Richard Galliano, in May 2018 you gave three concerts in Tokyo which have now provided material for a live album. What was so special about these performances?
I go back a long way with Japan, and with Tokyo in particular, and it’s a story of love and friendship. My first tour of Japan was in 1975, with Franck Pourcel’s Grand Orchestre, and I’ve gone back at least 40 times since. There are all kinds of memories for me, but I particularly remember my sessions at the Blue Note, the concerts I gave with my friend Naoko Terai, the jazz violinist, at the Tokyo Jazz Festival, and the contact I had with Pierre Barouh.
This live recording has its beginnings in the recordings of three concerts that I gave as part of the Folle Journée, the famous classical music festival that began in Nantes and which is now also staged in Japan. Three concerts! I chose the second for this release, because something unique happened that evening and it really deserved to be made available as an album.
The story behind it is that Rémi Bourcereau, my sound engineer, took the initiative of recording these concerts without telling me. And he was quite right to do so. The Japanese audience was particularly focused that day. This isn’t to say that you don’t find concentration of that kind in other countries, but maybe the Japanese have a way of listening together that is really special to them. This is probably tied in with their culture, which sets great store by respect for other people, something you experience in every aspect of daily life there. The special way they listen creates
a very intense atmosphere at concert. At the second concert in Tokyo I remember such a sense of sharing in something, of communion. I really felt I was giving my all. In fact, when it was time to go back to my hotel I had trouble walking. I felt completely drained, physically and emotionally.
Could you tell us something about each of the numbers you performed that evening?
This is a long, improvised variation, a kind of exploration of my musical world.
Clair de lune (Debussy)
I’d been considering this famous piece by Debussy for years, trying to find a way to interpret it on the accordion. In the end I thought about the friendship between Debussy and Satie and the time they spent together in Montmartre when Satie was playing at the Chat Noir cabaret. So I tried to give this lovely piece a little Montmartre-style poetry, a touch of the barrel organ or the street accordion.
Valse à Margaux
These are my improvisations on one of my New Musette standards, exploring the resonances between bal-musette music, jazz and classical music.
This is my setting of an unpublished poem by Jacques Prévert, Soleil de Paris. I was given the text by the actress Magali Noël who wanted to use it as a song on her album Soleil Noir. I called this instrumental version simply Soleil. It’s played here on the accordion.
Les Moulins de mon Coeur, La Valse des Lilas, You must believe in spring
With this medley I pay tribute to Michel Legrand, one of the world’s most inspired composers and arrangers, and a great composer for the cinema.
Two pieces in recognition of Brazilian music and the superb accordionists that Brazil has produced. The accordion is very popular there, particularly in the North East of the country, where generations of accordionists have nurtured the tradition of the forró. Sertão is one of my own compositions; Odeon is by the Brazilian composer Ernesto Nazareth.
Here I made an improvisation using musical languages that are close to my heart: the valse musette, the swing waltz and, of course, some touches of jazz. All in all, it’s a musical style that evokes the faubourgs of Paris, the Balajo dance hall in the rue de Lappe, the writings of Prévert, and Django Reinhardt … On stage in Tokyo I saw images of Paris, the streets of Paris, the Paris of the accordion …
Introducción & Andaluza
This introduction precedes a famous piece by Granados, Andaluza, originally written for the piano, but since appropriated by guitarists. My arrangement for accordion aims to convey its deeply poetic Spanish character.
I recorded this track previously for my Deutsche Grammophon album Bach. I have also recorded it with Charlie Haden on double bass and, very recently, as a duet with Thierry Escaich playing the organ. Reflecting both the harmonic quality of the organ and the expressivity of the accordion, it evokes grand pieces composed for church organ.
Tango pour Claude
It always moves me to play this piece, which reminds me of my great friend Claude Nougaro, who asked me to compose it for him. On his 1993 album Chansongs it became the track called Vie Violence. Claude wanted to sing a rock tango!
Waltz in C sharp minor
Could the essence of the valse musette lie in Chopin? They share a language and the minor mode. I realised that this waltz took me directly to the sources of the music of the bal-musette, and with such typically French elegance. That being said, I absolutely respect the score.
The diversity of this programme implies a kind of breaking down of barriers between musical genres. What’s your view on this?
I don’t like labels. I don’t make any distinction between what people like to call ‘serious’ music and popular music. In all my work as an artist I defy this division, which I think is spurious. If a melody is beautiful, if it touches people’s hearts, they make it theirs and they don’t worry about giving it a label. It’s not a matter of genre or category. That’s why I like to move between one style and another, to build bridges between all the different forms of music.
How do you go about building those bridges between different types of music?
When I interpret a classical piece, I have the utmost respect for the way it is noted down, but I never play it the same way twice. Before I can make a piece my own, I need to analyse it at length. And it’s because I’ve made this analysis that I can then allow myself a certain freedom in my interpretation, while still remaining true to the essence of the piece.
Actually, I’m convinced that Chopin allowed himself the same kind of freedom and never played the same work in exactly the same way, even going so far as to make countless small adjustments. I’m also certain that the music of certain ‘classical’ composers – such as Satie – can be played with much more freedom than is usually the case.
Won’t some purists see this as a betrayal of the music?
It is completely possible to allow oneself some freedom without losing sight of the essentials because what we are talking about here is music, not ‘musics’. In other words, I can add an African rhythm to a classical piece or give a Brazilian flavour to a valse musette. What’s most important is not to forget that a melody is also an invitation to dance. For example, in this programme I play a waltz by Chopin, but I do so in a way that brings its rhythms closer to a waltz by Strauss.
Let’s finish this interview with a discussion of your love for your instrument, the accordion, and, in particular, the actual instrument you play, which is so much part of your life.
It was my father who made me want to be a musician. He was a marvellous accordionist and also a very generous and much-loved teacher.
As a teenager I became interested in all kinds of music and in the early years of my career I tried all the different brands of accordion. I even connected my instruments to Hammond organs and synthesizers.
And then I came back to the first accordion I played, a Victoria. For the past 30 years this Stradivarius among accordions has been my faithful companion. It’s constructed in a straightforward, rational way which allows me to play anything, and to play standing up – I prefer that because it’s a more dynamic position and helps to produce a different flow of air. What’s more, it’s the instrument my grandmother and my parents gave me for my thirteenth birthday. It resonates with the vibrations of the past, of all the people I’ve loved, somehow capturing their breath.