Célia Oneto Bensaid, 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?

I started playing the piano at the age of 6, and very quickly passed the levels at the conservatory. At the age of 12, I joined a special timetable course. I liked the piano a lot, but I didn’t envisage my life in music yet. Then at 15, it was a shock: suddenly, thanks to a meeting with the pianist Brigitte Engerer, music became a means of expression for me, whereas until then it was only a demonstration of virtuosity. This became an opportunity for me to go further in the expression of my emotions, in the metamorphosis of what I was experiencing into sounds, and from that moment on it was no longer an option, music became a vital necessity for my balance and happiness.

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

I try to see every project, every programme, every piece of work as a challenge. Sometimes works that are technically easier are not necessarily easier on stage. During creation projects with living composers, I have had experiences that sometimes lead to a lot of questioning, even if what happens on stage at the end is extremely gratifying when it comes to creation! But I think the most inherent challenge in my life as a musician is to have to manage hours of different programs in a short time, with a mixture of solo and chamber music with many different partners.

For example, in April 2023, I will have in the same month four hours of programmes, including two piano concertos, the programme of our recording with Marie-Laure Garnier and the Hanson Quartet, and a piano quartet programme….both exciting and scary!

Which performances/recordings are you most proud of?

I think I’m able to raise my standards as I experiment and record more and more. In fact, without much surprise, I am particularly happy with my last two albums: as a soloist with Marie Jaëll and her Dante pieces, and as a chamber musician with this dream team, both humanly and musically, with the soprano Marie-Laure Garnier and the Hanson Quartet. But having said that, each recording has been an important step in my career and in what defines what kind of artist I am today…

Which particular works/composers do you think you perform best?

I try to have things to say in all the repertoires I perform on stage…But I find that the French and American repertoires like me and to tell you the truth… it’s reciprocal!

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

I use everything to inspire me! From cuddling with my cat, to moments of boredom, my history with my lover, my family, or my readings and the shows I attend, and my travels. I invest everything in my music despite myself!

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

It’s a gentle mix between my desires (often a little original), and the themes of the festivals I’m invited to.

I am currently putting together a programme on the theme of night, and as I wanted to get away from the pianistic “clichés” of Chopin’s Nocturnes, for example, I have proposed a programme based on female composers on this theme: an opportunity to unearth some jewels!

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

I have had a few crushes: internationally, the Salamanca Hall in Gifu, Japan, the great theatre of Harbin in China, and in France, the auditorium of the Bordeaux Opera or the MC in Grenoble are halls that I love and where it is easy to create beauty.

Then there is a magical place: an open-air auditorium with remarkable acoustics and the magic of nature and plane trees: this place is the Parc Florans at the La Roque d’Anthéron festival.

What do you feel needs to be done to grow classical music’s audiences?

I think that the time of the classical performer in his or her ivory tower is over. It is up to us, artists, to question our concert formats, our repertoires, and our way of communicating and telling our story. It is certainly by disrupting our codes a little that we will be able to reach a new audience.

What is your most memorable concert experience?

Last summer, I replaced one of the two pianists of the duo Jatekok, and so I got a taste of stadium fun by opening for Rammstein for six shows and playing a song together with the band towards the end of the show. Playing in front of 60,000 people in another context than the one I know from the classic venues was really powerful and an adrenaline rush! You end up with thousands of torches on and thousands of people singing along with you…. It was absolutely out of this world!

As a musician, what is your definition of success?

Living from the projects that animate us. To always have the opportunity to learn, to surpass ourselves and to marvel at the repertoire that we are lucky enough to share with the public and our partners on stage.

What advice would you give to young/aspiring musicians?

To always believe. To not let others, decide their destiny.

And above all to work hard, you can’t lie in music, work and patience always pay off in the end.

I think that you should never forget to live, without life, music becomes a soulless performance. The quest for perfection should perhaps be a quest for vibration…

What’s the one thing in the music industry we’re not talking about which you think we should be?

There are still a lot of delicate subjects to tackle: the sometimes-unhealthy relationships between teachers and students, the arrangements in certain international competitions… to tell the truth, these are old subjects but unfortunately still relevant!

What’s next? Where would you like to be in 10 years?

Far too scary to answer! I hope to be happy and always curious, for the rest, I hope to be surprised!

Célia Oneto Bensaid, Marie-Laure Garnier, and the Hanson Quartet’s new album, Chants Nostalgiques, is available now