Budapest Festival Orchestra
September 11, 2017

"I wanted eagerly to be a hard rocker" - interview with Pascal Rophé

How can one become a well-known conductor without meeting classical music before becoming a teenager? Whose symphony is the hardet to perform in the world? How can hard rock be transformed into Beethoven? The French conductor, Pascal Rophé will conduct the Budapest Festival Orchestra on 29 September, Müpa Budapest at the Bridging Europe festival. It will be fantastic and scientific. Read our interview with Maestro Rophé!

Have you ever been to Hungary before?

Pascal Rophé: I came to Hungary about thirty years ago, when I met Péter Eötvös whom I visited at the Music Academy in Budapest. I knew him from earlier, we worked together in Paris before and I looked upon him as my master. Later, about 15 years ago I came to conduct Poulenc’s “Dialog of the Carmelites” at the Hungarian Opera.

It is common knowledge that at the beginning of your career you admired Beethoven and Stravinsky the most. What took you closer to  contemporary music?

P.R.: The point is that for me there was no difference. Beethoven was a contemporary composer when he was living and played the first time ever, and this was the same with Stravinsky and Pierre Boulez. So if you look at this fact, you can say that all music is contemporary. But to answer your question more seriously, I started music quite late. I got in touch with young composers at the Conservatoire de Paris and they wanted to be played and I wanted to conduct, so we started to work together in the most natural way. As I started to learn more about Beethoven or Stravinsky, and later Boulez, I didn’t feel any difference. But in case of playing a Beethoven symphony how many times I would have liked to ask the composer: "listen Ludwig, am I right to play that way, is my tempo good or not?" When you work with a composer, you can do that easily. So I met Berio, Ligeti, Boulez, I met these ingenious composers. You can imagine how much a musician likes to work with those composers! It was so rich to get in touch with all those brilliant guys.

Does this mean that the mentioned great composers asked you what you thought about their pieces?

P.R.: Good composers are always interested in the interpretation of their music. Well, you know to work together means always double direction. That gives so much fun for both, the musicians and the listeners, because the conductors usually give a great liberty to the interpreters. Knowing that we all are different. Therefor is each new concert exciting. Of course sometimes the author can say: this is not a good direction and wants the piece be played differently. But usually we agree.

Many people think that the score of classical pieces are far more strict than the modern ones. We know many classical scores where the composer gives an exact instruction for the interpretation. Does this mean that contemporary music can be interpreted in a more free way?

P.R.: No. In my opinion, there is no difference on this field between classical and contemporary music. It is as difficult to play Beethoven correctly as Boulez. And if you take a look at the works of Beethoven, you can see that he was as precise as Boulez. Of course the language is a little more complex in the 20th century. But the quality of playing the piece has to be exactly the same. Many say that to play Haydn correctly is the most difficult, regardless of at what age he composed his pieces. In my opinion, there is no difficult piece in case the conductor and the musicians understand the real essence of the music.

Why did you start so late to get close to music?

P.R.: Because in Paris I grew up in a family, where no music existed. Lower levels of the French society live without music. I was more than 11 years old when I first met classical music – by accident. I was 14 when I started to play the flute, but also then I didn’t know anything about music. When I started to be excited about it, I wanted to know how the scores look like, so I bought some Beethoven and Stravinsky scores, later one from Boulez from my pocket money.

Why did you choose the flute?

P.R.: In school we got some instruments to look at and almost all the kids got the flute, probably because that was the less expensive instrument. I immediately fell in love with it. I didn’t stop blowing it. The music teacher soon noticed my absolute hearing and also some talent for music. But at the beginning I was not interested in classical music at all, I wanted eagerly to be a hard rocker. Hard Rock was the movement of the seventies and the modern young people were enthusiastic for it.

Have you ever played in a rock band?

P.R.: I wanted badly, but my parents didn’t think that this kind of music was “politically correct”, so they didn’t want me to do that.

Those who know you say you are an especially enthusiastic musician full of passion, and always looking for new inventions. Do you agree?

P.R.: First of all, I am very flattered of what you say. It sounds very nice and I feel good about it. You know people can write good and bad things as well. (Never trust them!) I don’t think I can judge myself, but I am sure a conductor has to be like that. He has to be enthusiastic, dynamic, at the same time precise, and first of all he has to have the ability to help musicians to give the best of themselves, to give impulses for this. This is the minimum a conductor has to be.

For the coming up concert in Budapest you have chosen contemporary Spanish music. How did you choose the pieces?

P.R.: I am very happy that Iván Fischer wanted me to be the conductor of that concert, especially because I not only love that topic, but also because he asked me to choose from the less known contemporary Spanish composers. The three masters I chose are all close to me, I already conducted their pieces, they are very creative and exciting young people.

Is there anything that combines the three, any similarity?

P.R.: I actually chose them rather because they are three different personalities. Ramon Lazkano has probably the most Spanish characteristics, if one can say that. He is engaged with politics, as an activist for independency, also therefor he stays so close to me. Héctor Parra has a very strong French background. He studied and worked in France and he was close to the circle of Boulez. But the piece I chose from him – you might be surprised – is a brucknerian style of music. It is very different from the other two. Alberto Posadas is one of my favourites, he is a very strong composer. He is interested in the relation between music and science, first of all physics and mathematics. He composes music related to energy, gravitation, etc. But as I said, all the three are exciting and very talented personalities.

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