is only the first way that music we take for granted – the single most forceful, electrifying, and recognisable opening to a symphony – is actually much more complex and multi-layered than we realise.
The power, concentration and white-hot compression of Beethoven’s music is staggering. The first movement creates its tumultuous organic chemistry of interrelationships from the atomic particles of the notes it started with; in different guises, the four-note rhythmic idea permeates the rest of the symphony as well; then comes the elaborate variations of the slow movement, and its teeming effulgence of string writing that is a lyrical, long-breathed structural counterpoint to the first movement’s explosive fragments. The scherzo is one of Beethoven’s most obvious borrowings from Mozart: he quotes and subtly transforms the opening of the finale of Mozart’s 40 symphony to create his own theme; and out of this world of shadows the horns blare out another version of the 3+1 rhythmic idea, this time reduced to a single pitch. The transition from the scherzo to the finale is one of the dramatic masterstrokes of orchestral music. From an entropic mist of desolate memories of the scherzo’s opening theme, underscored by the timpani’s ominous heartbeat, the violins’ arpeggios climb until they reach a tremolo, a crescendo and a blaze of unadulterated C major glory – and the start to the finale, with its trombones, piccolo, and contrabassoon, all held in reserve by Beethoven until this climactic movement.
Thanks to the less-then-ideal conditions of its first performance in December 1808, it took time for the Fifth to become the symphony of symphonies that embodied all of the power and possibilities of instrumental music, the template for a journey from tragedy to triumph that would become a musical and dramatic blueprint for all subsequent symphonic composers.
Beethoven’s contemporary ETA Hoffman write in 1813 that the fifth incarnated the romantic axiom that orchestral music, untethered to words or other wordly concepts, could glimpse the “realm of the infinite”. This symphony, Hoffman wrote, “sets in motion the machinery of awe, of fear, of terror, of pain, and awakens that infinite yearning which is the essence of romanticism”. And that became a whole way of thinking about this symphony and many others, as “pure” or abstract music. But that means you lose sight of what the symphony is trying to do. And what we’re at last realising, more than two centuries on, is that the Fifth inhabits the “realm of the infinite” not because it escapes meaning or significance, but because it’s saturated by intra- and extra-musical meanings. Read the father of artificial intelligence, Marvin Minsky on what and how the first few bars of the Fifth Symphony communicate in our brains.
The Fifth is still a contested space, in terms of how it’s played, how it’s thought of, and even in terms of its text (another other things, a debate rages to this day about whether the repeat of the scherzo should be observed or not). Its familiarity is a sign not of its exhaustion, but of its endless potential for renewal. All we have to do is keep thinking, keep listening, and keep alive the possibility to be stunned by this symphony, whether you hear it as a metaphysical progress or a blood-and-thunder protest. Simultaneously, miraculously, it’s all that – and more.
(Tom Service-the guardian 16/09/13)