Wednesday, 20 November 2019

Striking the right chord: cultural and economic diplomacy on Orchestre National de Lille's forthcoming tour to the UK

Orchestre National de Lille, conductor Alexandre Bloch (Photo Ugo Ponte)
Orchestre National de Lille, conductor Alexandre Bloch (Photo Ugo Ponte)
Whilst orchestral tours are relatively common, the idea of combing one with a trade delegation is more unusual. And in the case of the forthcoming tour to the UK by the Orchestre National de Lille, it is not a country sending the trade delegation but a region. 

Founded in 1975 by the Nord Pas de Calais regional government, the Orchestra National de Lille has always been strongly embedded in the region, currently giving around 35 concerts per year in the region along with its season in Lille and visits to Paris. The orchestra is touring the UK in 2020 (28 January -1 February 2020) with its chief conductor Alexandre Bloch, performing music by Ravel, Debussy and Beethoven, visiting both London and other major regional centres.

And the Pas de Calais region is taking advantage of this cultural diplomacy to do a little economic diplomacy too. Brexit has this area of Northern France nervous because of the region's strong economic ties to the UK. So whatever Brexit is and whenever it proves to be, the region is using the tour to strengthen ties, both economic and cultural.

The orchestra was founded by the distinguished conductor Jean-Claude Casadesus, and Alexandre Bloch has been chief conductor for three years (and has just renewed his contract for five more years). Bloch has interesting ties to the UK, as he won the Donatella Flick Conducting Competition at the Barbican in 2012 (performing Debussy's Iberia), and as a result spent two years with the London Symphony Orchestra, and studied at the Royal Northern College of Music. He currently has strong links with the BBC National Orchestra of Wales.

The tour will feature appearances in Birmingham's Symphony Hall, London's Cadogan Hall, The Sage, Gateshead (where Bloch conducts the Royal Northern Sinfonia), Sheffield's City Hall and Leeds Town Hall. The programme consists of Ravel's La Valse and a suite from Ma mere l'Oye, Debussy's La mer and Iberia, and Beethoven's Piano Concerto No. 4 with the young American pianist Eric Lu, who won first prize at the 2018 Leeds International Piano Competition playing the same concerto with Edward Gardner and The Halle Orchestra.

Alexandre Bloch admits that they won't change the world by playing Debussy's La mer, but he certainly hopes they can change the emotions of the people who are listening. And the regional agencies accompanying the orchestra on the tour will certainly be hoping that the combination of economic and cultural diplomacy strikes a chord.

Lille is only a hop, skip and a jump away by Eurostar, so it is well worth checking out the orchestra's season there, with concerts ranging from a Mahler cycle to one curated by composer Magnus Lindberg.

Full details of the orchestra's tour to the UK from its website.

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