Budapest Festival Orchestra
Interviews May 22, 2019

“You feel almost like naked” – interview with Gautier Capuçon

The cello is an instrument with no limits, so it’s really fascinating to learn from it every day, says Gautier Capuçon, the world-famous French cellist who is coming to Hungary to play Schumann’s cello concerto with the Budapest Festival Orchestra conducted by Leonidas Kavakos. He feels that sometimes, when playing the cello concerto one feels like standing naked on stage. Capucon and the BFO will have 3 concerts together on 31 May and 1-2 June, Budapest.

This is not your first visit to Budapest and not even your first concert with the Budapest Festival Orchestra. But it was a long time ago when you last met. How do you think of working together with them again?

Gautier Capuçon: I am really looking forward to playing with this fantastic orchestra again. This is a special ensemble with a special tradition and a unique sound, which I am so excited to hear again and to make music together.

The conductor Leonidas Kavakos is a fantastic soloist too. Accordingly, two soloists step on stage. Kavakos knows so much about the strings. Does this help you or makes the situation complicated?

G. C.: Leonidas is a fantastic musician, violinist and friend as well. I am also looking forward to seeing him again. This will be the first time that I play with him while he is conducting. It’s interesting for me how it feels when he leads the orchestra when I am playing. He is very successful as a conductor and I am sure it adds something to his conducting that he is a violinist, because being a string player and a soloist he surely knows the aspects of the string players in the orchestra. So as a cellist I am very lucky. I can’t wait playing together with him. I’m sure it’s going to be a wonderful combination.

The piece you will perform, Schumann’s Cello Concerto in A minor is one of the very last music pieces of the composer which never was performed during his lifetime. It has so many meanings. What do you think and feel playing that wonderful concert piece, as Schumann himself called it?

G. C.: Of course, Schumann’s cello concerto is one of the most famous concertos. It is considered as the romantic concerto. It is a very dear piece to us cellists. I have been playing this concerto since many years. I have just recorded it for Warner Classics with the Chamber Orchestra of Europe conducted by Bernard Haitink. The pianist of this recording was the wonderful Martha Argerich. We played only Schumann pieces for this recording.

This concerto is considered to be a conversation between the composer and his wife, Clara Schumann. How do you relate to this?

G. C.: It is of course strange to know that this concerto was never performed in Schumann’s lifetime. This is quite incredible in music history. Imagine, you write a piece and you are not able to hear it. It must have been very sad. This cello concerto rows up all the characters we know from Schumann and all those different changes of his characters. All these changes are clear in the first movement. The first phrase of that movement is the most beautiful phrase, but this is also the most difficult part as well. Suddenly it turns to a dramatic atmosphere. We learn about the two sides of Schumann as well: passion and doubt at the same time. The drama is already there, but it doesn’t come to light yet. The second movement is so beautiful, intimate, slow music with just the solo cello and the solo cello player of the orchestra they have a conversation as intimate as in chamber music. The drama of the third movement is very virtuous. You feel almost like naked in this piece. Because the message is very clear and light. And this is also the big difficulty of this music to find the right character and the right sound texture and vibrato. This is a sort of melancholic and romantic conversation with Clara Schumann as you have mentioned.

You have started to play the cello – as I heard – when you were four. You turned out to be very talented in those early years. Why did you want to study piano as well, some years later? And do you still play the piano beside the cello sometimes?

G. C.: Yes, I started the cello at four and a half and from the first moment, when I got the cello, although I couldn’t play it yet, I felt that this instrument is part of my body. It was a very strong feeling. But then I wanted to play the piano, because I always loved jazz music. I wanted to get to a good level playing the piano so that I could play jazz. I learned playing the piano for about 14-15 years, so I reached quite a good level. But unfortunately, I played less and less because I didn’t have enough time. I really feel ashamed because of this. Now I don’t play the piano, but I want to turn back to it again. This is one of my goals. And one day I want to learn to play jazz for my own pleasure.

I learned that you have a very special cello, a Goffriller, built in the end of the 16th century, but I also read that you would love to play a Montagna. What is the difference between these two instruments?

G.C.: This is a very special instrument from 1701. I have been playing on this for twenty years, so it’s a big part of my musical life. I made most of my concerts with this cello, which has a fantastic character, it is “wild”, but very sensual. The cello is an instrument with no limits, so it’s really fascinating to learn from it every day. Yes, I learn every day something new from this instrument. You never finish learning. It is like a painter with the colours. You find new colour combinations and new textures all the time. I like Montagna cellos as well, it is like the Stradivari in violins, also made by the Venice school. Some of the Montagnas have this golden sound which I also love. Who knows, one day, may be…