LONDON — On a recent spring morning, the Royal Opera House’s revival workroom, which is part of the costume department, was a hive of activity. Amedine Bello, one of the revival workroom technicians, was hand-sewing gold thread onto a burgundy and pink chorus costume for the opera “Faust,” opening this week, because part of it had worn away. Read more
PRAGUE — For the Czech sculptor Anna Hulacova, sometimes art is a family affair.
Her husband, Vaclav Litvan, whom she met when they were students at Prague’s Academy of Fine Arts and who is also a sculptor, sometimes works with her on the technical side of her pieces, and he often helps install her works in museums and galleries for shows. Read more
VIENNA — Not long after Anneleen Lenaerts took up the harp at the age of 9, her parents had to buy a new car. It was a pragmatic purchase because their old family vehicle simply did not have enough room to comfortably accommodate the budding musician and her bulky instrument as they drove around her native Belgium for classes, concerts and competitions. But in the new vehicle, said Ms. Lenaerts, principal harpist of the Vienna Philharmonic, they could take out a middle seat and push the harp inside.
“I was lucky my parents didn’t say, ‘Sorry, Anneleen, just choose the saxophone,’” she said with a laugh over lunch at a cafe across the street from Musikverein, where the musicians were on a break before an almost monthlong tour of Japan and China in November. “I may be one of the only harpists in the world who does not have a driver’s license because when other people were on school holidays learning to drive, I was traveling so much.”
It’s very unlikely that Ms. Lenaerts, 31, will be making a New Year’s resolution to get that license because there simply isn’t room in her busy schedule. In 2018 she has crisscrossed the globe, performing with the Vienna Philharmonic and playing solo concerts in places as diverse as Bruges and Bogotá.
Gustavo Dudamel, the rock star musical director of the Los Angeles Philharmonic, handpicked Lenaerts to play with the Mahler Chamber Orchestra when he was its guest conductor on a tour across Europe in September. That same month, Kalevi Aho’s “Mearra,” which the composer wrote especially for her, had its Finnish premiere.
“Anneleen is a real virtuoso of her instrument,” Mr. Aho wrote in an email. “Her technical virtuosity, her kind personality and her great flexibility in different musical styles are, in my opinion, the reasons why she is as a harpist so in demand.”
Growing up in the Flemish town of Peer, Ms. Lenaerts took up the piano at the age of 8. The next year, when the conductor of their local symphonic wind orchestra, Koninklijke Harmonie van Peer, decided he wanted a harpist, he chose her for the instrument.
“I wanted to play the oboe or the clarinet so I could have a little case to go to rehearsals,” she said. “Usually girls choose the harp because they have seen ‘The Nutcracker’ and they like ballet, but what I knew about the harp was that it gave you calluses on your fingers. I was not a typical girly-girl, so the harp did not attract me because it was so poetic, I just gave it a go.”
It soon became very obvious to all who heard her play that Ms. Lenaerts was a gifted musician; from 1997 to 2010 she won more than 20 prizes and awards in international competitions. By 15 she was working professionally and, after completing her undergraduate and master’s degrees in three years at the Royal Conservatory of Brussels, she went to Paris to train with the solo harpist Isabelle Perrin, all the while continuing to perform with orchestras across Europe.
“I realized how amazingly talented she was and how quickly she could not only learn something but also understand it, which is more difficult,” said Ms. Perrin, who met Ms. Lenaerts when she was 12. “I would say she is one of the top five players in the world, but she has kept that kindness and openness that is so rare when people get to that level.”
In 2010, while in Munich performing with the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra under the conductor Mariss Janson, Ms. Lenaerts learned there would soon be an opening for a harpist with the Vienna Philharmonic. “I was very happy being a soloist, and I never wanted to enter an orchestra,” she said, recalling her hesitation before she decided to go for the tryouts.
“I was ‘number nine’ for the audition, and it was behind a curtain. I was thinking, ‘If this does not go well, I will just go back to Belgium and nobody will ever know.’” She won the audition — at just 23 — and moved to Vienna the next autumn.
“Since her engagement as a member of the Vienna Philharmonic, Anneleen has proven to be an outstanding musician with great excellence,” Daniel Froschauer, the chairman of the orchestra and its first violinist, wrote in an email. “She is a wonderful colleague.”
Ms. Lenaerts, only the eighth woman to join the orchestra (the Vienna Philharmonic was opened to female musicians in 1997), was a quick study, though she was warned that it would most likely take her about three years to feel fully comfortable with the repertoire, which includes 45 operas that often are not rehearsed before a performance.
A highlight of her time with the Philharmonic so far was her first New Year’s concert, in 2012, which Maestro Jansons conducted. “There is a big harp solo in Tchaikovsky’s ‘Panorama’ that I had played with him as an encore in Munich, and he picked that piece for the New Year’s concert so I was playing it with him again,” she said. “It was very special and overwhelming.”
Things are not likely to slow down anytime soon for Ms. Lenaerts. She will, of course, be performing in the New Year’s concert with the Vienna Philharmonic and she plans to continue traveling every two weeks to teach at Conservatorium Maastricht in the Netherlands (she is also on the faculty of the Aspen Music Festival and School in Colorado). In March she will perform at the Louvre in Paris and head to New York to play with the Vienna Philharmonic at Carnegie Hall.Later in the spring, after a number of soloist engagements, she will record Mr. Aho’s double concerto for harp and English horn with the Antwerp Symphony Orchestra.
