Insula Orchestra take on modern programming at La Seine Musicale

Laurence Equilbey’s Insula Orchestra is well into its first season at La Seine Musicale, Paris’ brand new music, theatre and multimedia performance centre. Here the music director tells IAM about the challenges and rewards of working in such a unique space. 

How has programming for a multimedia concert hall challenged you?
We had to imagine the technical potential of the hall, before the first stone was laid. At the time of the hall’s construction, I had to convince the acousticians to agree to build an orchestral pit, even though they were sceptical of the appropriateness of theatrical producing shows in a concert hall.

We opened La Seine Musicale with a revival of Haydn’s Creation, directed by La Fura dels Baus. It was adventurous! In three months we have produced three theatrical productions.

Laurence Equilbey © Julien Benhamou
Laurence Equilbey © Julien Benhamou

How have audiences and the players reacted to these multimedia concerts?
La Seine Musicale is a place of artistic experimentation, innovation and openness. The ambition of the project is to present attractive and inventive programmes, outside of the traditional framework. In particular we have developed bite-sized musical events and flashmobs alongside theatrical productions.

It’s very important from an artistic point of view to reflect the era, and also to open up classical music to communicate with a new public. Being a programmer for both Insula Orchestra, and of La Seine Musicale’s classical programme, provides us with the freedom to take risks.

At a time when imagery is so dominant in our lives, it is interesting to find a synergy between music and visuals. When these two disciplines interact, a work can have greater impact. I enjoy researching these kinds of works as I am passionate about visual arts and I love theatre. Certain works demand a particular treatment, particularly works which are inherently dramatic.

Insula will open the 2017-18 season at La Seine Musicale with Beethoven/Goethe’s Egmont (from 21 September). The musicians are thrilled to be playing this great music within the context of the work, which has been revived and adapted to be relevant today. It feels like we have opened the door to a new universe. Recently we asked a director, Pascale Ferran, to film and create a live broadcast of our production of Mozart’s great Mass in C Minor for virtual reality headsets. There were a lot of film professionals in the hall who have now discovered Mozart’s masterpiece.

As a musician yourself, how do you embrace and manage the potential of technology?
My recent experience with the production of Haydn’s Creation with La Fura dels Baus demonstrates my own interests. It’s a work with lots of poetry and humour. The use of iPads and access to WiFi at the show allowed for very powerful and evocative images, and also a lot of visual inventiveness. For me, this broke new ground and gave a different slant to our interpretation. This project has had an enormous impact on the public, and especially on the young. It is a weighty project, which has done a big tour in Europe. Programmers are looking for exciting projects such as this and we’re going to take it to New York next year.

What strategies are you taking to bring audiences to Insula’s work and La Seine Musicale?
We have a series of “Island” festivals that run throughout the season and take audiences on a musical journey (a nod to the fact the venue is built on an ‘island’ in Paris). Thanks to these ‘Islands’ the spectator can follow a route around a theme. We also offer classical ‘sets’ – short concerts of just an hour. And we will also open up our beautiful rehearsal space to the public for more intimate events.

Further, we have created a club for young people between 17 and 26 years old, which offers them lots of custom-made events. We also have a great educational and artistic presence in the digital sphere. We created a playful series of videos for online which illuminate our project and have attracted hundreds of thousands of views.

This project is possible thanks to the commitment of our local government, Departement des Hauts de Seine. It is an investment in the culture sector, and more specifically the musical sector, which is unprecedented in France. I’d like also to thank all our numerous partners who have shown commitment to the same values as us.