IT IS a tragedy for the Paris Conservatoire, and for those everywhere who train musicians, that the inspiration that Xavier Darasse had begun to stir has so swiftly been terminated.
Appointed in November 1991, after a period of some disunity in the Conservatoire, Darasse appreciated that the immense talent of professors and students had to be stimulated and led into new ways of teaching; that this had to be achieved by a firm hand, wise guidance and an ability to work within the somewhat taut and perplexing rules and regulations of the French civil service (for the Conservatoire is a state institution). The appointment of the Director in Paris is a political one and in view of the impending elections in France, no decision is likely to be made until the end of next March: and that decision, consequently, may not necessarily be made for musical or for educational reasons.
Early in 1991, the Guildhall School of Music and Drama and the Paris Conservatoire had worked together on a joint performance (with the Royal Conservatory, The Hague) of Rameau's Hippolyte et Aricie, directed by William Christie, who is a leading member of the Conservatoire staff.
I first met Darasse in February this year when he came specifically for a day's visit to see our work and our environment. Immediately, we all recognised a man of vision, of enthusiasm and of keenness to share ideas and to explore new paths.
Above all, Darasse was a man of warmth and immense vitality and as a result of that one meeting, supported by later discussions in Paris, a number of imaginative projects between the Guildhall School and Paris were established, perhaps symbolised best by performances of Beethoven's Triple Concerto, with one soloist from each of the Paris Conservatoire, Guildhall School and the Musikhochschule in Frankfurt, to take place in Paris and in London in April and May 1993. There are also to be 10 days of joint chamber music-making.
Darasse's career as an organist was ended in 1976 when, returning from a recital, he was injured in a road accident which caused the permanent loss of the use of one hand. A student of Maurice Durufle, Rolande Falcinelli and Olivier Messiaen at the Paris Conservatoire, Darasse had received a number of prestigious awards as a student and subsequently gave the first performances of organ works by Gyorgy Ligeti, Sylvano Bussotti, Iannis Xenakis, Gilbert Amy, amongst many others, as well as his own compositions, arrangements and improvisations.
In 1966, at the age of 32, he became organ professor in the town of his birth, Toulouse, where he devoted much energy and encyclopaedic knowledge to the restoration and preservation of instruments; he established a competition which was largely devoted to contemporary music in the city and he had the unusual role of also being organ professor of the Lyons Conservatoire, teaching in Toulouse.
Somehow, it was not altogether surprising to find Xavier Darasse in bizarre situations: his attractively quizzical and humorous personality was clearly designed to permeate the pomposities of life.