Antoine Plante, conductor, artistic director and co-founder of Mercury, the Orchestra Redefined (formerly known as Mercury Baroque) likes things to be big and bold. "Baroque music is about big gestures, but on a human scale," he tells us by phone from New York where he's promoting the orchestra. "Exuberance, passion, boldness, all of that attracts me. It's very moving to me."
Mercuy was founded 12 years ago when a group of friends -- soprano Ana Treviño-Godfrey, her husband violinist Jonathan Godfrey and Plante -- decided to bring world class baroque music played on period instruments to Houston. The trio had worked together as students at Rice University's prestigious music school. Along with Plante's wife, Lori (a lawyer), the group met several times a week for dinner. "We didn't have kids back then and we'd hang out together all the time," Plante says. "We were just graduated from Rice [University] and thinking about what to do next. We loved each other's company and we loved playing music together so we started putting concerts together. That's how it started."
From the beginning, Plante was determined to have the orchestra perform on period instruments. "We wanted to us gut strings and baroque bows, something that very few other orchestras in the country were doing at the time."
What he does: Plante admits that while his actual job duties are varied, including being the public face of the orchestra, and managing both the musical and business sides of the organization, he has a short answer when asked what he does for a living. "The easiest answer is a conductor," he says. "Of course, being a conductor is more than just conducting and rehearsing. It's not just about waving your arms. You're being called to do a lot of things that are related to management, for the orchestra and for the organization.
"Mercury is much bigger than me, but at the same time, the conductor is the public image of the orchestra. People need to be able to feel close to you; you need to be accessible. A big part of what people come to see when they come to see a concert is, and I say this with as much humility as I can, is to hear my idea on the music, as the conductor, it's my interpretation of the music. I think that's true for any size orchestra, but with a smaller organization like ours, it's very true. We're smaller than the Houston Symphony and while [Houston Symphony Music Director] Hans Graf is not always at the symphony, I almost always am. I've become more than just the conductor, but that's still the easiest answer. That's what I do."
Why he likes it: "There's a lot of things that I love about my job, one of them is being part of a great performance. When I'm conducting and I have these wonderful musicians around me, what we're trying to do is create special moments musically. At some point, there's a revelation of the music, where you understand why this piece of music was worth listening to, worth performing. That moment, I really cherish.
"I like rehearsing and performing, but I also like choosing the repertoire, looking at what the season will look like, at how we can make it work without breaking the bank. And I love talking to people about music. Right now I'm in New York talking to people and exploring ways to promote Mercury. There's a real the social aspect of it. In this job, I get to do that all the time."
What inspires him: "Music inspires me, the musicians inspire me. Images of love, of beauty, of struggle, all of that very much affect me. But when it comes down to do it, it's also a matter it about thinking what our audience wants, how much is too much, how much is too little, how long is this piece, how I can convince my board that the piece is worth doing? The real creativity happens in rehearsal for me. In rehearsal you have to dig deep and then let your instinct move you in the right direction."
If not this, then what: Plante jokingly admits that he wouldn't be opposed to becoming a profit driven businessman. "I would be an entrepreneur. I would be able to earn a good living, giving people what they want, even if it's something that's stupid," he laughs. "It's the reaction of being an artist, of having to always make a point of the importance of art, that art is more important than what people are paying with the ticket prices."
If not here, then where: "I am from Montreal and we have a home in Quebec. So if we were not here, we would be in Canada."
What's next: When asked about his immediate plans for the future, it isn't music that Plante thinks of first. "I care deeply about my family, so next for me is raising my kids, making sure that they end up okay." Plante and his wife have three children under the age of six.
"With Mercury, I want to bring more music to more people, to increase Mercury's viability in Houston and in the nation.
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Plante indulges us and tells us what he'd do with Mercury if money were unlimited. "If there would be no limit to money, I would do all the Hydan, Beethoven and Mozart symphonies; I would do one a week. I would do two big-scale Handel works a year. And I love French religious baroque music. It's really beautiful, but it's a hard sale. Still it's beautiful, and I would love to perform it."
Antoine Plante will be at the podium for A Baroque Christmas with Mercury, a joyful concert of seasonal treasures from the 17th and 18th century repertoire. The program includes Scarlatti's Christmas Cantata, Corrette's Noel Symphony No. 4 and Handel's Gloria. 8 p.m. December 7 and 8 at Wortham Theater Center, 501 Texas Avenue. For information, visit the orchestra's website or call 713-533-0080. $10 to $61.
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