Dive into the creation of Janus

The Roman god with two faces has lent his name to a unique project, which, like him, looks to the past and the future. This joint program by the Centre de musique baroque de Versailles and IRCAM invites four young European composers to draw inspiration from French baroque music and compose new works. Fabien Armengaud, artistic and musical director of the Maîtrise du CMBV, and Clément Buonomo, deputy director, look back on the stages of this long adventure.

Yesterday and tomorrow, repertoires of the past, music of the future: what do you think the CMBV and IRCAM have in common?

Fabien Armengaud : One might think that our two institutions are very different because of their apparently diametrically opposed subjects of study... Wrong! They are two great research centers and there are many similarities in our respective approaches, whether it be that of the CMBV, created in 1986, turned towards baroque music, or that of IRCAM, born in 1977, with contemporary music and notably electroacoustic creation. The teams of both institutions are constantly questioning the repertoires, the notions of interpretation, restitution and diffusion... On the purely musical side, we are all tirelessly searching for a sound.

Clément Buonomo : We must build bridges between the French repertoires. There is a real connection between our two structures and what they represent musically, that is to say, on the CMBV side, a reflection on the aesthetic, ornamental, and stylistic contribution of the repertoires of the 17th and 18th centuries in France and their influence. For contemporary music at IRCAM, it is all the specificities of writing, electroacoustic creation, and the various schools of composition that existed in the twentieth century and that have spread to other parts of the world. Our two structures share a relationship with time - music of the past, present and future - but also... the time to carry out long-term projects. A real necessity today.

Photo: Fabien Armengaud, artistic and musical director of the Maîtrise du CMBV © Pascal Le Mee

How did you bring about this encounter between the two musical worlds: that of the Pages and Chanters of the CMBV and those of four contemporary composers? How do you create this chemistry?

Clément Buonomo : Let's remember that at the Maîtrise, we work with students - children, young adults - who, for the most part, are not at all familiar with the contemporary repertoire! We had to establish a real dialogue during this past year. First, we got to know each other. On the composer side, Ariadna Alsina Tarrés and Justina Repečkaitė already had some knowledge of early music, this was less the case for Jug Marković and Adrien Trybucki, who were arriving in new territory.

From left to right: Ariadna Alsina Tarrès (© Laura San Segundo), Adrien Trybucki © Fondation Royaumont, Justina Repečkaitė (© Dan Spigelman) and Jug Marković (© Ben Vieaperalta)

Fabien Armengaud: We didn't want a project where we said "Come on, we'll just create something". No. There is a real common path, a real companionship between the choir and the four composers, without forgetting the IRCAM sound engineers. They came several times to explore at the CMBV before setting to work. At our place, they became familiar with our way of working and, of course, with the sound of the choir. We presented them, in detail, with a wide range of representative works of the French baroque and the partners of the CMBV introduced them to several ancient instruments with their technical and expressive particularities and possibilities, such as the organ or the theorbo, which offer an exciting field of possibilities to today's composers. The exploration and familiarization went both ways! Adrien Trybucki and Ariadna Alsina Tarrés, whose works will be premiered in June 2023 and June 2024 respectively, presented their musical universe with commented listening so that young and old, the Pages, the Singers - and ourselves! - could enter their language and their imagination.

Clément Buonomo: Then, in a second phase, in June 2022, at the Centquatre, we organized a big day of work with a public "performance practice" around a selection of pieces by Adrien and Ariadna. They had chosen samples that already foreshadowed what their future creations would look like, just to whet our appetites and always with the aim of immersing our choristers in musical universes unknown to them. Of course, it was necessary to give them the codes of today’s music. This situation is virtuous from an artistic point of view: it makes them understand that music is expressed in many ways. These sketches also allowed the composers to see the resources and limits of the choir, in terms of ambitus, sound, technical difficulties, etc.

Fabien Armengaud: From a more pragmatic point of view, it was necessary to organize these master classes because the scores of these electroacoustic music pieces present other difficulties of reading and comprehension, in particular for young singers accustomed to baroque scores. When deciphering them, it takes more time to find the meaning. Despite this first difficulty, such a step aside is obviously very rewarding.

