Part 1

Name: Trio Sōra
Members: Pauline Chenais (piano), Clémence de Forceville (violin), Angèle Legasa (cello)
Nationality: French
Current Release: BEETHOV3N, Trios avec piano on Naïve

If you enjoyed this interview with the Trio Sōra, visit their website, which offers just about everything you ever wanted to know about them. They also have an instagram- and a facebook page.

When did you start playing your instrument, and what or who were your early passions and influences? What was it about music and/or sound that drew you to it?

Angèle: I started playing when I was 7 years old. I grew up in a family of artists: parents were singers, brother was a ballet dancer. So I built my sound between vocal influences with my parents, body feeling music with my brother, while admiring Rostropovitch and Yo-Yo Ma!

Clémence: I started the violin very young, and at that time I was not particularly sensitive to music. Love at first sight came later with opera, and especially Mozart's Magic Flute. Opera soon became a passion for me and a major source of inspiration. I understood then that with the violin it was possible to reproduce the human voice, with its inflections, that everyone had their own timbre and that I could develop my own. The sound of an instrumentalist is perhaps the most important thing, like the voice of a singer, and it often reflects our personality. I have seen through my friends and colleagues how we play the way we are, our sound and our playing is a reflection of who we are, it is fascinating. And that is probably the case for me as well.

Pauline: I started learning the piano when I was 3 years old, my parents listened to a lot of classical music, and my mother was also learning the piano, so I was intrigued by this instrument from the beginning. For as long as I can remember, I've always wanted to play the piano, it's my first passion. But I don't remember what attracted me, I was too young …

For most artists, originality is first preceded by a phase of learning and, often, emulating others. What was this like for you? How would you describe your own development as an artist and the transition towards your own voice? What is the the relationship between copying, learning and your own creativity?

Pauline: As a child, I was first rocked by music, and more particularly by classical music, which my parents listened to a lot. I grew up surrounded by Bach, Chopin, Schubert, Beethoven, Tchaikovsky, Prokoviev, the operas of Mozart and Bizet, etc ... Many of the great classics, which, as I grew up, made me want to seek out lesser-known repertoire as well. It was a first form of learning.

I started piano very early, at the age of 3. Concerning the learning of the piano itself, I have a very classical course: private teacher from 3 to 7 years old, then a course of study in flexible hours from elementary school to high school (school in the morning, lessons at the conservatory in the afternoon) in Tours. I then went to the regional conservatory of Saint-Maur-des-Fossés to prepare for the entrance exam to the Conservatoire National Supérieur de Musique et de Danse de Paris, where I entered 2 years later. There I took a lot of lessons: piano (in Denis Pascal's class), keyboard harmony, analysis, deciphering and accompaniment, Alexander Technique ... A whole range of knowledge to deepen the practice of music and piano.

I think that when you start an instrument at a very young age, like all learning at that age, you go through a phase of "copying": learning by imitation is very widespread, and it works very well with the youngest.

As you learn, you naturally develop your own musical vision, very often influenced by the performers you like and the teachers you have studied with, but each personality being different, the interpretation becomes more personal, depending naturally on how you approach a work.

What were some of your main artistic challenges when starting out as an artist and in which way have they changed over the years?

Pauline: Challenges are constantly present in our profession: from a very young age, if you want to enter a conservatory, you have to pass a competitive exam, then exams at the end of each year, coupled with a ranking of students for each discipline and each level. For my part, the first challenge that really marked me was to succeed in entering the National Conservatory of Music and Dance in Paris: wanting to become a professional pianist has been my goal for many years. The first time I tried this competition, I was too young and clearly didn't have the required level. The second time, I made the second round of the competition, and I missed my performance, eaten away by stress. I worked a lot on myself the following year, practicing sophrology and yoga in order to overcome my fears in this kind of circumstance. And the third time was the right one!

