Thursday, December 30, 2010

ArtsPaper Interview: Age of Philippe begins at Boca Symphonia

Philippe Entremont.‭
(‬Illustration by Pat Crowley‭)

By Greg Stepanich

The French pianist Philippe Entremont was born in‭ ‬1934‭ ‬in Rheims,‭ ‬France,‭ ‬to two musicians,‭ ‬and found fame early,‭ ‬entering the Paris Conservatoire at‭ ‬12‭ ‬and winning first prizes in solfège,‭ ‬chamber music and piano performance by the time he was‭ ‬15.

He made his‭ ‬American debut in‭ ‬1953,‭ ‬and has enjoyed a career as one of the world‭’‬s leading pianists,‭ ‬with numerous recordings and concerts all over the world.‭ ‬He added conducting to his activities in‭ ‬1967,‭ ‬and has been director of the New Orleans and Denver symphonies,‭ ‬and the Vienna,‭ ‬Israel and Netherlands chamber orchestras.‭ ‬He founded the Santo Domingo Festival in‭ ‬1997‭ ‬in the Dominican Republic,‭ ‬and in December led his first concert as director of the Boca Raton Symphonia.

Last February,‭ ‬he sat down with Greg Stepanich of‭ ‬Palm Beach ArtsPaper‭ ‬at the Boca Raton Resort and Club for lunch and a long,‭ ‬wide-ranging conversation.‭ ‬Among the things‭ ‬they discussed was the recent performance of‭ ‬Souvenirs,‭ ‬written for Entremont in‭ ‬2009‭ ‬by American composer Richard Danielpour.‭ ‬Illness prevented him from conducting it in two appearances at the Kravis Center,‭ ‬but he led it last month at the Roberts Theatre in Boca Raton to open his first concert with the Symphonia.‭

Because it was a lunch,‭ ‬the interview was less formal than most such interviews are,‭ ‬and that is reflected in the following text.‭ ‬Many of the references in the conversation refer to events from the‭ ‬2009-10‭ ‬season.‭ ‬Questions have been edited for length and clarity‭; ‬answers have been excerpted in some cases.‭

They began by talking about their mutual admiration for the Fourth Symphony of Gustav Mahler:

Entremont:‭ ‬It is not too long,‭ ‬and it is‭ ‬absolutely gorgeous from the first note to the last.

Stepanich:‭ ‬It has that‭ ‬all that mastery of orchestration that Mahler has‭…‬.

Entremont:‭ ‬Exceptional.‭ ‬It has all that clarity.‭ ‬It has two big climaxes,‭ ‬no more.‭ (‬Laughs‭) ‬But they are good‭! ‬The quality is there.‭ ‬I must say that I‭ ‬have done it,‭ ‬too,‭ ‬with the Orchestra of Europe just two months ago.‭ ‬Magnificent.‭

You know who put Mahler on the map‭? ‬It was Bernstein.‭ ‬He really put Mahler on the map in spite of all the exaggeration.‭ ‬(Laughs‭)

Stepanich:‭ ‬Have you ever heard those last Tchaikovsky recordings of Bernstein‭?

Entremont:‭ ‬No.

Stepanich:‭ ‬In the‭ ‬Pathetique‭ ‬[Symphony‭]‬,‭ ‬it‭’‬s molto largo‭ ‬… (sings the opening bars to demonstrate‭)

Entremont:‭ (‬Sings along‭) ‬And the world‭ ‬stops‭!

Stepanich:‭ ‬It‭’‬s way too much.

Entremont:‭ ‬That‭’‬s OK.‭ ‬I‭ ‬don‭’‬t care.‭ ‬When you hear such drive,‭ ‬and inspiring stuff‭ ‬– I love mistakes.

[‬A waitress comes to‭ ‬take drink orders.‭ ‬Stepanich talks about his‭ ‬digital recorder,‭ ‬a‭ ‬Sony ICD-SX68‭ ‬that he prizes above all things.‭]

Entremont:‭ ‬I need one.‭ ‬I am in the process‭ ‬– maybe‭ ‬– to do a book.

Stepanich:‭ ‬A memoir‭?

Entremont:‭ ‬Not on me,‭ ‬because I hate biography.‭ ‬But I am pushed to do a biography.‭ ‬But‭ ‬I much prefer to talk about‭ ‬60‭ ‬years‭ ‬of music,‭ ‬of the people I have known.

Stepanich:‭ ‬You‭’‬ve known everybody.‭

Entremont:‭ ‬I‭’‬ve known everybody.‭ ‬Absolutely everybody.