Photo: Clément Buonomo, deputy director of the CMBV © Morgane Vie

One of the four works composed for the Janus project will be premiered on June 22: what has she taken from the French Baroque heritage?

Fabien Armengaud: We don't have the full scores yet and it should be noted that the works include both live and recorded parts that we are editing as we go along. As we said, the four composers came away from the CMBV and our exchanges soaked in French baroque music, sounds, and information! Ariadna was inspired by Lully's little motets for three voices, which are not often performed. Regarding the three works that will be premiered next year, we already know that the Serbian composer, Jug Marković, is tempted to write a six-voice piece, and that the Lithuanian composer, Justina Repečkaitė, wants to write about the molting of children's voices, an issue that touches us every year! How were molted voices used at the time in masterclasses and chapels, and what happened to the so-called molted tops? She is working on a piece where we will find a whole play of textures between the different tessituras of the voices of the choir. The composer Adrien Trybucki, on the other hand, was taken by the very particular architecture of the double choir which is one of the specificities, one of the signatures of French baroque music.

Clément Buonomo: For our musicians, the live parts raise more questions than the recorded parts: they are very active and wonder about the meaning of what they are singing. Our job is to guide them, to explain the interpretation of these pieces, an aesthetic understanding. In short, if not to popularize, at least to translate these works for them.

"There were some fairly magical work days at IRCAM, such as the recording with Ariadna, where we were all together, musicians and composers, with our different musical backgrounds, in the same sound research process. It was very intense... and moving!" Fabien Armengaud

Photos: Visite des quatres compositeur.trice.s au Centre de musique baroque de Versailles © Morgane Vie

What were the reactions of the Pages and Chanters when they discovered these new works with you?

Clément Buonomo: They become interested as soon as we suggest a new use for their instrument and when we move away from what is customary for them in vocal technique, when we push them to explore the other potentialities of their voice - whispers, clicks, onomatopoeia or murmurs - or when we remove the notion of rhythmic measure or the parameter of the fixed note pitch and start with relative pitches. This broadening of the palette is very appealing to them, it is fun for them. The final result is more astonishing, sometimes amusing, but certainly questioning. The youngest ones go for it with a flourish, without thinking, without judgment. The adults question more what they have in front of them.

Fabien Armengaud: Ariadna's transformation of a motet by Lully, with different pitches, was very well received by the musicians: they threw themselves into it as if it were a game. We read the score as Lully wrote it... then with the proposals and transformations made by Ariadna. A delight!

These bridges between past and present will be present in the concert program with an interplay between the creations and the works that inspired the IRCAM composers...

Fabien Armengaud: In keeping with this commitment to dialogue and reflection on musical heritage, we will propose works from the Baroque repertoire that inspired these creations. What better way for the public to appreciate the heritage that exists between French Baroque music and works composed today? For example, for Adrien's double choir piece, we will perform a work that has had a strong impact on him: a superb double choir motet for the deceased by Marc-Antoine Charpentier. For Ariadna's piece, we will perform Lully's three petits motets.

Pages et Chantres du Centre de musique baroque de Versailles © Morgane Vie

This concert will take place in IRCAM's Espace de projection where the acoustics of the Royal Chapel of Versailles will be reproduced: why is it important to recapture this historical acoustic environment?

Fabien Armengaud: It's a very interesting and quite unique acoustic. At the beginning of the project, the composers were given a guided tour of the Chapel. They were able to test the acoustics and had it in mind when they composed. Like Lully, Lalande, Charpentier, and many others before them, they wrote for this space specifically. Beyond the technical prowess of the IRCAM teams, the reconstitution of the acoustics of the Chapelle Royale makes sense musically speaking. We know what great acousticians the Chapel's founders were, many great works were written for this space... and for no other.

Clément Buonomo: It also makes sense and is a source of musical comfort. We work on the works in the program at the Chapelle Royale every week, adapted to this specific acoustic. To perform them in a place with different acoustics would do justice neither to the work of the choir nor to the works on the program!

Interview by Suzanne Gervais, journalist and author