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An American Premiere with Gautier Capuçon and the BSO

Gautier Capuçon faces the camera with his cello in front of a cord of wood. He wears a bright white turtleneck and has his dark hair slicked back.
J. Bort Warner
Courtesy of the artist
Gautier Capuçon

Saturday, January 20, 2024

In an encore broadcast, French cellist Gautier Capuçon takes center stage with the Boston Symphony for the American premiere of Thierry Escaich’s new work for cello and orchestra, and Andris Nelsons conducts Ravel’s Alborada del gracioso and Rachmaninoff’s romantic Symphony No. 2.

Andris Nelsons, conductor
Gautier Capuçon, cello

Maurice RAVEL Alborada del gracioso
Thierry ESCAICH Les Chants de l’Aube, for cello and orchestra
Sergei RACHMANINOFF Symphony No. 2

This concert was originally broadcasted on April 15, 2023, and is no longer available on demand.

Hear a preview of Thierry Escaich's Les Chants de l’Aube with cellist Gautier Capuçon using the audio player above, and read the transcript below.


Brian McCreath I'm Brian McCreath at Symphony Hall with Gautier Capuçon, who is back in Boston after some really memorable performances in the past here. Gauthier, thank you for a little bit of your time today. I appreciate it.

Gautier Capuçon Thank you so much. Very happy to talk to you. Yes, it's been quite, quite a long time, actually.

Brian McCreath I think it has been a few years. Yeah. You've done [Strauss's] Don Quixote here, you—

Gautier Capuçon I think last time was before the COVID period. So really happy to be back.

Brian McCreath I remember a Triple Cello Concerto. Three cellos—

Gautier Capuçon Absolutely. Penderecki.

Brian McCreath The Penderecki Concerto [Concerto Grosso No. 1 for 3 Cellos].

Gautier Capuçon Yeah, that was a couple of years ago. Great memories here. And of course, in Tanglewood with the wonderful Boston Symphony. And I'm very happy to be back, of course, with this incredible project. We're going to talk about it, but with Andris Nelson, we played together the first time, I think, 2006 when he was the music director of CBSO.

Brian McCreath Yes. Birmingham.

Gautier Capuçon Yeah. The first time we played together was Shostakovich, First Cello Concerto, and since then we played regularly together. Last we were with Vienna Philharmonic. Vienna Philharmonic for the big Schönbrunn concert. You know, at the Schönbrunn castle. Yeah, it was beautiful. And we have, yeah, have a few projects together. We'll be actually back together with the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra next season.

Brian McCreath Fantastic. Well, this week promises also to be very memorable because of this well, American premiere that you're doing here. You've only played this concerto maybe once before. That was in Leipzig for the world premiere, a piece that's it's called Songs of the Dawn [Les Chants de l’Aube] by Thierry Escaich.

Gautier Capuçon So that that would be the exact tradiction [sic, translation], yeah? Songs of the Dawn.

Brian McCreath Songs of the Dawn.

Gautier Capuçon Yeah. It's . . . well, Thierry Escaich is one of the most brilliant and successful organist, orgal [sic, organ] player in the world, he is also such a brilliant composer, one of our best composer in France. We know each other since 20 years, and we have been talking about this concerto since a few years actually. But I think it was right to wait because you have to find the right combination of musicians and of course, this co-production with Andris . . . two orchestras. So, Gewandhaus Leipzig and Boston Symphony was just ideal. So as you said, we did the world premiere in Leipzig and we were just in Salzburg's festival. Salzburg Easter Festival last week also was a Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra, and we came straight in from Salzburg to Boston. And this week, yeah, it's the American premiere and it's so fantastic. Well, you know, now we're just before the first concert, but the first rehearsal was yesterday. And, you know, such a joy to play again with those incredible musicians. And already after the first reading, I mean, the . . . you know, you can hear the colors . . . about the colors actually of the piece. The piece is, I think about 27 minutes long. It's in one go. Would you say that?

Brian McCreath One continuous movem— really three movements, but continuous.

Gautier Capuçon Three movements, but having the link with every time a cello cadenza making the link between the movements, I think the proportions of the piece are just perfect. And the way Thierry writes, of course, is very, very familiar to me. But what I was going to say about the atmosphere and the colors, there is a lot of, I find a lot of inspiration of Henri Dutilleux in this music, and you know that Henri Dutilleux that I was very fortunate to be able to work with him on the last years before he passed away. I worked a lot on his cello concerto Tout un monde lointain… and Henri Dutilleux had beautiful words on Thierry Escaich, and he was saying that for him, he was the future of French music.

