The Inside Story: Debra Nagy and Les Délices

Les Délices, a Cleveland-based touring ensemble that explores the dramatic potential and emotional resonance of long-forgotten music, was founded by baroque oboist Debra Nagy in 2009. Nagy is one of North America’s leading performers on the baroque oboe who’s playing has been praised by the New York Times as “distinctly sensual…pliant, warm, and sweet.” Today Nagy is our next featured artist in “The Inside Story,” a blog series exploring the inner workings and personalities of our artists.


When did you realize that you wanted to be an artist/composer/creator?

I remember spending hours sweating away practicing Mozart in my bedroom the summer I was 14. It was the first time I remember being truly excited about music, about exploring and exploiting a world of sonic colors, about expression. It was like a switch got flipped that summer. Previously, music had been a recreation – one of many things that came easily to me. Suddenly, I was inspired to take up new and greater challenges and pursue collaborative musical experiences that I hadn’t really even been aware of before. I didn’t yet know path my future might take, but I increasingly felt the conviction that I had something to say as an artist. As a result, I felt compelled to immerse myself in as much music-making as possible – paying for my own lessons, transportation, instruments from that point forward…

What is your guilty pleasure?

I absolutely love to cook –, especially for others. Besides music, cooking is my primary creative outlet. Spending the better part of a day cooking for 6-8 people is a joy for me. I enjoy cooking’s performative elements, the cultivation of technique, improvisation, and creativity in conceiving and executing a meal, but (most importantly – and, as with musical performance) I relish sharing the fruits of my labor with others in a communal experience. I don’t know that that’s a “guilty” pleasure exactly…Ok, maybe raw foods are a guilty pleasure for me. I’ll never be able to say no to a dozen oysters on the half-shell with a beautiful mignonette or an immaculately prepared steak tartare!

If you could spend creative time anywhere in the world, where would it be? And why?

Anywhere in France or Italy. There is so much great culture to appreciate – be it art, architecture, music, cuisine. I would love to spend a few weeks in a farmhouse in Normandy or cycling on country roads in Provence or spend an afternoon lolling about at a café people-watching on a piazza following a morning of fulfilling creative work.

Closer to home, I love our annual trips to the Redwoods in California – we hole up in a cabin for a few days where there’s (blissfully) crappy cell service, great wine, merciful quiet, and nature all around. It’s both a restorative and powerful environment.

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What was your favorite musical moment on the album?

My favorite musical moment on the album is one that I don’t personally play! For me, there’s almost no music more beautiful than the Entrée de Polymnie from Rameau’s opera Les Boréades.

What does this album mean to you personally?

There’s so much hard work and emotional investment that goes into bringing any album to completion (from conception, to planning, to fundraising, to rehearsing and recording, to listening and editing, then returning to conception, writing, design, etc.) that each album you make feels like a major milestone/accomplishment. For Age of Indulgence (Les Délices’ 3rd album – and our first for PARMA), the album represents at least five years of work, which began when I first started to program François-André Philidor’s unusual and delightful Quartets from the Art of Modulation on our concert series back in 2011. I love that the music on this album sort of falls between the cracks. It’s not quite Baroque but we’re not yet in the Classical period either. It represents a moment of stylistic experimentation, a sort of crossroads where so much seems possible.

Is there a specific feeling you want listeners to tune into when hearing your work?

I’m obsessed with the idea that Music is language and I think a lot about declamation in these instrumental works. Whether playing violins, viols, or oboe, we’re pronouncing words – paying attention to the various sounds of consonants and the subtle shading of vowels to make a compelling argument for the beauty and value of these little-known works. Can you hear our words?

Les Délices debut Navona Records album AGE OF INDULGENCE is available to purchase on Amazon, iTunes, ArkivMusic, and to stream on Spotify Friday, June 9th. 

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