Who and what inspired you to pursue a career in music?
First of all, I’m not a huge fan of the term “career”. Let’s leave that to the bureaucrats! As a matter of fact, maybe I’m well surrounded, but I’ve never heard a musician use that term! Often, perhaps, because musicians follow their passion for music quite “naturally”. To be honest, at the other end of the spectrum, I really like the term “amateur”, I think its etymology derives from “love” (the one who love). An “amateur” would therefore be a music lover. Please excuse this simple twist, but in this case, I’m a real amateur!
I was very lucky to have teachers who loved music and who knew how to share this love with me and to nurture the love I already possessed. I will mention Blandine Verlet, my teacher, for whom I often turned pages during recitals when I was a child. Her teaching was very important to me, because she was able to listen to this love. Love is most probably something fragile that you have to know how to cherish and pamper!
Who or what have been the most important influences on your musical life?
I think influence is a question of pedagogy. I am “influenced” by many things, artists, musicians, people, and also elements of nature. And maybe I can say that I have been influenced by all these people and things teaching me something. In this way, we can be influenced by everything surrounding us. We can learn from anything. That’s what I’m trying to do: try to open the open-mindedness inside me.
What have been the greatest challenges of your career so far?
To learn. To be honest. To listen more, and to listen more deeply. To create silence.
Which performances/recordings are you most proud of?
Nor am I a huge fan of the term “proud”. Actually, I don’t think I ever use it for myself. I never have the need to be proud of myself. I try to be more in tune with the action, and not contemplating what I have already done. I’m not interested in that. Especially when I hear myself in a recording from the past, I have a strong feeling that I wouldn’t do the same thing at all today. So I try not to judge, but to let things flow. On the other hand, there is a first time for everything, and the recording of my album “imagine” was my first solo recording, and I have very beautiful, very powerful memories of it. It was also the scene of a very important meeting for me, the one of Aline Blondiau (sound engineer and artistic director) and Jean-François Brun (harpsichord maker) who joined me on the recording and with whom I have recorded all the albums that have followed!
Which particular works do you think you perform best?
Harpsichord repertoire is huge, so prolific! There are almost three centuries of music! Musical styles have evolved enormously from one decade to the next, even from one region of Europe to another. Harpsichords too, actually. Since I started playing the harpsichord, I have been trying to explore all this repertoire. I don’t like to limit myself to a single repertoire or period in the history of music. On the other hand, it is a great challenge! I think the only answer I could give to this question would be that at different times in my life I have devoted more energy and work to certain repertoires, programmes or composers, and I think that immersion and reflection is essential for that!
Do you have a favorite concert venue to perform in and why?
I am very sensitive to acoustics. The harpsichord is a very demanding instrument in terms of its sound. The acoustics of a room also create an atmosphere that connects the performer to the audience, that creates bonds. I love going to Japan to play because they have some of the best acousticians in the world, and in almost every city you will find a concert hall with impeccable acoustics!
Who are your favourite musicians?
Amateur music-makers! (see before).
What is your most memorable concert experience?
It’s too personal.
As a musician, what is your definition of success?
You’re going to find me a little tiresome, but I don’t like the term “success” either. Forgive my honesty. Maybe because this kind of term is placed in a finite dimension. For example, we achieve a degree of success when we do this or that. Paradoxically, this is the best way to “fail” in music. On the other hand, I think there are degrees, levels of listening. And that the degrees of listening are not something finite but infinite. I think that musical work is never taken for granted. That you have to question everything all the time. Certainly not resting on your laurels. It may seem frustrating but this “infinite diagonal” is terribly exciting.
What do you consider to be the most important ideas and concepts to impart to aspiring musicians?
I have already talked about several concepts above like listening, working, teaching, questioning, and so on. However, there is one thing I haven’t yet said much about: silence. We have to understand that without silence there would probably be no music. And indeed, I also think that perhaps without music there wouldn’t be any silence either. It’s like a wormhole in another dimension and you try to approach it humbly. This notion of silence can be measured even at several levels, whether within a piece of music or over a lifetime. We play music – it is said. We play with silence. You have to give it the space it requires. Cherish it. Listen to it… !
Where would you like to be in 10 year’s time?
Maybe I’m already there.
What is your idea of perfect happiness?
What is your present state of mind?
I’m tired of hearing myself talk… But I’m playing along!
Jean Rondeau is ambassador of this year’s Early Music Day on Thursday 21st March marks both the spring solstice and the anniversary of J.S. Bach’s birth.
Reflecting the dynamism of the early music scene across the diverse styles of medieval, renaissance, and baroque music, this year’s Early Music Day comprises more than 100 events across Europe, bringing together celebrations marking Da Vinci’s 500th anniversary, Venetian Boat Songs, a concert in an observatory, baroque DJ-ing, and an 8-hour musical marathon in Copenhagen. This week, William Christie and Les Arts Florissants perform Bach’s St John Passion on tour at the Barbican and in Madrid. Vox Luminis appear at the Wigmore on 20th March, Christophe Rousset continues touring Legrenzi’s racy La Divisione del Mondo reaching Nancy on 20th March, as well as festivals in Brighton, Stockholm and Copenhagen.
Jean Rondeau studied harpsichord with Blandine Verlet for over ten years, followed by training in basso continuo, organ, piano, jazz and improvisation, and conducting. He pursued further studies at the Conservatoire National Supérieur de Musique in Paris, graduating with honours, and the Guildhall School of Music and Drama in London.
In 2012, at just 21 years old, he became one of the youngest performers ever to take First Prize at the International Harpsichord Competition in Bruges (MAfestival 2012), also winning the EUBO Development Trust prize; an accolade bestowed on the most promising young musician of the European Union. The same year, he claimed second place in the Prague Spring International Harpsichord Competition (64th edition of the Festival, 2012), along with a nod for the best interpretation of the contemporary piece composed specially for that contest. In 2013, he also won the Prix des Radios Francophones Publiques.
Rondeau is in demand for solo, chamber music and orchestral appearances throughout Europe and in the United States. He frequently performs with the Baroque quartet Nevermind. Quite apart from his activities as harpsichordist, he founded the ensemble Note Forget, presenting his own jazz-oriented compositions and improvisations on piano.
Photo: Edouard Bressy