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Mourning French Play Boston


Alexandre Tharaud
Alexandre Tharaud

The Orchestre National de France’s performance with music director Daniele Gatti and piano soloist Alexandre Tharaud on Sunday January 24th at 3pm at Symphony Hall marks its seventh appearance with the Celebrity Series and Gatti’s debut with the ensemble. This event constitutes Alexandre Tharaud’s Celebrity Series debut as well, although he appeared in a private recital at the Harvard Musical Association last year.

Comprising Debussy’s Prélude à l’après midi d’un faune, Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 23, K.488, and Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 5, the program carries extra-musical meaning. Several of the ONF strings played in a UNESCO concert as part of the World Orchestra for Peace three days after the Paris attacks, and the 25-year old son of concertmaster Bertrand Cervera was among those called to the Bataclan concert hall as a firefighter. The Tchaikovsky Fifth, also programmed long ago, has an interesting history of popularity during WWII in order to keep spirits high. Tharaud additionally recently played at the official ceremony honoring the Paris victims. The ONF and its soloists are important in helping their country recover.

Soloist Alexandre Tharaud, who is also famed for his role in the 2012 French film Amour, talked to BMInt about music and about human nature.

LE: Were you in Paris during the Bataclan murders and bombings last November?

AT: Yes. I live not far from the Bataclan Theater. So of course I was scared. But, you know, after a few days Paris was almost normal. People were scared everywhere in the world but not in Paris. A lot of people died and it was in my district, but I knew I would not die tomorrow or after tomorrow; that’s life. We know in Paris we have to feel free and strong. We will have a normal life. The only problem is that the tourists don’t want to come to Paris now. The hotels are empty, some restaurants have business problems. But Parisians have a normal life.

Still, months later they’re still empty?

Not empty, but I know the tourist economy in Paris has a lot of problems. I’m sure in six months or longer it will be okay.

Is there a lot of anger directed at any particular group because of this?

Yes, I think. But I would like to tell tourists: don’t be scared, and come to Paris, because life is exactly the same as one year ago, and it’s important to come to Paris. Life is exactly the same. Don’t be afraid.

In other words, if people don’t come, the bombers have won? We defeat the terrorists by ignoring them.


And of course Paris unfortunately has been through this kind of suffering many times.


So you and this orchestra played in a memorial concert?

Yes, I know this orchestra very well. I played my first concerto with this orchestra when I was 24 years old, so it’s a very old story. For me, Daniele Gatti is one of the best conductors in the world and he’s also a good friend of mine. It’s always better when I play with a friend, you know what I mean? The feeling is better. In the orchestra there are a lot of musicians that I worked with in the Paris Conservatory. Some bassoon or winds or strings maybe 10 or 12 musicians in this orchestra were at the Paris conservatory at the same time as me. So it’s like a family and I like to play with them. And we’re playing in Boston the Mozart Concerto 23, one of my favorite concertos, and here today in Toronto I’m playing with the orchestra No. 9. I can say I have two favorite Mozart concertos: the No. 9 and the No. 23.

Did you play in a concert for the victims of Bataclan?

I played the Bach Goldberg Variations at the new Philharmonie de Paris about 10 days after the attack. It was incredible! Because the very big hall was full, I suggested tputting 100 chairs in the back of the stage, so the atmosphere was warm and I put some candles onstage.

So many came to that concert that I said to myself it’s maybe that the Goldberg Variations is the best music for these emotions.

This is the hall that replaced the Salle Pleyel?

The Salle Pleyel is closed and now we have the Philharmonie of Paris, designed by Jean Nouvel, and it’s very good.

And it’s in a neighborhood that had not had classical music or culture before? The Salle Pleyel is very central but the new hall is farther out from the center?

Yes, but of all the important cities, Paris is more spreadout. The Philharmonie is not exactly in downtown but it’s still in the center. For example, Paris to the Philharmonie takes 15 minutes by car; it’s nothing. It’s important to have culture not only in the center but to open new halls, new theaters to extend the cultural life outside Paris. The Salle Pleyel is a very good hall and I don’t know why they closed it, because we can support five or six concert halls in Paris.

I read that the Salle Pleyel was going to be for popular music only.

