Amb. Delattre Awards Peter Gelb
Metropolitan Opera, April 30, 2014
Cher Peter Gelb,
It is a great pleasure and privilege to be here with you today on this very special occasion, as we are gathered here this afternoon to honor our friend Peter Gelb, the incredibly talented General Manager of the Metropolitan Opera, an exceptional homme de culture, a true Renaissance man, and a treasured friend of France.
I want to thank Peter’s family, friends and colleagues who have joined us here to show their support and admiration.
I would like to recognize Mrs. Ann Ziff, Mr. William Morris, the leadership and board members of the Met and Robert Lepage.
Before proceeding with the ceremony itself, let me say a few words about the distinction that I will bestow upon Peter Gelb in a few minutes.
The Legion of Honor was created in 1802 by Napoleon Bonaparte to reward extraordinary accomplishments and outstanding services rendered to France, based on a personal decision by the President of the French Republic.
It is France’s highest award and one of the most coveted in the world. And you know the long tradition of French modesty ….
In this respect our ceremony could not come at a better time, two months after President Hollande’s very successful state visit to the United States – the first of a French President in this country in nearly 20 years.
Speaking of a state visit, it reminds me of that of President Kennedy to Paris back in the 60’s (…).
Cher Peter, I believe that at the heart of your leadership at the Metropolitan Opera, there is a desire to share. To offer the public the very best, in terms of theatrical standards and musicality, in ways that are accessible to all. Well this vision that you have is very much that of France, as expressed by our first Culture Minister André Malraux in 1959. The Ministry of Culture, he said, “has the role of making available capital works from humanity … to the greatest possible number of people and of supporting the creation.”
In your case, Cher Peter, I would adapt this quote to embrace a more global perspective. You stretch boundaries in ways that never seemed possible when Malraux was alive.
Your efforts have bolstered the international presence of this esteemed institution and ensured its impressive success in the 21st century. On the diplomatic stage, you have harnessed the power of the arts as a tool for deepening international friendships, and the French-American bond in particular. You have strengthened the company’s artistic presence and supported its reach in local and global communities. New digital initiatives like “The Met: Live in HD” reach 15 million viewers on six continents. Such numbers demonstrate how successfully you have been in building communities without boundaries.
Cher Peter, from your teenage years as an usher at the Met to your early experience as an apprentice to Sol Hurok and beyond, you embody in many aspects the American dream and you became acutely aware of how to use the arts to create a global impact. As a cultural diplomat, you navigated 20th-century geopolitical situations with great finesse and demonstrated the power of the arts in our ever-changing global world. Managing the Boston Symphony Orchestra’s 1979 tour to China at the end of the Cultural Revolution; bringing Vladimir Horowitz back to Russia in 1986; and of course, the commissioning, in conjunction with the Chinese government, of Symphony 1997 with Yo-Yo Ma, which was performed at the handover of Hong Kong to China – thanks to you, the arts had an impact on these critical international moments.
And indeed, artistic and musical collaborations have strengthened our historic French-American friendship over the years. Under your leadership, the Metropolitan Opera has been a leader in enhancing this relationship, from frequently inviting French conductors to direct Met productions, to featuring French classics like “Faust” and “Carmen.” And you bring French culture to life by turning the baton over to a new generation of French conductors such as Yannick Nézet-Séguin.
Your work in bringing the best of France to the New York stage is remarkable and has tremendously reinforced our bond. But you seek to cultivate and reach audiences on a local level as well. You open the doors of the opera house for free dress rehearsals. You broadcast free live screenings of opening-night performances onto huge screens in Times Square and Lincoln Center Plaza. You have made opera more accessible to all audiences with rush tickets, and a contemporary art exhibition space features the work of illustrious visual artists.
You have looked beyond traditional forms of exchange and enabled music lovers around the world to share the same moment-to-moment experience through 21st-century technology. This is one of your trademarks.
A French student can purchase a reasonably priced cinema ticket in Paris to see “The Met: Live in HD”. In fact, students and culture lovers from 66 countries have this opportunity, thanks to the Met’s open-door policy.
For this impressive initiative, you earned the well-deserved Tribeca Disruptive Innovation Award in 2011, a Peabody Award and an Emmy as well. I am happy to note that this program has actively involved French artists, including Nathalie Dessay and Jules Massenet.
People worldwide can stream the Met Opera on Demand in amazingly high definition and listen to the Metropolitan Opera Radio, a channel that broadcasts live performances as well as audio from the Met’s spectacular archive.
Cher Peter, the impact you’ve made at the Met through the use of these innovative technologies is truly extraordinary, and I must add that you supported new media long before becoming General Manager in 2006.
During your time as President of CAMI Video, you produced 25 televised performances at the Met. One of the most unforgettable was the fabulous “Ring der Nibelungen” conducted by the world renowned Maestro James Levine. And you directed more than 50 programs for television featuring such artists as Herbert von Karajan and Rostropovich. Your productions have been awarded a total of 13 Emmys, including six that you won individually.
Cher Peter, though your passport is American, your mindset is truly international and your soul is French. At least that’s the way we feel about it.
So, in recognition of your extraordinary impact on the arts, and your personal commitment to French-American friendship, It is now my privilege to bestow upon you the insignia of “Chevalier” of the Legion of Honor.
Peter Gelb, au nom du Président de la République, nous vous remettons les insignes de Chevalier de la Légion d’honneur.