■ Early Langrée: ‘Les Brigands’ in Amsterdam, with Michèle Lagrange as Fiorella
Amsterdam, Don Giovanni for Glyndebourne Touring Opera, Pelléas et Mélisande in Lausanne—and at the age of 32 became music director of the Orchestre de Picardie in northern France, where he remained from 1993 to 1998. ‘I had already conducted in Paris, London, Amsterdam and Glyndebourne, and it’s good to receive invitations from houses of that calibre, but if you want to build something up, that’s not where you should do it.’
His accession to the position of music director at the Opéra de Lyon in 1998 seemed to mark his arrival as a conductor of international stature, but a year later he resigned from the post, citing artistic disagreements. It was a brave move—he had no fallback plan. ‘Either you are in a position where you can share your enthusiasm, or you have to spend your time fighting over ridiculous things and constantly compromising your artistic principles.’ He now feels able to put this false start down to experience. ‘It vaccinated me against wanting to have a post at an opera house: there is too much to manage beyond artistic matters.’
Fortunately, 1998 also marked the start of a happier operatic relationship, when he became music director of Glyndebourne Touring Opera, a post he held for seven seasons. He now describes Glyndebourne as the operatic institution that has brought him more happiness than any other, offering ‘the real luxury of time’.
When he hit 40, Langrée accepted a new orchestral post in Europe: music director of the Liège Philharmonic. He remained with the Belgian orchestra from 2001 to 2006, but also gradually strengthened his ties in America through his relationships with orchestras in New York and subsequently with Cincinnati, eventually putting down roots in Ohio with his wife and children. He has come to feel at home in the city and enthusiastically discusses its history and architecture (proudly displaying photos of urban renewal showpieces on his phone) and his predecessors at its orchestra.
He has even acquired a taste for activities he was not expected to undertake in Europe, such as fundraising. ‘I love fundraising. In [much of] Europe, where people are used to subsidies, they complain when their money is cut, but it always remains at pretty much the same level. If you are in the red, you go and see the minister and you explain that you did a bit more contemporary music, that there was a consequent drop in ticket revenue, and then the minister makes up the difference. In the States, you wouldn’t think for a moment of going to see a private investor to ask him to make up an orchestra’s operating deficit. Fundraising is really a case of going to an investor and making a case for an artistic project, of trying to convince him about what this project could do for the community.’ He quotes some advice he received from Simon Rattle: ‘If you take a job as a music director, you must understand the importance of your role, but also the problems it brings. And the music must be one of the answers to the problems.’
Opera, December 2018