Lucas Debargue

A Virtuoso Challenges the Status Quo

by Arlan Vriens | January 28, 2022

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Lucas Debargue by Kalya Ramu

There is a big difference...between the music I have in my soul and the trends in contemporary art music.”

Lucas Debargue has all the glittering hallmarks of a star on the rise. After high-profile success at the 2015 International Tchaikovsky Piano Competition, the French pianist has produced no less than four solo albums on Sony Classical, in tandem with a globetrotting tour schedule. After this kind of success, Debargue could be forgiven if he had chosen to settle into a rhythm of crowd-pleasing recital favourites like Chopin, Liszt, or Bach. But, instead, he remains fiercely committed to his core values, advocating for works and experiences that surprise and entice his audiences. 

Joining smART Magazine, Debargue outlines a vision for a musical world in which creativity and conviction trump boilerplate virtuosity. He discusses his newest album, Zal - The Music of Miłosz Magin (Sony Classical), and what Magin’s music has meant to him and his friends. He is deliberate in his aspirations to introduce audiences to lesser-known musical territories and describes the complex relationships he sees between contemporary composers, audiences, and performers. Debargue also discusses his own burgeoning work as a composer and his interests in writing tonal music in dialogue with past composers.

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What do you look for when choosing unfamiliar works, and how does the revival of lesser-known composers revitalize the genre?

LD - I never choose repertoire for the sake of novelty alone. There are plenty—thousands!—of unknown composers. Some of them are really worth playing, but they have to connect with my heart. Those ones become my beloved composers for whom I am ready to fight, like Szymanowski and Medtner.

Once I have connected with a lesser-known piece, I truly love to work on them and share them with audiences because they bring an element of freedom. I don’t tend to feel this freedom in the main repertoire like Chopin or Liszt. I love to play their music every day, but recording or performing it is different. There are already so many strong interpretations out there. When I’m on stage playing Chopin, there is a physical feeling that the audience knows the music and already has an idea of how it should sound. That isn’t always a pleasant feeling.

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Lucas Debargue by Olga Nabatova

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Instead, I want the audience to feel confident enough in my playing to take my hand and follow me into lesser-known territories. Of course, when pieces aren’t played by thousands of interpreters, the one or two interpretations out there need to be very strong in order to be convincing. Achieving that is almost like a separate job compared to playing the mainstream repertoire. But I like to multiply the options I have available, rather than just playing the traditional repertoire in the way it has been for decades already.  By giving space to these atypical works in my recital programs and recordings, I can explore freer territory and musically create something new.
 

I also enjoy putting my own little stamp on things by connecting some lesser-known works to a more famous repertoire. For example, I like to pair Scriabin and Fauré on concert programs. Scriabin is very famous in the piano repertoire, but Fauré is much less so, yet they were producing music at almost the same time and had many common musical traits. When I put them together on a program, the audience can feel involved in the process of identifying differences and commonalities between the two. They are no longer just passively listening or comparing my performance with their memory of someone else’s interpretation. They are really joining a process of discovery.

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