Music that preserves my emotions

Gautier Capuçon is one of the most sought-after cellists of our time and will perform in two concerts at the Easter Festival: the Orchestral Concert II and the Chamber Concert II.

Gautier Capuçon © Anoush Abrar

You play a wide-ranging repertoire from Haydn and Beethoven to Shostakovich and modernism. In Salzburg you will present a piece by the French organist and composer Thierry Escaich, which will have its world premiere only a short time before in Leipzig. What attracts you to new works?

Well, there are different answers to that. One answer is that composers need musicians to create their music. As musicians, we also have the responsibility, the task and the great privilege of working with composers of our time and of playing their music. We play so much repertoire by composers of the past that we would have dreamed of meeting. But this close collaboration with a composer is really a gift – especially when you have the chance to have a piece written for you. I play a lot of new music and I work with composers I admire. Music is like a common language. And what languages do I like? Well, many different languages, many different ways. But the most important thing in music is the emotions, and I play repertoire that preserves my emotions so that I can share them with the audience.

Thierry Escaich is probably known to only a small part of the audience. What characterises this artist?

Thierry Escaich is an extremely talented musician. First of all, he is an organist and pianist and is an incredible improviser. The way he improvises, how he creates and composes music from his inspiration through the organ or the piano – he just has that in his blood. I’ve been lucky enough to know Thierry for many years and I’ve heard many of his compositions. He wrote the double concerto for cello »Miroir d'ombres« for me in 2006, so we have worked together a lot. We’ve been talking about the cello concerto for many years that we’re going to premiere in 2023, so I’m very happy that it’s coming about now, and with incredible musicians too – Andris Nelsons and musicians from the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra as well as the Boston Symphony Orchestra. We shall start the concert tour in Leipzig in April and then meet in Salzburg for the two concerts. I’m really excited to be back at the Salzburg Easter Festival and to play this world premiere by Thierry Escaich there. After that, it’s on to Boston, where we’ll give the American premiere. The concert series will then finish at Carnegie Hall at the end of April. It’s very exciting and I have full confidence in Thierry. I know his language, I love his way of writing, he is an extremely talented musician and composer, and he knows the cello very well. I’m really looking forward to it.

Escaich once said in an interview: »I love the groove!«. Does his latest composition »Les Chants de l'Aube« have »groove«?

I have no idea because I haven’t seen the piece yet (laughs), but I can confirm that he has this talent, the groove in both the lyrical parts and the rhythmic parts of his music. I think Thierry has all these aspects that make him a significant musician.

In the Chamber Concert II you play Franz Schubert’s only string quintet in an instrumentation with two cellos. Why do you think Schubert thought of two cellos for this work?

This string quintet by Schubert is a masterpiece. I’ll be playing the second cello, which is an incredible part. The guest cellist always plays the second cello, and I think that every cellist especially likes this part because it really goes down to the bottom of the instrument. You could say it’s the base, the spinal cord of this work. And of course, this slow pizzicato in the Adagio – yes, this Schubert quintet is truly a masterwork and I am very happy that we shall perform it in Salzburg.

Gautier Capuçon © Anoush Abrar

After composing the quintet, Schubert wrote to his brother: »It's no longer that happy time in which every object seems to surround us with youthful glory, but that fatal recognition of miserable reality…«– a bitter conclusion after an unhappy life?

You can of course fear the melancholy in this string quintet, which is very melancholic indeed. It’s a huge piece, you really go on a kind of journey with Schubert. And yes, it is (sighs) – I wouldn't say bitter, although the quote is rather bitter, I agree, but the piece itself is not bitter. The quintet is certainly very touching and this nostalgic, very emotional music expresses a lot of feelings. You can feel this fragility. We are not talking about the Scherzo or the Allegretto now, but mainly about the first (Allegro ma non troppo) and the second (Adagio) movements. In the Adagio, of course, there is this dramatic middle section, between the melancholic theme and the beginning of the dialogue between the first violin and the second cello, it is really pictorial and emotional.

You have already worked with the Gewandhaus Orchestra – what makes this orchestra so special?

They are such wonderful musicians and I’ve been lucky to play with them several times. This historical sound which they still carry within them, their expression and their power is extraordinary. As a soloist, you perform with different musicians and orchestras in concert halls far apart from each other, and it’s such a luxury to be inspired and to see how much the way you play and create sound changes with different orchestras and musicians. And the sound texture of the Gewandhaus Orchestra is extraordinary and very inspiring.

You have an artistic partnership with Andris Nelsons. How does such close cooperation develop in the field of classical music and a global world?

Andris and I have a long history. If I’m not completely mistaken, we played together for the first time in 2001. He was music director of the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra and we did a European tour with Shostakovich’s First Cello Concerto. That’s such a great memory and since then we’ve performed together regularly. Most recently we were at Tanglewood and in June 2022 with the Vienna Philharmonic at the 2022 Summer Night Concert at Schönbrunn Palace. We played the Saint-Saëns Cello Concerto and it’s always a pleasure to play under Andris’s baton. He is an incredible, very instinctive musician who feels and breathes the music.