When Renaud Capuçon takes the stage with the New York Philharmonic on February 21, 22, and 23 for his subscription debut, it will be a reunion of sorts. Not just for Capuçon, who has played with the Orchestra in Central Park and Shanghai, but also for his violin. Capuçon’s instrument, known as the “Panette” Guarneri del Gesù (1737), was previously owned by the late, great violinist Isaac Stern, who appeared often as soloist with the Philharmonic throughout his career.
“This violin was heard with them in concerts and recordings hundreds of times,” says Capuçon. “When I’m going to be with them in their New York hall for the first time, playing with this orchestra and this violin, I will have all these feelings in mind.” Capuçon’s memory of his performance with the Philharmonic in Shanghai in the summer of 2018 was especially poignant, as he recalled Stern playing the World Premiere of the same piece—Leonard Bernstein’s Serenade—on that very instrument, with Bernstein himself conducting the New York Philharmonic.
Capuçon has performed with symphony orchestras all over the world, but the Frenchman rarely comes to the Big Apple. “I’m very excited to be in New York and also to play in this very nice hall,” he said. He is also eager to perform the New York Premiere of Matthias Pintscher’s mar’eh. He has played it with the composer conducting more than a dozen times, with orchestras from the Berlin Philharmonic to the Los Angeles Philharmonic. Capuçon admires Pintscher: “He’s composer, conductor, director of the Ensemble Intercontemporain. He’s somebody who is totally in love with music and is constantly looking for new projects.”
Capuçon explains some of the challenges that mar’eh poses for the soloist. “It’s one line from the beginning to the end. It has to be amazingly pure to be effective, and it is also very demanding rhythmically. And the violin sings like a bird the entire time.”
When asked if he conjures a mental image of a bird when performing, Capuçon says no; when engrossed in the music, his experience actually is related to his sense of smell. “I can smell the perfume when I play a certain piece. It can be a fire perfume, like when you go next to the fire in winter; it can be a smell you remember of home, when you were a child.”
The violinist explains the meaning of the Hebrew word mar’eh: “Vision. Vision can have millions of different significations. His vision, my vision, the vision of tonalities, the vision of the composer, of the conductor, and all these together with more than a hundred musicians.” It’s what he loves about making music. “You meet with people that you never met before, and then you make love, kind of, by making music, and we bring it all together in a way which touches the public. To be a musician is a wonderful, wonderful job.”
Capuçon finds performing with the composer conducting to be especially gratifying. “Whatever the conductor shows, it’s the composer who ‘speaks’; if he gives a certain gesture, it means the composer wants this.” These experiences have influenced his interpretation of all of the repertoire that he performs. “The more I play with living composers, the more I take some freedom with the dead ones,” he said. “Now I play Schubert, Beethoven, Mozart, and whoever else, more freely, knowing that it’s more important to have the gesture and the lines than to be completely dogmatic.”
Music journalist and media consultant Gail Wein is a contributor to NPR and Voice of America and has written for The Washington Post, Musical America, Symphony Magazine, and New Music Box.