Yes, I don’t understand why, they have a big problem with the law, so for the moment the Salle Pleyel is closed and we don’t know what happened. But yes, they wanted to dedicate it to popular music, songs, rock etc. I don’t like this idea, because the story of Salle Pleyel is very long, you know, from the ’20s. There were a lot of very important classical music concerts by Karajan, orchestras, all the famous pianists played in this hall, and the acoustics are good. So it’s not the hall for popular music. I’m waiting to know more.

And it’s disappointing not to be able to see opera at the Palace Garnier.

Yes, even though I live within 200 meters of the Opera Bastille.

Do you have anything to say about Kurt Masur or Pierre Boulez, who both died recently? Have you experience with either of them?

Yes, I have a lot of things to say, but I don’t like to talk about people who passed away. I think everybody talks about Pierre Boulez, but I don’t like it. It’s like everybody wants to say something just the week after he died and after one week everybody forgets. So I don’t like this culture of the dead. You know a few days after Pierre Boulez died, David Bowie died and on the TV everywhere in the world everybody forgot Pierre Boulez and everybody talked about David Bowie, until the next one. So I want to talk about the people I like, and not just after they die. And I think the most important is to buy a CD of Pierre Boulez and of Kurt Masur and to listen to the music. It’s the best thing to do.

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The Orchestre National de France (ONF), a Radio France formation (since 1975), was the first permanent symphony orchestra to be established in France in 1934. The Orchestre National de France has made a habit of cooperating with the most prestigious artists in the world since its inception. The ONF performs an average of seventy concerts a year at the Théâtre des Champs-Elysées, its home in Paris, and at various venues around France and throughout the world while on tour. 

Désiré-Emile Inghelbrecht, first conductor of the ONF, established the Orchestra’s musical tradition as the pride of the French music world. After the war, Manuel Rosenthal, André Cluytens, Roger Désormière, Charles Munch, Maurice Le Roux and Jean Martinon perpetuated this tradition. Sergiu Celibidache, who was the Orchestra’s first Guest Conductor from 1973 to 1975, was succeeded by Lorin Maazel who became the ONF’s Music Director. From 1989 to 1998, Jeffrey Tate served as Principal Guest Conductor, while Charles Dutoit was Music Director from 1991 to 2001. Starting in September 2002, Kurt Masur took over the Orchestra’s musical direction for six seasons until Daniele Gatti assumed the position in September 2008. In 2008, Masur became the orchestra’s lifelong Honorary Music Director.

Daniel Gatti (file photo)
Daniele Gatti (file photo)

Conductor Daniele Gatti was born in Milan, where at the city’s Verdi Conservatory he studied piano and graduated in composition and conducting. He has recently been appointed the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra’s new chief conductor, a post he will assume in 2016. Daniele Gatti has been the music director of the Orchestre National de France since September 2008. With the Orchestre National de France, he conducted the Mahler Cycle at the Théâtre du Châtelet, Parsifal in concert version at the Théâtre des Champs-Élysées, the Beethoven Cycle in combination with five new commissions of French contemporary composers, completed a Tchaikovsky Cycle and celebrated the 80th anniversary of the Orchestre (founded in 1934). He has toured with the Orchestre National de France in North America, Spain, Italy, Austria, England, as well as Germany.

An artist of unique vision and originality, Alexandre Tharaud is heralded for his brilliantly-conceived programs and bestselling recordings that range from Bach, Chopin, Rameau, and Ravel to music inspired by Paris cabaret of the 1920’s. This season he returns to Carnegie Hall after a successful debut in 2012-13 where he played Scarlatti and Liszt, the night after a mixed program of jazz and classical at New York’s famous nightclub Le Poisson Rouge.

In 2015-2016 Tharaud makes his Chicago Symphony recital debut and plays Ravel lefthand with the Atlanta and Philadelphia Orchestras. His 2011 disc of Bach concerti with Bernard Labadie and Les Violons du Roy, will be followed up with a 2015-2016 tour and recording of Mozart Concerti.

The Orchestre National de France with music director Daniele Gatti and piano soloist Alexandre Tharaud

Sponsored by Eleanor & Frank Pao and Henri & Belinda Termeer, media partner 99.5 WCRB. Support provided by the French Cultural Center and the Cultural Service of the French Consulate in Boston.

Tickets for the start at $55, and are available online at, by calling CelebrityCharge at (617) 482-6661 Monday-Friday 10am-4pm, or at the Symphony Hall Box Office.

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