© Photo : Agnès Mellon
A born humanist, Raoul Lay studied science, literature and philosophy as well as music.
An accomplished pianist, he also studied singing, harmony, choir/choral conducting and composition at the Marseille Conservatoire where, in 1994, a unanimous jury awarded him the first prize in the latter discipline.
After a brief stint as a teacher, Raoul Lay dedicated himself to composing and conducting, further honing his skills in Szombathely (Hungary) with Peter Eötvös, in Darmstadt and at Centre Acanthes. Founder of Télémaque, an ensemble he has been leading since its creation in 1994, he champions contemporary music and has premiered many original compositions in France and abroad.
Raoul Lay belongs to the few modern composers who relate essence to experience, and combine abstract theory with concrete, practical sound. His work soon attracted notice at competitions. L’Ombre autour du temps (which made him a finalist at the Gaudeamus Music Week 94) revealed his particular sense of timbre as well as his debt to György Ligeti and the second Viennese school.
An early fascination for the voice prompted Raoul Lay to write for that particular medium. His melodies for voice and instrumental ensemble - Life (1996), or Wanderlied (2002), to take but a few examples - reflect a passion for the dramatic vocal line, for the almost primal lyricism of the voice. Literature, history and music history provide obvious structural references to a discourse which is deeply rooted in Western culture, from Shakespeare to Schumann or Schönberg.
Life, but most of all La Croisée des songes (which was awarded a special mention at the Repubblica di San Marino International Competition ‘99), show the composer’s evolution towards post-modern aesthetics. No longer a mere speculation on the various parameters of sound, music is asked to go straight to the essential, to speak to memory, to the unconscious - it must be expressive. This almost neo-lyrical aesthetics radiates through his 2001 opera La jeune fille aux mains d’argent (on a libretto by Olivier Py). His chamber music also benefits from this romantic spirit which favours raw emotion, as evidenced in the 1999 virtuoso sonata L’Éloge du secret or the 2000 chamber concerto for trombone La Nuit parle encore. An innate sense of drama runs through his subtle constructs.
Although Raoul Lay is keen on using a composer’s traditional tools (pencil, eraser, music paper...), his music is nonetheless modern, inevitably singular and uncommonly appealing. Popular expression, similar to Kagel for Variétés, serves as a driving force for his invention in Le Souvenir du Tigre (2003-04) and its re-looked tango. Concerned with the crossing of the arts, he put together, for Jean-Charles Gil's Ballet d’Europe, a symphonic suite, Mireille (2004), following the narrative thread of Gounod's opera; in Flûte (2005), for choreographer Nathalie Pernette, he turned Mozart's Magic Flute upside down and against type with singular orchestration and no voices
It is in the theatre that Raoul Lay finds his natural expression and encounters big audiences. For young people, he drew on the source of Grimms' fairytales, adapted The Young Girl with Silver Hands (2005) for actor, chorus and marionettes. In the same spirit, with La mort marraine (2008), he developed a sensual, modern sound palette and resolved an equation combining avant-garde conceptions with popular success. For Bernard Kudlak's 'Cirque Plume', he conceived Le cabaret des valises (2008): sound tableaux that echo the ballet of clowns and acrobats. In his one-act opera La boucherie blême (2010), the composer revived operetta traditions in the spirit of the 'Roaring Twenties': his comical 'erotic assault' is decked out in atonality, tinged with harmonic resurgences and prepared piano, as a prehensile melodic-rhythmic structure unfolds. With Jekyll (2012), a magnum opus stemming from philosophical opera, theatre and dance, the musician initiates an œuvre au noir verging on a Requiem. Another dark, enigmatic character: this Fantômas (2012), brought to the screen by Louis Feuillade! Although the film was silent in 1913, Raoul Lay's orchestra is not, weaving a modern-day texture in phase with the black-and-white reel. The artist does not neglect the more 'classic' genres, as evidenced by his Glam Concerto (2010), in homage to Kagel, or the chamber work Ode à Victor (2012), an intimate elegy dedicated to the musician's father figure.
His works have been on the programmes of such festivals as 'Présences' in Paris, 'Casa Vélasquez' in Madrid, and île de France; in the network of the French national theatres; the Bordeaux and Limoges operas; in Belgium, the Netherlands, Italy, Spain, Poland and as far as the Okinawa (Japan) Festival.
Raoul Lay has received commissions from the Opéra National de Bordeaux, L’Yonne-en-scène, Le Manège in Mons (Belgium), the GMEM, Radio France, Marseilles Philharmonic Orchestra, International Wind Instruments Competition in Toulon, the Thionville Conservatory…
Awarded a grant from the Beaumarchais Foundation, he won the SACEM Prize in 1994 and the Paul-Louis Weiller Prize of the Académie Française, in 1998, for his output as a composer. In 2007, he received a State Commission for Le cabaret des valises.
Jacques Freschel, music critic, journalist, professor of musicology
Raoul Lay’s works
Consult Raoul Lay web site[ www.ensemble-telemaque.com ]
Composer catalogue of Raoul Lay[ pdf - 180 Kb ]
La jeune fille aux mains d’argent
LA MORT MARRAINE (CD book), musical tale for narrator and ensemble
From « Monstres et bouts de chandelles », tale of J. & W. Grimm
Adaptation of text and music by Raoul Lay
Illustrations from the show by Agnes Mellon
Raoul Lay, conducting
Gérard Billaudot Editeur GB9027
LIFE, monodrama for baritone and ensemble
SUITE DE LA JEUNE FILLE AUX MAINS D'ARGENT, for soprano, mezzo-soprano (or counter tenor), baritone (or tenor) and ensemble
WANDERLIED, 3 melodies for soprano and ensemble
L'ELOGE DU SECRET, for violin and piano
Brigitte Peyré & Agatha Mimmersheim (sopranos)
Richard Rittelmann (baritone)
Alain Aubin (counter tenor)
Raoul Lay, conducting
Zig-Zag Territoires ZZT 040202