Rancourt, Stephane


Oboist Stephane Rancourt was born in Canada, where he studied with Jacques Simard at the Conservatoire de Musique de Quebec. In Europe, he continued his studies with Thomas Indermuhle, at the Rotterdam Conservatoire and the Karlsruhe State Academy. In Canada, he was the first oboist to win the Sylva Gelber Award, given by the Canada Council for the Arts, and was also the 1991 prize-winner of the Prix d’Europe.

As an orchestral player and soloist, he has performed in most European countries, as well as in South America, Russia, Canada, Japan and Australia. Before taking up his appointment as Principal Oboe with the Halle in 2003, he was Principal Oboe with the Royal Scottish National Orchestra for eight years.

His discography includes Alan Rawsthorne’s Oboe Concerto, nominated for a Gramophone Award, Samuel Barber’s Canzonetta for oboe and string orchestra and Capricorn Concerto, selected as a Gramophone ‘Editor’s Choice’. On the Halle’s own label, he has recorded Vaughan Williams’s Oboe Concerto. Stephane Rancourt also teaches oboe at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland and Chetham’s School of Music.

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Founded in Manchester by the pianist and conductor Charles Hallé in 1858, The Hallé is Britain's longest established permanent professional symphony orchestra; its conductors include such distinguished figures as Hans Richter, Sir Hamilton Harty and Sir John Barbirolli.

The Hallé's family of ensembles includes the Hallé Choir - founded alongside the orchestra in 1858 - the Hallé Youth Choir, Children's Choir and Youth Orchestra; its pioneering education programme generates over 60 projects a year.

In 1996, the Hallé moved to its new home, The Bridgewater Hall, where it presents over 70 concerts a year. Making over 40 appearances annually throughout the rest of Britain, the Hallé attracts large and enthusiastic audiences both in Manchester and beyond

Sir Mark Elder became Music Director in 2000. In 2011, the Hallé and the BBC Philharmonic were awarded the South Bank Sky Arts Award for their performance of Mahler's Eighth Symphony; the Hallé have previously won the South Bank Show Classical Music Award for collaborations with the BBC Philharmonic, the RNCM and the CBSO.

In 2003 the Hallé launched its own CD label: its recordings of Wagner's Götterdämmerung, and Elgar's Violin Concerto with Thomas Zehetmair have both won Gramophone Awards.

Elder, Sir Mark

Sir Mark

Sir Mark Elder is Music Director of the Hallé Orchestra, and one of Britain's most successful conductors. He works regularly with the world's leading symphony orchestras, and enjoys particularly close associations with the London Philharmonic and the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment.  He has been principal guest conductor for the CBSO, the BBC Symphony Orchestra, and the London Mozart Players. Mark Elder has for many years conducted at the BBC Proms, and has twice let the internationally televised Last Night.  His other television works include films on the lives of Verdi and Donizetti.

As Music Director of the English National Opera, he led the company on successful tours of the USA and Russia, attracting international acclaim.  He appears regularly in all the major opera houses of the world, including the Royal Opera House Covent Garden, the Metropolitan Opera New York, and the Bayerische Staatsoper Munich.

In 2003 the Hallé launched it's own recording label, and the first releases, under Mark Elder's direction, have met with great critical acclaim.  He has won an Olivier award for his work at ENO, and was the Royal Philharmonic Society's Conductor of the Year in 2006.

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In 1914 the French poet Guillaume Apollinaire signed up as a soldier in the French army, and was seriously wounded in 1916. He recovered, only to die in the Spanish influenza outbreak just days before the armistice of 1918.

Apollinaire’s Bird takes 'Un oiseau chante' ('A bird sings'), one of the poems he wrote while fighting in the trenches, as its basis. This remarkable poem contrasts the realities of war with hearing a single bird singing ‘somewhere among these two-a-penny troops. … Sing on and on your sweet song to the sound of deadly guns.’

Apollinaire’s Bird was written for the Hallé and its Principal Oboist Stéphane Rancourt.


