Everyday Rather Live in Classic Eras

William Christie answers the question

William Lincoln Christie (born December 19, 1944 ) is an American-born French conductor and harpsichordist. He is a specialist in baroque repertoire and is the founder of the ensemble Les Arts Florissants.

What first drew you to conducting?


Wanting to get my ideas across to musicians and to an audience. Having started out as a harpsichord player, it also seemed somewhat inevitable.

What was your big breakthrough?

Breaking out of the US in 1970. It was more for personal than professional reasons – I was very much against the Vietnam war. I went off to Europe, and nine years later, I founded the ensemble Les Arts Florissants, which has been my baby, my life’s work, ever since.

Do you suffer for your art?

I can get terribly anxious about particular projects; I’m hard on myself when I’ve done things I think are less than acceptable, and I do feel isolated sometimes. But music can also be therapeutic.

Does the way classical music is presented need to change to attract younger audiences?

Of course. We have halls that are rather stiff, rigid and orthodox in their repertoire: we should pay more attention to the lighter, less daunting stuff. It’s also about how people can get into halls without paying immense amounts of money. This bothers me terribly: with my own festival in France, in the garden of my house in the Vendée, I’ve kept ticket prices to just 18 euros.

What are you most proud of?

The fact that I’ve been able to communicate beauty and emotion through music. And the fact that, as a teacher and organiser, I have been able to help launch young artists’ careers: to turn to them and say, “Yes, I’d like you to sing or play for me.”

What advice would you give a young conductor?

Don’t think about making a career – think about serving the music as wonderfully as possible.

What’s the worst thing anyone ever said about you?

A critic once accused me of not having done my homework. That barb stuck in my flesh for a long time.

What work of art would you most like to own?

I always go back to Cézanne. He said something in a way that no one else had ever said it: he revolutionised our perception of objects and landscape.

What’s the greatest myth about conducting?

That we’re Tarzans or lion-tamers. There are times when you need to take an orchestra, who really are lions in their den, and whip them into shape – but a conductor is not always indispensable. Then there’s the idea that the more a conductor waves his arms around, and looks like he’s about to levitate, the better he is. That’s complete crap.

How would you like to be remembered?

I have sometimes thought, if someone decides to put up a plaque, what’s it going to say? So how about: “Here’s Christie, who never harmed anybody, and who’s created some good for the world – or at least given some people some solace, hope or enjoyment.”