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Classical music victories: Alexandre Kantorow on cloud nine

And two! This Thursday, February 29, live from the Opéra-Corum in Montpellier, French pianist Alexandre Kantorow was once again crowned by professionals in the French classical world.

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Classical music victories: Alexandre Kantorow on cloud nine

And two! This Thursday, February 29, live from the Opéra-Corum in Montpellier, French pianist Alexandre Kantorow was once again crowned by professionals in the French classical world. Seeing himself awarded at the end of 90 minutes of ceremony the title of “instrumental soloist of the year”, which he had already won in 2020. This time it is in duplex, from the Grand Théâtre de Provence where he produced this evening of February 29 in the company of the Hong Kong Philharmonic Orchestra (conducted by a certain Jaap van Zweden, whose appointment as future director of the Radio France Philharmonic Orchestra we learned forty-eight hours ago!) , that the performer received his prize, barely off stage and still in a t-shirt. Evoking, not without humor, a “slightly lunar” situation. He was not the only one to receive his prize in duplex this year, since the tenor Benjamin Bernheim, crowned in the other of the queen categories (lyric artist of the year) is currently rehearsing Roméo et Juliette by Gounod at the Metropolitan Opera in New York, and could therefore only react to its Victory through interposed screens...

The young pianist with an exceptional touch and whose musical intelligence seems to transform into gold everything he touches (from Saint-Saëns to Bartok), thus joins the late Nicholas Angelich, who also won the title twice in a few years apart only: in 2013 and 2019. A strong tribute was also paid to the artist who died in April 2022, since he received, posthumously, the first of the Victories awarded during this 31st evening: that for best recording, for the Hommage box set, released during the year by Warner Classics. No less than seven CDs composed of numerous unpublished recordings, ranging from solo piano to concerto and chamber music. Produced between 1999 and 2016 in concert halls or for radio, they cover a wide range of works, but also collaborators: Martha Argerich, the Quatuor Ébène, Myung-Whun Chung and the Orchester philharmonique de Radio France, or again Tugan Sokhiev and the Orchester national du Capitole de Toulouse. Recalling to what extent the interpreter of American origin had been adopted in our country as much as he had adopted it.

To commemorate his memory, it was the violist and friend Gérard Caussé who was called to receive the prize on his behalf. Often on the verge of tears, under the tender gaze of the two masters of ceremonies: Stéphane Bern and Clément Rochefort. Addressing the deceased directly in terms full of emotion, and with his incomparable poetic sense, Gérard Caussé saluted “a great one among the greats.” “The most American of Parisians,” who loved to “dialogue with his brothers at heart: Bach, Beethoven, Mussorgsky, Rachmaninov. Breathed and whispered with them. Made us cry and glorified us with them.” Thanking a “magician with wind soles, a true Rimbaud of music.”

Also read Nicholas Angelich, pianiste-monde pour l'éternité

Nicholas Angelich was not the only great missing person from the classical world summoned. A heartfelt tribute was also paid to chef Seiji Ozawa, whose career and generous personality were recounted in images through a brief tape recorder. Among the other figures mentioned, the composer Kaija Saariaho, the pianist Menahem Pressler, the singer Renata Scotto, the countertenor James Bowman, the violinist Florence Malgoire, and Grace Bumbry (first black singer invited to perform at the Bayreuth festival) illuminated the wall of photographs accompanied by the elegiac “In Paradisum” from Fauré's Requiem, performed during one of the final sequences of the evening by the choir (with somewhat trembling voices) of the Montpellier Opera, and the Orchester national de Montpellier Occitanie - placed for most of the evening under the direction of the young Italian conductor Michele Spotti, the new musical director of the Marseille Opera.

Also read: “I spend my time telling them that I want to find the right sound”: Michele Spotti, obsessive lyricist

Like last year, this 31st ceremony was nonetheless placed under the sign of a certain modernity with, at the opening, once again, an imaginative and contemporary choreography by Mehdi Kerkouche, directing his own company and children of Montpellier schools, on the opening of La Pie Voleuse by Rossini - born precisely on February 29. Another room, another atmosphere than last year (where he choreographed, live from Dijon, the dance of the Sauvages des Indes galantes by Rameau). But always this beautiful intelligence of space, which allows him to invest the different spaces off stage with panache. Intelligence of space and dialogue also in the clarinetist Pierre Génisson and the mezzo soprano Adèle Charvet, who delivered, accompanied by the Montpellier orchestra but this time Philippe Jaroussky at the baton, an extract from La Clémence de Titus which lacked neither knowing glances or prickliness.

Also read: Mozart, the clarinet and the Freemasons

Who says modernity says living composers. To award, from the thirtieth minute, the Victory for best composition, the production did not hesitate to call on the man who is currently embodying the character of Maurice Ravel on screen: the actor Raphaël Personnaz, head poster for the film Boléro, by Anne Fontaine. After revealing to what extent this experience had transformed him, and confirming his deep admiration for "composers, their patience and that of those close to them", the actor (who for the purposes of the film trained on the piano and the management) opened the envelope, and revealed the name of the winner. Or rather the winner: Florentine Mulsant. Jules Verne's great-grandniece was crowned for her four-hand piano sonata Le Chant du soleil, created by Lydia Jardon and Alexandra Matvieskaya. A much-deserved reward, and which comes with the late but increasingly sensitive attention that female composers benefit from in the world of classical music today.

Also read “Smile and shut up”: the long road of female conductors towards recognition

A recognition that increasingly benefits female conductors. It was also one of them who was awarded the Victory on February 29 in the category of conductor revelations: Marie Jacquot. It was time for the 34-year-old Frenchwoman, who for fifteen years has led a career of stunning success across the Rhine (after being named first guest conductor of the Wiener Philharmoniker, then principal conductor of the Royal Danish Orchestra and the Copenhagen Opera , she will soon take the helm of the Cologne Radio Orchestra), will finally have the recognition she deserves in her country. This former high-level tennis player also apologized, not without humor, when receiving her prize for having already picked up a bit of a German accent. And took the opportunity to thank all the musicians and music teachers who pass on their passion and inspire vocations around the world.

Failing to have been recognized last year (where Lucile Boulanger was nominated in the instrumental soloist category but did not win the prize), it is finally the viola da gamba which this year had the honors of revelations instrumental, through another charismatic personality from the generation of “children” of Tous les Matins du monde: the young Salomé Gasselin. It was with the presentation of his Victory that the ceremony ended.

A ceremony marked by an appreciable and welcome sobriety of tone, which gave the evening a hold the likes of which it had not seen for years: no grotesque intervention from a comedian not mastering his subject, nor any blunder from speakers. Just a slight microphone problem during the duet of Rosine and Figaro “Dunque io son”, performed by Florian Sempey and Karine Deshayes after the latter presented the Victory for the revelation lyrical artist to the very young Juliette Mey (arrival in third position in the last Voix Nouvelles competition, she also delivered at the start of the broadcast an elegant interpretation of the cavatina of La Cenerentola)... And the inevitable speech from a union representative from the orchestra, addressed to a Rachida Dati to absent subscribers. Inviting the Ministry and the public authorities not to sacrifice classical music and orchestras at a time when the latter must face new cuts in subsidies.

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