The convergence of the Rhône and Saône. Paul Bocuse. The birthplace of cinema. Châteauneuf-du-Pape just a few miles down the road.
It does not get much better than Lyon.
This is the city that I have called my second home for the past two years. Being music director with two orchestras requires a very good set of plans and an even better understanding of the airlines. It also means that I must balance my roles in both Detroit and France.
I am often asked about the differences between the Orchestre National de Lyon and the Detroit Symphony Orchestra. First and foremost is the nature of how each is subsidized. In the States, virtually all the revenue is generated from contributions and ticket sales. Very little comes from local, state or federal funds.
It is quite a different story in Lyon. Even though the orchestra is dubbed, "National," the money comes primarily from City Hall. Revenue from the government accounts for perhaps 70 percent of the total budget. People often assume that since the city is footing the majority of the bill, they must be involved in the programming.
To date, there has not been one instance of interference or pressure in any way. Of course I try to promote French composers and performers, but no more so than I do with their American counterparts in Detroit. However, when you have the riches of Berlioz, Debussy, Ravel and Dutillieux, it is a pleasure to place them on concert programs.
Audiences are on the younger side when compared to the States. There is no dress code and one can see all manner of attire at a performance. In a city of a million and a half residents, probably 7 percent attend concerts on a regular basis. In a very successful partnership, the orchestra has paired up with the soccer team, Olympique Lyonnaise. Buy a ticket for a match and you get one for a concert. The reverse holds true as well. Imagine that!
The Auditorium is located about a mile from the old part of the city. Across the street is "Les Halles," a most extraordinary marketplace, where the great restaurateurs of the city go to claim their fare for the evening. Just seeing the sumptuous layout of quenelles, poulard de Bresse and exquisite cheeses makes one wish that there were rooms available for habitation in the facility.
Like most other orchestras, musicians come from different parts of the world, bringing a well-rounded musical profile to the ensemble. But the orchestra is truly French. Their sound comes from a rich tradition of music making that dominated the landscape for the majority of the 20th century. The string sound is robust but pure, the woodwinds rich but clear, the brass penetrating but not overwhelming and the percussion bright and colorful.
The staff is quite a bit smaller than one would find for a similar American ensemble. Concepts of PR, marketing and development are somewhat new but it is clear that being part of the cultural global market place is important in getting the word out about the city. There is even a campaign called "Only Lyon," which is being used to lure companies and tourists to the region.
Working on a regular basis in these two cities, I feel quite fortunate. Although the demands are great, the benefits are enormous. Looking out of my apartment window and seeing the gently flowing Rhône, I can only think, "Quand le vin est tiré, il faut le boire." (When the wine is drawn, one must drink)."