Who or what inspired you to pursue a career in music?
Many things and many people have inspired me, and sometimes they are very different from each other.
Throughout life should we cultivate what we have, or should we try to acquire what we DON’T have? It’s a crucial question and I think that somehow, subconsciously, I always tried to gain what I didn’t have naturally, and it is still the case now.
I fell in love with music when I was little, something I owe to my beloved parents, and I can say this feeling has never left me. Interest in the violin as an instrument, as a ‘tool’ of music, came after.
Some pursue the goal of being famous, or becoming a star, this kind of stuff.
If I were to say those stupid ideas never passed through my mind I would be lying, as they probably did when I was little, but to be honest the only thing that matters to me and inspires me now is the idea that maybe, if I work hard, I might end up becoming the violinist and the musician I dream to become one day. And my idea of it is very precise, I must say.
So I think that my one and only motivation, after all, has never been anything other than music-focused. More and more now, as time passes, what excites me is all the projects I can build with the music I believe in, together with my friends and the people who are the most humanly, and eventually artistically, valuable to me.
15 years ago I attended the press conference of a big concerts organizer in Japan, and to the question ‘what is your motto’? he answered ‘music I love, with people I love’. At the time I found it kind of stupid. But 15 years later I finally realize now that he was completely right: ‘music I love, with people I love’. It’s as simple as that.
Who or what have been the most important influences on your musical life and career?
Teachers, musicians, colleagues and friends who think freely, who have a super sharp sense of humor, and who view things from 2, 3, or 4 perspectives. Not in a cynical way, just in a fun and spiritual way. People with big hearts. Great generosity. Great empathy.
What we do is never perfect – I have many faults, but what I want is to look like those people, those people who prefer to give, rather than to count. At least I try. But I try hard.
What have been the greatest challenges of your career so far?
I see everything I do as a challenge. As I mentioned, I prefer to focus on what is not natural to me, everything then becomes a challenge. It can be a musical work, a technical passage, ONE note, whatever. One example, a fresh one: whereas a lot of people feel at ease in it, and whereas I feel myself at ease in many other pieces known to be ‘harder’, Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto has always been a problem to me, since I was little, and although I played it quite a number of times. Not that I couldn’t play it at all, but I always felt unsecure, from note A to note Z.
So what I did is, I found a great arrangement for violin and strings (which was not easy to find!), I found a bunch of concerts with a quartet of my dearest friends, and we did it six times, pretty much in a row. I worked like hell, detail after detail, the work was violinistic for only 30% of it, and the rest was psychological. I worked super hard, my friends helped me a lot and it prevented me from sleeping for quite some time, but I did it! I overcame my demons, which is a huge source of satisfaction, and although it of course remains hard, the only thing I eagerly wait for now is to play it again with orchestra, like in the good old days!
Another great challenge for me is to become one day completely free with the instrument and improvise endlessly in any style. Although I remain very humble with it and I know that I sill have a LOT to learn, I can tell, it is underway. It’s coming. Day by day. And my next goal will be to do the same on the piano! But unfortunately there is only a very slight chance I will make it one day with this second instrument…who knows, maybe at 80 years old, if I ever reach that respectable age!
But the greatest challenge of all, and the one that matters to me most above all others, is to combine both my musical and personal lives; to be a good musician and at the same time to be the best father I can. My kids are ALWAYS the priority, I do as much as I can with them, and so far they seem to be super happy and coping fine with a dad who has such a weird job, one week home, one week away.
But let’s see…
Never lose control of that, this is indeed as a man my biggest challenge.
Which performances/recordings are you most proud of?
Well, I am not particularly ‘proud’ of anything.
One thing I am happy with though: being able to play various styles and various types of music with a certain accuracy. My discography is not super wide, but each recording corresponds to something, corresponds to a ‘coup de cœur’. Basically, I think that recording Mendelssohn, Beethoven and Sibelius concertos nowadays, if you are not a big star, is a bit mindless and idiotic. But recording the Mendelssohn DOUBLE concerto, or all of Sibelius’ violin works EXCEPT the concerto, there is a real interest, as those great pieces have not been recorded so often, and this is precisely the reason why I did it!
