The Australian Ballet’s Chief Conductor and Music Director, Nicolette Fraillon, has announced she will leave the position she has held for nearly 20 years. Fraillon will stay until the end of the 2022 season, ending her long reign with performances of Romeo and Juliet in Melbourne in October and Sydney in December.
Fraillon will also retire as Artistic Director of Orchestra Victoria, a role she assumed in 2014 when OV became a wholly owned subsidiary of TAB. OV plays for Victorian Opera and for TAB and Opera Australia when they are in Melbourne, among many other activities.
In a statement Fraillon said, “we are all only custodians of the companies for which we work, and of the art forms we serve – and it is the right time to transition the baton to a successor, someone to musically partner Artistic Director David Hallberg.” She said she looked forward to helping in the search for her successor.
Fraillon was appointed in 2003 by Hallberg’s predecessor, David McAllister, about 18 months after he had become Artistic Director. He had been told the choice of Music Director would be the most important he would have to make. Fraillon had worked extensively in Europe, including a stint as Chief Conductor and Music Director at the Dutch National Ballet, but just as important was the strong connection she and McAllister immediately forged. “From the moment I met David McAllister we clicked and as I got to know him and the company, I knew that it was THE place I wanted to be,” she said in her statement. Fraillon succeeded Charles Barker, who had been appointed by McAllister’s predecessor, Ross Stretton. Barker, an American, returned to the US and to American Ballet Theatre, where he has been Principal Conductor for two decades.
An essay for Luminous: Celebrating 50 Years of The Australian Ballet, summarised Fraillon’s role: “As Chief Conductor she would stand in front of orchestra for the majority of performance each year. As Music Director she would work over time on the development of players, drive a program of scholarship and inquiry that would give historical and intellectual context to ballet performances, and encourage and initiate Australian composition for ballet.”
Among her many achievements was the spearheading of the three-year Ballets Russes research, development and performance project, which celebrated the centenary and abiding influence of Serge Diaghilev’s famed ballet company; the establishment of fellowships for conductors, pianists and pre-professional orchestral players; and the commissioning of new scores for Bodytorque, the program that develops emerging choreographers.
The Ballets Russes project was particularly important because it connected ballet artists with academics, receiving an Australian Research Council grant and bringing the University of Adelaide and the National Library into partnership with TAB.
Fraillon’s deep scholarship has also been generously and lucidly shared with the general public via talks and media interviews. For example, speaking to Limelight about the gorgeous Delibes score for Sylvia, the Stanton Welch ballet staged by TAB in 2019, she made a detailed and fascinating case for the gifts of a composer too rarely heard on our stages. She also talked to Limelight in depth about the history of ballet music for a feature called The Beating Heart of Dance in our April 2020 magazine.
Hallberg paid tribute to Fraillon, saying: “As the only female Music Director of a major ballet company in the world she has charged forward with vision, inspiration, and dedication. Her contribution will be embedded in the history of this company she was so selflessly devoted to.”
Fraillon has not yet revealed her plans for the future.