Who or what inspired you to pursue a career in music and who or what have been the most important influences on your musical life and career?
My biggest influences have been my piano teachers:
• My first piano teacher in Toulouse’s conservatoire, Claudine Willoth, who understood I was different than the other kids and cultivated my curiosity for music in general, not only for the piano. At that time I wasn’t thinking of being a professional and was reluctant to practise scales or exercices. She didn’t insist and helped me to realise what I really wanted at that time : to compose music, to sightread some masterpieces ( too difficult for me at that time ), to improvise, to listen to all kinds of music.
• My second teacher in Paris’s conservatoire, Jean-François Heisser, who I met in Toulouse when I was only 13 and who convinced me I was could become a professional musician. From that point I started to practice seriously.
• My third teacher, in London, Maria Curcio, who convinced me I could go much further and become an international soloist. I was sometimes having 5 or 6 full days of lessons in a row. It was like that every month and she really prepared me to perform on stage, to open up and find my identity as a musician.
What have been the greatest challenges of your career so far?
They have all been ultimately very positive challenges. For example, when I first played a solo recital at the Théâtre des Champs Elysées in Paris, after which I realised I could probably consider myself as a soloist; when I played Bartok 2nd Concerto with Pierre Boulez, one of my biggest idols; all my big debuts in major venues and with major orchestras; and, more recently, creating my own festival (Festival et Académie Ravel) and Academy for young musicians, and, hopefully one day, a new concert hall, in one of my most beloved places, the French Basque Country.
Which performances/recordings are you most proud of?
Difficult to say, though I’m very proud of the last one, ‘Good Night!’, I should say! Also the Saint-Saëns album which won the Gramophone 2019 Album of the Year Award. I could also mention an older recording, Liszt’s Années de pèlerinage. But I’m quite happy with everything, even if I know I could do everything better.
Which particular works do you think you perform best?
It’s difficult for me to answer that. Probably music by Liszt, and generally-speaking music from the 20th and 21st centuries. I’m also quite at ease with the classical style and Beethoven’s music, though that’s one side my audience knows a little less, I think.
What do you do off stage that provides inspiration on stage?
Meditation. Just before going on stage.
Elsewhere in my life, I enjoy being with friends, good food (I love to cook myself), travelling, and my relationship with all forms of art and all kinds of music, including pop. I also read a lot of books, articles, magazines, all kind of things, depending on my state of mind. This all probably goes someway in inspiring my interpretations but it is totally subconscious.
How do you make your repertoire choices from season to season?
I built a very big repertoire and musical knowledge when I was a teenager. I continue to discover new things all the time but I mainly extract ideas from this big body of work. The question is more what’s next? To try to find a logical order. But I have ideas for the next 60 years at least! Regarding new repertoire, I’m mainly interested in contemporary compositions and discovering new composers. So I try to confirm some new commissions each year so that I can regularly give premieres. This stimulates me a lot.
Do you have a favourite concert venue to perform in and why?
There are so many. I could mention Teatro Colon in Buenos Aires for example, which gives me such an intense emotion each time I enter on stage and face the audience. Such an impressive and magnificent place.
What do you feel needs to be done to grow classical music audiences/listeners?
I think that artists and promoters should work much more to promote contemporary music and to help the audience discover it gradually so they get used to it – like visual art, for example. The younger generation needs to feel that there are living artists and composers behind it. The most contemporary music should be absolutely central in my opinion. It’s fundamental to get out of this museum experience feeling. Or if not, it should at least be in the style of a modern art museum…!
We also need to destroy the existing frameworks. The look and format of a concert should not just depend on old habits.
Why should a recital consist of two halves of 45 minutes each? Why should a concerto be played at the same part of the concert each time? Why always this same ritual of encores? Why does the orchestra have more or less the same layout? Why are the (bright) lights always more or less the same in every concert hall across the world? We should innovate much more to make the whole experience more alive. It’s also essential we maintain – now more than ever – a standard of very high quality. The worst thing for me is levelling down.
What is your most memorable concert experience?
There are too many.
As a musician, what is your definition of success?
Being happy. And proud to achieve what we can achieve. To continue to have dreams and to try to make them become reality.
What do you consider to be the most important ideas and concepts to impart to aspiring musicians?
To remember that success is not about having your name written in gold letters at the top of a poster.
It’s a long quest and a process of building. You need to build your repertoire, your personality… to try to learn who you are as an artist. That all takes time. Search inside yourself, as most of what you have to say is already inside you from very early on.
Where would you like to be in 10 years ’time?
I don’t know exactly but certainly not where I am right now!
I like movement. I’d like to continue to travel, to develop my repertoire, to commission and premiere a lot of new works. To develop my Festival and Academy project and to create a real musical centre to experiment with new ideas. Maybe to teach again a bit. I’d like to be more linked to the younger generation and to today’s composers, as well as to other kinds of artists.
Bertrand Chamayou’s new album Good Night! is released on 9 October on the Warner Classics label.
Bertrand Chamayou is one of today’s most strikingly brilliant pianists, recognised for his revelatory performances at once powerfully virtuosic, imaginative and breathtakingly beautiful.
Heralded for his masterful conviction and insightful musicianship across a vast repertoire, the French pianist performs at the highest level on the international music scene. He is recognised as a leading interpreter of French repertoire, shining a new light on familiar as well as lesser known works, while possessing an equally driving curiosity and deep passion for new music. He has worked with composers including Pierre Boulez, Henri Dutilleux, György Kurtág, Thomas Adès and Michael Jarrell.
Artist photo: Warner Classics