We talk to Nicolas Krauze, conductor of the Orchestre de Chamber Nouvelle Europe in Paris, about the upcoming season, the importance of sound, and music he simply can’t live without.
You originally studied as a violinist before turning to conducting. When choosing repertoire for the Orchestre de Chambre Nouvelle Europe, does personal taste play a part or are there other factors involved?
Yes, I started with the violin when I was 3 years old. However, it was when I came back (as a French government scholarship holder) to the Moscow Conservatory at the age of 17 that I really realised my deep musical tastes. The Russian and Slavonic repertoire is very present, and it is inevitably felt somewhere in the programming of the OCNE.
Which pieces/concerts are you looking forward to the most in this current concert season with the Orchestre?
I am passionate about Mozart’s last great symphonies. The n°35 “Haffner” is a jewel of elegance, proportions and intelligence. It is also very delicate to interpret. Mendelssohn’s concerto with violinist Alena Baeva is also a highlight this season, not forgetting of course our great opera gala which will feature the best young singers of today, all winners of international competitions.
Every conductor has their own style and approach to interpreting pieces of music. How do you approach music – new and old – and make it your own? For example, do you listen to earlier recordings of the piece, or do you religiously follow what has been written by the composer?
I first try not to listen to any version, just focus on the score, which is what the composer wrote. When I’ve made up my mind about the work, then I listen to a few versions to perhaps find some complementary inspirations and ideas.
Artists are often highly critical of their own work, and naturally find ways to build on their accomplishments. During the rehearsal process, or after a performance of a piece, do you analyse where things can be improved, and if so, how? Do you use any technologies to help?
Yeah, that’s right. When you are a conductor, in the centre of the orchestra, you have a sound and space point of view very different from that of the audience. We are “in the centre of the volcano”, and a lot of things are happening, everything is going very fast. It is therefore very interesting to see a concert with a rested head, which often makes it possible to understand effects and details that pass differently depending on the position you are in. Almost all concerts at the OCNE are filmed and recorded, it’s a chance for me.
How important is sound quality to you and your work as a musician?
It’s really essential. Instrumentalists sometimes search tirelessly for years to find an instrument whose sound suits them. But my instrument is the orchestra! So beyond the aspects of technical cleanliness and interpretation, what makes the big difference from one to another is the quality of the sound it produces. The same work will be really different according to the quality, richness and sound that we give it. And of course this is also true for sound reproduction, whether with speakers or headphones. It is essential to be as close to reality as possible
And finally, can you give 3 pieces of music that you can’t live without and why?
Bach: Sonatas and partitas for solo violin. Bach is the bible of music, it’s God! Undoubtedly the most fundamental composer in the history of music, the one who understood everything, who invented everything. And he who has managed to masterfully and never equalled the power of mathematics and musical theory with inspiration and pure poetry.
Mozart: String quartet “Les Dissonances” (or the one in D minor, the choice is hard…). Unlike Bach, who is almost in the hereafter, Mozart is the human genius, earthly, at his best. Intelligence, life, theater, and musical intuitions that are absolutely overwhelming, surprisingly simple, but which are remembered throughout life by listening to them only once.
Tchaikovsky: Symphony No. 6 “Pathétique”. If Bach is the afterlife, Mozart is the human genius, then Tchaikovsky is love, feeling. The Pathétique symphony is one of the strongest symbols, with an incredible depth and intensity, the kind of works that can really make a difference. I remember directing it some years ago at the Colon Theatre in Buenos Aires, in front of 1500 people in a cathedral silence, it was a rare experience.
You can watch Nicolas perform Mozart’s 35th symphony with the Orchestre de Chamber Nouvelle Europe in the below video.