Foreword and interview by Esther Basha (MGBH)
There is a conceptual paradox present in our society.
When it comes to raising children, for the convenience of the mothers who need or want to work, we have organized the system of daycares and then schools that focus on mass production – the mass production of uniformly thinking people that follow the rules, who robotically live on an auto-pilot without thinking too deep and too much. This is what our system designed to do. If a child is different, he acquires a label as the one with “special needs,” and our educational system makes every effort possible to push him or her back into the artificially created mold with all the methods available. If it works, it is called “success, and if it doesn’t, it’s called “failure.”
On the other hand, we look for and celebrate individuals – the people who are different, who are thinkers, who are deep. The kid, who was labeled as a “failure” in the middle school, grows up and invents something incredible or becomes a prominent musician. And then everything changes. We raise people like him to celebrity status. We practically worship them. We go to their concerts or lectures, read their books, inhale their thoughts, and are ready to follow them on the spur of a moment.
Why is that?
In this interview we feature a musician who did not follow a traditional path of “learning piano since he was 4.” He comes from a world different than that of most classical pianists, but still (or because of that) amazes the audience with his originality and individuality.
Ladies and Gentlemen, we present to you Lucas Debargue (MGBH).
PPM: What is your most prominent childhood memory?
LD: The first time I fell in love…
PPM: Which city and neighborhood did you grow up in? What was your childhood like?
LD: I had the chance to grow up in a house not far from the forest, one hour drive up north of Paris. I had a very happy childhood and had no special interest in music before I was 9. I loved drawing, reading. I didn’t have too many friends, but the ones I had were very close ones.
PPM: When was your first introduction to classical music?
LD: Mozart, 21st piano concerto. I was 9 years old.
PPM: How did you transition to jazz?
LD: It was not a transition, but a very natural inclination to the world of jazz and improvisation when I was around 20, mostly due to the discovery of the music of Thelonious Monk (OBM). Also, I met a guy in the conservatory who had a very strong harmonic sense. Thanks to him I felt the need to learn more about all of it.
PPM: Please, tell us more about your family.
LD: I have 3 little brothers. My parents are divorced. My mother is a surgeon-assistant, and my father is a kinesiologist. I have many wonderful memories of family meetings, when we were all 7 relatives playing together in my grandparents’ garden.
The ones who let the strongest impression on me were those who were first of all wonderful human beings. Their personalities went beyond the codes and “limits” of their profession and, so, they had the possibility to share their passion, which is the most important thing a teacher can do, I think.
PPM: Which teacher (s) in school influenced you the most and in what way?
LD: It was during the years between 2002 and 2005, the jazz band coach in Compiegne, who has now passed away.
During the same years, I had a gym teacher, who humiliated me terribly and made me realize what a poor team player I was.
My literature teacher, school year 2006-2007.
My harmony teacher in the CNSM of Paris, 2012-14.
And, actually, some others. The ones who let the strongest impression on me were those who were first of all wonderful human beings. Their personalities went beyond the codes and “limits” of their profession and, so, they had the possibility to share their passion, which is the most important thing a teacher can do, I think.
PPM: Which books of your adolescence helped build your character?
LD: Kafka’s Metamorphosis. Dostoievski’s Crime and Punishment. Balzac’s Illusions Perdues.
For me it has no sense to spend days repeating difficult passages. Everything has to be clear in the mind, and for this a keyboard is not necessary.
PPM: Do you have a daily piano practice routine? If so, what is it like?
LD: Not at all. My aim is to practice as less as possible. And when it’s unavoidable, to prepare my working sessions very precisely. For me it has no sense to spend days repeating difficult passages. Everything has to be clear in the mind, and for this a keyboard is not necessary. It’s even better to not lose energy and time moving the fingers on a musical substance that is not yet well-learned. Would an actor stage himself before knowing is role very well?
When I have a big repertoire to prepare like I do now – (Scriabin’s (OBM) Prometheus, Ravel’s (OBM) G Major Concerto, Chopin’s (OBM) and Szymanowski’s (OBM) Solo Recital, Prokofiev’s (OBM) 2nd Concerto – I need, of course, to work on it every day. I have been working on it for a while though. I couldn’t be in the situation of being not prepared a few days before a concert. The last few days are for checking if everything is running smoothly and, maybe, to find some new musical ideas.
I think it’s very important to learn some orchestra scores or string quartets and to read books to get more in touch with composers and the spirit of their time.
PPM: Is becoming a celebrated pianist a dream come true or is it an unexpected result of a challenge that you took upon yourself by entering a competition?
LD: I cannot say it was a dream… I never dreamt to become a soloist. However, I know that I have been a musician for a long time, and this a very “real” feeling. Maybe one should be careful what he or she dreams about. Precisely, because these are dreams, they have a high chance of never realizing: one can get obsessed by his ambitions and lose many opportunities around. Better to know what you need and go for it without wasting time.
Knowing that I was a musician and that music had to take the biggest part of my life was the only strength that helped me achieve my preparation in such a big city like Paris, where I was absolutely unknown and not very much supported by anyone. I had no piano at home and no way of earning a living. This was a very serious test of how important music was for me: to take the time to get lessons at 22 years old instead of being all over the place looking for a job, which was essential in my situation.