Today, as a pianist of the Trio Sōra for the past 5 years, I would say that the challenges are daily. We manage absolutely by ourselves, the musical part of course, but also the communication, administrative and financial part of our association, the hidden side of the iceberg. We are true Swiss knives and this requires us to constantly rebalance our capacities.

With the recording of Beethoven's trios, the big challenge was to appropriate his music and to break the cliché of the always grumpy, inconvenient, antipathetic and temperamental character. We studied his scores, read his correspondence, talked to specialists (notably the Beethoven Haut de Bonn), and from all this research work, we tried to make his music more dynamic, more luminous, to show his loving and passionate side.

Tell us about your studio/work space, please. What were criteria when setting it up and how does this environment influence the creative process? How important, relatively speaking, are factors like mood, ergonomics, haptics and technology for you?

We are fortunate to be able to work in an exceptional environment in Paris: we are in residence at the Singer Polignac Foundation, in the 16th arrondissement. This is a Foundation providing musicians with places to work in the heart of Paris. Entry into this Foundation is based on a letter of recommendation by Artists Associates and on a dossier. We can work there every day from 9:30 am to 6:30 pm, we have access to beautiful grand pianos and very nice work rooms, there is also a very nice garden and a space for lunch.

It is an ideal environment to work in the best possible conditions, and it greatly facilitates our rehearsals. Since our profession makes us great travelers, it is important for us to have stability when we are in Paris.

Tell me about your instrument, please. What was your first instrument like and how did you progress to your current one? How would you describe the relationship with it? What are its most important qualities and how do they influence the musical results, including your own performance?

Angèle: In the beginning, I already had a 3/4 cello because at 7 years old I was as tall as a 12 year old girl. So I never knew the cutest little cellos! When I started, I was surprised that it was so big: I was expecting something more like the size of a violin! But when I played the first pizzicati, when I felt the first vibrations of the instrument, I knew right away that it would be part of my life forever!

As I grew up, I had more and more performing instruments and I will always remember two great stages in my life as a cellist:

The first, when I got my first modern cello in 2011 for the CNSMDP audition. By pure chance, I met a violin maker a month before the audition, and tried out his new cello. Everything sounded directly and easily beautiful, I was so impressed by the sound quality, the instrument responded exactly as I wanted it to, if it was incredible. So, even though all my teachers told me not to change instruments a month before the audition, I did! And my audition was a success :)
The second, when I met the cello I play now. It was the opposite experience! At first, I didn't understand how to play this 250 year old cello. I couldn't get a pleasant sound out of it! Then I realized that it was teaching me how to play it, that I couldn't play it the way I always did ... that's when I discovered the power of old Italian instruments, the depth of sound and the different timbres. An experience I never imagined before!

Clémence: I started playing the violin at the age of four, so I had a tiny violin, what we call a tenth of a violin. As I grew up I would change my violin about every 2 years, until I had a normal sized violin at about the age of 10. I played on several different instruments: my teacher had lent me his for several years, then I finally got a very beautiful Italian violin (with a back by the violin maker Amati) at the age of 18. This violin hadn't been played for several years and the sound was like "rusty" but I learned to develop the sound and power on this instrument, we kind of evolved together. This instrument has become like an extension of myself: I work a lot on my instrument, and by spending hours every day on it, it has become a part of me. The warm and intimate sound of this violin became my sound, my "voice".

By joining the Trio I was fortunate to be supported by the Boubo-Music Foundation, which now lends me a violin by Joseph Baptista Guadagnini from 1777. It is a violin of a higher range than the one I had. The deep sound, the precision and the projection capacity are a definite advantage on stage and in the balance of the Trio. This instrument that I have been playing for one and a half years also has its specificities and its whims, it is not always easy to play on such instruments, and one must adapt one's technique accordingly.

Could you take us through a day in your life, from a possible morning routine through to your work? Do you have a fixed schedule? How do music and other aspects of your life feed back into each other - do you separate them or instead try to make them blend seamlessly?