Programme note by John Casken

The French poet, novelist and playwright Guillaume Apollinaire was also an art critic, a friend of Picasso and Braque, among others, and a pioneer in explaining and defending the new aesthetic of Cubism. It was Apollinaire who helped to coin the term Surrealism, and his involvement with the Futurists and with Dadaism make him a significant figure in the avant-garde movements of the early 20th century. In 1914 he signed up as a soldier in the French army and was seriously wounded in 1916. He recovered, only to die in the Spanish influenza outbreak just days before the armistice of 1918.

Apollinaire’s poetry has a special quality of bringing the strange and the ordinary together, sometimes in what might almost be described as a surrealist way. Apollinaire’s Bird takes Un oiseau chante (A bird sings), one of the poems he wrote while fighting in the trenches in the First World War, as its basis. This remarkable poem contrasts the realities of war with hearing a single bird singing ‘somewhere among these two-a-penny troops. … Sing on and on your sweet song to the sound of deadly guns.’ But the bird’s song also recalls former times for the young soldier, and for all the soldiers it is a reminder of love, and of lovers left behind. At the same time, Apollinaire also marvelled at the spectacle of war (as in Merveille de la guerre) and relished the comradeship, as well as looking on in horror as the earth swallowed up his fellow men.

As a poem that would inform a concerto for oboe and orchestra, Un oiseau chante seemed the perfect starting point for a work to be premiered in the year of the anniversary of the outbreak of the First World War. The solo oboe sings the song of the bird, heard at the very start of the concerto, and this recurs throughout. The oboe is also the single voice that transports the mind of the soldier beyond the grim situation of the trenches to create different flights of fancy, songs of hope and despair, dramatic exchanges, and emotional extremes. To begin, the orchestra evokes the blackness of the landscape with searing high notes that cut through the texture, but, in dialogue with the oboe, it too draws us elsewhere, away from this world, a world that is never far away.

The concerto is in two movements. The first movement establishes the sense of place and opens up the relationship between the soloist and the surrounding ‘landscape’. The second, longer movement consists of three parts that play without a break: headings that convey something of the mood in relation to the original poem, two of them using lines taken from the poem itself.

There are seven eruptive tuttis for full orchestra without oboe during the whole work, the sixth being the longest and the seventh the shortest. As well as recurrences of the bird’s song-motif, and allusions to it in both movements, another key idea is that of falling or sinking lines and harmonies, which may suggest literally falling, falling into a dream, or reality receding.

Apollinaire’s Bird was written at the invitation of the Hallé for its Principal Oboist Stéphane Rancourt. I have dedicated the work to the orchestra’s Chief Executive, John Summers, who has been a constant believer in my music over many years, and who has created invaluable opportunities for me to work with musicians of the highest calibre.


Reviews of the world premiere

'The control with which Casken allows tonally-founded harmonies to rise, Alban Berg-like, to the surface, is as remarkable as the fastidiousness of his orchestration, all of which serves to hold concept and craft in ideal balance. The orchestral episodes hardly provide much respite, and the Hallé’s own Stephané Rancourt gave a remarkable display of stamina allied to poetry and precision, while Mark Elder and the orchestra were on the ball throughout.' The Telegraph

'Soloist Stéphane Rancourt [...] gave a truly virtuoso performance[...]. Elder managed the balance between solo and orchestra superbly: a major achievement all round.' The Arts Desk

'Beautifully crafted, it's a rich, emotionally complex work.[...] The beauty of Rancourt's playing belied the difficulty of the solo writing. Orchestrally it was faultless.' The Guardian


Hinrichsen Foundation Logo

NMC Recordings would like to acknowledge John Casken’s invaluable contribution to this recording, and The Hinrichsen Foundation's financial support of NMC’s Hallé recording series through its New Initiatives programme.


Recorded live at Bridgewater Hall, Manchester, on 10 April 2014
Recording Engineer STEVE PORTNOI

Cover image: photo by Dave Robinson

(P) 2014 NMC Recordings Ltd
(C) 2014 NMC Recordings Ltd

Schott Music
Catalogue number:
NMC DL3026
Release Date:
21 July 2014