French pianist, Jean-Paul Gasparian studied at the Paris Conservatoire before finishing his performance diploma at the Royal College of Music in London. When he was 18, he participated in the Verbier Academy, and ever since he has performed with orchestras across Europe including France, Serbia, Montenegro, and Germany. In August 2017, he made his solo recital debut and released a debut album featuring Rachmaninoff Etudes, Scriabin, and Prokofiev. Here, Gasparian discusses his relationship with the ‘Russian School’ and the ‘French tradition’ of classical music, and the key influences behind his new album.
When did you realise becoming a classical music performer was your calling?
Actually, I never had to make a real choice concerning my future as a classical music performer, I never really hesitated about playing the piano. I started very early – around 5 or 6 years old. My parents are both pianists themselves. So my development as a pianist was quite natural. I have a great chance to have the opportunity to live from your passion.
You are about to complete your studies at the Royal College of Music. How did your studies inspire you to release a debut album?
I’ve just completed my Artist Diploma at the RCM, with Professor Vanessa Latarche. It was a fantastic experience. The Royal College of Music is an institution that cares a lot about the professional development of its students and helps them to enter in the musical world. I also had very interesting lessons with my teacher who deepened my own interpretations in different styles, from Mozart sonatas to French music, through Beethoven Concertos and romantic repertoire.
The choice of the composers for my debut album does definitely reveal something about my musical formation and background, I think. One hand, my studies at the Paris National Conservatoire with great musicians from the ‘French tradition’ like Jacques Rouvier or Michel Beroff. On the other hand, I also received the tradition of the ‘Russian School’ of piano playing, through my parents first (my mother for example studied in Moscow at the Gnessin Institute, my father came from Armenia). The international masterclasses I had a chance to participate in with extraordinary musicians like Elisso Virsaladze or Tatiana Zelikman were also incredibly valuable. Both musicians worked with me on the Rachmaninov, Scriabin, and Prokofiev for the album, helping me find new horizons in this repertoire.
You performed works by Brahms, Debussy and Chopin at the Amaryllis Concert Hall in June. Are they your favourite composers, or are you inspired by other composers?
It is true that Chopin is one of the composers that I play the most, and with whom I have a sort of permanent relationship. I almost always have Chopin works in my concert programs. And I am planning to dedicate my second CD to Chopin, with the 4 Ballades, among other pieces. I believe that Chopin’s pianism is a pillar of my technique, which I am familiar with since my early years, and on the basis of which I then explored the other romantic composers such as Schumann, Liszt and the Russian music.
Playing Chopin requires many things from a pianist that are fundamental to my relationship with the keyboard: flexibility of the hand and the arm; the ability to make the piano sound like a human voice; the sense of legato and melodic lines; the clarity and brilliance of playing; the transparency of the harmonies; and of course, the spontaneity of the rubato.
Debussy is also a composer that I love and have played a lot, even more than Ravel probably. My own sensibility and the fact that I worked with so many fantastic French musicians helps explain what feels like a very close connection I have with French music.
Brahms is a special case. I actually adore his music but didn’t play a lot of his piano works… for the moment! I have a strong passion for his four symphonies, for the concertos, the chamber music repertoire and, of course, the piano solo pieces. And I will put new works by Brahms in my upcoming programmes.
You have performed with orchestras across Europe in France, Serbia, Montenegro, and Germany. Do you have fond memories of performing in any interesting or strange venues?
Yes, I have a lot of wonderful memories! Performing for the first time with the orchestra in Belgrade’s Kolarac Hall in 2015, playing Rachmaninov’s 2nd Concerto was a great moment – it’s where my mother was born and so lots of friends and relatives were in the audience. A special atmosphere.
At the beginning of this year, I replaced for pianist Christian Zacharias in Chemnitz, Germany in a performance of Mozart’s C minor Concerto, under Leopold Hager and the Robert-Schumann Philharmonie. It was very last minute replacement – I only had one night to prepare a work I had played some years ago. A real challenge, but at the same time a very exciting experience.
Your debut album features music composed by Rachmaninoff, Scriabin, and Prokofiev. What is the main driver behind your debut album?
First is my link to Russian music in general. It is also true that in my early years, through my parent’s CD collection, I discovered a lot of repertoire with the great Russian musicians from the past, pianists like Richter, Gilels, Sofronitsky, conductors like Mravinsky of Rozhdestvensky. So the symphonic repertoire of Tchaikovsky or Shostakovich, the piano works of Rachmaninov, Scriabin or Prokofiev are part of my musical universe from the beginning. And when I decided to dedicate my first CD to Russian music, I also wanted to reflect at least one dimension of my own personality and musical path.
There was also the idea of presenting three composers that faced a single aesthetical and historical moment: World War One. There was a dialectical tension between the end of the old world and the violent beginning of a new one. I wanted to present that in relation to Rachmaninov’s melancholic lyricism, the elegiac atmosphere with Prokofiev’s percussive modernism, and Scriabin’s early style.
Have you ever experienced any challenges on your journey to becoming a recognised musician?
I experience the challenge every day. There are always moments of success and more difficult moments during a career. But the most important thing that will bring a musician to recognition by the audience, by his colleagues and the professional world, is the inner passion and discipline need to invest in the necessary every day work. That’s vital to go further and deeper in quality, singularity and sensibility. I must never be self-satisfied with what I do. On the contrary, have strong convictions about musical interpretation and find the solutions to achieve it. Doing that everyday is the most difficult challenge but also the most important. And, it never ends.
If you could give any advice to an aspiring classical pianist, what would it be?
I could give a lot of advice! First, it is important to develop your own knowledge, taste, and desire for music by listening to a lot to the great repertoire (not only the piano of course but the symphonies, chamber music, operas), also by going to the concerts and seeing the great pianists of our time.
Next, you need to have a strong motivation and be really well organised in order to practice the everyday work. You need to look for the best possible mastery and quality of playing.
Finally, the most important this is to develop your own style, interpretation, and vision of the works that you are playing. You need to create your own musical ideas, by finding your own singular way, and the means to express what is your most profound conviction about the composer’s work.