A sensational new figure on the Baroque music scene in the early 2000s, conductor Emmanuelle Haïm electrified audiences with her passionate interpretations of operatic and choral works. She has never studied conducting formally, and, like many other performers involved with older repertoire, she first came to early music only in adulthood. In her deep ancestry was a family of Breton organmakers, and her Hungarian stepfather passed time as friends with both Andras Schiff and Zoltan Kocsis. Emmanuelle and her siblings performed chamber music at these high-level gatherings, and she soon decided on a musical career.
At first Haïm studied piano, but in her mid-twenties she switched to harpsichord because she wanted to participate in a performance of Bach's St. Matthew Passion and couldn't think of another way to become involved. Among her teachers at the Paris Conservatoire were Kenneth Gilbert and Christophe Rousset, and she was soon pulling down top prizes. Her harpsichord skills were spotted by conductor William Christie, and for a decade Haïm performed with his ensemble, Les Arts Florissants. Working with Christie, she absorbed the principals of conducting. "Bill is a showman; he has a sense of the life and rhythm of a show," Haïm later explained to the Independent. She also performed Baroque and Classical repertory with big-name conductors such as Simon Rattle, who would later encourage her in her own conducting efforts. And she was a noted accompanist who worked with Cecilia Bartoli, among others.
Haïm's conducting debut was as unplanned as her turn toward the harpsichord; a group of instrumentalist friends wanted practice working with singers, and Haïm agreed to helm an impromptu ensemble. She began to find opportunities as a Baroque opera conductor, and in 2000 she formed an ensemble of her own, Le Concert d'Astrée. That put Haïm and her enthusiasm squarely in the spotlight ("like a ballerina on speed" was the Independent's description of Haïm in rehearsal), and engagements and support began to flow her way. (Le Concert d'Astrée is backed by France Télécom, but not by the French government.) In 2003 Haïm conducted Monteverdi's Orfeo at the Barbican in London in a series of six sold-out performances featuring star tenor Ian Bostridge. She made numerous guest-conducting appearances, but declined chances to move into mainstream repertory. Haïm conducted Orfeo in 20 performances across France in the 2005-2006 season. She was the first woman conductor at the Lyric Opera of Chicago, leading Giulio Cesare in 2007. As her reputation has grown, so have the demands on her schedule as more groups invite her to guest conduct concerts and recordings, as Concerto Köln did in 2010 for Caldara in Vienna.