Performing arguably one of the most challenging piano works live, Ravel's Concerto for the Left Hand, Jean-Efflam Bavouzet joins the Iceland Symphony Orchestra and conductor Yan Pascal Tortelier on Saturday 15 February as part of Leeds International Orchestral Season.
He told us about his career highlights, and how he feels to be returning to a city that was so essential to his early career.
Hello Jean-Efflam, thank you for taking the time from your busy schedule to speak with us. You’re performing Ravel’s Concerto for the Left Hand in the concert, what do you enjoy the most about performing his music?
This concerto, an outcry against war, has a dramatic character that speaks to me very profoundly. Also every time I go back to it I am always fascinated by the great complexity of the writing for just one hand. When people tell me the concerto sounds like it’s played by two hands I like to answer that I am actually trying to make it sound as there are three hands playing! It is highly interesting to note that Ravel was a rather mediocre pianist and he wrote all that incredibly difficult and complex and at the same time wonderfully ‘ergonomic’ piano music.
What have been some personal highlights of your career?
Personal highlights have always involved other musicians. There were many but Pierre Boulez, Georg Solti and Zoltan Kocsis come to mind first. Playing, working, talking, traveling, joking with them were ‘Sternstunde’ in my life. An inspiring moment was the meeting with Horowitz to whom I played the Schumann F minor Sonata, and he gave precious advice on how to, or rather how NOT to play this rarely-heard fabulous music. I could honestly say that I consider ‘personal highlights’ every meaningful meeting with another musician as well as every concert where people leave different from how they came in, touched and enriched by what they heard.
Where in the world is your favourite concert hall, have you ever performed there?
Unsurprisingly, Carnegie Hall (pictured above), Musikverein, Concertgebouw, Boston Symphony Hall, Chicago Symphony Center. Expectations and adrenaline fly high when playing there but then a sort of heavenly well-being fills you with the feeling that, as they have such marvellous acoustics, it is a perfectly natural place to perform in and the enjoyment is huge! There are some other, maybe a bit unexpected, cities with major concert halls, like Katowicze or Porto, that offer everything you find in a world-class concert venue: perfect acoustics, beautiful and interesting architecture and knowledgeable audience. Some of the new Chinese halls are quite mind-boggling. And then there is Wigmore Hall where music simply springs to life!
Do you have a favourite piece to perform, and if so have you ever played it to an audience?
Everything I ever perform in a concert is a ‘favourite piece’ otherwise I would not - could not - play it convincingly to an audience who wants to be taken by the hand and guided through the intricate world of the composer.
What five things would you put in a time capsule for the year 2100? What piece of music would you include?
First of all, I would like to take everything past and present! I am sure the capsule could manage that! But at this moment I’d mention especially:
• Haydn's Quartet in G major Op.77, No.1
• Bruno Mantovani’s Quintet The blue girl with red wagon
• Bartók's Cantata Profana
• A reprint of Csontvary’s painting The lonely cedar (pictured above)
• Jacob Collier’s arrangement of Moon River
• And if there is more space my Z-scale train layout
Lastly, what are you looking forward to the most about performing at Leeds Town Hall with the Iceland Symphony Orchestra?
I was first in Leeds when, as a young pianist, I took part in the [International Piano] competition. The amazing Dame Fanny Waterman very kindly followed my career ever since. I played a recital here some years ago and also concertos with the Orchestra of Opera North in the region. So I am looking forward to being back, this time with an orchestra I have played with several times and my dear friend Yan Pascal Tortelier.
Award-winning pianist Jean-Efflam Bavouzet enjoys a prolific recording and international concert career. Highlights of his 2019/20 season include the London Philharmonic Orchestra, Orchestre National de France, Budapest Festival Orchestra, a tour of the UK with the Iceland Symphony under Yan Pascal Tortelier and he performs all of the Beethoven piano concerti with the Orchestre National de Lyon. He performs at Leeds Town Hall as part of the 2019/20 Leeds International Orchestral Season.