Gautier Capuçon

by Gus Donohoo

I Wrote This Concerto in Emoticons
The ancient Pythagoreans were so enraptured by the harmonic ratios of a perfectly tuned instrument that they were forced to conclude “all things are numbers.”

Despite this, the engine of virtuosity does not lie in metronomic precision—in what James Brown described as, “dull, slavish obedience to the ticking of a soulless machine.” Virtuosity is about performance, and performance is something profoundly human.

As cello virtuoso Gautier Capuçon describes it, “If you talk about music, you can describe it with images, or with situations, or atmospheres, or colors...but once I’m on stage and once I play, it’s only about feelings and sensations. It’s hard to describe, but I never think about; ‘Okay, this is the atmosphere…I should be playing like this or like that.’ This is something you describe when you work maybe, or when you want to [explain] the piece to someone, but when I’m on stage with my cello, it’s only about what I feel—what I want people to feel, and what I want to share.”

Gautier was born in Chambéry France, and embraced his first cello at the age of four. He graduated with first prizes from both the École Nationale de Musique de Chambéry, and the highly prestigious Conservatoire National Supérieur de Musique de Paris.

Away from the stage, Gautier relishes the introspection of constant practice, “I can spend hours [on my own] working on two bars of a piece, because it’s very inspiring and you never finish the search for different colors, different dynamics, different inspirations.” And then before concerts, “I always sleep for one or two hours in the afternoon, and I think this moment is very important to concentrate. It’s a moment for yourself, where nobody is allowed in… Nobody is around and asking you anything. You are concentrating and focusing on yourself and on the music.”

Performance is the virtuoso’s elixir—his high—Capuçon says, “I need the music to express myself, I need the stage. This is like a drug. So, I really need it…. Music keeps you alive—keeps you young in a way. I heard music from the time I was in the belly of my mother… So, music was always part of me and part of my life…flowing into my veins.”

As an international soloist he has performed with the leading orchestras in the world including the Berlin Philharmonic, the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra, the Chamber Orchestra of Europe, the Staatskapelle Dresden, the Mariinsky Theatre Orchestra, the Tonhalle-Orchestra Zürich, the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and the New York Philharmonic. Yet Gautier’s musical interests go far beyond the confines of orchestral and chamber music.

“I like a lot of different styles of music. I was recently at Kanye West in Paris, in the Louis Vuitton Foundation, which I absolutely loved. [It’s] a different tool to express things, it’s a different form of music. It’s classical music, it’s jazz, it’s pop, it’s whatever—it’s a name to call it. But what I love is when someone expresses things and when you experience it. And when—as a partner on stage, or as a listener—you can share this experience.”

The shared experience, the transcendent moment—that falls backwards into something higher, like the synaptic jolt before the cliff of sleep.

In The Sopranos there is a scene where Tony (played by the late James Gandolfini) tries to reason out his son A.J.’s emotions.

Tony Soprano: Everybody gets the blues. There’s

a half-a-billion dollar industry devoted to it.

A.J. Soprano: What, Prozac?

Tony Soprano: No, the music business.

There’s inseparability to music and human emotion—and our emotions only make sense in the context of other people. The performer is the conversationalist, bringing minds together regardless of their Prozac dosage. “You have to be passionate about what you say, what you give. You have to be honest... And open. And you can create the connection with the audience. And this is something so strong.”

Stylist: Henry de Castillon

Photographed at Fondation Louis Vuitton, Paris