In the spring Warner Classics will release her third album, “Nino Rota: Works for Harp by Anneleen Lenaerts.” It will feature new arrangements for the harp of music by the Italian classical and film composer Nino Rota, best known for his scores for movies including “The Godfather” and “La Dolce Vita.”
“I knew she was one of the artists who has improved the technique of the instrument, who has expanded the limits of the instrument, and I was very happy and surprised that she was extremely open to new things with the arrangements, which you have to do with the harp,” said Jean-Philippe Rolland, an executive vice president at Warner Classics. “She belongs to this generation of classical artists who are more open-minded, open to new collaborations. I think she is the future of the instrument.”
PLAILLY, France — Dressed in a white lab coat with blue piping and sporting a trimmed goatee, Nicolas Guignaud stood in front of an industrial gas hob. He took a plastic bottle of green liquid, squirted some of its contents into an aluminum pot of boiling water and began stirring the concoction with a hard white plastic spatula.
Taking a thick teardrop-shaped piece of clear resin about three inches long, Mr. Guignaud — a tinting technician with Maison Desrues, which manufactures high-end buttons, jewelry and accessories — dropped it carefully into the pot. After a few minutes of constant stirring, he used a colander to retrieve the resin, now a dull green. He dipped it in room-temperature water, put it back in the boiling liquid, added some yellow tint and repeated the same procedure all over again before pulling out the now deep-emerald piece of resin and setting it on a side table to dry.
“The more colors I put in, the more intense the color comes out,” said Mr. Guignaud, who joined Desrues nine years ago after three years of technical tinting training. “I just feel how much I need to add for the color I want. It is intuitive, not scientific.”
Desrues, with its more than 230 employees, researches and helps design all the buttons for Chanel clothing, although it outsources some of the production for capacity reasons. It also is an integral part of Chanel’s annual métiers d’art show, which this year was scheduled for Dec. 4 at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.
The great majority of Desrues’ output — it says 95 percent to 99 percent — is for Chanel but it also has a small division focused on market development and recently has done work for brands like Marc Jacobs. “We try to work for other houses,” Amandine Pâris, Desrues’ archivist, said, “to bring in something different, to stay innovative.”
Fashion houses like Vionnet, Lanvin, Dior and Balenciaga all came to Desrues over the years, not only because of its quality work but also the company’s ability to produce pieces quickly.
Legend has it that the couturier Pierre Balmain came to Mr. Desrues the night before a collection premiere (the date is unknown), asking for buttons shaped like chocolates.
Mr. Desrues then “rushed out and found a chocolate shop that was nearby but it was about to close, with the register switched off, but the woman gave him the chocolates anyway,” Ms. Pâris said. “He worked all night to replicate the chocolates, delivered them on time to Pierre Balmain and we still have the drawings.”
It was in the 1960s that Chanel began working closely with Desrues on the buttons for its iconic bouclé jackets. By the early 1990s, after it had become a satellite of the fashion house, Desrues found it had outgrown its Paris atelier and moved to a nondescript industrial park in Plailly, about an hour’s drive from the French capital. Much innovation and development has been going on in button making since then.
For each collection, the process begins when Desrues’s collection director, Sylvain Peters, meets with Mr. Lagerfeld and his team to review ideas and themes. “One collection requires three or four weeks,” said Mr. Peters, who has worked for Desrues for 30 years. “That is from absolutely nothing to its presentation.”
He works with his team to interpret sketches and to determine the best ways to create the designs.
And if something seems impossible to make? “I can absolutely not say ‘no’; I just have to make it happen,” Mr. Peters said. “I don’t bother them with the technical side or the difficulty either. That is my problem, not theirs — and if, in the unlikely case that there is something we cannot do, I propose something that is within the realm of what they are looking for.”
According to Laure Courtel, the company’s director of business development, one of the techniques — handmade molds or 3-D printing — is chosen, depending on the design’s complexity, the amount of available time and the cost.
“Three-D is practical because, in terms of cost, usually we do several samples for the studio to approve the style,” Ms. Courtel said. “So making an entire sample by hand takes time and when you have to make it again, it’s going to be from scratch. In our context, there are a lot of steps of approval so it is more logical to use this technology.”
After Chanel approves an initial button design, a master sample is created: Either cut from metal (usually tin or brass) or cast (from metal or resin), it is used to program the metal cutting machine to make button bases. The button tops are lacquered or tinted and the finished product is put together by hand in the assembling workshop, where final touches are added.
Those can include anything from gluing — often using broken cotton swabs — the interlocking gold-plated CC logo onto a button top to using a needle with warm resin to add tiny sparkling crystals.
“Each model is going to be represented in eight different sizes and each model is going to exist in many colors,” Mr. Peters said. “And then I will deliver about 10,000 to 12,000 buttons for the show. That is one month of work.”
Innovation is constant, Mr. Peters said, like using Chanel cloth in resin buttons to modifying 3-D technology. “My job is to always find something new, the goal is to present something that makes people think, ‘Wow,’” he said. “For Chanel, the button is a little piece of jewelry.”