Diplomat and conductor Didier Talpain:
Music has been my lifetime passion
The origin of an artist is of no importance whatsoever, it is only talent that matters
11 February, 2012Close-up: Didier Talpain was born on 29 February 1960, in Belfort, France. He conducted his first concert at 18 in Paris. In 1985 he won the prize of the Menuhin Foundation and in 1995, the Perrenoud Foundation prize at the Fourth International Conducting Competition in Vienna. He has been chief-conductor of a number of chamber orchestras in France; from 1995 onwards, he has been working intensively in Poland where he has recorded and conducted a number of works. He appeared as guest-conductor in Greece, Russia, Germany, Slovakia, Moldova, Turkey, Belgium, Jordan, etc. From September 2011 Didier Talpain is Councillor for Culture, France's Embassy and Director of the French Cultural Institute in Sofia. Recently he conducted Robert le Diable (Robert the Devil), an opera by Giacomo Meyerbeer Robert at the National Opera and Ballet, Sofia.- How come you combined two careers: of a musician and a diplomat?- I have always been doing both things at a time, as I happened to study both. I graduated from the L'Institut Commercial de Nancy as well as in political studies from the Institut d'Etudes politiques de Strasbourg. I studied flute, bassoon, chamber music and analysis at Ecole Normale de Musique de Paris and conducting at the Conservatoire National Superieur de Musique de Paris and at the Yehudi Menuhin Foundation. As for my career of a diplomat, my choice was the field of culture, which offers me the opportunity to implement cultural exchange projects with artists from the respective countries I am assigned to.- Your career of a musician is really impressive: you have been chief-conductor of a number of orchestras in France, visiting conductor in Poland, Slovakia, Czechia, Ukraine and Bulgaria. Is music leading in your life?- Of course it is, music is the passion of my life! Interestingly, when I was 10, I was dreaming of becoming a diplomat. At the age of 12, I was sure that I would be a musician. In the long run, those dreams happened to come true in a strange way. I wouldn't say I find it difficult to follow both careers. I just have to work against time, very hard and according to the schedule.- Could it be said that to you, music is a means of diplomacy?- Yes, it could. As early as the late nineteenth century the international exchange of cultural events was very important to France. Music plays a great role in Bulgaria; you have long-standing traditions in this regard.- You conducted two ballet performances at Sofia National Opera last year: Nutcrackers and Giselle and the opera Robert le Diable of recent. What impressions did you get of Bulgarian singers?- To these I would add Le Comte Ory by Rossini in Varna. The origin of an artist is of no importance whatsoever. It is only talent that matters. I have worked with a lot of musicians of different nationalities in my life. What I could say about Bulgarians is well known: you have incredible voices. With the staging of Robert le Diable and Le Comte Ory I got to know several remarkable Bulgarian voices: soprano Irina Zhekova, who sang in both productions; basso Martin Tsonev, who took part in the first production, proved to be a real godsend to me. A marvellous mezzo-soprano, Olga Mihaylova-Dinova also sang in it. Tenor Georgi Stoianov, who sings the title part in Robert le Diable, also has a fantastic voice.- The French Cultural Institute, Sofia was among the first ones opened across East Europe following the fall of the Berlin Wall. How do you evaluate its activities?- Support for publishing of French literature in Bulgarian language is a major task of the Institute. Over 1,000 books have been published. As for the promotion of French language, in Bulgaria there are two major French Language High Schools: that in Sofia and the one in Varna. Apart from these there are 67 French language schools across the country such as, say, Lamartine Ninth French Language School. We work with them and support them.- What does the Institute's programme 2012 include?- The cherry on the cake will be an exhibition, Paris-Sofia 1900 of the Petit Palais museum at the National Gallery for Foreign Art, Sofia. At the time the Exposition Universelle Internationale de 1900 Paris was held. We will show in Sofia great original artworks such as Sarah Bernhardt's portrait of 1876 by Georges Clairin as well as references to the Bulgarian pavilion at that Expo 1900. We plan to invite to Bulgaria a contemporary dance company, Abou Lagraa. We shall mount and hold the second French Film Festival. We are having talks with the Plovdiv Opera to stage Le Roi de Lahore (The King of Lahore) on the occasion of Jules Massenet's anniversary. We are also making efforts to have a performance of La Belle Helene by Offenbach at the Stefan Makedonski National Music Theatre, Sofia. We will try to stage an almost unknown opera of the early nineteenth century, a genuine rarity - an opera of the days of Napoleon. In end-November within the Baroque Arts Festival in Sofia, we will invite musicians from Prague and Bratislava who play old instruments. We will have French soloists and a Bulgarian choir. As regards French-Bulgarian cultural exchange, I can't help mentioning the 5-year cooperation agreement signed recently between the Louvre and the Bulgarian Ministry of Culture. Thracian treasures from Bulgaria will be displayed in the Louvre. Minister of Culture Vezhdi Rashidov agreed with the Musee Rodin, Paris, to exhibit in Sofia paintings and sculptures by the great artist in 2014.- Your repertoire features a wide range of works from baroque to classical music to romanticism. You have even conducted jazz. Do you have a favourite composer?- I happened to perform several times in Poland and Slovakia classical-jazz crossovers. It is almost impossible to name a few favourite composers yet I have a marked preference for some: Bertold Hummel, whom I'd call 'a modern-day Beethoven'. I am very fond of Bach's sons, who have composed incredible music: Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach and Johann Christian Bach. And, of course, I love Mozart, Haydn and Rossini.- Do you have any leisure time and what are your leisure time activities if any?- This is what I am mostly in want of. I have a passion for walking 30 km a day, but, alas, I can do this only twice a year. I enjoy reading. I have two main areas of interest: modern history and that of Eastern Europe and the East. As surprising as it may seem to some, the second one is the history of railways and trains in Central and Eastern Europe.