The author of Cinquante questions pour 50 ans de questionnement (Fifty Questions for 50 Years of Questioning), published last July, is without doubt one of the most prolific and one of the most frequently performed French composers. An inexhaustible curiosity for new discoveries and a fervent optimism nourishes this violin lover, particularly in what regards the use of modern technologies. As a proof, he will be the first composer in residence of Classeek for 2018 and 2019.
What does it mean to be composer in residence for a classical music platform?
It is a virtual presence, which offers a large visibility to young musicians but also to myself. I still need to discover everything since it is a premiere for me! Those new technological tools bring about a lot of change in the music profession, the listening, distribution, and the way of acquiring music. For instance, Classeek helps brilliant young soloists, which have been selected for their artistic qualities foremostly, to develop their image and network. I think this is a sound idea. Thirty years ago, musicians embarked on a career because they were singular – but this is no longer the case. So it is important that by means of such a platform, singularity is reestablished and connects people amongst themselves.
Do you know which shape your collaboration will take?
We still have to work out the specifics. We will create a beautiful artistic content and find a resonance between the performers and composers on the platform. I suppose this will entail the execution of some of my works but in any case you cannot force musicians to play pieces for which they feel no affinity, just as I myself prefer to collaborate with people for whom I have an undiminished admiration. For instance, Alexandra Conounova, who is present on Classeek, is a highly unusual violinist. I only wish I could have played the violin like her once in my life! Those who play fast and loud do not interest me much. Listen to Ivry Gitlis: he places his bow on the string, and you cry. That’s all it is. Sokolov, Angelich, Levit, Rostropovich, Gastinel, the Capuçon brothers… There are many who produce the same effect. The important thing is to protect the poetry of your sound and of the music you are playing throughout your career. And this will guarantee you a life in music. At least that’s how I see it!
With the predominance in our times of the image and the necessity to „sell“ yourself this poetry of the sound is not always put in the first place by certain musicians of international renown… What do you think about this?
If it serves an artistic goal, it does not worry me. At this time, a virtual presence is fundamental for propagating your work. Earlier, brilliant artists made a career, whereas now certain individuals become very popular even though they are not the most stunning ones. It is this that bothers me because I have always seen art as the priority. However, I always say that everything will be better after because everything becomes transformed. As someone who creates I cannot be nostalgic. Creation is an adventure that is always turned towards the future, a constant discovery. We must be delighted that young generations turn towards music. This is exciting.
Speaking about develoment, what have you noticed regarding the way contemporary music has developed among the wide public?
I have seen the frequency with which it is presented on television melt like snow! It has become rare that a composer of contemporary music gives a television interview, whereas 25 years ago invitations were frequent: the programmes of Philippe Lefet, Frédéric Taddeï… With Renaud Capuçon we participated in one of the last broadcasts on French television of Jacques Chancel’s Le Grand Echiquier from Toulouse: Michel Plasson conducted the Orchestra of the Capitole. This television show was huge! And where is the Jacques Chancel of today? There are the Victoires de la musique, which are a showcase of what is going on in classical music. I myself have received them twice and they still make a big impact. But the rest has dwindled into nothing… It is new media that have become intermediaries.
Did you get used to the new technologies quickly?
I am no longer a little boy so I had to learn to use these tools! About 10 years ago, I still had no email address. I am part of that generation which still has a strong attachment to objects, not only content. To leaf through a CD booklet is very important. These are ancient reflexes. Everything has become different but I think that life today also has a lot of qualities.
I am pleased to be on Facebook: I have discovered extraordinary musicians of whom I had never heard talk, and to communicate with people all over the world relieves you from the solitude of travelling. Paradoxically, the virtual world brings people a lot more closer.
The encounters that launched your career took place at a time when this virtual connections did not exist. Could you talk to us about those great artists who gave you this initial impetus?
The first was my encounter with music. I had the chance to be born into a family of music fanatics where we listened to everything. When I was still a small boy I fell in love with a record of the legendary Ivry Gitlis, and I began to study the violin. It was super to play those small pieces by Mozart and Vivaldi but soon I wanted to write my own music. This is a paradox! (laughs) And then there ensued a succession of magic encounters. Amongst my violin teachers, Rodrigue Milozi, the cousin of Radulescu, marked me profoundly. At about twelve I realized I wanted to go down the path of composers. At Caen, during Aspects des Musiques d’Aujourd’hui, a marvellous contemporary music festival, Rodrigue presented me to the composer Ivo Malec. He told me “Come to see me when you are ready.” And so I became a student in his class for two years, in 1988 at rue de Madrid, in 1989 at La Villette. And there were so many other magnificent encounters at the Conservatoire: Gérard Grisey, Betsy Jolas, Michel Philippot, Xavier Darasse, the ingenious director of the Conservatoire, who is unfortunately no longer with us…
Rome also plays a considerable part in your development…
I was admitted to the Villa Medici in 1992 and lived in the Italian capital from 1993 to 1994. I was dazzled by this city, its history, the superposition of its architecture… and the works of Caravaggio. To live through this pictorial shock at 25 induced in me the desire to create a different music and to search for my roots as a musician and interpreter. I had gone far in my experimentations, and I think I had lost touch with instrumental reality. When I returned to Paris, this became a bit of a fight with contemporary music circles. But it was the classical sphere that launched me.
That my works were played by musicians of my generation, even great names such as Ozawa, Salonen, the Capuçon brothers, Angelich, Gastinel, Rostropovich, etc. With many of them, I was at the Conservatoire. We were all studying and continued our discussions at the coffee machine. And here we are, thirty years later. These are not easy journeys. You need to endure pressure, solitude, travelling, adversities. From the moment you produce a work of art – be it as a creator or interpreter – you meet people who support you and others for whom your work is a problem. This is how human beings are. Personally, I have always preferred those that do something to those that undo something. That is one of my rules.