Ilyoung Chae and the Monte-Carlo Philharmonic Orchestra

The Monte-Carlo Philharmonic Orchestra, (Orchestre Philharmonique de Monte-Carlo in French) is the oldest permanently established orchestra in the French speaking world, with a rich history of important premieres and a reputation for continuing high quality under a succession of great conductors.

The history of music in Monte-Carlo was primarily a function of the Prince. In 1641, Prince Honore II’s visit to Versailles brought in French dancing masters and musicians to Monaco’s court. Prince Antoine (who reigned from 1701 to 1731) was a pupil of Jean Baptiste Lully, France’s Royal composer, and encouraged music. When Monte-Carlo was founded, Prince Florestan adopted a policy of supporting arts and entertainment in support of the tourist trade. Monaco’s permanent orchestra was founded in 1863 to give concerts in the recently opened Casino de Monte-Carlo to which a concert hall was added in 1872. Seven years later in 1879, the Principality built its magnificent Opera House, the Salle Garnier, named after the same architect who had designed the Paris Opera house. The orchestra was brought in to serve Monaco’s new Opera House’s productions. 

Over the years, many great names were brought in as the chief conductors, including Paul Paray (1928-1944), Louis Fremaux (1956-1965) or Lawrence Foster. The list of guest conductors is equally star-studded and includes Richard Strauss, Arturo Toscanini, Lorin Maazel and Leonard Bernstein. Over 45 operas have premiered in Monaco, including milestone works such as Ravel’s “L’enfant et les sortilèges”, Berlioz “La damnation de Faust”, Puccini ‘La Rondine”, Faure’s “Penelope” and Wagner’s “Tristan und Isolde”.

From before World War I until the 1930s, the Monte-Carlo Opera was also the site of the “Ballets Russes de Monte-Carlo” where the orchestra also participated in the creation of some of the greatest works in the twentieth century ballet repertory. 

The Orchestra was officially named the National Orchestra of the Monte-Carlo Opera House in 1953 and renamed Monte-Carlo Philharmonic Orchestra in 1979. It is still often referred to as the “Monte-Carlo Opera Orchestra” when discussed in connection with its playing for the opera house stage including the Opera and the Monte-Carlo Ballet which was revived by Princess Caroline in memory of her mother Princess Grace, whose dream it was to restore that tradition.

One of Monaco’s proudest cultural assets, the orchestra comprises 87 members of many nationalities and works a full schedule. Each year, its international concert tours promote Monaco and Monte-Carlo to the rest of the world. It has produced many great recordings under prestigious labels such as Arion, Decca, Deutsch Gramophon, Parlophone, and its own OPMC label. Several were honored by major recording prizes. 

Since 2016, the Monte-Carlo Philharmonic Orchestra has welcomed a multi-time awarded Japanese conductor, M. Kazuki Yamada, as its Principal Conductor and Artistic Director. 

Find out more about the orchestra here.

In this exclusive interview, we speak to Ms Ilyoung Chae, one of the few only South Korean virtuoso members in the Orchestra, to speak about her fascinating experiences in Monaco. 

Can you introduce yourself? How did you become a musician?

My name is Ilyoung Chae, I live in Monaco with my young family and play the violin at the Monte-Carlo Philharmonic Orchestra (OPMC). Like most Korean children, I was introduced to the piano at a very young age, but when I was eight years old I told my parents that I wanted to switch to the violin. My talent was quickly noticed and from there my personal and professional path were defined by my amazing violin teachers, the music schools I attended and the orchestras I worked with. Another person that deserves credit for what I have achieved is my mum, without her encouragement and support I wouldn’t have achieved any of this.

From Korea to Monte-Carlo, how did you join the OPMC?

Well quite a lot of things happened between my departure from Korea at the age of 12 and my arrival in Monaco at the age of 31! I left Korea to London to attend the Yehudi Menuhin School (special thanks to Natasha Boyarsky) where I got the foundations for everything that followed. I then studied at The Guildhall School of Music and Drama with David Takeno. At the age of 24, I joined the London Philharmonic Orchestra (LPO) and six years later my husband and I decided to make the move to gorgeous Monaco and join the talented family of the OPMC! 

What is special about being at the OPMC and in Monaco?

Playing for the OPMC is a great experience and I enjoy it as much as I enjoyed playing for the London Philharmonic Orchestra. Just like with the LPO we have amazingly talented musicians and we regularly perform with world’s best soloists and conductors. But playing at the Casino’s Salle Garnier or playing the open-air summer concerts at the Princely Palace are unique experiences which London cannot offer nor match!

How have you liked living in Monaco and what has been the most attractive to you in Monaco?

Monaco is as cosmopolitan as the big cities but with a Riviera style and chic. The population here is as diverse and entrepreneurial as you would find in London and NYC, but traffic jams, crime and pollution are replaced with personal safety and a quality of life that you wouldn’t find easily elsewhere. I would recommend any young family to come and raise their children here. 

What are your favourite places in Monaco?

This really depends on what kind of person you are and what mood you are in on any specific day. Monaco has many Michelin starred restaurants located in its luxury hotels, but these kinds of experiences can be found in other major cities. Special places unique for Monaco would therefore be a sunny lunch at Les Perles de Monte-Carlo for fresh seafood by the water and overlooking the Palace, and dinner with the locals at La Note Bleue for a summer-breeze-live-jazz enjoyable experience. When I have guests in town, I always take them for lunch at the Cafe de Paris overlooking the most famous Casino square of Monaco.

What would you say to your Korean fellow citizens if you wanted to encourage them to spend a holiday in Monaco?  

In Korea, streets are well kept, food is very delicate and going to a spa is considered almost a daily ritual. I think Monaco could be appealing to Koreans as they can find the same little pleasures from home but in the quite different and exciting Mediterranean setting and culture. Then if one wishes to look more carefully into Monaco’s calendar of events then he/she can also experience very special moments such as the Formula 1 Grand Prix, the Monaco Yacht Show, the Rolex Tennis Masters, the spring art shows (Printemps des Arts), the operas, ballets and obviously Monte-Carlo’s wonderful Philharmonic Orchestra!

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