It was in Berlin in 2007, and the audience in the Philharmonie, usually so well-behaved, applauded between the movements. It was simply impossible to keep to yourself the overwhelming emotions that Seiji Owaza and the Berliner Philharmoniker had unleashed in each of us. Their seventh Beethoven symphony had made us go from tears to ecstasy, and we all came out broken and happy to have experienced such an adventure. It was that night that I first thought to myself that I should learn to conduct. Then the years went by, and my busy daily life left me little time to think of anything but my piano concerts. The thirties and a first life review changed the situation, and a little sentence from a 16 years old Liszt discovered in a small museum dedicated to him in Bayreuth began to resonate louder and louder in my head. “What would we like to have achieved at the time of death? Let us now do what we would have liked to have achieved then; there is no time to waste, every moment can be the last of our lives. ” Why wait? In the middle of the work on my Mahler transcriptions, I realized that it would be wonderful to have brass, percussion, harps, and that if the piano can be self-sufficient, it would still be wonderful to have access to the thousand-faced instrument that is the orchestra.
From thought to action
This combination of thoughts led me to call my friend and admirable conductor Philippe Bach in the middle of summer. He gave me an appointment at a small music school lost in the Bernese Oberland where he was on holiday. He put a pencil in my hand as a baton, and taught me how to beat the basic patterns. I never imagined that this meeting would be the beginning of such a season! Everything went very quickly, and in January and February I was his assistant at the opera house in Meiningen, a city whose long musical tradition is still very much alive. During these two months, I conducted all the stage rehearsals of an opera by Othmar Schoeck,’Schloss Dürande’. Team work was a great discovery for the lonesome pianist that I am. The idea of joint efforts for the same goal of excellence is relatively foreign to people who spend seven hours a day alone in front of a piano, travel alone, eat alone in restaurants, and finally find themselves alone on stage! In Meiningen, I was part of a team, I was the link in a chain, I walked every day in Brahms’ footsteps to the opera, and this jewel of a city in the Thuringian forest appeared to me as an antechamber to musician’s heaven. The culmination of this stay was a rehearsal I conducted from the pit, with the whole orchestra, choir and soloists. My life suddenly seemed to take on another dimension! It was with a heavy heart that I left, but its memory still shines in my heart, and when I get cold in cities of steel and concrete, I think of this magical enclave, lost somewhere in a large forest, and this thought illuminates the asphalt. Then after a few visits to England for masterclasses – where I had the privilege of conducting musicians of the Liverpool Philharmonic and the Manchester Camerata – came Paris, the Opéra Comique, Offenbach, the June heatwaves. I discovered a whole new world, and was the assistant of Laurent Campellone, a specialist in this very particular repertoire. He entrusted me with the direction of the sectionals with the Orchestre de Chambre de Paris, and the conscientious preparation that preceded them allowed me to truly familiarize myself with the style of “comic opera”.
Finally, to close this first season as conductor, I was invited by the Royal Philharmonic Society of London to take part in a masterclass at Covent Garden and the National Opera Studio. An intense week of immersion with the admirable musicians of the Royal Opera House Orchestra and the contemporary ensemble CHROMA. The repertoire was captivating, with excerpts from ‘la Clemenza di Tito’ and George Benjamin’s contemporary opera, ‘Into the Little Hill’. This week ended with a climax with the presence of George Benjamin, to whom we were able to ask all the questions that his work had raised. It is unusual to have the composer at your disposal, and this is an opportunity that I have enjoyed at its true value!
It goes on …
The next step in this new career will take place at the Limoges Opera House, where I will prepare the orchestra for Laurent Campellone in Madame Favart, the opera we staged in June in Paris. From September on I will be trained in the conducting class of the Hochschule der Künste in Bern, and a billion projects are already in my head!
“What would we like to have achieved at the time of death? Let us now do what we would have liked to have achieved then; there is no time to waste, every moment can be the last of our lives. ”
Franz Liszt ( 1811 – 1886 )