Vanessa Wagner, pianist

Who or what inspired you to pursue a career in music and who or what have been the most important influences on your musical life and career?

Music came into my life almost by chance when my great-grandmother’s piano arrived at my house. I went up the steps almost without realizing it, in a natural way, I had no plan and I was not guided by a devouring ambition. As a child and then as a teenager, I was very much influenced by tormented personalities such as Clara Haskil or Sviatoslav Richter. I was never attracted to flamboyant or show-off artists. For a while I followed the well-trodden paths that a young musician’s career requires: I followed the advice of great masters, such as Leon Fleisher or Dimitri Bashkirov, who made a strong impression on me, I played the great repertoire, the great concertos, I made my mark, as they say. But I never felt completely at ease in this way of practicing my life as a musician; that is to say, by following steps already taken by many others before and after me. Very quickly, I made some side steps, I went to a university of philosophy, I rubbed shoulders with musicians and artists from different backgrounds, I was interested in contemporary creation, in electronic music, in ambient music, in alternative trends.

Who or what inspired your upcoming recording, ‘Study of the Invisible’?

I started to approach the great minimalist repertoire with the producer Murcof when we recorded the ‘Statea’ album which mixed the acoustic sound of my piano with his electronic layers and volutes. I had been listening to it for many years, but it is a repertoire sometimes despised in France and even in Europe; I rarely played it. I continued in 2019 with ‘Inland’, a solo album where I dug the discovery of this current post minimal universe. I love playing this music so much, which is a continent in itself, that I wanted to continue to defend it. During the pandemic, the halls were closed, and we could no longer perform in concert. I quickly called the TAP in Poitiers, a sublime auditorium that had welcomed me several times, to go and record with them. The label InFiné followed me. I gathered a lot of pieces that I had discovered, and I tried to assemble them so that they tell a story between them. I think the atmosphere of this music, so intimate, so deep, so bright and dark at the same time, is particularly in phase with this period we lived through.

What have been the greatest challenges of your collaboration as a musician so far?

I regularly collaborate with musicians from the electronic scene, and with choreographers. I love dance and I find that choreographers’ work is often very relevant and thoughtful. I have learned through these collaborations that nothing replaces the time spent creating with humility and respect. Two names side by side are not enough to make a beautiful project. You need to understand each other and find meaning. I want to take the time to mature and without wanting to create something new at all costs, I find that there is sometimes a tendency to see “projects” emerge that follow fashions but are empty of substance. It is a challenge to renew oneself, to invent new forms, without falling into the excesses of the great n’importe quoi.

Which performances/recordings are you most proud of?

Each of my records is a milestone in my career as a musician and tells a part of who I am. Over time my records have become more personal. I have a special fondness for the very first one, I was 22 years old, I was very much in love when I recorded it and I can hear the impetuous girl I was back then! There is also ‘Statea’ with Murcof, which I am proud of because even if today it is fashionable, it was not obvious in 2016 for a classical pianist to “dare” to undertake this assemblage. I sometimes wonder if it just took a little courage, or rather a certain amount of recklessness!

To finish, a disc that has passed a little under the radar but that for me has a lot of meaning, is the Liszt /Arvo Pärt, two composers distant in form and style but so close in the mystical background and spiritual quest.

Finally, the last one, ‘Study of the Invisible’, is a very special record both in my personal history and for what it tells.

What do you do off stage that provides inspiration on stage?

Reading, cinema, art, love. Everything that makes the salt of life, emotions, wounds, doubts. I spend a lot of time thinking about my life, the lives of those around me, I look at the world, I am in introspection. That’s also what I’m looking for on stage, in my performance, to dig deep inside myself, not to stay on the surface, even if it means putting myself in danger, sometimes.

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

I have a particular tenderness for the Theatre des Bouffes du Nord because it is there that I made one of my first important Parisian recitals, at the time when I obtained the Victoires de la Musique, and I play there very regularly since. The atmosphere is very particular, very mysterious. This theater had burned and kept the stigma of this incident. Its red wall is iconic…

What is your most memorable concert experience?

I can’t say, I have so many crazy, funny, stressful, exhilarating, exhausting memories… this job, with which I had a very conflicting relationship for a long time, is today for me a source of great happiness, I found my balance there, and it allows me to find who I am. Each concert is a trace, a step further on this path.

As a musician, what is your definition of success?

Find your own way, your freedom, don’t be interchangeable. Never stop being curious, never stop being alive, never stop wanting, never stop thinking you’ve arrived…always work. And knowing how to exist, even outside of success, is the key.

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

Cultivate your freedom, your curiosity, your singularity, stay awake, broaden your spectrum of knowledge, avoid becoming envious, avoid being sucked into the world of appearance…

Where would you like to be in 10 years?

The life of an artist is subject to many hazards, nothing is ever assured, as we have seen with the pandemic, but also with fashions, age… artists are asked to be very efficient and complete at a very young age. However, an artist’s life is long. And for my part, I feel much more accomplished at 48 than at 20! I have a lot of anxiety every year, every season, about the future and even if it is exhausting to never “settle down”, it is also a driving force. In 10 years, I hope that my desire will be intact, my curiosity still alive, and that I will be able to propose to the public and to the programmers something that will thrill them!

What is your idea of perfect happiness?

A protective bubble to face the brutality of the world.

‘Study of the Invisible’ is released on 25th March 2022 on the Infiné label

Born in Rennes, Brittany, Vanessa Wagner began playing the piano at the age of 7. She was awarded First Prize at the Conservatoire National Supérieur de Musique de Paris at the age of 17. In 1999, she received the “instrumental solo revelation” Victoire de la Musique (the French equivalent of the Grammy Awards) for Classical Music. Since then, she has performed all over the world, and her wide-ranging and award-winning discography reflects a vast repertoire and a keen personality, touching on Rameau, Haydn, Schumann, Schubert, Debussy, Ravel, and contemporary music. The great French composer Pascal Dusapin has dedicated several works to her, which she developed. Wagner is also a regular guest of major venues and festivals and is also invited to play with conductors such as Augustin Dumay, Jean Claude Casadessus, or François-Xavier Roth.

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