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A Tour of Great Britain

Orchestre National de Lille is the only
French orchestra planning to tour the UK in 2020


Given the number of debates raised by Brexit and the extension of the negotiation period, the terms under which Great Britain will leave the European Union are not as clear as they seemed to be a few months ago.

Within this context, it seems more important than ever to strengthen Franco-British relations, and, in particular, relations between the Hauts-de-France region and its primary foreign trading partner. The fact is, with an extremely positive, and constantly growing, trade balance (€2 billion in 2017), the region is particularly dependant on its British neighbour. This situation has evolved out of a long, shared history, during which strong business links have been forged. At present, 5,500 businesses in the region trade regularly with the United Kingdom, and 32 have at least one subsidiary in Great Britain. So when Brexit was announced, institutional and private players swung into action and joined up to form a task force on a regional level. Whatever the outcome of the negotiations between the UK and the EU, the Orchestre National de Lille (ONL, the National Orchestra of Lille) firmly intends to work towards maintaining ties between the two territories.

In January 2020, this intention will take the form of a cross-Channel tour, during which the orchestra will represent the cultural standing of its region - mirroring the economic standing of northern businesses. Because of its strong local roots, the Orchestre National de Lille is something of an ambassador for its region. It presents an image as dynamic as it is prestigious, thanks to its one hundred musicians and its young and charismatic conductor, Alexandre Bloch. This makes the orchestra a valuable communications tool for regional players, who, by associating themselves with the ONL, are able to gain precious visibility abroad.

This tour is also rather a special event for the orchestra. It will, in fact, be Alexandre Bloch's very first tour with the Orchestre National de Lille, and a homecoming for the maestro who was appointed Assistant Conductor of the London Symphony Orchestra after winning First Prize at the Donatella Flick LSO Conducting Competition in October 2012. Furthermore, for an orchestra a tour always constitutes a special and intense moment of collective competition and cohesion between the musicians. They join forces to offer an unknown public a memorable performance and position their ensemble among the greatest orchestras in Europe.

In 2020, the Orchestre National de Lille will be the only French symphonic orchestra to tour Great Britain. It will be joined for the occasion by a delegation of business decision-makers from the Hauts-de-France region. Given that this tour is something of a cultural diplomacy mission, it will have the support and backing of the French Embassy.

So there will be much at stake during the tour, both for the Orchestre National de Lille, its partners, and the entire region.

The UK concert dates are: Symphony Hall, Birmingham, Tuesday 28 January; Cadogan Hall, London, Wednesday 29 January; The Sage, Gateshead, Thursday 30 January; City Hall, Sheffield, Friday 31 January; and Town Hall, Leeds, 1 February 2020.

The ONL 2020 tour of Great Britain
The ONL 2020 tour of Great Britain

The Orchestre National de Lille is a leading cultural body in the Hauts-de-France region and in France as a whole. Led by Alexandre Bloch, its broad, symphonic repertoire of the utmost excellence contributes to the attractiveness and renown of our region.

The ONL is famed for being an innovative cultural enterprise across the range of its activities, and particularly because of its place in the digital ecosystem. It made a strategic choice to invest in a high-tech audio-visual studio, its concerts are regularly picked up by the music channel Mezzo, and its events are regularly covered by the media. It has recorded more than a dozen albums for the labels Naxos, Warner Classics, Alpha and Deutsche Grammophon, as well as Bizet's opera Les Pêcheurs de Perles (The Pearl Fishers) for Pentatone with Julie Fuchs. This performance won many prestigious awards, including a Diapason d'Or and a Choc Classica. In 2019, the Orchestre National de Lille and Alexandre Bloch had the immense pleasure of bringing out a new album: Ernest Chausson's Poème de l'amour et de la mer and Symphonie, Opus 20, featuring the soprano Véronique Gens.

Although well established in a region that includes more than 250 musically-aware municipalities, the orchestra is also mindful of its international influence. Over the 43 years of its existence, the ONL has visited 32 countries on four continents. Over the last two years, Alexandre Bloch has given the orchestra fresh impetus, and embodies our region's image of youth, talent and dynamism; he also boosts its reputation thanks to a career including many international appointments as a conductor.

Alexandre Bloch. Photo © Ugo Ponte
Alexandre Bloch. Photo © Ugo Ponte

Carried on a wave of energy and contagious enthusiasm, Alexandre Bloch was chosen to take over from Jean-Claude Casadesus, and became the Orchestre National de Lille's Musical Director and Conductor in September 2016. He has also been Principal Guest Conductor of Düsseldorfer Symphoniker since September 2015. A young, French conductor of immense talent, in 2012, he led the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra of Amsterdam, for three, brilliant concerts. This success was the starting point for him for a most promising career, both in France and abroad.

