Orchestre National de France
The Orchestre national de France (French National Orchestra) is a symphony orchestra based in Paris. Founded in 1934, it has become one of the most prestigious orchestras in France, and of the forerunners of the French orchestral tradition, along with the orchestra of the Opéra de Paris. It has been mostly led by renowned French conductors as permanent or invited conductors during its first decades of existence, among them Désiré-Émile Inghelbrecht, Manuel Rosenthal, Roger Désormière, André Cluytens, Jean Martinon and Charles Munch. It has also been opened progressively to foreign well-known conductors, as Otto Klemperer and Carl Schuricht after the war and, later, Sergiu Celibidache, Leonard Bernstein, Lorin Maazel, Kurt Masur, and current musical director Daniele Gatti. It has been recorded, mainly by EMI Records during the years 1960-1980, in the French repertoire, and more recently mainly by Radio France itself, associated with Naïve Records.
Placed under the administration of the French national radio (named Radio France since 1975), the orchestra performs mainly in the Théâtre des Champs-Élysées from where all its concerts are broadcast, and during several tours every season, in France and abroad.
- 1934-1945 : Orchestre national (National Orchestra)
- 1945-1949 : Orchestre national de la Radiodiffusion française (French Radio National Orchestra)
- 1949-1964 : Orchestre national de la Radio-télévision française or Orchestre national de la RTF (French Radio and Television National Orchestra)
- 1964-1974 : Orchestre national de l'Office de radiodiffusion-télévision française or Orchestre national de l'ORTF (National Orchestra of the French Radio and Television Office)
- Since 1975 : Orchestre national de France
The orchestra was founded as the Orchestre national by decree on 18 February 1934, by the French minister of Posts Jean Mistler, as an ensemble of 80 musicians, with Désiré-Emile Inghelbrecht as musical director. Most of its musicians are young, and all of them are under exclusive engagements, prohibiting them to play with other orchestras as the orchestra of the Opera. The first concert is played in the Conservatoire de Paris on 13 March 1934, with music by German and French composers. Most of the concerts in the first years are conducted by Inghelbrecht, Roger Désormière and Eugène Bigot. Inghelrecht's assistant conductor at the time is the young Manuel Rosenthal, who also performs regularly. Among other conductors, Arturo Toscanini conducts two concerts in 1935 (19 and 26 November).
In 1939, half of the musicians are mobilized in the French army. The other half of the orchestra settles in Rennes between 26 October 1939 and 16 June 1940, when bombings on the city force the orchestra to be disbanded. The Vichy government then recreates the orchestra in March 1941. It is based in Marseilles, without jewish musicians, who are excluded (among them, Clara Haskil's sister, the violinist Jeanne Haskil). The orchestra goes back to Paris from 1 March 1943.
After the French Liberation, Inghelbrecht is replaced by Manuel Rosenthal, because of his role under the occupation, and the orchestra is reorganized and placed under the responsibility of the national radio, the Radiodiffusion Nationale, which becomes Radiodiffusion Française on 23 March 1945, Radiodiffusion-Télévision Française (RTF) on 9 February 1949, then Office de radiodiffusion-télévision française on 27 June 1964, and finally Radio France on 1 January 1975. The name of the orchestra is progressively modified in accordance with these changes in organization.
Rosenthal puts back contemporary and French music banned under the German occupation on the programs, and many prestigious conductors known for their ties with the USA and the UK are invited in the years following the war : Roger Désormière, Jean Martinon and André Girard in 1945, Otto Klemperer, Paul Paray, Charles Munch and Paul Kletzki in 1946, Carl Schuricht and Josef Krips in the next few years. The orchestra also starts to become an instrument of cultural prestige for France, with tours in Berlin and London as early as in 1946 and in North America in 1948 (with Charles Munch as conductor). The first official recordings of the orchestra are made with Paul Kletzki in 1947 (Tableaux d'une Exposition by Modest Mussorgsky, in the arrangement by Ravel, and the Boléro by the latter).
The orchestra also starts performing many contemporary pieces : Le Soleil des eaux (Pierre Boulez) is premiered by Désormière in 1950 (with the French premiere of Béla Bartók Divertimento in the same concert), and a few days later Messiaen's Turangalîla-Symphonie is played for the first time in Europe, in Aix-en-Provence. Henri Dutilleux's first symphony is also premiered in 1951. Other major pieces are played for the first time in France by the Orchestre national, and among them Wozzeck by Alban Berg (under Jascha Horenstein), and several of Anton Bruckner's and Gustav Mahler's symphonies.
