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Les Arts Florissants

France's Les Arts Florissants was a pioneering ensemble when the group was formed in 1979, unearthing Baroque works from France and beyond and performing them in historically authentic style. The group's influence has hardly diminished over its four decades of existence; it has spawned numerous operatic careers and has established a successful training program, Le Jardin des Voix. Les Arts Florissants was founded by the harpsichordist William Christie, who had left the U.S. because of his opposition to the Vietnam War. A scholar as well as a musician, Christie largely created the group's repertory on his own; the works of French Baroque theatrical and choral composers like Marc-Antoine Charpentier and Jean-Philippe Rameau were only sparsely known to audiences when Christie began his work, but he edited new scores for performance, often delving into the collection of Paris' Bibliothèque Nationale. By 1985, Les Arts Florissants were mounting productions of French operas, like Rameau's Anacréon and Charpentier's Actéon, sumptuous French court works that required full-scale authentic performances to come alive. In 1987, the group received the first of several Grand Prix de la Critique awards for its production of Jean-Baptiste Lully's Atys, which subsequently toured Europe and New York. Les Arts Florissants attracted the attention of major French recording companies almost immediately, signing with Harmonia Mundi and releasing a recording of works by the almost unknown composer Etienne Moulinié in 1980. That was the beginning of a partnership with Harmonia Mundi that, by the mid-2020s, had grown to encompass well over 100 albums. Les Arts Florissants has recorded choral music with its own Les Arts Florissants Choir, often focusing on the French grand motet repertory, and it has performed and recorded Italian and English operatic works. At the center of its repertory, however, is French opera, a field in which it has reigned supreme, working with France's top stage directors and choreographers. The stability of the Les Arts Florissants sound has been partly due to the long-term leadership of Christie, who turned over some duties to tenor and conductor Paul Agnew in the late 2000s but has remained active and vital in his involvement with the group. Over time, the group's repertory has expanded forward in time somewhat to include the music of Mozart, but unlike other early music groups, Les Arts Florissants has not attempted contemporary works. In 2002, Christie founded Le Jardin des Voix ("The Garden of Voices"), which soon became one of Europe's top enterprises for the training of young talent in the historical-performance field. Les Arts Florissants did not slacken its pace in the 2010s, releasing several albums a year. In 2019, under Christie, the group released Si vous vouliez un jour: Airs sérieux et à boire, Vol. 2, on Harmonia Mundi. Les Arts Florissants remained active throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, releasing 11 albums on Harmonia Mundi between 2021 and 2023 alone. Those included Schütz: Italian Madrigals in 2023.
© James Manheim /TiVo

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