Seated on an uncomfortable bench in a Cistercian abbey, the spectator has just crossed the threshold from his or her ‘everyday life’ and is preparing to undergo a singular experience: to lose and then find oneself in the temporal adventure of the work being performed on stage.
This palpable tension, which will be resolved in a final silence rich in contained emotions and contemplation, articulates an aesthetic experience which brings us face to face with ourselves.
To follow the loving but firm hand of Françoise Lasserre to be carried off to an unknown territory, to discover in oneself a shadowy zone, enigmatic and capricious. Upsetting the petty authority of our thoughts and prejudices, Françoise Lasserre invites us to travel with her along a steep yet illuminating path: to abdicate control, so that what is repressed by day may perhaps become a hero by night.
Remaining something of a marginal figure, off the beaten track, Françoise Lasserre roots her approach to music firmly in a consciously humanistic tradition, inherited from the Platonic garden and the Italian Renaissance.
Vigorously pursuing a ‘musical ideal’ embracing both asceticism and exhilaration, founded on scrupulous respect for the text and the wish to transport listeners to summits of sheer emotion, Françoise Lasserre and her ensemble have chosen the long and arduous path of complete fidelity to their artistic convictions.
This ascetic attitude has borne splendid fruit, and led to exemplary meetings of minds. The first musician to have a decisive influence on her was Philippe Herreweghe. At the birth of La Chapelle Royale in 1976, the musicologist Philippe Beaussant said this to his listeners: ‘Ladies and gentlemen, in ten years, in twenty years, you will be able to say, like the grenadiers who fought at Austerlitz: I was there.’ If such battles forge the soul and create an esprit de corps, Françoise Lasserre has not forgotten what she still considers as her musical family, with its special attention to the relationship between text and music. Convey the meaning of the text, explain each phrase, give the words their full weight: that was the deep imprint left on her by Herreweghe.
Then came her encounter with Michel Corboz, the charismatic conductor of the Ensemble Vocal de Lausanne. In working with him, Françoise Lasserre discovered the true role of the conductor: to encourage the transformation of the artists one directs.
After this, several years of musical practice in concert and an extensive discography were to attest to her aesthetic approach, founded on patient archaeological research and sculpting of the musical and sonic material at her disposal.
Fascinated by mathematics since her teenage years, Françoise Lasserre likes to dissect mechanisms, analyse their inner workings, understand systems. In her assiduous frequentation of the libraries of Europe, she adopts a similar attitude to musical sources. With patience and perseverance, she collects the precious indications composers have sometimes left us in the prefaces to their works: here a dramatic intention, there the characterisation of a voice.
Abandoning herself to the pleasure of reconstructing in her mind’s ear, at her desk, the polyphony she extracts from individual part-books, she fashions in her imagination a preliminary interpretation of the work. Then comes the encounter with her singers and instrumentalists.
At this point, surrounded by strong artistic personalities, Françoise Lasserre spontaneously summons her musicians to a passionate confrontation, shaping and guiding the individual energies towards a single objective: to reveal a world to the audience, an interpretation of the work of music which has been collectively perceived, understood, then dispensed.
What is this world? A world where, paradoxically, the music, the beauty of a voice, the virtuosity of a difficult passage will never be an end in itself.
Perhaps an anecdote can define this world. When a journalist asked her why she had chosen a particular performer, Françoise Lasserre replied, with seeming impertinence: ‘What I like about this singer is that he’s not so much in love with his own voice that he feels the need to pester us with it . . . I chose him because, over and above his qualities as a singer, it’s his talent as a storyteller, a diseur, that moves and affects me.’