Then, three years ago, at the urging of a friend, she agreed to conduct one of France’s star sopranos, Nathalie Dessay, in a private concert at a chateau in Rambouillet, just outside of Paris. "I was terrified," says Haïm, her hands cutting through the air in time with her gravelly alto. "But it came off extremely well and I found the experience exhilarating. It was then that I realized that I needed to conduct."
Recruiting friends from her conservatory and performance days, she founded her own Paris-based orchestra, Le Concert d’Astree, which takes its name from Honoré d’Urfè’s vast Baroque novel.
But success didn’t come immediately. "It was really quite tough," Haïm muses, dragging on a Marlboro Light. "I did all the photocopying and office work. I called everyone, begging them for a chance to perform. I phoned every foundation for a grant."
Despite her quick ascent, Haïm, dressed in a Yohji Yamamoto jacket and short black dress, still has one complaint. "You see, I refuse to direct in trousers," she says. "I don’t see why I shouldn’t wear a dress. But the problem is that after one performance, you’ve got to find a new one. I suppose I need a designer to do my wardrobe."
The requirements of Haïm’s concert wardrobe?
"It has to be easy to move in," she says. "And it has to look good from the back."