In 1952, the permanent conductor Roger Désormière suffers a stroke that left him paralyzed, and is forced to retire. He is not officially replaced during the next eight years, and the orchestra performs under numerous invited conductors. André Cluytens is the most frequent to conduct the orchestra, and, he brings the orchestra to play more of the German repertoire, and leads it during tours in USSR (1959), at the Salzburg Festival (1959) and in the Middle East (1960). The orchestra continues to create numerous contemporary works. The best known of these premieres is on 2 December 1954, for Déserts by Edgar Varèse, combining orchestral and tape parts, under direction of Hermann Scherchen, leading to a scandal among the audience in the Théâtre des Champs-Élysées that recalls the premiere of Le Sacre du printemps in 1913. During the 1950s, the orchestra also recorded numerous compositions by the Brazilian composer Heitor Villa-Lobos under his direction, for EMI.
Maurice Le Roux is appointed in 1960, and he is the first permanent conductor to hold the title of Musical director. Despite the opening of the Maison de la Radio, the orchestra continues to perform in the Théâtre des Champs-Élysées. The orchestra suffers the competition of the newly founded Orchestre de Paris in 1967, and Charles Munch, frequently invited by the Orchestre national, is appointed as permanent conductor by the new orchestra. For this reason, another renowned French conductor, Jean Martinon, becomes musical director of the Orchestre national in 1968, and he brings back prestigious invited conductors, and records the complete orchestral works by Claude Debussy, and the symphonies by Camille Saint-Saëns. In 1973, Sergiu Celibidache is recruited as premier chef invité (principal invited conductor), but he decides to end his contract in 1975, as a result of a conflict with some of the musicians.
In January 1975, the creation of Radio France sees the orchestra renamed Orchestre national de France. A new permanent orchestra, the Orchestre Philharmonique de Radio France, is also created in 1976, by merging several smaller ensembles. This allows the Orchestre national de France to concentrate on its mission for international prestige, without a permanent conductor but under renowned artists as Leonard Bernstein, Wolfgang Sawallisch and Seiji Ozawa. Only in 1977 is Lorin Maazel appointed as premier chef invité, and he officially becomes musical conductor in 1988.
After his successful tenure at the Orchestre symphonique de Montréal, Charles Dutoit is appointed musical director in 1991, with a clear mission to strengthen the identity of the orchestra, mainly in the French repertoire. Unfortunately, the public and critics do not appreciate Dutoit's work and the orchestra is criticized for its programs, and for the level of its performances, except under invited conductors as Riccardo Muti and Evgeny Svetlanov. After 10 years under Dutoit, Kurt Masur replaces him, followed by Daniele Gatti in 2008. On 13 March 2014, the orchestra celebrates its 80th anniversary with a concert conducted by Riccardo Muti.
The orchestra will switch its residence to the new Auditorium de la Maison de Radio France at the end of the year. However, it is more and more frequently criticized for its lack of identity, and for the lack of inspiration and the technical irregularities of its performances. Radio France is currently considering a plan to merge the orchestra with the Orchestre Philharmonique de Radio France, in order to reduce costs and strengthen the quality of the orchestra.
The orchestra today
Since 1944, the orchestra has been based in the Théâtre des Champs-Élysées in Paris, where it occasionally plays in the pit for opera productions. Some concerts are also held in the Olivier Messiaen Auditorium in the Maison de Radio France (formerly known as Maison de la Radio). Radio France records all its concerts.
- Program of the first concert : http://concerts.radiofrance.fr/80ansonf/wp-content/uploads/sites/27/2014/04/Orchestre-National-Programmation-1934.pdf
- Programs (p. 55 and 57) : http://concerts.radiofrance.fr/80ansonf/wp-content/uploads/sites/27/2014/04/Orchestre-National-Programmation-1935.pdf
- Erik Baeck, André Cluytens, itinéraire d'un chef d'orchestre (Brussels, Mardaga, 2009, pp. 148-50
- Matthew Westphal (23 July 2007). "Daniele Gatti to Succeed Kurt Masur at Orchestre National de France". Playbill Arts. Retrieved 2008-05-05.