an incredible journey, from Pantin to the Philharmonie de Paris
an incredible journey, from Pantin to the Philharmonie de Paris
In the cinema, “Divertimento” celebrates the success story of the sisters Zahia and Fettouma Ziouani who have established themselves in a world of men and social prejudices: classical music.
The Ziouani sisters can be proud. When they are only 44 years old, the journey of these (false) twins is so amazing that it gives rise to a feature film good for morale and the ears: “Divertimento” by Marie-Castille Mention-Schaar . An authentic success-story which sees the youngest (by two minutes), Fettouma (played by Lina El Arabi), become a cellist and, more surprisingly, the eldest, Zahia (played by Oulaya Amamra), access at only 20 years old to the prestigious conductor position. For the latter, to say that it was not won is a mild understatement.
When you are born and grow up in Pantin (Seine Saint-Denis), when you have Algerian origins through your parents, and especially when you are a woman, having the ambition to conduct a symphonic ensemble is more of the sweet dream than of the realistic orientation. In the small world of classical music, sexism has even tougher skin than everyday racism and social prejudice. Only 4% of conductors in the world are women – and they represent only 2% in France.
The trailer for “Divertimento”
“Given how few conductors we are, if parity were respected for the direction of concerts, I would work 365 days a year! notes Zahia Ziouani, who recalls the comments made in 2013 by Bruno Mantovani, then director of the National Conservatory of Music and Dance in Paris. “He evoked “the problem of motherhood”, explaining that “a woman who is going to have children is going to find it difficult to have a career as a conductor. “At the time of these declarations, I was pregnant and I conducted ninety concerts during my pregnancy. And after a very short maternity leave, I went back on the road with my baby. I’m even a better conductor since I became a mother. To be a good artist, it is essential to have a good balance between family and professional life. And raising my daughter, Sarah, brings me back to core values. “.
Zahia Ziouani has no inclination towards ostentation
Sarah is now 8 years old but is not at home this early afternoon of the week. On the ground floor of a modest house in Pantin, the small chair in front of a desk next to which a child’s cello quietly waits attests that the little girl is following in her aunt’s footsteps. The modest and factual decoration indicates that Zahia Ziouani has no inclination towards the ostentatious. His real lair is on the second floor, a room of about 20m2 furnished with a desk, a piano and a library exclusively composed of scores, from Johannes Brahms to John Williams. On the floor below, opposite his bedroom, Noé, the 5 and a half year old son of Fettouma Ziouani, enjoys his cousin’s toys. “They are like brother and sister,” says his mother. He took up the trombone. »
Among the Ziouani, we are music lovers from generation to generation
And this little boy tall as three apples manages to blow in this big copper thing?! Of course yes! Among the Ziouani, we are music lovers from generation to generation. The grandparents, who arrived from Algeria in the 1970s, listen to Mozart and Beethoven over and over. In fact, their three children too: Zahia and Fettouma, but also their big brother Mehdi. This opens the ban by entering the municipal conservatory of Pantin. His sisters quickly join him. Fettouma begins with the trumpet, then opts for the cello. Zahia learned the guitar, then chose the viola to join an orchestra. Until the day when, one evening on TV, Zahia comes across the retransmission of a concert conducted by the Romanian maestro Sergiu Cilibidache. Literally fascinated by the man, she wants, like him, to hold the wand. She will integrate her masterclasses where, her model promises her, women do not last a fortnight. She will stay there for a year and a half!
The chef (played in the film by Niels Arestrup) is tough, intransigent, but prodigal of wise advice – even if he doesn’t really believe either, at the beginning at least, in the future of a woman in his place. In 1981, he had even dismissed an irreproachable trombone soloist from the Munich Philharmonic Orchestra with pithy words: “We need a man for this post. »
So a 16-year-old kid who claims to be leading an ensemble… Nevertheless, said kid will command if not her admiration, at least her respect. “When he died in 1996, she remembers, I didn’t know what to do with this experience. And I had few examples to rely on. There was the conductor Claire Gibault, but she still struggled, finding herself in front of orchestras who refused to play under her direction because she was a woman. So, because you are never better served than by yourself, she decides to create her own orchestra, called Divertimento. The hitch could not be more disparate: in addition to his sister of course and musicians from the Pantin conservatory, there are students from the Racine high school in Paris where there is a music and dance course. For the sake of social diversity, the Ziouani sisters were welcomed there with a few others from 9-3. Zahia, when she expressed her desire to lead, suffered a number of valves and humiliations there. Like what all the privileged kids are not to be put in the same basket: a lot of them have agreed to go to the other side of the ring road to integrate the crazy project of the pantinoise.
