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Camille Thomas

The cellist on the roof: finding hope in high-up places


NOV 16, 2022 | ISSUE 7

Camille Thomas by Christian Meuwly
Camille Thomas by Sonia Sieff
Camille Thomas by Christian Meuwly

Eighteen months after starting her world-famous rooftop performances in Paris, cellist Camille Thomas takes a moment to reflect before her  upcoming  international tour. Having endured the isolation and anxiety of two national lockdowns, Thomas is unmistakably cheery. Her city, it seems, is returning to some level of pre-pandemic normalcy, as both artists and audiences take their seats on either side of the stage.

Since her rooftop videos went viral, Thomas has been busy: performing in a number of Paris’s cultural landmarks—the Palace of Versailles, the Louvre, and the Museum of Natural History, amongst others—as well as planning her upcoming tour. A true believer in art’s power to bring people together, she is known for her optimism, vitality, and joyful exuberance. With a fourth studio album under her belt—the first classical project recorded in partnership with UNICEF—she’s shown that her altruistic attitude isn’t just lip service. As life in Paris picks up where it left off, Camille reminds us that music is more than just melody and rhythm. It’s hope and beauty—something good for the soul.

sM | What inspired your original rooftop performance and when did you know that it was connecting with viewers?

CT — I was born in an apartment in Paris so I have been on the roof all my life. It’s a part of my DNA. Now, I have my own place with access to the roof. Last March, I was spending so much time on it because of the lockdown. In Paris, the lockdown was very strict, it was also very difficult. The atmosphere was so tense and full of anxiety, and I was feeling quite depressed as a musician because I was playing alone at home. I felt that playing without sharing it to someone didn’t make any sense.

At the time, I saw two things: first, this spot on the roof. I felt good there and I wanted to share this feeling and I was hoping I could also bring happiness; something good for the soul. And then, of course, my way to share empathy is through music. So I took my cello and at first I played for my neighbours. During the lockdown, every night at 8:00 PM, people would come to the windows and applaud the nurses and doctors who were on the front lines. That first time, I wanted to play for them—my way of saying thank you.

Afterwards, I posted a video on the internet and I immediately received messages from all around the world. I was so touched to see that the music, that this view of Paris which was close enough to the sky to be a little bit above the troubles of the world, could bring people so much joy. People were writing to me, to tell me that it was giving them hope. So that’s why I continued. I felt that, at that moment, it was the only way I could share the music and share my heart.

sM | What were you hoping to achieve, artistically, with your latest album, Voice of Hope?

CT — I think it takes time to trust yourself, to really tell your story. And with this album, I did it completely—I wouldn’t say alone—but everything came from myself. It’s maybe my most personal album.

The first thing I wanted to record was a concerto by Fazil Say, called “Never Give Up,” that he wrote for me—I  premiered the piece in Paris in 2017. The concerto is a response to the terrorist attacks in Paris and in Turkey, and it carries the message that we should never give up on hope, we should never give up on mankind, and never give up on beauty.  Every  time  I  play  this  piece, people  are  in  tears.

Camille Thomas by Sonia Sieff

They are moved, deeply moved, because it’s a piece that is really speaking directly to the heart of the audience. It’s an orchestral work that really speaks about our lives and about what we experienced. That’s why I wanted to record this and share its powerful message of hope. As a musician, as an artist, I deeply believe that music is the highest form of hope.

I also believe that music  is the highest form of love because it  can express things that are  beyond words. It’s  a universal language that everybody can understand—from different cultures, to different backgrounds, to different languages—because it speaks directly to the heart. The medium is extremely powerful. I thought about all the pieces I wanted to use to surround Fazil Say’s Concerto, and approached it as I would write a novel. Elaborating an album program is the only time where an interpreter can also be a composer. When you compose an album, you can pick the pieces and try to make your own story out of all of it. I wanted to make a journey through the music, from darkness to hope, it became a spiritual journey. And, of course, it’s spiritual. So I chose a lot of things that just make you want to look to the light, that make you feel larger, like a better human being.

sM | What inspired your dedication of this album to UNICEF?

CT — From the beginning, I always wanted to connect my music with real-life initiatives. That’s what I love about performing in the U.S. Concerts are  often connected  with the community or some kind of charitable organization. Every time I was there, I played in schools, hospitals and in different places where people are really in need of music. It’s something I wish we did more of in Europe. I was always very committed to bringing this hope in music to as many people as possible. For me, hope is education. Hope is a part of childhood. So I got in contact with UNICEF and explained the project. Since t