And that's why I'm saying this. I think it's important that your listeners hear that. And we can also find I hear, some inspiration of Henri Dutilleux in his chords. It's really . . . it's so beautiful. It's very poetic. It's very . . . you have this intensity also. And the beginning of the piece is really inspired by some Bach music, actually. It starts with the basses of the orchestra. And then in this line, this kind of chorale goes from the cello solo, to the violas, to the first violin, second violin, to the strings. And in this dialog building, and . . . Yeah, and we finish the concerto with this mystical dance, in a way [mimics the closing music of Les Chants de l’Aube]. And it's so fantastic. It's a very thrilling piece. And the reaction of the audience at the dress rehearsal this morning was really great. And I'm looking forward to these concerts.

Brian McCreath Fantastic. I love how you — the first thing you're talking about with Thierry's music is the color of it, and these atmospheres that he creates. He was a soloist here about three years ago or so as an organist playing Poulenc [Concerto for Organ, String Orchestra, and Timpani] and Saint-Saëns [Symphony No. 3, Organ Symphony]. And so we got to know him as an artist then. I wonder if you sense a little bit of his creativity as an organist spilling over into what he tries to do as a composer, finding all those very specific colors and combinations.

Gautier Capuçon Yeah, absolutely. I mean, Thierry is a brilliant, brilliant man. What I can hear especially is also the way — you know, he improvises a lot. I'm not sure if he did improvise here.

Brian McCreath I think he did an encore that was improvised. It was utterly fantastic.

Gautier Capuçon But he's incredible. I mean, he has not only one brain, but probably a couple of brains. And when he improvises, is exactly what also drives him through the composing. So, of course, everything is structure and so well structured actually the speech of the piece. But you can feel, to come back to your question about orgal [sic], and of course there is this vision, this entire vision of the orgal [sic] of the orchestra.

Brian McCreath Yes. Now, the piece actually has three movements, as we talked about, and they're connected by cadenzas that you play. These movements have titles, and I wondered whether these titles inform you as you got to know the piece. The first one is called Of rays and shadows [Des Rayons et des ombres], the second Riverbank of songs [Le Rivage des chants], and then finally Dawn dance [Danse de l’aube]. Do you think of those, or did you think of those as you were getting to know the piece?

Gautier Capuçon Yeah, of course, because I think they clearly shows the atmosphere. Of course, there is much more than that, but it's a way to paint, in a way, the atmosphere of the piece. And Les Chants de l’Aube, so Songs of the Dawn. Songs of the Dawn. Yeah, I think it's a beautiful title. It's very poetic. This . . . there is also maybe a link to Henri Dutilleux. Absolutely. And . . . yeah, and I think for [the] player, it's . . . of course the title shows a little bit the way, but the most luxurious parts of playing contemporary music is to be able to work with the composer. And, you know, I was so lucky in Leipzig, he was there rehearsing with us. He was there in Salzburg, he's going to be here in Boston, in New York. And this is fantastic for all of us.

Brian McCreath Yeah. Now, you've known him for so long. We're talking about his music in ways that are clearly very familiar to you, you know his music inside and out. But when you got this concerto, when you first saw the part, and maybe heard a little bit of it, and I don't know if he played some of it for you, or whatever, was there anything about this piece that caught you off guard, surprised you a little bit about something Thierry is doing here that maybe he hasn't done in other pieces that he's written? Does that happen in this piece?

Gautier Capuçon Of course, it's always even when you know someone, you never know what's going to come out. So you trust the person. And I think there is a very intimate bond between a composer and the artist he's playing for. But then you never know. There is a big part of mystery, inspiration, magic. Sometimes there's just pure magic about a piece, which I think it's the case with this one. Then the first time . . . so he sends me the score. He came, he came home. We had a rehearsal where he played the piano and he played me all the parts. And so of course, this is the first time you hear, but . . . it's a long process. So you cannot immediately say you start to discover this world, which is brand new, which he just wrote.

Of course, for him, he already went through this long phase of composing and he knows all the ideas. And then there is the phase of you simply having to work on the parts. And here is also a long process, learning the notes. And then bit by bit — do you say that? Petit à petit? Bit by bit, then the world opens and then you start to understand, and it's fantastic.

We were just talking after the rehearsal with Andris and saying that now after a few performances, every time we of course, you get to know more and more the world and its . . . we just love it. And Andris is also so much pleasure to conduct it. But yeah, the many surprises, many colors, many — and I'm still discovering so much even when I played Dvořák [Cello] Concerto after a hundred times, I still discover. Of course, here I discover much more. And this is fantastic.

Brian McCreath That's wonderful. I love your description of that process bit by bit, and it unfolds for you, more and more discovery. That's wonderful. Gautier Capuçon, thank you so much for your time, and congratulations on this premiere, this wonderful concerto. Looking forward to hearing it.

Gautier Capuçon Thank you so much. Thank you.