Described by the newspaper Le Monde as “the most exquisitely singular pianist of her generation,” Vanessa Wagner is pursuing a career that echoes her original and passionate personality, combining the classical repertoire with contemporary creations, chamber music and the playing of ancient pianos, as well as innovative projects combining art music with video, electronic music and dance. Born in Rennes, Brittany, she began playing the piano at the age of 7. She was awarded First Prize at the Conservatoire National Supérieur de Musique de Paris at the age of 17. In 1999, she received the “instrumental solo revelation” Victoire de la Musique (the French equivalent of the Grammy Awards) for Classical Music. Since then, she has performed all over the world, and her wide-ranging and award-winning discography reflects a vast repertoire and a keen personality, touching on Rameau, Haydn, Schumann, Schubert, Debussy, Ravel, and contemporary music. The great French composer Pascal Dusapin has dedicated several works to her, which she developed. On her album INLAND, which forms the repertoire of the concert, Vanessa Wagner draws a large arc through the history of minimal music. She plays classics by Philipp Glass and Michael Nyman (among others from the film “Piano”), alongside the music of the younger generation such as Bryce Dessner (guitarist of “The National”), Nico Muhly and Emilie Levienaise-Farrouch. Completing the spectrum with works of the tonal, harmonious, melodic outsider artists, of the post-war era, such as Moondog, Meredith Monk, Gavin Bryars and Latvian, Pēteris Vasks. The album is the lone protuberance from 2016 album Statea, on which Wagner, alongside producer Murcof (she on the piano, him manning the machines), reinterpreted pieces from the fathers of minimalism: Arvo Pärt, Philip Glass, Morton Feldman, Erik Satie, or John Cage.
1: 2400 trees are cut every minute.
2: 65 billion animals are killed each year for our consumption.
3: The oceans will be empty by 2048.
1. What is the biggest inspiration for your music?
An artist is a person who has a little extra soul, a different, offbeat, poetic look at the world around him. It is essential to enrich your inner self with all kinds of (spiritual) foods. I am inspired by my readings, some films of course. The nature and its silences, its lights, but also life itself. Everything I have been through that gives thickness to who I am. And also by a certain melancholy inherent in my personality, which greatly nourishes the music I perform.
2. How and when did you get into making music?
I started playing music at the age of 7 when an upright piano arrived at home. It was a coincidence. My parents did not come from a family of musicians, and had no special desire for me to become a pianist. It was my teacher at the time who warned them that I was better than average.
3. What are 5 of your favourite albums of all time?
I have rather eclectic tastes. They also changed quite a bit according to my moods. Right now I would say:
Schubert – Winterreise
Arvo Pärt – Tabula Rasa
Nick Drake – Five Leaves Left
Model 500 – Mind and Body
4. What do you associate with Berlin?
Berlin is a mythical city. I associate an extremely rich and creative musical life with it, but also space to live and move around (unlike Paris). It is also one of the cities with the most vegan restaurants, which I really like!
5. What’s your favourite place in your town?
I live in Montreuil, which is adjacent to Paris, with a quality of life that we do not find in Paris. I have a garden, chickens, a dog and cats, a large park full of trees. All this just a stone’s throw from the subway. It is almost a luxury to see trees and greenery in the city… my favourite place is home, surrounded by my family and friends.
6. If there was no music in the world, what would you do instead?
Life without music is simply impossible! If I hadn’t made music, I probably would have made theatre or literature. If I had to stop today, I would go and live in the Cévennes, in the middle of nature, far from the racket of the town.
7. What was the last record/music you bought?
Nick Cave, Ghosteen, a shock!
8. Who would you most like to collaborate with?
Maurizio, Four Tet.
9. What was your best gig (as performer or spectator)?
Radu Lupu’s recitals in classical music. The Low or Tindersticks concerts for rock. Honey Dijon as DJ. Aphex Twin for electronic.
10. How important is technology to your creative process?
Technology doesn’t matter to me. At best, it is a transmission instrument like any other.
11. Do you have siblings and how do they feel about your career/art?
I have a sister, who is very proud and probably my first fan.
Vanessa Wagner will perform Saal Boris Vian on November 18th!
Photo © Clara Diebler