Samuel Berthod: my mission on Earth is to make people happy by means of music
Famous French clarinettist Samuel Berthod in the interview: about Ukraine whether it feels for him like France and why he wants to teach young Ukrainian musicians.
There are some curious facts about your music biography I`d like to touch upon – you started studying music at the age of 5, and in your 16s you played your first solo concert. What was between those years ? In one of your interviews you said that clarinet was chosen by chance. When did you understand that music is your profession?
I always wanted to bring something special to people. There is a link between everybody and I would like to link everybody by music.
I grew-up in a poor suburb of Paris. However, by chance there was a good conservatory of music there, and during my childhood and teenager time, I enjoyed a very good cultural life in Paris.
Then I learned music very fast and seriously, because I wanted to be loved by people. I wanted to bring them something special. Each day, my parents said to me that I was not able to play music. They said that I would never succeed. Against my parents, I worked hard, even without their support. And my teachers said that I had all facilities for music. I was 16 years old when the first invitation as a soloist spontaniously came to me, in the Weber clarinet quintet. I even refused to play it, because I thought I was not good enough, but the organizers pushed me…I didn’t expect to receive standing ovation for my first solo concert, but it was the case. I was so shy, in front of this audience, the applause were very warm. In the backstages, the staff and musicians looked at me in a new way, very enthusiastic, like someone just climbing on the top of the Everest in roller-skates, but I simply played music… Anyway, people were very kind and treated me like a prodigy that time, and I felt that we had deep things to share together. I really understood that my place on Earth was to make people happy by means of music. I understood then that concerts would be my life.
Samuel, you often visit Ukraine and countries of Eastern Europe, in general. What attracts you in this region?
Eastern European countries are very tempting for any musician, because everybody is a musician in Eastern Europe. Professional or not, music is deeply important in the East. It smells music everywhere in the East. You have a strong piano tradition and strings school, starting to have a good wind school too. And you do like and support your folk music. Then I also discovered the touching Ukrainian folk music.
The greatest successes l shared with the public were in Slovakia, Poland, Czech Republic, Ukraine.
It’s also why I`ve choosen to play klezmer and Balkanic music with a musician from Serbia, Stanko Marinkovic.
To be honnest, talking about this klezmer duo, the warmests contacts shared with the public until today were at the Odessa Jazz Festival and the Chernihiv Jazz Open. Now you start to understand why I like Ukraine so specialy.
Two Molter`s clarinet concertos will be the Ukrainian premiere. Why did you choose them to perform ?
Molter was a prolific composer, but almost unknown today, even by clarinetists. However he was the first to compose for clarinet. We could imagine that Mozart was influenced by Molter, in term of simplicity of the melodies. I personaly think that Molter is a genious. He is very touching. He is close to Vivaldi in the short concrete form and the descriptive way.
Above all, I do like Molter because he is full of emotions.
He also exactly knew how to compose for the D small clarinet, which was a totaly new and rudimentary instrument at that period. Anyway, nobody knew what clarinet would stay in the future. The D small, the B flat or A soprano, the basset-horn in F ?…Then composers tried. Molter was the only one to get the courage to compose 6 concertos in this special hight register. By the way, this D small clarinet is very tricky to play, not convenient, with special and crazy fingerings, it has its own rools… Then clarinetists probably stayed far from this challenge, and it stayed a rare instrument with the beautiful music of Molter.
I wanted both to rise the challenge, and to show this very special sonority to the Ukrainian public.
I am lucky that my clarinet company Buffet-Crampon lent me a D clarinet specialy for this concert. Also Vandoren lent me a special mouthpiece and reeds, to be able to play for this premiere in Lviv. I thank them very much for their support, each time I go abroad. I feel happy with this collaboration, we are very close and I feel good with my partners, who follow me towards all my projects for many years. When human qualities follow the material quality.
You play klezmer music, jazz, classics, etc. How do you do manage to switch to each style?
Frankly speaking, I never ask myself the question. I just switch from a style to another.
I would like to play a concert starting with classical, following with klezmer, jazz, electro etc. I respect differences between styles. Mozart has to be elegant, jazz has to swing, klezmer has to make people dancing.
There is a link of joy between musics I play, I just follow this. Once again, I don’t ask myself how to do, I just do.
You are not only a concert musician, but also a highly appreciated teacher. How do you combine the scenic experience and lessons?
First of all, I love to play in concerts. I like the interaction between the musicians and the public.
Each concert brings a new experience. In that way, I am an interpreter. I can play 80 times the same program and still have pleasure. Because each day is different, each public is different.