In October that year, he won First Prize at the Donatella Flick London Symphony Orchestra Conducting Competition in London, after which he was offered the post of Assistant Conductor of the LSO until 2014.

Last season, he made his début with the Orchestre Philharmonique de Radio France, the Orchestre National d'Île-de-France, the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra, the Orchestre Métropolitain (Montreal) and the Brussels Philharmonic. Alexandre has also appeared with some of the finest orchestras in the world: the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra, the London Symphony Orchestra, the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic, the Oslo Philharmonic, the Adelaide Symphony Orchestra and the Seoul Philharmonic among others. In particular, in 2017-2018, he was a guest at the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra and the London Symphony Orchestra for a tour in Kuwait. He was noticed by major figures in the world of direction, and, in 2012 and 2013, took part in the Tanglewood Music Center Festival in the United States. In May 2019, he directed a French production of the George Benjamin opera Lessons in Love and Violence at the Opéra de Lyon.

Alexandre's initial music studies were in cello, harmony and orchestral direction at the Tours and Orléans conservatories, and then Lille. He went on to study at the Conservatoire National Supérieur de Musique et de Danse in Paris, taking classes in in composition and then conducting.

The musical programme chosen by Alexandre Bloch for his first tour with the Orchestre National de Lille is particularly stunning. It is made up mainly of world-renowned masterpieces from Ravel and Debussy; the quintessence of French flair. Firstly Maurice Ravel, who was able to take the powerfully poetic expression of the symphonic orchestra to its heights at the beginning of the twentieth century. Under the direction of Alexandre, the ONL will perform the suite from his ballet Ma mère l'Oye which evokes the realm of childhood and its many, musical splendours. Again thanks to Ravel, Alexandre will lead our British friends in a dazzling, orchestral whirlwind with La Valse, an extraordinary work whose popularity has never waned since its creation in 1920.

The orchestra will also highlight another great French musical genius, Claude Debussy, with his most famous orchestral composition: La Mer. A shimmering evocation of the play between the wind, the waves and the ocean, this piece is one of the pillars of the symphonic repertoire. For dates in Newcastle, Sheffield and Leeds, we will also be performing another work by Debussy, Iberia. This is a wonderful Impressionist painting of a poetic and idealistic, but profoundly authentic Spain. At the heart of the programme will be a celebration of the 250th anniversary of the birth of Ludwig van Beethoven, the ultimate reference point in the entire history of music, here with his 4th Piano Concerto, performed by the young and breath-taking Eric Lu, a rising star among pianists in Great Britain.

Eric Lu. Photo © 2019 Benjamin Ealovega
Eric Lu. Photo © 2019 Benjamin Ealovega

Born in Massachusetts in 1997, Eric Lu first came to international attention as a prize winner at the 2015 Chopin International Competition in Warsaw aged just 17, and went on to win the 2017 International German Piano Award and the US National Chopin Competition. He picked up First Prize at The Leeds International Piano Competition in September 2018, performing Beethoven's Fourth Piano Concerto with The Hallé Orchestra and Edward Gardner. During the semi final, The Independent praised a reading of Chopin's Second Sonata, writing that it 'took one's breath away with its measured grandeur'.

He is currently studying at the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia where his teachers include Jonathan Biss and Robert McDonald, and is also a pupil of Dang Thai Son.

Eric has already worked with the Minnesota Orchestra, New Jersey Symphony, Orchestra of the Eighteenth Century and the Warsaw and Qatar philharmonics. He has performed at Carnegie Hall, the Alte Oper in Frankfurt, Taipei National Concert Hall, Tokyo Metropolitan Hall, the Auditorio Nacional in Madrid and the Seoul Arts Centre.

He began the 2018/19 season performing with the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic under Vasily Petrenko, and went on to perform with the Hallé Orchestra, directed by Sir Mark Elder. Upcoming appearances include a concert in collaboration with the Oslo Philharmonic Orchestra and recitals at Wigmore Hall, the Southbank Centre, the St George's Bristol, the Elbe Philharmonic Hall, at BOZAR in Brussels, at the Luxembourg Philharmonic and at the Gewandhaus in Leipzig.

Eric's first recording with Warner Classics was released in November 2018. In it he plays Beethoven and Chopin - works he performed for the Leeds competition. Previous recordings include a Chopin recital that came out under the Institut Frédéric Chopin label, as well as a disc of works by Mozart, Schubert and Brahms, released by Genuin Classics.

Posted 8 November 2019 by James Ross




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