Stepanich:‭ ‬Would you write it with someone or do it yourself‭?
Entremont:‭ ‬No,‭ ‬no,‭ ‬no.‭ ‬I will use somebody,‭ ‬but I have to do the writing anyway.‭ ‬Because I‭’‬m certainly going to be doing that with someone who doesn‭’‬t know too much about it.

Philippe Entremont.
‭ (‬Photo by Greg Stepanich‭)

Stepanich:‭ ‬… Let me ask you about how you came to the Boca Symphonia.

Entremont:‭ ‬This is an old story,‭ ‬a friendship story.‭ ‬I know‭ ‬[Boca Symphonia Executive Director‭] ‬Marshall Turkin‭ ‬– the first time I met him was in‭ ‬1955.‭ ‬That was a long time ago.‭ ‬And I‭’‬ve always liked Marshall.‭ ‬We have always been good friends,‭ ‬because he is a fabulously nice guy.‭ ‬He knows what he is talking about.‭ ‬There is no fluff.‭ ‬He was a very good manager,‭ ‬and he knows music extremely well.

We have always been friends,‭ ‬and he approached me,‭ ‬without caution‭ (‬laughs‭)‬.‭ ‬And I don‭’‬t want a directorship‭ ‬– no way.‭ ‬A big orchestra‭ ‬– I don‭’‬t like it.‭ ‬And I‭’‬m doing a‭ ‬lot,‭ ‬maybe too much for my age,‭ ‬but this is why I am still young in character.

I never canceled anything but the two concerts in Palm Beach,‭ ‬as you know.‭ ‬I was sick,‭ ‬I had bronchitis.‭ ‬I could fly:‭ ‬that‭’‬s it.‭ ‬But I conducted a concert two days later,‭ ‬when I was‭ ‬in Washington.‭

Stepanich:‭ ‬Mr.‭ ‬Danielpour did‭ ‬all right,‭ ‬conducting his piece‭ [‬Souvenirs‭]‬.

Entremont:‭ ‬It‭’‬s a nice piece‭! ‬In Vienna,‭ ‬it went very well,‭ ‬because it was the‭ ‬anniversaire,‭ ‬it was‭ ‬the occasion.‭ ‬But in Germany,‭ ‬where I collaborated with the German‭ ‬Philharmonie,‭ ‬out of the blue,‭ ‬like that‭ ‬–

Stepanich:‭ ‬They didn‭’‬t like it‭?

Entremont:‭ ‬They‭ ‬loved‭ ‬it.‭ ‬They said to me:‭ “‬We play so much crap‭ (‬laughs‭)‬,‭ ‬and finally to play something that is well-written‭!”‬ He writes very well.‭ ‬A brilliant orchestrator,‭ ‬and it‭’‬s a good piece.‭ ‬I like it.

Stepanich:‭ ‬He‭’‬s not afraid to write a melody.

Entremont:‭ ‬Why not‭?

Stepanich:‭ ‬For years,‭ ‬it wasn‭’‬t done.

Entremont:‭ ‬He started as a very avant-garde composer and switched.‭ ‬He‭’‬s writing a piano concerto now that I won‭’‬t play‭ ‬– it will be a young pianist.‭ ‬And we hope to do the premiere in Vienna in June‭ ‬2011‭ …‬ I‭’‬ll conduct.

Stepanich:‭ …‬How many concerts will you be doing with the Boca Symphonia‭?

Entremont:‭ ‬They will do five concerts,‭ ‬I will do three.‭ ‬Maybe one year I‭’‬ll do four.‭ ‬I‭’‬ll do three because I manage that to fit with what I have to do in America.

You know I have the symphony in Santo Domingo,‭ ‬which is next door.‭ ‬It‭’‬s very convenient for me to stop there before and after.‭ ‬It works very well.‭ ‬And they have very good musicians in that orchestra.‭ ‬That‭’‬s a‭ ‬good orchestra.‭ ‬And we are committed to making it better.‭ ‬There‭’‬s always room for improvement.‭ ‬But there,‭ ‬we have the material to do something very good.

Stepanich:‭ …‬ Are you planning anything special for the Boca Symphonia‭? ‬Will you conduct from the piano‭?

Entremont:‭ ‬I‭’‬ll do two.‭ ‬I‭’‬ll do one‭ [‬alone‭]‬,‭ ‬and then we are going to do the Beethoven Triple‭ [‬Concerto‭]‬.‭

Stepanich:‭ ‬I love that piece.
Entremont:‭ ‬You are the first critic to like the damn piece.‭ ‬That piece is so maligned.‭ ‬I don‭’‬t understand it.‭ ‬It‭’‬s the most beautiful slow movement I know.‭ ‬It‭’‬s a gorgeous piece.

