The anarchist orchestra
With the musical collective Les Dissonances, violinist David Grimal brings the principles of democratic self-management to the concert hall.
The first thing one notices at a Les Dissonances concert is what’s missing: where the conductor usually stands, waving his baton on the podium, there is nothing but a gaping void. And yet, the situation is far from chaotic. Concentrating intently, the musicians communicate through looks and smiles, and through the energy of their playing. “The collective works under my supervision,” David Grimal explains, “but unlike a traditional orchestra, in which the musicians only think about their own part, here everyone studies the entire score, the whole strategic basemap: even the lowest-ranking infantryman knows the battle plan!” The result? “The musicians feel a keen sense of responsibility, following their ears instead of the baton.”
When asked, “So who’s in control?” Grimal, who also serves as principal violinist, answers, “The score.”
The organization invites analogy with the business and political worlds — as Grimal demonstrates: “The composer creates an ideal society in which each individual plays a role in a shared project, for example a symphony. There’s no room for egos. We are interdependent: everyone has a vital, equally important role. If one person doesn’t do his duty or strays even slightly from the musical intention, the ‘ideal society’ collapses!”
Fluid dynamicsA management system that operates “organically, like a ‘flat organization’ in business,” does not, however, eliminate the tensions that can arise in any collective effort. The way Les Dissonances recruits new members is also unconventional: rather than playing auditions, new members are voted in. Like “a chef shopping for his ingredients,” Grimal brings together musicians who share the same mindset. “People come to Les Dissonances very freely, knowing that no one is a shoo-in,” he emphasizes. “Either the energy flows or it doesn’t. Musicians leave as easily as they arrive, without even consulting me first.”
The group does have some form of vertical management, provided by the section leaders, whom Grimal describes as “squadron commanders overseeing their troops.” From this balance of complex dynamics emerges the music. “Our sound is like chamber music played on a very large scale,” the concertmaster says. “The goal of Les Dissonances is to infuse every performance with exuberance and incredible excitement.” Still, reaching that goal remains an unpredictable phenomenon. “Like the weather, it’s impossible to guarantee,” Grimal acknowledges. “You might as well demand that a winegrower produce an exceptional vintage! The most he can do is cultivate the vines under the best possible conditions.”
The latest (truly excellent) vintage from Les Dissonances is a recording of the complete Mozart violin concertos, released by their own label, Dissonances Records. A collective effort that deserves a place in every collection.