Nicolas Blanmont Langrée conducts a new production of Ambroise Thomas’s Hamlet at the Opéra Comique in Paris this month
Glyndebourne, June 2002. During the long interval of Don Giovanni, Louis Langrée settles down on the grass for a peaceful picnic with a couple of friends. At the end of the break he returns, not to a seat in the auditorium, but to the conductor’s podium in the pit. As he explained at the time: ‘At first it is quite difficult to manage those long intervals. It can be hard to stay focused. One needs to be a little schizophrenic, with one part of you staying focused while the other roams free. I’m now on my 40th or so Don Giovanni—I wouldn’t go for a picnic in the middle of some other operas I conduct.’
This anecdote demonstrates Langrée’s straightforward approach to life as a conductor. Since 2003 he has been music director of New York’s Mostly Mozart festival and, since 2013, of the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra. Born in Mulhouse in eastern France on 11 January 1961, he was probably destined for life as a professional musician—his father was an organist and taught harmony and counterpoint. The first record he bought, in his early teens, was Brendel’s recording of Brahms’s Piano Concerto No 1. He also remembers an LP of Tchaikovsky’s First Piano Concerto with Aldo Ciccolini; the disc became so scratched that when he conducts the piece these days, he still hears in his head the jumping of a virtual needle. His interests extended beyond the classical repertoire and he confesses to a taste for Johnny Halliday, Léo Ferré, Michel Polnareff and Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon.
Langrée emerged from the cocoon of his family to become a student at the Strasbourg conservatoire, where he met a professor of analysis who was to change his life and his relationship with music; an obligation became a vocation, and the wheels of his career were set in motion. As a repetiteur for young singers training at the Opéra de Lyon, he attended rehearsals led by John Eliot Gardiner and went on to become his assistant and to take responsibility for a revival of Messager’s Fortunio. It was also in Lyon that he got to know Semyon Bychkov. He then spent three years as Bychkov’s assistant at the Orchestre de Paris, where he took on such behind-the-scenes roles as offstage conducting, rehearsing singers (notably for a Verdi Requiem conducted by Giulini) and, occasionally, playing keyboard continuo (for Solti in Haydn’s Die Jahreszeiten, for instance). Duties as an assistant also took him to Bayreuth, where Peter Schneider was conducting the Werner Herzog production of Lohengrin, but Langrée soon started to spread his professional wings as a guest conductor in opera—Les Brigands in
Opera, December 2018