The Orchestre de Paris’ 2013/14 season opened with a cymbal crash. Orages (meaning “thunderstorms” in French) was commissioned by the Orchestre de Paris to the Lebanese composer Bechara El-Khoury. In this musical storm, sounds hurt each other, as if superimposed. Rain-like strings, thunder-like percussion, lightning-like brass collide upon several short thematic cells – among them, the principal theme is played fortissimo by trombones and tuba. We might find here some echoes of the military outburst heard in Richard Dubugnon’s Battlefield Concerto, played by the Orchestre de Paris on 15 March 2012, but the brass timbre development is far more appreciable in El-Khoury’s piece. The composer does not seek to hide his love for storms – his vision is conquering, brilliant, and he puts the audience in the situation he describes himself in the concert’s programme: a child fascinated with storms’ anarchy, storms’ madness, with this “triumphant ceremony of nature”.

Thunder explodes in a striking apotheosis – and is brutally cut off. Silence smothers us suddenly to let the gigantic thunderbolt resound in nothingness: the storm has disappeared, letting a devastated but appeased landscape. Strings unwind a beautiful pianissimo major chord – tonal peace seems to have won against atonal anarchy. Some squalls go through the orchestra, from a section to another, disappear, come back, rise; the storm re-emerges little by little, destroying all on its way. New rhythmic themes and imperial calls appear among the winds, especially from the horns, wonderfully led by André Cazalet. The piece ends with a second apotheosis, more sophisticated and longer than the first one, with mad, fortissimo, high-pitched brass. Dedicated to Paavo Järvi, this musical storm sounds more like a pleasurable firework of titans than a devastating hurricane. Except for the brass and percussion sections, which deserved the short rest that almost all these players could take during the following piece, Prokofiev’s Second Violin Concerto.

The audience enjoyed this little rest too. After El-Khoury’s storms came Prokofiev’s quiet dawn – wet mist, sunrise, sweet breeze. The long and passionate violin melody was sung through Janine Jansen’s delicate but precise hands, combining worried rhythms and subtle harmonies. Her playing was particularly enhanced by the delicate instrumentation of this chamber concerto (strings; woodwinds, horns and trumpets in pairs; and one percussionist).

Paavo Järvi and the whole orchestra seemed to be attentively listening to Jansen in order to let the violin melody stand out throughout the piece. We missed perhaps a bit more sound among the strings – this delicate concerto sounded more French than Russian. Prokofiev was living in Paris when he composed it and was hesitating between America and the USSR... and finally chose his homeland. Paavo Järvi and Janine Jansen gave more importance to the long hesitation than to the final choice, letting their audience wonder the same on their own.

What a pleasure to have an orchestral encore! Janine Jansen had chosen Tchaikovsky’s “Mélodie”, the third movement of Souvenir d’un lieu cher, and was accompanied by a little string orchestra. A sweet melody, a pleasant dialog with the two concert leaders: a charming moment for both musicians and audience.

It was time for storms again. A complete symphony orchestra, a children’s choir, a mixed choir and three soloists took to the stage. Carl Orff’s Carmina Burana was composed in 1935–36, based on 24 profane medieval poems about fortune, love and drink... Just like El-Khoury’s Orages, the Carmina score shows perfectly the talent of the Orchestre de Paris and of its musicians. Bright, precise and deep, the orchestra answered well Paavo Järvi’s brilliant tempi and contrasts.

The piece enjoyed a great vocal distribution too. Mari Eriksmoen’s crystal voice perfectly fitted her virginal character, even till the extraordinary fortissimo “Dulcissime”. Ludovic Tézier had been singing in Lucia di Lammermoor at the Opéra de Paris for one week but fully played his role – priest, young lover, desperate man... – and sang beautifully, despite his part’s inner difficulties, such as the falsetto part in no. 16. The famous roasting swan aria was written for a tenor, with a chest voice, and not for a Baroque countertenor like Max Emanuel Cencic. The technical difficulties of this very high-pitched score should stupefy the audience – but it was completely lost by Cencic’s ability to sing it all without any problem!

Special mention to Giorgio Mandolesi’s bassoon solo, full of humour and with a perfect timbre, as always. Despite some imprecisions among the choir, the Orchestre de Paris gave us very dynamic Carmina for their opening concert. And it ended the way the concert had begun: with a cymbal crash.

Bechara El-Khoury’s bright overture, Janine Jansen’s delicate concerto, these coloured Carmina Burana and Paavo Järvi’s energic conducting created a very well balanced program that consolidates again the Orchestre de Paris’ position among the greatest orchestras.