Same for Szymanovski complete works.
So firstly because I have a taste for this music, but also because I think it makes sense.
I am also very happy with my last recording ‘Porgy & Bess Revisited’ for many reasons:
Artistic: I think it’s a nice journey in the world of Porgy & Bess. Nice and original.
Instead of doing one Gershwin standard after another we added some original compositions, our own arrangements which required time and dedication, and although the project might not speak to everyone I think the recording is a really nice one.
Human: my two colleagues, Schumacher and Sundquist, belong to, let’s say, my 50 or 60 closest friends (they would love that if they read this, but unfortunately I doubt they will) Kidding aside, they really are my two best friends, and the human adventure we continue with this project is super cool, super fun, and corresponds exactly to what I like.
Also the alchemy we found with Matthew Trusler, director of Orchid Classics, is something very special.
Matt is an extraordinary man and, as everybody knows a top-class, outstanding violinist; he and I had a teacher in common during our studies, and we’ve known each other for quite some time; the way he received and welcomed this project was so enthusiastic and positive, it felt as if he was in it since the very beginning!
So with such a team, quality, fun, confidence, friendship, what more could one ask!
Which particular works do you think you perform best?
I don’t know what I perform best, but the slow movement of Beethoven’s Ghost Trio is probably what I perform worst.
How do you make your repertoire choices from season to season?
I never propose big repertoire pieces; I am super happy when I have to play a Sibelius, Prokofiev or, now (!) a Tchaikovsky Concerto, but I will never ‘propose’ them, as organizers already know them.
But if there is a piece I would like to focus on, for example Elgar’s Violin Concerto, that I played two years ago and love, and would love to play again, then I propose it and we see. It applies for several pieces, which I really believe in and want to defend.
Otherwise I go by projects, and give all my energy to fight for them.
Porgy and Bess Revisited is one of them, and I have a super nice project around the Enescu Octet, a few recital ideas, and year by year I try to see whether it can fit, here or there.
Do you have a favourite concert venue to perform in and why?
I have to say, I really loved performing at the Paris Philharmonie; home sweet home, after all…
What is your most memorable concert experience?
I absolutely cannot remember one.
This is not kidding, all concerts are unique; but it’s true, the day I performed Schubert Octet in Brazil after 14 Caipirinhas was special, very special…(well, I was 17 so, half forgivable I guess). Almost as special as the day I arrived one hour and a half after the concert was supposed to start.. Thank God not the same concert…
As a musician, what is your definition of success?
There is a difference between being successful and being successful at something.
I am happy to be kind of successful, have friends and people who follow and support me, but that’s about it, I am not obsessed by success, fame, celebrity, these kind of things.
BUT what matters to me, what matters to me a lot, more than everything, and can fill me with enormous joy and huge satisfaction, is the success that I gain out of the projects I fight for.
Which leads me directly to the next question:
What do you consider to be the most important ideas and concepts to impart to aspiring musicians?
Don’t confuse ‘success’, and success. There is the intransitive form. Success, as a concept, a concept that gathers popularity, celebrity and so on. Many young people, nowadays, run after success, just for being ‘successful’ even before having anything consistent to propose, to offer, to sell. They play well, are decent musicians, but instead of cultivating who they are, they cultivate the way they want people to see them. Which leads always in the end to dissatisfaction.
And there is the transitive form, success at something.
Of course this something is the heart of everything; it takes time, because it speaks about you, who you are; it forces you develop yourself, to dig inside your personality to extract something unique, like a baby, and raise it, as a jewel, and shape it, which is a hand-crafted work, a real life-time work.
But in the end, being appreciated and loved for who you really are – isn’t that more exciting and rewarding than anything else?
Where would you like to be in 10 years’ time?
In a house by the sea.
What is your idea of perfect happiness?
Seeing my kids happy.
What is your most treasured possession?
My kids, although I obviously don’t own them.
What is your present state of mind?
‘Beauty will save the World’
Porgy and Bess Revisited with Nicolas Dautricourt, violin, Pascal Schumacher, vibraphone, and Knut Erik Sundquist, double bass is available now on the Orchid Classics label
(Artist image: Columbia Artists)