It‭’‬s very difficult for the cello,‭ ‬heh‭?

Stepanich:‭ [‬Talks about a recent performance of the work at the Palm Beach Symphony‭] ‬I‭ ‬have a couple recordings of it,‭ ‬but I hadn‭’‬t heard it live in a while.

Entremont:‭ ‬I have a fantastic cellist for that,‭ ‬because I have recorded it with him,‭ ‬and this is my cellist in Vienna‭ [‬Christophe Pantillon,‭ ‬principal cellist of the Vienna Chamber Orchestra‭]‬.‭ ‬And‭ ‬he plays that concerto so well.‭ ‬And the violin‭ ‬was not very difficult for my concertmaster‭ [‬Ludwig Mueller‭]‬.‭ ‬And I covered the piano.

I‭’‬ll start my tenure with the Danielpour piece.‭ ‬His‭ ‬maman lives here,‭ ‬you know.‭

Stepanich:‭ ‬He told me he tries to come down once a year for a visit.

Entremont:‭ ‬I start with that,‭ ‬the D minor Mozart‭ [‬Piano Concerto No.‭ ‬20,‭ ‬K.‭ ‬466‭]‬,‭ ‬and the Beethoven Four[th Symphony‭]‬.‭ ‬The second concert I do is an all-Spanish evening‭ [‬Feb.‭ ‬20‭]‬.‭ ‬And‭ ‬[with‭] ‬all the pieces on that program,‭ ‬I have done a world premiere.‭

Sortileges,‭ ‬by‭ [‬Xavier‭] ‬Montsalvatge,‭ ‬a suite from the‭ ‬Goyescas‭ ‬of Granados,‭ ‬orchestrated by‭ [‬Catalan pianist and composer‭] ‬Albert Guinovart:‭ ‬Beautiful orchestration.‭ ‬I give the premiere,‭ ‬and after the intermission,‭ ‬the‭ ‬Triana of Albeniz with a new orchestration because I think the original one is horrible,‭ ‬but this one is nice.‭ ‬I give the premiere,‭ ‬and then the‭ ‬El Amor Brujo of de Falla.‭ ‬I think that makes a nice Spanish program.

And a short program‭ ‬– I start with the Sextet from‭ [‬the opera‭] ‬Capriccio,‭ ‬by‭ [‬Richard‭] ‬Strauss,‭ ‬which I have recorded.‭ ‬Then the Triple,‭ ‬and in the second part the‭ [‬Chamber‭] ‬Symphony,‭ ‬Op.‭ ‬73a,‭ ‬of Shostakovich,‭ ‬orchestrated by‭ [‬Rudolf‭] ‬Barshai for wind and strings.‭ ‬It‭’‬s a beautiful piece.‭ ‬Very,‭ ‬very nice.

Stepanich:‭ ‬Sound like good programs.

Entremont:‭ ‬It‭’‬s good.‭ ‬I am interested,‭ ‬and the place is nice.‭ ‬Not bad to be here for‭ ‬the winter.‭ ‬And I know some of the musicians in the orchestra very well.‭

…They are very lucky,‭ ‬because I have an assistant.‭ ‬This is‭ ‬[Spanish pianist and conductor‭] ‬Ramon Tebar.

Stepanich:‭ ‬He‭’‬s a good conductor.‭ ‬I saw him do the Bizet Symphony in C ‭…

Entremont:‭ ‬He has a big success with the opera,‭ ‬and with me in Santo Domingo.‭ ‬He came last year and did marvelously well a Wagner program,‭ ‬and he‭’‬s doing‭ ‬Carmen this year.‭

Philippe Entremont conducts.

Stepanich:‭ ‬He just did‭ ‬Lucia with Florida Grand Opera.

Entremont:‭ ‬He‭’‬s a very good opera conductor.

Stepanich:‭ ‬He‭’‬s got a long career ahead of him‭ …‬ I saw him at the ICPA‭ [‬International Certificate for Piano Artists festival at Palm Beach Atlantic University‭]‬ doing master classes.

Entremont:‭ ‬We do that at the ICPA.‭ ‬I‭’‬m very happy with that.‭ ‬They are nice kids.‭ ‬[Referring to ICPA contestant‭ ‬Gen Tomoru of Japan,‭ ‬who had just soloed in the‭ ‬Jenamy Concerto,‭ ‬No.‭ ‬9‭ ‬in E-flat,‭ ‬K.‭ ‬271,‭ ‬with the Palm Beach Symphony:‭] ‬You know,‭ ‬that was the first time he played a Mozart concerto.‭ ‬Never played a Mozart piece before.

