Victor Julien-Laferrière is an artist much in demand. In September the young French cellist toured Normandy with the Orchestre de l’Opéra de Rouen, giving a series of concerts that included Haydn’s Concerto in D. He has also played with the Orchestre national du Capitole de Toulouse, performing Variations on a Rococo Theme by Tchaikovsky. Winner of the first prize in the Queen Elisabeth Competition in Brussels in 2017 – the first edition devoted to the cello – Julien-Laferrière has also appeared in some of Europe’s most prestigious concert halls. In early October he will be the guest of the Concertgebouw in Amsterdam, playing the solo part of the Henri Dutilleux’s concerto Tout un monde lointain under the baton of the great Russian conductor Valery Gergiev. At the end of the month he crosses the Atlantic for his Canadian debut, a recital on Oct. 27 for the Ladies’ Morning Musical Club in Montreal.
Music and sport
The 29-year-old cellist is pursuing a brisk career, but he’s not getting carried away. “It’s vital for me to plan breaks at home,” he says. “I need to switch off and get my energy back, if only for a few days.” He loves sport, especially tennis, and knows he must stay fit mentally and physically to stand up to the rigours of his job. Of course the work of a musician in some ways is less intense than that of a top-level athlete, but his mind and reflexes must be equally sharp.
His musical loves
Julien-Laferrière nurtures his love of classical music partly by virtue of his partnerships with other musicians – for example, the pianist Jonas Vitaud, who will accompany him in Montreal and other concerts to come. The cellist is particularly fond of sonatas, trios and quartets, as his many recordings testify. One of the reasons he chose the cello is that there is so much chamber music written for the instrument, giving him the opportunity to play with other musicians.
Julien-Laferrière often listens to musicians who are likely to provide inspiration: “It’s part of my job. I don’t especially want to hear cello music over again on top of the music I’m already playing. I’m more likely to listen to orchestral music, piano music or [opera]singers.” This is evidence that Julien-Laferrière agrees with the idea that all musicians should try to imitate song as a principle inherent in the perpetual movement of the music.
Models and style
So who are his models, the people who make their instruments sing? Rather than mentioning musicians of the past, Julien-Laferrière names people he knows now or used to know, such as the young German cellist Marie-Elisabeth Hecker or the Austrian Clemens Hagen, who taught him at the Mozarteum in Salzburg. As far as the big names go, Julien-Laferrière feels close to Pablo Casals. As he says, “I don’t want to inject emotion where there isn’t supposed to be any in the music.”
Does this emotionally reserved style make him a fit representative of the French school? The question amuses him. “Yes, I am French, I grew up in Paris and studied at the Conservatoire. But I did most of my training in Vienna under Heinrich Schiff and at the International Music Academy Switzerland. Some would actually say I’m of the German school, but in fact over my career I’ve absorbed a variety of influences.”
Concerts and recordings
Julien-Laferrière divides his time between concert tours, breaks and recording sessions. Two of his albums – one of Brahms, released in 2014, another of Brahms, Franck and Debussy, released in 2017 – won him a Diapason d’or (a prestigious French award). For one so young, this double victory was impressive. Early this year he recorded an album of Schubert with the trio Les Esprits, released by Sony Music. This fall, Alpha Classics launches a sixth album devoted to Russian sonatas, with pianist Jonas Vitaud. At the LMMC, Julien-Laferrière doesn’t intend to perform a simple promotional recital. True, he’ll play Rachmaninoff’s Sonata, but the rest of the program reflects the eclecticism he has favoured since training outside France. Apart from the Rachmaninoff, there will be pieces by Beethoven, Poulenc and Janáček, all of different nationalities and styles.
Julien-Laferrière’s last album has only just been issued. Already he is preparing another album of concertos for next spring. The cellist also wants to continue supporting causes close to his heart. For example, he and violinist Renaud Capuçon recently gave a concert to raise funds for Notre-Dame de Paris. More ambitious plans for this lover of orchestral music include training as a conductor so that one day he can lead his own ensemble.
Translation by Cecilia Grayson
Victor Julien-Laferrière plays for the LMMC in Pollack Hall on Oct. 27 at 3:30 p.m. www.lmmc.ca