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 Interview, Gautier Capuçon on Intuition

Gautier CapuçonMusical autobiographies from cellists seem to be the order of the day at the moment: regular readers may remember that I recently spoke to rising star Sheku Kanneh-Mason about his debut solo album Inspiration, charting some of the repertoire which has shaped his development as a musician, and this month brings a project on similar lines from Frenchman Gautier Capuçon, entitled Intuition and released on Erato on 2nd February. Now into the third decade of his career, Capuçon’s album has a more retrospective quality than his young colleague’s ‘Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man’, but the parallels between the two recordings run deeper than a slight resemblance between titles: both cellists include Saint-Saëns’s The Swan as the first classical piece they ever studied and performed, and both cast their nets pretty wide stylistically speaking (Bob Marley and Leonard Cohen for Kanneh-Mason, Piazzolla and Sollima for Capuçon).

I had a chat with Gautier during his recent visit to London about the thinking behind the eclectic programme on his new album, his long-term musical partnership with pianist and composer Jérôme Ducros, and the experience of filming a performance of The Swan (surrounded by snow and in full concert-dress) over 3000 metres above sea-level!

'Intuition' comes across as a very personal album – almost a Portrait of the Artist in music! Do any of these tracks have special significance for you?

Yes, in fact every individual track on this recording reminds me of something very specific and personal. It’s as if this album is a painting of four different periods in my life, starting with my first cello when I was four and a half, and moving through my youth, my time studying in Vienna, and where I am now – each period conjures up some very vivid mental pictures for me, and each of those pictures relates to one of the tracks on the recording.

The pieces from my youth make a sort of French ‘cycle’ which comes at the beginning of the album – The Swan was one of the first pieces which I learned and performed, and that and the Fauré and the Massenet all remind me of my childhood, family-time, and skiing. I grew up in the French Alps, so I would spend the daytime skiing with my family and then I’d go home and play some music with them in the evening – my grandmother would always want to hear The Swan and the Méditation from Thaïs, as these were her favourite pieces. Very happy memories!

Do you use much of the repertoire here as encores?

I play all of them as encores, either with orchestra or with piano. I’m in London tonight [the interview took place of the day of Capuçon’s performance of the Dvořák Concerto under Paavo Järvi at the Barbican], but after that I’ll be in Moscow and touring with my pianist Jérôme Ducros, and we’ll be using a lot of them on our travels together! Jérôme is also a composer (in fact he wrote the second track on the recording) as well as one of my oldest friends and musical partners – we played together for the first time twenty-one years ago, and in fact we just found a video of us from twenty years ago performing the Scott Joplin piece which we do on the recording, which was very, very funny!

Did Jérôme write 'Encore' specifically for you, and does that work together with the Sollima and Piazzola form another miniature cycle within the album?

He didn’t write it for me, actually, but because of all the repertoire we’ve performed together Jérôme knows the cello so well - almost as well as he knows the piano! Giovanni Sollima is an Italian cellist and composer who writes mainly for the cello; I heard about the piece about ten years ago at a festival, then I performed it a few times with my students in cello class in Paris. The Piazzolla is also a piece I’ve been playing with Jérôme for the past twenty years, and it evokes so many fond memories – touring pretty much all over the world, and performing in South America in particular. Recording it together was such a lovely experience: all these musical souvenirs!

Could you tell me a little about the significance of the title? Was that something that came from you or from your record-label?

‘Intuition’ came entirely from me, and the idea is important to me for many different reasons. The first is that as a musician we’re tapping into intuition and inspiration every single day, every time we go on stage…It’s also something that we all have so strongly when we’re children, but as we age we somehow get away from it: we overwork our brains so much that we distance ourselves from this intuition to such an extent that sometimes we become afraid to listen to it. In my personal life I’ve been working on myself quite a lot over the past few years, so I thought this recording was also a kind of testimonial to my personality right now as well as to my musical life. In fact everything about this recording was quite intuitive in a way – it all somehow came together by itself. Even the promotional video really came together by chance: through a friend of mine who’s a pilot, we ended up filming The Swan on a glacier at 3600 metres, with me in a tuxedo surrounded by snow! So it’s a very intuitive album in a way – and the title really feels like it fits the story.

Finally, do you have any recording plans which you can share with us yet?

I’m not sure we can announce full details yet, but it will be an album centring on Schumann….

Watch Gautier Capuçon performing Saint-Saëns's The Swan on Petit Combin in the Swiss Alps here:

Gautier Capuçon (cello), Jérôme Ducros (piano)

'Popper’s Elfentanz zips by in a hummingbird whirr of iridescent colour and needlepoint precision: spectacular playing by any standards. And Nadia Boulanger would surely have enjoyed the neoclassical elegance that the pair bring to her pupil Piazzolla’s Le grand tango.' (Gramophone)

Available Formats: CD, MP3, CD Quality FLAC, Hi-Res FLAC

Gautier Capuçon (cello), Jérôme Ducros (piano)

The 21-minute DVD includes clips of The Swan, Elfentanz, Salut d'amour, Après un rêve, and Joplin's Original Rag.

Available Formats: CD + DVD Video, MP3, CD Quality FLAC, Hi-Res FLAC