FEATURE/INTERVIEW FOR #IWD2019: Françoise Clerc, Director of Classical Music & Jazz, Bureau Export Paris

Françoise Clerc
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The Bureau Export (French Music Export Office) is an important piece of the jigsaw of support for French music, and by any standards is a major operator. In a typical year, it will support several hundred projects and be involved in between 4,000 and 5,000 live events across all musical genres all over the world. Founded in 1993, it is funded by the French central government through the culture and foreign ministries as well as by the collective rights societies. 

FRANÇOISE CLERC has been Director of Classical Music and Jazz at Bureau Export since September 2016. In an interview at the Bureau’s head office close to the Bastille in Paris, she told Sebastian about the organization, her role in it, her career in theatre and music which includes more than a decade in London, and what International Women’s Day means to her.

Jazz has its own particular way of stepping outside categories; it defies the will to categorize it. “Jazz is perméable,” (meaning open/porous), mused Françoise Clerc. “With jazz, it can be hard to say where it starts and where it ends. And before the arrival of Marc Thonon three years ago as Director, jazz had no proper identity in the Bureau Export, without anyone specifically responsible for it. It was included in the pop music sector, until the big changes and renovation here,” she says. But there has now definitely been change: “In the new model of Bureau Export it was very important to give a place to jazz. Jazz now has a proper identity and a place in the organization’s structure. We decided to start a department for classical and jazz, and have created a specific budget line for supporting jazz.” And Françoise Clerc is responsible for running that area of the Bureau’s activity, alongside classical music: “Classical and jazz are made on similar economic models, more fragile, less commercial; it really makes sense to have them together.”

Under Thonon, Bureau Export also has a new confidence: the French culture ministry who are its main funder has given a substantial boost to its budget.

Bureau Export works as a membership organization, and of its members, there are around 150 active in the jazz field, some of whom work in other genres as well. And what does it do? “We normally support artists not directly, but through their professional entourage, which can mean their managers, labels, producers or publishers. We are facilitators, we do contact-making, and offer financial grants.” The Bureau Export also takes on the role of assisting artists to become economically viable, facilitating the business side of what they do and advising them on how to develop their activities abroad..

There is a serious focus on the digital revolution in music, and educating and enabling artists to build profile and reach. “Music is still at the beginning of the change to digital, and it is at heart of what we do.”

Two recent examples where support has been given to highly successful and visible French musicians are Émile Parisien and Vincent Peirani. But there are also many examples of work which by its nature will be less visible: the saxophonist Samy Thiébault recently set off on a tour of Venezuela in an El Sistema programme which the Bureau has facilitated and supported. The Bureau also has a significant presence at jazz events. Whether at jazzahead! In Bremen, or at the meetings of the Europe Jazz Network, or at Winter Jazz in New York, where the Bureau has supported a “French Quarter” festival, the Bureau carries out its aim of enhancing the platform for French jazz musicians and musicians supported by French intermediaries.

I was interested to learn more about Françoise Clerc’s career, and about some of her own musical passions and imperatives. She did an arts degree in Paris and went on to study as a postgraduate at ENSATT, the specialist school which trains young entrants into the theatrical world into all aspects of working in a theatre. At the time it was in the rue Blanche in Paris – it is now in Lyon. After that she had the good fortune to be invited to work in the production department of Théâtre du Chatelet. “At the beginning of the ’90s, those were golden years. With all the best artists and orchestras. It was fascinating. We could plan amazing concerts and theatre productions.” The director at the time was Stéphane Lissner, who now runs the Opéra de Paris. And artists she remembers working with Wynton Marsalis, Simon Rattle, Esa Pekka Salonen, Patrice Chéreau. Later on, when she was working at the IMG Classical Artist agency, she had a chance to come back to Châtelet while working with the Canadian opera director, Robert Carsen and the German singer Ute Lemper. She then had a couple of years at the Théâtre de L’Odéon.

Then followed a move to London, setting an international chamber music festival de Valloires with BBC Editor Adam Gatehouse in Picardy, for which she was general manager (“I was doing almost everything except programming”), running her own music agency for a time, and working at the Institut Français and at the Bureau Export’s London office. This London period also led to working on smaller-scale musical projects, and they have a linking theme which gives a sense of grounding: the piano. Clerc is a pianist herself: “I started to play the piano at the age of five,” she says,  “and ever since it has always been like a spinal column to me. Playing every day is a daily need, just like brushing my teeth.” More recently she has been involved as Director of the Festival en Blanc et Noir at Lagrasse near Carcassone, founded by the English journalist Robert Turnbull, who passed away a few months ago. The festival takes place in the beautiful setting of this medieval village, officially listed as one of the most beautiful in the whole of France. It aims to give a platform to young international pianists and to create an international community of musicians. The festival continues in 2019 from 6-11 July – link below.

The personal/piano theme which runs through Françoise Clerc’s career also led to the All About Piano! Festival at the Institut Français in London. It had five editions from 2013 to 2017 and was “a festival celebrating all forms of piano”. As regards quality, Clerc, as ever, aimed high. And looking back, the roll call of jazz pianists – full list below(*) –was a canny mix of celebrating the greats and bringing up-and-coming talent to the fore.

I asked Clerc to talk about what International Women’s Day means to her. “It is above all about shifting the residual, stereotypical views of men and women in music. We have to knock down these preconceptions and walls.” Clerc cited the Canadian singer Barbara Hannigan: “She’s amazing: so much power and so much energy,” proving that “power and energy are not restricted to males as conductors”. And can jazz play a role? Clerc rolled off the names of three French musicians who are clearly changing preconceptions: she sees emerging musicians such as trumpeter Airelle Besson, drummer Anne Paceo and harpist Laura Perrudin as fantastic role models.

As is natural for a person in a responsible public- sector role, Françoise Clerc naturally chose her words in our interview with care, applying habits of careful self-discipline to the task of going on-record. She appraised the situation of women in music thus: “We are in the middle of the river. There has been a consciousness, an awareness for some time that a shift, a change in balance was needed. We need some big actions for it to become natural and integrated into minds and mentalities.” And then I noticed that her voice shifted. And I heard a sotto voce personal reflection, tinged with a deep optimism. Perhaps this was the musician speaking: “Yes, I think it’s really moving.”


2013 Laurent de Wilde and Baptiste Trotignon
2014 Jacky Terrasson and Bojan Z
2015 John Taylor, Dan Tepfer and Edouard Ferlet
2016 Thomas Enhco, Gwilym Simcock and John Turville
2017 Yaron Herman


Marc Thonon interviewed about the Bureau Export’s activity and priorities (in French)
Le Bureau Export Website
Festival En Blanc et Noir website

Categories: Features/Interviews

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