Augustin Viard, ondes Martenot player

Who or what inspired you to pursue a career in music?

The first time I heard the sound of the ondes Martenot, it was a true revelation. It was during a concert in Paris and I was so mesmerized that I immediately felt the need to play this instrument. I entered the ondes Martenot class at the Conservatoire de Boulogne-Billancourt and my first physical contact with the instrument was extraordinary. I felt a very strong connexion with it and something extremely familiar. It was like the ondes Martenot were somehow an extension of myself.

At this moment, I knew I was going to pursue a career in music as an ondist.

Who or what have been the most important influences on your musical life and career?

Obviously the most important influence has been the ondes Martenot discovery itself. I couldn’thave imagined a musical career with any other instrument.

What have been the greatest challenges of your career so far?

For me each new musical project represents a challenge, and that makes it even more exciting. Being apart from my instrument for instance is always a little stressful because the original ondesMartenot cannot be replaced and requires special handling when transported. It has to travel separately on pallets and by truck. So it is always a great relief when it finally arrives at the concert venue.

Which performances/recordings are you most proud of? 

I feel very honoured to do regular work for Radio France and the team of the “Cinéma Sonore”. It’s an innovative concept: audio movies with no picture, where the music plays an essential part. Last year, I composed and performed with Warren Ellis the soundtrack to an audio movie called “Le brasier Shelley”. It was selected for the 2018 Montreal New Cinema Festival to which I was invited to play the instrument live to a cinema audience. It was an incredible experience!

Recently, performing “Jeanne d’Arc au bûcher” from Arthur Honegger with Marion Cotillard in the title role was unforgettable. Everybody knows her as an Oscar winning actress, but she is just as stellar on stage as she appears on the big screen.

Which particular works do you think you perform best?

Like a lot of musicians, I tend to be an utter perfectionist. The work on a musical piece is never truly completed, there is always a lot of room for adjustments and improvement. That’s why I loveperforming the music, you can play the same score 100 times, and each time will be different.

Otherwise there are some pieces I particularly enjoy playing, like “Jeanne d’Arc au bûcher” from Honegger or the “Turangalila Symphony” by Olivier Messiaen. These are two of my personal favourites.

How do you make your repertoire choices from season to season?

The ondes Martenot repertoire is very specific. There are a good number of works written specifically for the instrument, but only a few tend to get performed. I like to work with new composers. It’s always very interesting to take part in a new creation, and to have the chance to meet the composer and interact directly with them.

The ondes Martenot is the ideal instrument for this.

Do you have a favourite concert venue to perform in and why?

The concert venue which has left its mark on me is Notre Dame de Paris. I performed there with an ondes Martenot sextet, it was stunning! Experiencing the magical sound of the ondes Martenotin this unbelievable setting was unreal, celestial, and out of this world! This memory takes on an even more special resonance after this year’s fire which destroyed a large part of the cathedral.

What is your most memorable concert experience?

I think the most intense concert experience was in Mexico City with the OFUNAM in 2018. We performed “Jeanne d’Arc au bûcher” under Sylvain Gasançon with spectacular art direction from Claudio Kuni. Everything from the choreography, to the choir, the decor and the sheer power of Xochitl Galindres as Jeanne was mind-blowing. This performance will remain engraved in my memory.

As a musician, what is your definition of success?

The greatest achievement for me would be to succeed in making the ondes Martenot known to a larger public. Its inventor, Maurice Martenot was understandably very protective of it, and always point blank refused to have it mass produced to preserve its quality. But it deserves to be heard, and I would love for the instrument to become as well-known as the piano or violin.

What do you consider to be the most important ideas and concepts to impart to aspiring musicians?

In my opinion, the most important is to remain humble and to know a musician learns and improves at every step of their life. And it is also very important to pay respect and attention to theolder generation of musicians, as they have a lot to pass on.

What is your most treasured possession?

My most precious treasure is a tube ondes Martenot built in the 50’s by Maurice Martenot. It is still working and the sound is sublime. It manages to create such a warm feeling! It is a rare and essential tool when I need to work on pieces written between the 1930s and the seventies.

What is your present state of mind?

At this moment, my main focus is working on mainstream crossover projects. I think it is a great way to help the general public discover the singular yet varied sound of the ondes Martenot. Nearly 100 years after its invention, I simply try to play my part in ensuring it survives… hopefully for a few hundred years more!

Augustin Viard performs on Nick Cave’s new album ‘Ghosteen’

From Kraftwerk to Radiohead, many pop stars have had a fascination with the ethereal and haunting sound of the ondes Martenot. Forty years into his career, Nick Cave releases Ghosteen, his 17th album which features the ondes Martenot played by Augustin Viard

Born in Provence, Augustin Viard started his musical learning journey through eclectic contemporary styles such as rock music and blues. In 2004, he joined the ondes Martenot class at the Conservatoire de Boulogne-Billancourt, headed by Pascale Rousse-Lacordaire. Five years later, he was admitted to the Conservatoire National Supérieur de Musique de Paris, studying in the ondes Martenot class of Valérie Hartmann-Claverie, and performing Messiaen’s Turangalila-Symphonie. He graduated in 2013 with a Masters Degree.

His eagerness to explore new creative horizons allowed him to be involved in numerous contemporary premieres, to collaborate with several chamber music groups (Hendricks’ Quartet, Ensemble Vecteurs ondes, Ensemble Volta, Ensemble Traces d’Aujourd’hui) and to execute improvised music

Read more