The public is like a friend, a friend l meet each time l play. It’s why I always feel happy to make music.
In another hand, I feel really excited to share these knowledges and experiences with hight students. ln clarinet, chamber music, improvisation and klezmer. We all have to bring something to the society. Each person is important. And students have something important to bring as well, called “personality”. Why to learn the Mozart clarinet concerto at the academy, if we never perform it with an orchestra?
There are important details to discuss about performance, as well: how to feel relax in front of many people, how to mentaly and technically be prepared, how to deal with musicians from an orchestra, how to collaborate with a conductor, and finaly the most important, how to bring emotions to people.
Almost each of your trips in Ukraine includes masterclasses. Why do you pay so much attention to this?
In the past, a lot of foreigners came to Paris to learn about the french clarinet school. Then they came back home with new knowledges, allowing them to develop their own style. lt’s the case for the British school, the Scandinavian school, the Asian school, the American school.
We know that it’s economicaly difficult for some European countries to come to France for learning music.
It’s why I offer these masterclasses when I am in Ukraine. We talk about the repertoire, but also the material to play, the new technologies.
I taught in Paris, Australia, Sweden, Belarus…
I would personaly also be open to regularly or permanently teach in Ukraine.
You teach an online course of clarinet. What way of teaching is more difficult: real life or via Internet?
Internet is definitely the most tricky way of teaching.
It’s always better to go for a drink with a friend, than to say ”hello” on Skype.
However, before internet, it was just impossible for someone from Nebraska to have any pieces of advices directly, face to face, by someone from Japan.
In that way, internet is a revolution, and we have to use this wonderful technology for education.
You write your own klezmer music and even became the author of the book KLEZMER STUDIES – CLARINETTE. Klezmer is built on improvisation. How can this be taught? Could you share your secret?
I play klezmer music for almost 30 years. I am not jewish. But the jewish history, starting with music, touched me. 30 years ago in France, nobody played klezmer. We were two non-jewish clarinetists playing klezmer in Paris. Today, almost everybody wants to play klezmer. It means people with classical education. In classical, we learn on scores. Then I thought about special klezmer scores to learn klezmer with technical difficulties.
The klezmer clarinet is special with a new sonority, new effects. It’s actualy very fun, and musicians like it. It’s why I also organize klezmer workshops, based on scores I wrote, but when some people are able to play by heart, they just do.
“Clarinet” is feminine word in German. Johannes Brahms called it “Fräulein Klarinette”. In French it is masculine? How do you treat it – as a Lady, Frau, Monsieur?
In French, “Clarinet” is also a feminine word. I always treated my clarinet as a Lady. I take care about her beauty, about her voice, l don’t let her to be sick (she has a cover and a box with very soft velvet), and she is always marvelous.
We work hard together, we have fun together, she brings me emotions. And when I am sick, she stays silent next to me, just waiting with empathy and solidarity…You see, what a intimate complicity we share…!
As you are frequent guest to our country, how do you feel similarities in your and our languages? And in music?
Talking about the music of the language, it’s obvious that the Ukrainian language resembles in some way French.
I was suprised about that fact, and my Ukrainian friends agreed with me.
Soft sounds, fluid rythm, half squared half round, beautiful music of the words, nice to hear even when we don’t understand it.
From my experience, I have seen that the character of Ukrainian people is usualy soft and smart, like the language.
I do like your folk music. We can feel thrue the music how old is Ukraine. Deep roots through the crazy dances of the kozaks, the architecture of your orthodox churches.
Nowadays, it’s interesting to discover Ukraine as emerging, “old-new” country, you have a lot of assets to share, Ukraine is the most contrasting country I’ve ever visited. It is very rich. France is also a very contrasting country, I use to say “10 countries in 1”. In that way, our countries are also similar.
You visited many places in Ukraine, where did you like the most?
I don’t think that I have visited so many places in Ukraine, but I had the chance see Kyiv, Odessa, Kharkiv and Chernihiv – for music.
It’s difficult to say which city I liked the most, but probably Chernihiv has a special place in my heart (I played there two times), and then Kharkiv.
Odessa is very cultural and fancy, I also like it, but very comparable to the city I was borned – Paris.
I discovered in Kyiv a promising avant-garde; people from the culture want to move and to show something new. Some of them are very active and involed into the cultural process. Designers of flats for example, are very surprising.
As it is my first time in Lviv, I am looking forward to discover the secrets of your beautiful city, and to meet your audience.