Robert Wilson mourns arts inspiration

Robert Wilson mourns arts inspiration


norman lebrecht

January 21, 2018

From the director’s website:

Of all the people that I have worked with, throughout my life, both professionally and otherwise, there is one person who always stood out.

Her name is Benedicte Pesle; she was a visionary, she was capable of envisioning large-scale works and thinking over long periods of time. She had the best critical eye I ever met. She was severe in her dress and taste. She had a great sense of humor. She alone was more responsible than anyone else in bringing American artists to Europe and elsewhere: Merce Cunningham, John Cage, Philip Glass, Lucinda Childs, Trisha Brown, Alan Lloyd, Andy De Groat, my work, and many others. She worked for Alexander Iolas Gallery and often made selections of paintings, sculptures, and drawings for important collections. Especially for John and Dominique De Menil and other members of her family.

She alone helped engineer my 24-hour long Overture at the Opéra Comique, in the first production of the Festival d’Automne and engineering the following work, the seven-day play KA Mountain and Guardenia Terrace: the story about a family and some people changing. She was a driving force behind Rolf Liebermann in commissioning a full evening with Merce Cunningham, John Cage Un Jour ou Deux with sets and costumes by Jasper Johns at the Opéra Garnier. She went with me in 1973 to ask Michel Guy to commission Philip Glass and myself to create Einstein on the Beach, a 5-hour opera. It was Glass’ first commissioned opera. She was the driving force for Michel Guy, who was the Minister of Culture, in all the projects he did in the performing and visual arts. She was always direct and modest and worked behind the scenes. Often no one knew that she had been involved. She was a great friend of the surrealists Matta, Ernst, Tinguely and Magritte. She believed very much in having cultural exchange programs between the US and France and no one accomplished more in the last half of the 20th century than she did with her cultural exchange programs. Often using her own very limited money, she would support events without any mention of her name. Of all the people that I have worked with, professionally and otherwise, I always say again; she was the wisest, she was best. There was no one like her.

Bénédicte Pesle died last week, aged 90.


Here’s a tribute from the cultural section of the French Embassy in Washington:

When you know Bénédicte Pesle’s name, it is generally for her outstanding commitment to the work and career of Merce Cunningham since the 1960s, or that of Robert Wilson since the 1970s. People rarely know that she worked at the bookstore La Hune, in Saint Germain, in the 1950s and 1960s before running the Iolas Gallery for a long time. There she worked with Max Ernst, Magritte, Brauner, Matta, Tinguely, Nikki de Saint-Phalle, Martial Raysse, among others.

Having attended the debut of the Merce Cunningham Company in New York in 1953, at the Theater de Lys, Bénédicte Pesle devoted herself to make known, and then promote and circulate the choreographer’s work, first only operating with a close circle of friends and art loving patrons.

She collaborated with Michel Guy on starting Festival d’automne in Paris – in the first brochure of the festival, her title was “assistant to Michel Guy”. Her action and influence soon reached all of Europe, and beyond.

In addition to Merce Cunningham and Robert Wilson, she has made it possible for the European public to discover Richard Foreman, Philip Glass, Trisha Brown, Yvonne Rainer, Meredith Monk, Stuart Sherman, Robert Ashley, Douglas Dunn, Viola Farber and other luminaries of the American avant-garde in theater, music and dance, first while working at Iolas, then from her own office founded in 1972, Artservice International. She described her activity as “Artists’ secretarial office”, and she never qualified her work differently, refusing to be considered an agent, an impresario or a producer.

She chose not to be tied to any institution; she always cherished her independence. She liked to convince others, spread her passions, while working behind the scenes.



