In her latest album, cellist Ophélie Gaillard takes us to the lagoon, sailing with the movements of Vivaldi’s concertos.
The Franco-Swiss cellist Ophélie Gaillard has been pursuing for several years with the demand that we know a very personal path through the repertoire, especially baroque. Today, his archer stopped, in his quest for the origins of his instrument, a Goffriller from 1733, in Venice, in the footsteps of Vivaldi. Confinement requires, we had Ophélie Gaillard on the phone to discuss the release of his disc Vivaldi. I colori dell’ombra (Vivaldi, the colors of the shadows), at Aparté, but not only.
Franceinfo Culture: How do you live this so particular period of confinement as a musician?
The big difference from normal life is that I am at home all the time, rather than on the go! But I am lucky to live near Geneva and the context of nature is a game-changer. It’s very strange: I feel at the same time soothing, and I try to find a concrete rhythm of life with two young children. I spend more time with them, which is quite exceptional. Musically, I try to take the opportunity to do in-depth work that I rarely have the time to do: so work on new works, deepen others, do research, for example yesterday I re-improvise the cadence of concertos that I play… It is both quite interesting and enriching as an opportunity, it poses a lot of questions that are so close to our daily lives…
What questions ?
The work on space, on the imagination, on time which settles down at a whole different pace … At the same time, I try to share what I can of positive. To sow a few seeds of music on the canvas over the course of the days, if only for the nursing staff, for all the people who are at the front right now, including people from my family. Compared to them, I feel very privileged. I try to bring them what I transmit when I give concerts, more directly. In addition it is very special because there is this disc release which is… suddenly, completely on the canvas and without any real physical grip! I think it’s another way for music to travel. We rediscover a little the epiphany of a few shelled notes on a facebook post or in a skype conversation exchange with loved ones. I feel like it helps humanly, psychologically.
Do you post music regularly?
I post a video, a message, something every day on facebook. Hoping that we do not fall into a narcissistic register, but that is not the goal. The goal is to be inventive in order to create social and emotional ties, which are the essentials of our profession.
When someone looks at a Bach prelude on the internet, for example, it “connects” it (even if I don’t like that term) to their interiority, so sharing this on the web can help them find themselves in a interiority that we sometimes lack in the whirlwind of normal life. For me, all of this poses essential questions about why we do this job, why we are in the middle of this living, so fragile, all collectively and individually, despite the feeling of “superpower” of humans and despite all the technology augmented that we know. And nevertheless, if we are going to get out of it it is also because collectively we take up this possibility of connection that we have with others through the canvas. There is a last dimension, for me essential, my daily teaching appointment at the Haute école de musique de Genève, which I pursue by skype and other platforms even if obviously this is not worth the experience of a shared lesson.
Let’s talk about your disc, Vivaldi. I colori dell’ombra (in French, “the colors of the shade”), at Aparté, dedicated to Vivaldi’s cello concertos. One has the feeling, especially by reading your accompanying text, that it is a declaration of love to your instrument…
Above all, Vivaldi has dedicated an incredible number of concertos to the cello, more than to any other instrument apart from the violin!
While he himself was not a cellist …
I even believe that he did not play the cello at all … But when he takes this instrument, he has a writing, a language which is very different from other concertos, for violin, for flute, or other instruments . And he has a way of grasping all the complexity of the human, of the human voice in all his registers, since he uses all the registers of the cello. It is a touching way to understand the instrument…. and the human soul in a way.
In what way?
There are slow movements that are extremely touching, very close to the opera tunes he loved. You can really feel the influence of the voices of the singers he loved, the divas with whom he worked. There is a deep spiritual dimension, very simple and immediate in the subject, in the slow movements of course, but also in the airs with concerto cello. And then there is obviously the virtuoso dimension of passion, energy, rhythmic surge which is so pleasant to share with a group of musicians like Pulcinella (the formation created by Ophélie Gaillard, Editor’s note).
Another thing that jumps out at the ears is the seriousness imposed by the cello, even where you don’t expect it. For example in the movement “allegro non molto” of the very beautiful Concerto for piccolo cello in B minor RV 424…
Yes this gravity is concretely given by very simple means, many of his concertos are in minor tones, quite dark. And that’s why we have the impression that he has grasped the entire depth of the instrument. It obviously uses a lot of bass, the cello is sometimes almost integrated into the bass, and at the same time it escapes in the very high registers. So we have the full extent. But gravity is not only in the sonic sense. As you said, there is a depth of purpose. And I have the impression that through these cello concertos, we discover another face of this character of the “red priest” (nickname given to Vivaldi) who is so complex and who has often been reduced to the figure of impresario for hysterical singers, that of a violin virtuoso who is a bit superficial at times. And in fact no, there is a real complexity of the character and an obvious emotional force which comes from the presence of the sacred in his life. I find it obvious even in slow movements, which are not sacred music.
The city of Venice is omnipresent in the pieces of this disc, you refer to it in your text. It is inseparable from the historical writing period, the first half of the 18th century…
It is a kind of perfect correspondence between three elements: the Venetian violin making which lives its hours of glory, first. And I play on a Venetian instrument of that time, a Goffriller: no doubt it was even played by residents of the Pietà (the hospice where Vivaldi taught, editor’s note), it’s possible. So gravity in the varnish, quality of the wood, depth of the bass (you get the impression that there is almost a double bass register at the same time as the cello…). Then a place, Venice. And finally a composer, Vivaldi.
All this creates an atmosphere…
We have at the same time the rhythm, the colors, the tones, the intensity, the very abrupt changes of character: a very Venetian versatility that we also find in the commedia dell’arte, still in vogue at the beginning of the 18th century . And there is this taste for cross-dressing, the effervescence of the party, carnival … but also a totally secret city. And I find that we taste these flavors when we play for example, the Concerto in B minor, or even the Concerto 405.
We know you are sensitive to other arts, starting with dance. For this record, literature and painting seem to have particularly influenced you …
Yes completely. Venice is a kind of chameleon: the Venice of Vivaldi and Veronese is not at all the Venice of Thomas Mann or Wagner. I like this plurality. My approach to Vivaldi is very influenced by painting: when you are in an allegro of a concerto, you have the impression of dancing, twirling, being in total freedom from gravity, an experience very close to what you feel when looking at a ceiling and wall frescoes by Veronese. It is a total immersion.
To finish, let us evoke two singular pieces from this disc: the concerto Per teresa (RV 788) “reconstituted”, and a vocal piece, interpreted by Lucile Richardot, Sovvente il sole.
Air with Lucile, Sovvente il sole, is very representative: it says in the text what we wanted to express by the cello. That is, the sun is never as beautiful as when it was hidden by the clouds and it shines after the storm. In these times, it is a beautiful metaphor of the ordeal to be crossed which will allow us to rediscover the beauty of the world. The 788 also touches me because it’s a treasure hunt. We don’t know much about this Teresa who was one of Vivaldi’s very brilliant cellist students, but we do know that he dedicated her to her. Olivier Fourés, the musicologist with whom I worked, found only this viola line that she had kept in her notebooks, from the slow movement of concerto 788. And from this line we did a work of reconstruction of what this concerto could have been. We even inserted it into a cadenza that belongs to another violin concerto, also unpublished, that we inserted at the end of this movement. It’s fascinating: just with this line, you can recreate a world. I find that the experience is a bit bold, daring, but fantastically rewarding!