Who or what inspired you to take up the harpsichord and pursue a career in music?
The choice to focus my career on Baroque repertoire came from an encounter I had with William Christie at the age of nineteen. His inspiring leadership as the head of Les Arts Florissants and the sound he got from voices and period instruments, really inspired me. It was a real revelation. Before, I was playing the piano and french horn in different classical orchestras. After this meaningful encounter, I immediately decided to devote all my time to the Baroque style and forget everything I had previously learned!
Who or what have been the most important influences on your musical life and career?
Another crucial encounter in my career was meeting Jordi Savall. He taught me that one of the strengths of baroque repertoire came from the possibility of bringing together the scholar and popular repertoires. For me, he opened new horizons! From that moment on, my mind wandered outside the Western repertoire. The importance of melodic improvisation, orality and mutual listening took on a whole new dimension in the preparation for my different projects.
What have been the greatest challenges of your career so far?
Every new project is a challenge! Because there is always the element of the unknown. That being said, one of our upcoming 2020 projects has a more-than-usual unknown factor – a concert that brings together French Baroque music and Japanese Noh traditional theatre. Both aesthetics are rather different, quite opposite! I have to really seek out points of contact, coherences and an organic complicity that I cannot yet imagine…
Which performance/recordings are you most proud of?
I am never totally satisfied with a recording! We will see for my upcoming recordings…
However, I sometimes feel a real sense of pride and fulfilment after certain concerts. It may be for musical reasons but can also be for more personal reasons. For example, last week I organized a concert, bringing together Afghan refugees and professional musicians. The Afghan refugees were on stage for the very first time and I could feel their immense pride in undertaking this challenge, and it also made me very proud to have imagined this beautiful encounter.
Which particular works do you think you play best?
The main part of my job is to perform 18th-century Italian music, but Handel holds a special place in my career. His style is very influenced by Italy of course. I try to communicate my enthusiasm as best I can in my interpretation of Handel’s music and share it with a large audience.
How do you make your repertoire choices from season to season?
I look for a balance between purely baroque programs and cross-over projects. Each one represents different risks and satisfies me on a personal and artistic level. But above all, Handel is an important underlying common thread, I try to do 2 or 3 programs with his music every year.
You will be performing in this year’s London Handel Festival, tell us more about this?
Concert de l’Hostel Dieu and I are making our debut at the London Handel Festival, so are particularly excited about this performance! We cannot wait to present this new program “Duel, Handel vs Porpora”, with Giuseppina Bridelli, who is just an incredible singer.
Do you have a favourite concert venue to perform in and why?
One of my favourite venues in Europe is the Palau de la Musicà in Barcelona. The aesthetics and acoustics are fabulous. It is also one of the first big European venues where I performed at the beginning of my career. But of course, there are plenty of incredible venues in Europe, such as the Concertgebouw in Brugges, the Philharmonie de Paris, etc… Here in London, I have a particular affection for Wigmore Hall, where I will be performing next June with Max Emanuel Cencic.
Who are your favourite musicians?
I already talked about William Christie and Jordi Savall. In addition to these two icons, I add Philippe Herreweghe and Ton Koopman who deeply inspired me to perform JS Bach. But I’m also a big fan of some of the artists I regularly work with, such as the soprano Heather Newhouse or my solo violinist, Reynier Guerrero.
What is your most memorable concert experience?
One of my best concert memories is of a concert in Calcutta a few years ago. The concert took place in a Hindu temple. It was an unbelievable concert combining Couperin’s music with Indian ragas. The audience was very enthusiastic, the atmosphere was completely surreal. It was the kind of concert where you become very aware of the power of music, the power to make people happy.
As a musician, what is your definition of success?
Success for me is to have the opportunity to interpret music that I am passionate about with artists that I am passionate about. So I guess I can say that I am getting closer to this feeling of success…
What do you consider to be the most important ideas and concepts to impart to aspiring musicians?
Go to concerts often, choose inspiring gurus and role models, listen to a wide variety of music, always stay open-minded to new ideas …
What is your present state of mind?
I am at a moment in my life where I feel rather serene and in full possession of my abilities. That being said, I am very focused on the task at hand and engaged in all that remains to be accomplished and on new challenges that I’d like to realize.
Franck-Emmanuel Comte performs with Le Concert de L’Hostel Dieu and Giuseppina Bridelli at St George’s Hanover Square on 8 April, as part of the London Handel Festival. More information
Since finishing his studies at the Conservatoire national supérieur de musique in Lyon, Franck-Emmanuel Comte has held key positions and been a guest at opera houses (including Nantes, Lyon and Paris Opera Studio) and also with orchestras (such as the Orchestre des Pays de Savoie, the Ensemble Orchestral Contemporain, the Auckland University Orchestra, the Collegium Musicum Riga,…)
As artistic director of Le Concert de l’Hostel Dieu since its creation, he has conducted the ensemble in more than 1,500 concerts and 20 recordings. A regular guest in European and world capitals (such as Barcelona, Londres, Riga, Cracovie, Rome, Bruxelles, Madrid, Calcutta, Chennai, Pékin, Taiyuan,…) and several international festivals (including Montserrat, Brežice, Girona, Foligno, Wallonie, Nuits de Fourvière, Ambronay, Chaise-Dieu, Peralada, Händel Festpiel de Halle,…). Franck Emmanuel Comte is passionate about baroque repertoire and also for transversal or atypical artistic projects.
He is artistic director of the Musicales en Auxois festival in Burgundy and of the Centre musical international J.-S. Bach de Saint Donat.
(image credit: J Combier)