Pauline: When we are in Paris, there are three types of working days.

The day when we meet at the opening of the Foundation to work together from morning to evening; the day when each one works on her instrument in the morning before meeting in the early afternoon until the Foundation closes; and the day when the morning is reserved for the administrative work of each one. We have well-defined tasks that all take up a lot of time, and unfortunately we do not have the luxury of being able to devote ourselves solely to music, which remains the core of our profession.

I think that musical inspiration is present everywhere: in the sensations we have when we taste a dish or wine, in a book, a play, a film, a painting, the color of the sky, a landscape ... Everything is connected, everything is nourished by everything.

Could you describe your creative process on the basis of a piece or album that's particularly dear to you, please? Where did the ideas come from, how were they transformed in your mind, what did you start with and how do you refine these beginnings into the finished work of art?

Clémence: One piece where our creative process was very intense was the magnificent slow movement of the Trio "A L'archiduc" opus 97.

We started like always from the text, from the score, in our creative process. We start with a harmonic reading of the piece, because harmony itself carries messages, it gives a path, an architecture in the interpretation.

Then comes an emotional process: how we feel a particular tone, how a particular harmonic sequence can generate a specific emotion, how we will colour and highlight an aspect of the writing ... This work is exciting and we often have to draw on our most intimate experiences and memories to find the most convincing way to express ourselves. We also very often resort to images, metaphors, or even gestures to define between us emotions that are difficult to explain in words, especially in music as deep as this slow movement. Then comes the technical realisation of our ideas. This realisation is also done through the body, its feeling, and our contact with the instrument, so it is also an emotional work.

Like a jigsaw puzzle, we thus create a path of ideas and feelings that gradually reveal our interpretation, our sound, which is the result of a very personal creative process. As time goes by, the message we want to convey through this music, even if it is never "finished" or definitive, becomes clear to us: we then record the music in such a way as to convey our message, our story, to our listeners.

There are many descriptions of the ideal state of mind for being creative. What is it like for you? What supports this ideal state of mind and what are distractions? Are there strategies to enter into this state more easily?

Clémence: The state of mind conducive to creativity is, we believe, something very personal that depends on each individual. But as a chamber music group, creativity is something fabulous and very powerful when it is collective. When our minds connect with each other, when we can feel each other's breaths, emotions and intentions, it is a common listening, a common awareness of time and space that takes place. The music then becomes organic, and creativity takes off.

There is no strategy as such, it is more an extreme concentration and at the same time a letting go that allows us to reach this state of mind.
This state of mind that could be described as "ideal" is both obvious and difficult to achieve. Several obstacles can prevent us from reaching it: self-criticism, lack of confidence, willingness to control or dominate while playing are "distractions", or rather pollutions of the mind that prevent creativity.

How do you make use of technology? In terms of the feedback mechanism between technology and creativity, what do humans excel at, what do machines excel at?

New technologies and the internet have revolutionised the world of music, both in the way people listen to music and the way we produce it, and this is because of recording. Now modern, highly accurate microphones pick up the slightest noise and imperfection, and at the same time, audio editing techniques allow us to construct a piece note by note, second by second without it being heard. As a result, we no longer tolerate the slightest imperfection, the smallest mistake, everything tends to be smoothed and sanitised.

The machines excel in precision, the quality of sound is exceptional, and the possibility of erasing defects is infinite, we can even create non-existent acoustics! It is therefore a great tool. But we believe that creativity, the musical impulse at the price of a few defects is much more important than the perfection that technology offers us. For our triple album we did the editing ourselves with our sound engineer. We chose to listen to all the takes, and we favoured audacity, authenticity, and the beauty of the feeling and the musical phrase at the price of perhaps a few imperfections.

Despite all possible and unimaginable human inventions, no machine will ever be able to replace the musician, who by nature is imperfect, no machine will ever be able to conceive the elusive of music.

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