A less crazy than political project
Because yes, Divertimento is a project. Less crazy than political, moreover. Zahia Ziouani affirms it loud and clear: “Yes, it is a political approach in the literal sense of the term. This is my way of militating. I like to question the subjects who question us. For example, a few months ago, during the presidential elections, many wondered about the notion of being French, about the dangers of communitarianism. I then integrated Inspirations d’Orient into the program of the Philharmonie de Paris: pieces of French classics inspired by India, Egypt, Algeria, in order to show that our history was also built and enriched by encounters. This is the originality of Divertimento: linking works from the past to current subjects.
The creation of this orchestra is not the result of individual opportunism, but of an innovative approach where “working together” is a priority – the term “living together” being, in my opinion, overused. She has a clear verb and abundant speech. In journalistic jargon, Zahia Ziouani is what is called a good client. The type to answer all questions, with the assurance of always being in the right and on the right track. Kind too, but not fooled. Every five years, the presidential candidates with blue, green or pink hair approach him to obtain his support. In vain. Perhaps she will decide the day when these merchants of promises will recognize in actions her orchestra at its fair value rather than its fair approach… They are very kind in high places to salute the work of inclusion and transmission of this conductor, to cover her with honors and medals (Officer of the National Order of Merit, Commander of the Order of Arts and Letters), but as soon as it comes to putting the hand in the wallet to support its action, it is another speech. Of an annual budget of 2.5 million euros, half comes from revenue, the other half from private investment and public funding. It is on the latter that the shoe pinches, when Divertimento has to rely on the Ministry of the City to obtain subsidies rather than on the Ministry of Culture. And why ? Because the orchestra performs in “territories eligible for city policy”. “However, the concert I give at Stains is no different from that at the Philharmonie de Paris, points out Zahia Ziouani. As if on the one hand there was a concert relating to social work, and on the other a concert relating to culture. Because we have an image of a popular orchestra, socially engaged, it causes discomfort, while it is a strength. »
Zahia helps to change the look on his protégés
An exemplary force, even. For twenty-five years, Zahia and Fettouma Ziouani have been devoted body and soul to the openness and influence of a music “which for too long has been considered elitist, dusty and reserved for white bourgeois” according to the eldest. To change that, they are on all fronts. When she is not a soloist with Divertimento, Fettouma teaches at the Municipal Conservatory of Music and Dance in Stains with as much rigor as pedagogy: “We can work on the symphony of “Star Wars”, for example . It’s less conventional, but it feeds the students, it motivates them. Among them is Isabelle, a young 19-year-old with Down syndrome who has been coming since the age of 13 after being refused by all the conservatories. “I was told that it was going to be impossible to train her, recalls the cellist. It made me want to take it even more. Zahia, when she is not performing in concert, directs her academy in Stains where more and more arrive “young people from Seine-Saint-Denis endowed with a lot of talent, who have the look of those we crosses in front of the Gare du Nord at 6 p.m. and who have difficulty finding jobs or internships because of their social or geographical origins. Able to integrate, as was the case for example for its program Inspirations from the Orient, a participative body made up of business executives who will sing choirs in Arabic and Turkish, it helps to change the way in which its proteges look. “Preconceived ideas end up falling. In any case, I have the feeling that we are getting there, little by little. »
Before participating in the Olympic Games for which she is preparing a program that is both ad hoc and surprising, on March 30 she will conduct Gustav Mahler’s first symphony at the Théâtre du Rond-Point (Paris, 8th arrondissement) embellished with a scenography based on video images. After which, the same concert will be presented on April 12 and 20 in Tremblay-en-France (93) and Meaux (77) where the ticket price will be much lower than that in Paris. “Although it is frowned upon, I claim the versatility of Divertimento. The artistic environment is partitioned: large concert halls on one side, local halls on the other. However, it is no more prestigious to perform in Pleyel than in the Sarthe or Moselle countryside. »
“Divertimento”, the film, is visible in all cinemas in France and Navarre. May it be shared by as many people as possible and make it clear that cultural and gender barriers belong to another time.