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Emmanuelle Haim, France's attention-grabbing conductor

November 12, 2011 |  6:45 am

French conductor Emmanuelle Haïm
When the vibrant French conductor Emmanuelle Haïm guest-conducts the Los Angeles Philharmonic at the Walt Disney Concert Hall (Nov. 17, 19 and 20), it will mark the debut West Coast performance by an attention-grabbing Baroque music star who has earned rave reviews in Europe.

The Paris-born Haïm grew up immersed in music. She descends from a long line of professional musicians from Brittany, but her musical interest was propelled along by virtuoso musician friends with ties to the homeland of her stepfather, a Hungarian.

Her musical culture, however, is almost exclusively classical. "My colleagues can't believe how ignorant I am in terms of popular musical culture," she said with a cackle of laughter in a recent interview at  her home in the Parisian suburb of Asnières-sur-Seine. “My entourage despairs that I have zero culture for other things. I don’t even know who anyone is. My brothers and sisters are not at all like that so it wasn’t because of my environment; it must be me. I know nothing.”

For her Los Angeles debut Haïm is bringing along one of her favored performers, the Bulgarian soprano Sonya Yoncheva, to perform Handel's “Il Delirio Amoroso.” As a performer, Haïm said, Yoncheva is very natural, has a deep understanding of the material, and builds a special link to the audience.

Beyond that, Haïm notes with a mischievous grin, the “voluptuous and beautiful” Yoncheva has “beaucoup d’arguments” — a playful French expression that means appealing breasts. Haïm explained that Yoncheva is performing the role of Poppée (in a version of Handel’s “Aggripine” in the French city of Lille), a character who engages in a sensual partial striptease that drew a little too much attention from Haïm’s musicians.

“I told them," Haïm recounted, "'be polite enough to look at me.'”

Read the profile of conductor Emmanuelle Haïm.

-- Eric Pape

Photo credit: Simon Fowler