Classical music in Mauritius

In July 2015, Jacques Offenbach staged the great classic Orpheus in the Underworld in Mauritius. The six performances, produced by the Indian Ocean Performing Arts, impressed the amateurs of opera not always served in the field of classic performances. Since then, no classic event of that scale has occurred in Mauritius. 

Ensemble 415 . Photo: Official Facebook page
Ensemble 415 . Photo: Official Facebook page

Classical music has a limited following in Mauritius when compared to more contemporary genres. Classical concerts or events also do not always make the headlines. The Ensemble 415 is, however, in the process of reshaping the landscape of classical music—a genre only accessible by the Mauritian social elite in Mauritius. 

The sopranos Véronique Bungaroo, Diane Hardy, the tenor Jean-Michel Ringadoo and talented musicians like Jean-Jacques Félix, Dean Nookadu, Clifford Cousnapa are few examples of classic talent.  Far from being novices, they are already at the height of their popularity and worthy ambassadors for a musical genre that would not fill the large venues in the country.

Closed for many years for renovation purposes, the Port-Louis Theatre, one of the oldest in the southern hemisphere dating from the 19th century, and the Plaza (in Rose-Hill) no longer host concerts. 

In September 2016, the Ensemble 415, expected at the annual festival Nosy Bê Symphonies in Madagascar, gave a concert few days before their departure in the hope of raising some funds. 

The ensemble, created in 2014, was expecting approximately 100 people at the attic of the impressive and beautiful colonial house, Eureka in Moka situated in the centre of the island.

Ensemble 415, the only chamber music band in Mauritius, is staging its first free performance. The band is slowly gaining the approval of those sensitive to the music of Bach, Vivaldi, Castello, Ravel and that of the baroque era, and an entrance fee would perhaps dampen the interest of the public. According to Guy-Noël Clarisse, the 28 years old violinist and founder of the band, "After our concerts, the audience can support us through a donation. This strategy allows us to retain the targeted public."

An expensive genre

With the arrival of Guy-Noël Clarisse’s baroque training workshops, the most ardent defenders of classical music on the island can rest easy. The Ensemble 415 not only brings together seven musicians between the ages of 18 to 40 years, but promotes classical music amongst children and young musicians. Nevertheless, being a music teacher in State colleges, Guy-Noël Clarisse has mixed feelings when he speaks about the interest of teenagers for the music considered as ‘old’.

"The national curriculum enabling students from the secondary level to learn about the history of music is a laudable initiative but the program only lasts two years,” the violinist explained. “Music then becomes ancient history for the student. Fortunately, our performances and meetings are opportunities to promote classical music and pique the curiosity of children for instruments".

To ensure the training of musicians at a higher level, the University of Mauritius has launched a new music course in September 2016. The course, which leads to a BA.Hons diploma, will be a step toward the creation of a national orchestra and even a symphony orchestra. This will be a first for Mauritius.

The François-Mitterrand conservatory (in Quatre-Bornes, Mauritius), which also provides 17 rooms, was recently evaluated by an orchestra conductor from abroad in order to strengthen the quality of the training exempted.

As to the prospect of an unlikely career in classical music, Guy-Noël Clarisse does not encourage children to dream. Realistically, one cannot live off this art in Mauritius. The teaching offered at the François-Mitterrand conservatory, in schools or in private are the only possible routes.

"Musicians of the Ensemble 415 do not live from music. The practice is very expensive. Instruments as well as their maintenance are expensive and we only have one instrument maker in Mauritius. For now, we rely on an Italian expatriate. The members of the group all have a professional activity in the sugar industry, the construction sector…"declared Guy-Noël Clarisse.

From Mauritius to London

Guy-Noël Clarisse together with his peers of the Ensemble 415 performs the classics of the baroque repertoire with his F. Pillement 1790. The instrument is an invaluable piece, an exceptional gift from Nicolette Moonen, a violinist from the prestigious Royal Academy of Music in England.

"It was in 2014,” Clarisse said, “after graduating with honours from the Royal Academy of Music where I specialized in historical music research for two years. I cannot translate all the emotion felt. Nicolette Moonen gave me a violin that belonged to her grand-mother. She always believed in me. It is she who, one day after listening to me, said that I was on the right track. She said I had a natural predisposition for baroque music. She then encouraged me to join the Royal Academy of Music in London", said Guy-Noël Clarisse.

Guy-Noël Clarisse was born in Eau-Coulée, a locality situated in the outskirts of Curepipe, the second city of the island. He was influenced by his father, a guitarist. "Although he didn’t study music theory, he played the guitar like a professional. He wanted my sister and myself to learn music and we joined the music conservatory. I was 9 years old when I began to learn to play the piano before discovering the violin, three years later," recounts the musician.

He then stopped learning violin and self-taught himself. He perfected his skills working together with foreign musicians visiting the island. He then met Gérard Télot, a Mauritian violinist and professor.

Later, Guy-Noël Clarisse joined the Ensemble Alizés, created by Gérard Télot. This set consisted mainly of young talent.  He then met Brad Cohen, Artistic Director of the West Australian Opera, in Mauritius in 2011, and will be the first violin in an interpretation of Ravel's L'Enfant et les Sortilèges

Guy-Noël Clarisse, a graduate in musicology from the prestigious University of South-Africa, was granted a five-week intensive classical music course scholarship at the Bartington (England). While in England, he attended Nicolette Moonen’s concert. "I went to see her after the show and asked her if I could play..." recalls the violinist.

Limited prospects

The career prospects are limited for a graduated musician in Mauritius.  Guy-Noël Clarisse said, "At the end of my studies in England, together with other students and Nicolette Moonen, we thought about what to expect back home.  We promised ourselves that we would use our acquired skills to promote classical music."

Guy-Noël Clarisse recently suspended his professional activities.  He is studying at the Nanjing University of Arts of China, where he even joined the  University orchestra. He regularly returns to Mauritius and shares his know-how with all those who are interested, from near or far, in stringed instruments.


Interview with Guy-Noël CLARISSE

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