  • Elisabeth Matesky says:

    As an American musician, I never had opportunities of meeting the Great Lady ~ “Queen maker”, Benedicte Pesle, yet upon reading Robert Wilson’s very moving
    ‘Homage’ to his mentor & others mentored including Merce Cunningham, Phillip Glass, Magritte, Max Ernst and countless other Icon’s, I’ve been wondering if the ‘accidental’ invitation to partner Madam Nadia Boulanger (piano) in 2 intriguing movements of Stravinsky’s ‘Duo Concertante’ for Violin et Piano, co produced by French Paris & CBS American Television, of our Live musical performance with hilarious attempts to communicate in Madam’s ‘pigeon’ English & my ‘no French’ – filmed in the Great Hall of London’s Royal College of Music, w/RCM audiences, might have been an innovative idea of Benedicte Pesle, w/our unrehearsed As is iperformance as part of an inspired Tribute to Madam Boulanger, age 70+, whilst focusing on her famed gifts as ‘Tender Tyrant’ mentor to pupil’s, Aaron Copland, Gian Carlo Menotti, & Samuel Barber, to name but a few American composer’s?!

    Hearing from a USC class-mate, Top Conductor, *Michael Tilson Thomas, he’d viewed our film & his kindly expressed compliments. I know the Boulanger Film was televised in both France and America, yet I’ve never seen it myself ~

    In Robert Wilson’s loving words about Benedicte Pesle, he describes her humble
    human nature & deference from the spotlight, preferring & inwardly enjoying the final reality of her imaginatively conceived artistic projects, seemingly needing no
    public acknowledgement of her brilliance in sculpting public career ‘faces’ of her client’s with, I’m sensing, little remuneration, but in the Currency of Great Joy!!

    Indeed, Benedicte Pesle, was a ‘Force’ in the World’s of Dance, Art & Music, yet
    did her work quietly, behind the scenes, & to *quote possibly her only fellow NY counterpart, Constance Hope, who titled herself, ‘P.R. person’ to Sol Hurok, the famed Entrepreneur of Jascha Heifetz, Milstein, Horowitz, Bernstein, Rubinstein, Ormandy, Lotte Lehman, Beverly Sills, Anna Moffo amid countless others, *”The Manager must Love the Artist or it won’t work”, there must only be a very rare few visionaries in the Cultural World, who truly give their own form of genius – that of dreaming up & reality imaging how yet unknown artistic presentations will be turned into onstage public performance, viewing, film & on canvas depiction ~

    Robert Wilson’s portrait of Benedicte Pesle is most inspiring and in so doing, has moved me to recall my mentor, Jascha Heifetz, saying he was most proud of his U.S. Army Military Service during WWiI, upon first agreeing to Constance Hope’s ingenious idea to have an Aluminum Violin made for Heifetz to perform ‘the Star Spangled Banner’ upon in Yankee Stadium, baseball home of the NY Yankees, to arouse public attention in order to raise monies for U.S. War Bonds to support
    American troops & America’s entry into WWII. Ms. Hope’s inspired idea not only attracted baseball fans but the general American public, adding to the reverence of Heifetz’s dominance as the Greatest Violinist but naturalized proud to be an American citizen, who soon donned a U.S. Army Military uniform to wear for all his Violin Recitals given throughout WWII once America was fully engaged in the War, performing for hundreds of thousands of American & Allied troops/ heroes in Theatre’s of War (sometimes at real personal risk) to play great music in order to uplift & sustain the spirits of all those fighting behind and on the front lines …

    On the One Hundredth Year Anniversary of Heifetz’s Carnegie Hall Violin Recital Debut, October 27, 2017, in the Strad Tribute to Heifetz, he is again quoted as having listed his WWII service thru Music as one of his proudest achievements ~

    This statement reveals the humility of Heifetz, one of the Greatest Musicians of All Time aside from being considered the Greatest Violinist of All Time, & is most apparent to this violinist-contributor that the Great’s, whether publicly spotlighted or a few in more shadowed behind the scenes ‘Light’ — walk in hallowed places while on Earth and Beyond ~

    With gratitude to Robert Wilson’s Final Bow to Benedicte Pesle, may this Great Lady of Behind the Scenes Rest in Peace in God’s Garden for Few Servants of
    All for Beauty and Culture given the World from a pure Heart …

    Elisabeth Matesky *

    *Michael Tilson Thomas is now Music Director of the San Francisco Symphony