I feel fed up by invitations to take drugs and “lose control”, and also politically correct and narcissistic conversations. I don’t make friends easily, but I remain loyal to the few I have!
PPM: Which character traits are important for you to work on and which character traits do you appreciate in others?
LD: Concentration. Mental strength. Loyalty. Honesty. Deep sensitivity to art and nature. Not being scared about talking about difficult matters. Youth and freshness (nothing to do with age: I know a lot of teenagers or people of my age that are way more creepy, spooky or simply boring than my grandmother).
The time that many people of my age spend on Tinder, Instragram or listening to electro music (and all the variations on electro music with the drugs directly associated) is a time that fascinates me, because I cannot find it or resonate with it in my own life. I cannot even say I hate it: it’s just too far from me and what I love. And this was already the case years before I made the Tchaikovsky Finals, even before I got the idea to prepare myself to perform. I am passionate about the people my age and always eager to listen to their experiences, but I cannot bear being pushed to share these experiences with them. I wouldn’t have the idea to present Shostakovich (OBM) 4th symphony as the “ultimate musical experience” in front of a group of young people; even if it’s exactly what I personally think. I keep it for me and for the ones who could understand my point.
In others, I appreciate everything that can speak to me and, at the same time, take me somewhere I haven’t been and feel curious about. I feel fed up by invitations to take drugs and “lose control”, and also politically correct and narcissistic conversations. I don’t make friends easily, but I remain loyal to the few I have!
PPM: Do you have a favorite place to travel to?
LD: Some places in France and Italy. Russia. I also loved visiting Montana during the Tippet Rise festival in 2016.
PPM: What was your experience at the Verbier Festival like this year?
LD: Very exciting. Frustrating in a way, because it was too short to enjoy all the aspects of it! But I should come back next year …
PPM: What jazz clubs did you enjoy performing at the most?
LD: Paris: Chat Noir at Pigalle, Hotel Shangri-La at Alma Marceau; Chicago – Showcase; Rio de Janeiro – clubs in Lapa.
PPM: What is your favorite holiday?
LD: Hmm…. Christmas?
PPM: Are you a night or a morning person?
LD: Both, but very much depending on the context…
If a musician is not creative, what is he all about?
PPM: What does creativity in music mean to you?
LD: “Creativity in music” is just a pleonasm for me! If a musician is not creative, what is he all about? I would say the same about performers, composers, conductors, and improvisers … Moreover, I put creation on the higher level than creativity. Creativity is almost a trait of character, while creation needs a lot of work, patience, and will over it.
PPM: Which composers affected you the most as a person and a musician?
LD: When I was 15, Rachmaninov (OBM), Prokofiev (OBM), and Scriabin (OBM). They’re still close to my heart but not as much as before. Also, Beethoven (OBM) and Shostakovitch (OBM).
PPM: Do you cook? What are some of your favorite foods? What are some of your favorite restaurants to go to?
LD: I would like to cook more, but one needs time for it … And my kitchen in Paris is too little. Favorite restaurants are the simplest. The best and the simplest, like the wonderful food you find in Italy.
PPM: Would you, please, share a few funny or just interesting stories that happened during performing life over the years?
LD: Once, right before the performance, I realized that I was wearing sport shoes. Someone had to call my friend who was sitting in the hall to run to the car and bring me the proper ones.
PPM: With music being your passion, what are your hobbies?
LD: I don’t really have that many hobbies. Spend all day in a library, maybe? Very seldom – Tekken on PS3 with a very good mate. Hard time for the thumbs. Bike with my father, but this is also very rare. Hiking.
PPM: What is your favorite sport to help you keep in shape?
LD: Running and Swimming.
PPM: Would you share your life philosophy with our readers?
LD: “Swing until death.”
PPM: Do you compose your own music?
LD: Yes. Since 2014 I composed 2 cello and piano sonatas – one little and one big; 1 violin and piano sonata; 1 piano trio (created in Moscow Dom Musiki, Sankt Peterbourg Mariinsky, and on September 29th in Paris, Vuitton Foundation); 1 concertino for piano, drums and string orchestra (created in June 2017 with Kremerata Baltica); 3 melodies for voice and piano; and a set of Toccatinas and Fugues for piano “Variations chorales.” My first big piece for solo piano I am just working on now.
PPM: Are you planning a tour to the US any time soon?
LD: Not a tour per se, but I will be coming to the US with Martin Frost, Torleif Thedeen, and Janine Jansen to perform at Carnegie Hall on December 5th. It’s going to be a wonderful program – Messiaen Quartet for the End of Time (we just recorded it with Sony Classical, same team, should be released in November), Bartok’s (OBM) Contrasts, Szymanowski’s (OBM) Mythes…
And prior to this, I am very much looking forward to playing the program of my new album – Schubert and Szymanowski – in Chicago on November 19th!
PPM: Thank you, Lucas! We are looking forward to welcoming you in the US.