Stepanich:‭ ‬He did a nice job.

Entremont:‭ ‬When I told him we are going to play a concerto by Mozart,‭ ‬he said,‭ “‬I can‭’‬t.‭”‬ I told him:‭ “‬You have to try.‭”‬ And I was amazed.‭

[The waitress arrives to tell us about the‭ ‬specials,‭ ‬and the conversation turns to the concert hall,‭ ‬the DeSantis Family Chapel,‭ ‬where the concert had taken place.‭]

Stepanich:‭ ‬I‭’‬d like to hear a series of Mozart concerti in that hall.

Entremont:‭ ‬I‭’‬d like to play there.‭ ‬But not the Rachmaninov Three‭!

Stepanich:‭ ‬Or the Brahms One.‭

Entremont:‭ ‬It‭’‬s not for that place.‭ ‬You know,‭ ‬there is no hall‭ [‬here‭] ‬except for Kravis.

Stepanich:‭ ‬Lynn University in Boca is going to open its new hall in March‭ [‬2010,‭ ‬which they did‭]‬.

Entremont:‭ ‬I can‭’‬t wait.‭ ‬I‭’‬ve heard‭ ‬very good things about it.‭ ‬I want the orchestra to play there.

‭…‬ Stepanich:‭ ‬Your parents were musicians.‭ ‬Your father was an opera conductor and your mother a pianist.

Entremont:‭ ‬Yes.‭ ‬She was primarily a teacher.‭ ‬We had our‭ ‬days.‭ ‬It is very difficult to work with your mother.‭

The first time I played with orchestra,‭ ‬it was in Germany,‭ ‬in Ludwigshafen,‭ ‬and I played the Grieg.‭ ‬That was‭ ‬the‭ ‬first concerto.‭ ‬It was very famous at the time‭; ‬the Grieg concerto was played all the time.‭ ‬And I played that,‭ ‬and my mother came with me.

I was not yet‭ ‬16,‭ ‬and she came‭ [‬backstage‭] ‬after the concert,‭ ‬and said‭ “‬Oh,‭ ‬my darling.‭”‬ And I told her:‭ “‬You liked the concert‭? ‬I am glad,‭ ‬because this is your last.‭”‬ She looked at me‭ [‬with surprise‭]‬,‭ ‬and the next time she went to one of my concerts was‭ ‬25‭ ‬years later.

Not when I played in Paris,‭ ‬because she was a Parisienne.‭ ‬But outside of Paris,‭ ‬the first time was‭ ‬25‭ ‬years later,‭ ‬when she came to‭ ‬New York.

Stepanich:‭ ‬You must have been studying through the war.

Entremont:‭ ‬I started late.‭ ‬I was‭ ‬8,‭ ‬so that would have been‭ ‬1942.‭ ‬And it was very difficult at the beginning,‭ ‬’40,‭ ‬’41‭ ‬… My parents made me do something absolutely dreadful:‭ ‬two years of solfège.‭ ‬I didn‭’‬t like it:‭ ‬No‭! ‬But‭ ‬[after that‭] ‬I was so agile at solfège,‭ ‬it was incredible.‭ ‬I could read it very fast,‭ ‬a different key at every note.‭

But that helped me immensely.‭ ‬I was capable of playing a Beethoven sonata after five months.‭

Stepanich:‭ ‬It must have been tough to study music during the war.

Entremont:‭ ‬Yes.‭ ‬I had a teacher in Paris from whom I learned everything.‭ ‬I remember I went to Paris,‭ ‬I was in Rheims,‭ ‬taking that dreadful train.‭ ‬It made the trip from Rheims to Paris,‭ ‬it was‭ ‬130‭ ‬kilometers,‭ ‬in eight hours.‭ ‬And there were two huge bombings.‭ ‬Yes,‭ ‬I had a bad war.

Stepanich:‭ ‬Did you study with Marguerite Long at the Conservatoire‭?

Entremont:‭ ‬No,‭ ‬she was not there anymore.‭ ‬I met Marguerite for the first time when I was‭ ‬10‭ ‬years old.‭ ‬Then‭ ‬I entered the Paris Conservatory when I was‭ ‬12.‭ ‬And I lost three years,‭ ‬because it wasn‭’‬t to‭ ‬my liking at all‭ …‬ I hated my teacher‭ [‬Jean Doyen‭]‬,‭ ‬who was a fabulous pianist.‭ ‬We were not getting along at all.

