Congratulations on winning this year’s BBC Music Magazine instrumental award. How do you feel?
I’m really extremely happy. It’s a special feeling to receive this kind of award from a foreign country and coming from England makes it even more important for me. There are not too many countries where music is so appreciated – from my experience as a performer and a concertgoer in England the English public is more involved in the listening process than in other countries.
Why did you decide to record the complete piano works of Debussy?
It’s the result of a long process. Strangely enough I was not very close to Debussy’s music even though it intrigued me and I had put Debussy in my concerts. My teacher was Pierre Sancan – a student of Henri Büsser, the conductor who premiered a lot of Debussy pieces – and he gave me a lot of input and inspiration. Then in my mid-thirties I was in a hotel room in Tokyo listening to the Karajan recording of Pelléas et Melisande. Don’t ask why – maybe because I was away from my homeland – but this mysterious thing happened. I began to cry and couldn’t stop. It was a physical reaction. From that moment on I began to be devastated by the emotional power of his music.
How did you go about programming the CDs?
It was not an easy task. I’m really proud of this selection. I don’t just say it’s the only one – the proof is none of my colleagues chose the same programme for their CDs. I wanted to have a certain kind of logic from an editorial point of view and also for it to make sense musically. I think this solution works perfectly.
And it’s the third volume featuring Debussy’s salon pieces that has won this year’s instrumental award…
I have a very big tenderness for this music, especially the Arabesques, and the Berceuse. Of course in pieces like the Danse bohémmiene or the Mazurka written when he was in his twenties, you hear the influence of Tchaikovsky and Borodin, but that’s alright – you have to start with something. For me Debussy has an exquisite poetic quality. Like Chopin, Debussy always reaches the poetic target he has in mind. It’s laser-sharp. He makes extremely cool calculations that go straight to your heart – no time wasted.
What’s coming up next in the series?
We’re still in discussion with Chandos. I have the ambition to cover the entire Debussy production involving the piano. So the fifth volume will be dedicated to original Debussy pieces transcribed by the composer. There’s a version for two hands of the Six épigraphs antiques that was originally for four hands, then there is La boîte à joujoux and a movement from his piano trio – the authenticity of this transcription is not 100% so I have to think twice about it. And then I’ve discovered a piece last week– I can’t tell you what yet!
Interview by Rebecca Franks
Also in Meet the Artists:
Composer-conductor Graham Ross reveals the story behind his debut disc