Thursday, 26 November 2009

Philippe Graffin / Violinist

This week the TT Test is taken by the wonderful French violinist Philippe Graffin (recently included in Classic FM’s top 10 violinists in the world, no less !) who I first heard on a lovely disc "Shades of the forest: The Bohemian world of Debussy, Enescu and Ravel". His repertoire includes many works from his native France as well as re-discovering neglected classics and exploring contemporary works. He has shared the stage with musical giants such as Menuhin, Rostropovich and Martha Argerich, partnered cellists Gary Hoffman and Truls Mark, pianists Steven Kovacevich and Claire Desert and the Chilingirian Quartet, appeared as a soloist with many major European orchestras and is the founder and artistic director of the Consonances chamber music festival in Saint-Nazaire. Whew! With such a busy schedule I’m amazed but very happy that he has found the time to provide such sublime answers to the TT test. What is your wake up song at the moment? It’s already an old new song by Alain Souchon (don’t scream!), "Les Parachutes Dorés", about a guy that looks at the strikes, the protests and everything else from his paradisiacal island after he got out having sunk the company but with his dear "parachute"... not his best tune though. Maybe it’s the sound of French I like. Which work of art has most influenced you in your chosen profession? For my profession: the sound of violinist Toscha Seidel. He was born in Odessa, before the Russian Revolution, was a child prodigy, then immigrated to America, and made it to Hollywood. You can hear his playing on the sound track of Ingrid Bergman's first film in America,"Intermezzo". It is the original sound that everyone has in their ears and tries to go back to. If you could travel back in time, which period would you most like to visit & why? There are a few. The Romantic Era, Vienna between the 1790s and 1828, with Mozart, Haydn, Schubert, Beethoven in the same place, just about the same time... that’s pretty good, but really I would love to be in Europe before World War 2, to travel throughout eastern Europe, Vilnius, Warsaw, Berlin etc... just to see this world that has vanished for ever. I think that being a violinist you somehow carry a little bit of that world inside you.. I love eating out and discovering new restaurants, can you please recommend one to me? "Le Jardin des Pates" near the Jardin des Plantes and the mosques in the 5th arrondissement, Rue Lacépéde. They only do a few dishes, always the same for years. It's really a simple place, but I love their food and atmosphere. What is the best advice you have ever been given relating to your professional /creative life? "All you can hope for is to play the violin, where and how will depend, but feel lucky just to play the violin". Mr Gingold (Josef Gingold) my teacher, when he was already a very old man in America. Or another one "Tonight You are the violin". That really helps to go on stage sometimes. Bonus question: You have made chamber music quite a central part of your repertoire (great for me as I love chamber music !). As a listener, chamber music feels like an easier more intimate way to feel close to a composer, to understand their language and movement. Sometimes with the orchestra, especially large orchestras, i feel almost overwhelmed, as if i can't keep up with or really hear the conversation. So if you could recommend a piece of chamber music to someone who may be new to chamber music what would you recommend? And would you be able to recommend someone like me who is a bit scared of the orchestra : ) a concerto for the violin? Thank you for that question: Ligeti string quartet n.1. Metamorphoses Nocturnes, written in 1953. It's as if there had to be just one last piece written this could be it, a tribute to all music. You hear both the "village" that was and everything that will be written afterwards. It's Taraf de Haidouks sent to the moon... A concerto for violin? Maybe the Schumann violin concerto. It is a concerto most violinist don't like. I don't know why. It was discovered in the 30s only. Schumann's wife, Clara, had forbidden it to be played. It was Jelly d'Aranyi, the Hungarian gypsy violinist whom Bartok, Ravel and Elgar all fell in love with, that discovered it. She was told of its existence during a "seance" (this is the official version I promise) in England. Apparently, she did not believe at all in this, I don't either, but she was told to look for this manuscript in a library in (I think) Dusseldorf. It was true and no one knew it. The Nazis, however, insisted that it was played by one of their own, they were banishing the Mendelssohn (who was Jewish) violin concerto from being performed. The piece is amazing, the slow movement, of which there is a recording with d'Aranyi playing the slow movement, is the most beautiful slow movement ever, starts with a cello solo, then the violin plays in the middle register something longing and timeless. Schumann was labelled "crazy" by the time he wrote this, but thank god for this concerto. What I also like about it, is that here is no tradition of how to play it. I love that. It's romantic, by one of the greatest composer, ever, and yet there are no marks. I suspect that is why some violinists don't like it.