Who or what inspired you to pursue a career in music?
Listening to a concert of the 5th Brandenburg Concerto at the Menton Festival in the ‘70s. It really was a shock and it provided the turning point. Pursuing a career in music came about due to a number of circumstances. As I finished secondary school in 1989, the Russians decided to enter Afghanistan, which strangely affected me deeply. Dreading a looming third world war, I decided to choose what I loved the most in life: music!
Who or what have been the most important influences on your musical life and career?
I would love to say Gustav Leonhardt or John Eliot Gardiner… but actually I am not someone to hero worship or adore gods. The influences on me are multiple: add to the two names above – Harnoncourt, Mitropoulos, Christie and Gruberova.
What have been the greatest challenges of your career so far?
Winning the international harpsichord competition in Bruges in 1983… this was very unlikely, considering the programme and how severe the jury was. My other greatest challenge as a conductor came last year conducting Gounod’s Faust with forces I have never had before in répertoire totally new to me and my ensemble Les Talens Lyriques… but I loved it.
Which performances/recordings are you most proud of?
In terms of pure prestige and distinction – definitely Mitridate by Mozart with a flashy label and a flashy cast: Bartoli, Florez, Dessay, Piau etc. In terms of my own personal conviction, Les Nations by Couperin, because he is the composer who speaks most directly to my heart and because the recording just released a few months ago is 99% what I dreamt it would be – refined in spirit and execution.
Which particular works do you think you perform best?
Hmmm! Difficult question… let’s be general and answer opera. I love giving life to human drama. Music, especially sung, can bring an extraordinary intensity to a text. That’s what I love most.
How do you make your repertoire choices from season to season?
I try to balance my career between solo harpsichord, chamber music (because I love to play with my own ensemble), opera for the reasosn above and possibly some sacred music for my soul
Do you have a favourite concert venue to perform in and why?
Not really. I am of course very sensitive to acoustics. Wigmore hall in London, Victoria Hall in Geneva, Concertgebouw in Amsterdam or even the brand new Paris Philharmonie are quite inspiring.
Who are your favourite musicians?
Krystian Zimerman, Isabelle Faust, Christian Gerhaher. Wonderful artists. Very inspiring and very honest (I hate the new tendency of showing off!)
What is your most memorable concert experience?
Bach D minor harpsichord concerto in 1985 during the Bach anniversary with La Petite Bande, the baroque orchestra I loved most at that point. I was 24 and this was a dream!
As a musician, what is your definition of success?
Approach your ideal of sound as close as possible and coax the music you perform with all your soul and body. When it happens, say 80-85%, it’s a big success – people like it, or not!
What do you consider to be the most important ideas and concepts to impart to aspiring musicians?
Be honest, serve music with devotion, ignore your ego and remain curious, remain the child you were once. This pure attitude is perhaps what creates a true emotion for oneself and for other people through music
Where would you like to be in 10 years’ time?
In front of my orchestra still performing and making people as happy as I can.
What is your idea of perfect happiness?
Harmony and serenity
What is your most treasured possession?
What is your present state of mind?
Resigned and hoping for better!
Christophe Rousset is the renowned harpsichordist, conductor and founder of the baroque ensemble Les Talens Lyriques, who return to the Wigmore Hall on 21st February in a Venetian programme of music by Monteverdi, during a break from performances of La Divisione del Mondo by the little-known Venetian composer Legrenzi in Strasbourg. His latest recordings are Couperin’s Les Nations and Couperin & Moi, both on Aparte. His next disc of keyboard music by Frescobaldi will be released at the end of March.
Christophe Rousset is a musician and conductor inspired by a passion for opera and the rediscovery of the European musical heritage.
His studies (harpsichord) with Huguette Dreyfus at the Schola Cantorum in Paris, then with Bob van Asperen at the Royal Conservatory of The Hague (winning the coveted First Prize in the Seventh Bruges International Harpsichord Competition at the age of twenty-two), followed by the creation of his own ensemble, Les Talens Lyriques, in 1991, have enabled Christophe Rousset to obtain a perfect grasp of the richness and diversity of the Baroque, Classical and pre-Romantic repertoires.
(Picture: Ignacio Barrios Martinez)