Under the baton of the French conductor Fabien Gabel, the Detroit Symphony Orchestra performs Claude Debussy's La Mer. Recorded at Orchestra Hall, Max M. Fisher Music Center, Detroit, in November 2015.
Claude Debussy's rich and evocative depiction of the underwater realm remains an impressionistic milestone, a classic of its type. But what makes La Mer so good?
Ever-resistant to the confines of normal practice, impressionist composer Claude Debussy insisted that his La Mer was not a symphony. No, even though it contains three symphonic movements that could quite happily be classified as a symphony. Debussy preferred to call it a set of "symphonic sketches" – something of a milestone in itself.
La Mer (literally "The Sea") was a confusing prospect to audiences of 1905, as it was neither a normal symphony nor a complete departure. Parisian audiences initially didn't really warm to it either, perhaps partly because of the scandal of Debussy having left his wife for the singer Emma Barduc.
Debussy took inspiration not from the rolling waves of the Pacific or the Atlantic, but from the rather more unlikely locale of Eastbourne on the south coast of England. He finished composing the work's three movements there in 1905, saying that he found more inspiration in paintings of the sea than being near the sea itself.
Claude Debussy (1862-1918)
♪ La Mer, trois esquisses symphoniques pour orchestre / The Sea, three symphonic sketches for orchestra (1903-1905, rev. 1908)
i. De l'aube à midi sur la mer / From dawn to midday on the sea
ii. Jeux de vagues / Play of the waves
iii. Dialogue du vent et de la mer / Dialogue between wind and waves
Detroit Symphony Orchestra
Conductor: Fabien Gabel
Orchestra Hall, Max M. Fisher Music Center, Detroit, November 2015
Hailed as "boldly evocative" by the Cleveland Plain Dealer, conductor Fabien Gabel is recognized internationally as one of the stars of a new generation of conductors. A regular guest of major orchestras in Europe, North America and Asia, Gabel has been praised by the San Diego Union Tribune as "A conductor... able to both lead and follow", and has been the Music Director of the Orchestre Symphonique de Québec since September 2012, and Music Director of the innovative Orchestre Français des Jeunes, since 2017.
Gabel's 2018-2019 season features a diverse range of repertoire and seven conducting debuts, including his highly-anticipated podium debut with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, as well as return engagements with leading orchestras around the world. In his seventh season as Music Director of the Orchestre Symphonique de Québec, he leads the orchestra with a star-studded lineup of soloists, including Lisette Oropesa, Michael Schade, and Marie-Nicole Lemieux. The conductor continues to lead major orchestras across the United States, returning to the Houston Symphony Orchestra, Detroit Symphony Orchestra, and Milwaukee Symphony where last season Gabel "showed astounding musicianship" (Shepherd Express).
Gabel's European engagements feature debuts with the Netherlands Radio Philharmonic, Vienna's Tonkünstler Orchester, Orchestre de la Suisse Romande, and Warsaw Philharmonic, as well as welcome returns to the Deutsches Symphonie Orchester, Orchestre National de Bordeaux Aquitaine, engagements at the Philharmonie de Paris with the Orchestre national d'Île-de-France and the Orchestre Français des Jeunes, and with the Danish National Symphony Orchestra. Outside of Europe and the United States, Gabel makes debuts with Melbourne Symphony Orchestra, Tasmania Symphony, and returns to the Seoul Philharmonic.
Recent major successful guest conducting collaborations include the London Symphony Orchestra, Mahler Chamber Orchester, Cleveland Orchestra, NDR Elbphilharmonie Orchester, Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra, Washington's National Symphony Orchestra, Frankfurt's Hessischer Rundfunk Orchester, London Philharmonic Orchestra, BBC Symphony Orchestra, Oslo Philharmonic, and regular collaborations with the Orchestre de Paris, Helsinki Philharmonic Orchestra, Antwerp Symphony Orchestra and Detroit Symphony Orchestra.
Fabien Gabel has worked with soloists like Emmanuel Ax, Seong-Jin Cho, Gidon Kremer, Christian Tetzlaff, Jean-Yves Thibaudet, Alina Pogostkina, Julian Steckel, Johannes Moser, Antonio Meneses, Marc-André Hamelin, Beatrice Rana, Gautier Capuçon, Simone Lamsma, Xavier de Maistre, and Bertrand Chamayou, and singers such as Jennifer Larmore, Measha Bruggergosman, Danielle de Niese, Natalie Dessay, and Marie-Nicole Lemieux.
Fabien had first attracted international attention in 2004 winning the Donatella Flick competition in London, which subsequently led to his appointment as the LSO's assistant conductor for the 2004-2005 and 2005-2006 seasons. Since then, the LSO has engaged him regularly as a guest conductor.
Born in Paris in 1975 and a member of a family of accomplished musicians, Fabien Gabel began studying trumpet at the age of six, honing his skills at the Conservatoire National Supérieur de Musique de Paris, which awarded him a First Prize in trumpet in 1996, and later at the Musik Hochschule of Karlsruhe. He went on to play in various Parisian orchestras under the direction of prominent conductors such as Pierre Boulez, Sir Colin Davis, Riccardo Muti, Seiji Ozawa, Simon Rattle and Bernard Haitink. In 2002 Fabien Gabel pursued his interest in conducting at the Aspen Summer Music Festival, where he studied with David Zinman, who invited him to appear as a guest conductor at the Festival in 2009. He has worked with Bernard Haitink and Sir Colin Davis as their assistant.
“Debussy: one of the most original of moderns”, 1908, & “French composer Claude Debussy dies”, 1918 – Two articles from the Guardian archive
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100 Years After Debussy's Death, He Remains the First ‘Modern’ Composer – An essay on Claude Debussy by Stephen Hough in the New York Times
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Claude Debussy: Images, D'un cahier d'esquisses, L'Isle joyeuse, Deux arabesques, etc. – Zoltán Kocsis (Audio video)