I got my prize:‭ ‬I don‭’‬t know how,‭ ‬because the piece that was chosen as the main work for the prize was‭ ‬Mazeppa,‭ ‬by Liszt.‭ ‬That was the only piece I learned that year‭! (‬Laughs‭) ‬But compare it to the people,‭ ‬who,‭ ‬when they got their first prize,‭ ‬they stopped practicing.‭ ‬Me,‭ ‬I start practicing after.‭

…I have never been to the Conservatoire since,‭ ‬the old one or the new one.‭ ‬Jean Doyen died‭ [‬in‭ ‬1982‭]‬,‭ ‬and he left a note that said:‭ ‬I want Philippe to be my successor.‭ ‬That was very nice.‭ ‬By that time,‭ ‬we were very good friends.‭ ‬But I said no.‭ ‬I said no because it‭’‬s not honest,‭ ‬never to be there.‭

Stepanich:‭ ‬It must have been wonderful to study with Long because of her relationship with Ravel.‭ ‬She premiered the G major‭ ‬Concerto.

Entremont:‭ ‬Always,‭ ‬if you did anything with it,‭ ‬she would say:‭ “‬You‭’‬re not going to play that concerto.‭ ‬It‭’‬s‭ ‬my‭ ‬concerto‭!”‬ Nice‭!

She played the premiere.‭ ‬And contrary to what we think,‭ ‬she was a very good pianist.‭ ‬It was just reissued,‭ ‬a four-CD set of all the recordings of Marguerite.‭ ‬Marvelous playing.‭ ‬The way she plays Fauré,‭ ‬it is not the salon musician that we think.‭

Stepanich:‭ ‬Did Long tell you any stories about Ravel‭?

Entremont:‭ ‬No.‭ ‬She kept it to herself.‭ ‬I don‭’‬t think she had that great a relationship with him.‭ ‬Ravel wasn‭’‬t easy to know,‭ ‬he wasn‭’‬t seen much.‭ ‬He was very secretive.‭ ‬I know one of the pieces of‭ ‬Le Tombeau de Couperin was dedicated to her husband,‭ ‬who was killed in the First World War.‭

…One thing is,‭ ‬nobody knows how to teach Ravel well,‭ ‬nor Debussy.‭ ‬It‭’‬s foreign to most of the best teachers.

Stepanich:‭ ‬What are they missing‭?

Entremont:‭ ‬Everything.‭ ‬I am killing myself to say that in French music,‭ ‬you have to do only one thing:‭ ‬Do what is written.‭ ‬And it‭’‬s true.‭ ‬It‭’‬s so well-explained.‭ ‬Of course,‭ ‬you‭ ‬must do something of your own.‭ ‬But you have a frame that is very well-defined.

Stepanich:‭ ‬What was the most useful lesson Long gave you‭?

Entremont:‭ ‬The importance of the left hand.‭ ‬And after that,‭ ‬I was pretty much on my own.‭ ‬I said,‭ ‬“I am going to make mistakes,‭ ‬but they are going to be mine.‭”‬ You have to find your way yourself.‭

…Stepanich:‭ ‬Do you have a practice routine at the piano‭?

Entremont:‭ ‬I have a very strong disease.‭ ‬It‭’‬s called laziness.‭ (‬Laughs‭) ‬My mind works all the time.‭ ‬But I have periods of intense practicing.‭

When I play every morning,‭ ‬I play‭ ‬Le Gibet by Ravel,‭ ‬just to keep it in my memory.‭ ‬It‭’‬s a horrible piece to memorize.‭ (‬Sings to demonstrate‭)‬ Every morning I play it.‭ (‬Laughs‭) ‬It‭’‬s a morbid way to start the day‭! ‬And then if I am doing good,‭ ‬I play‭ ‬Ondine‭ [‬both pieces are from Ravel‭’‬s‭ ‬Gaspard de la Nuit‭]‬.‭ ‬I do‭ ‬Ondine very well now.

‭[‬They discuss the vagaries of the musical season and the difficulties attendant on running an arts organization.‭]

Entremont:‭ ‬I hope to do something good here.‭ ‬I think the environment is right.‭ ‬I‭ ‬will try to make this orchestra well-known.‭ ‬One thing is certain:‭ ‬We need economic support.‭ ‬It‭’‬s not a good time,‭ ‬but at the‭ ‬same time,‭ ‬people are not that poor.‭ ‬People are making money a lot.

..I gave a speech for the ICPA at the Governors Club,‭ ‬and I gave them the business.‭ ‬It was like ice in the room.‭ (‬Laughs‭) ‬But they have to be reminded:‭ ‬It‭’‬s a duty.‭ ‬And I told them:‭ ‬You know,‭ ‬this is not for me.‭ ‬It‭’‬s for the young kids.‭

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