The French phrase commonly used for an orchestra’s conductor is chef d'orchestre, which could be translated literally into English as the “chief” or the “boss” of the musicians that he or she watches over. Jean-Yves Gaudin thinks differently.
“What a mistake to believe that power and authority – even authoritarianism – are what you should get from this role,” insists the veteran French conductor, who has stood before numerous esteemed orchestras across the globe, from London and Istanbul to Paris and Sofia, in a career that has spanned more than four decades.
“Those who enter this world for that reason will soon find themselves forgotten by history,” Gaudin adds. “A conductor's true purpose is to find the resonance point between the performers, the public and himself – to become the ‘conveyer’ who liberates the understanding of listeners, and acts as a mirror facing the orchestra, because merely reading a document written by a composer does not allow a listener to understand its underlying purpose.”
The conductor’s ultimate responsibility, Gaudin argues, is to bring performers and audience together in a shared experience. This philosophy of generosity has resulted in his passion and his profession coinciding. “Sharing with singers, musicians and the public is the only ambition I have ever had,” Gaudin insists. “This urgent need – to share singing, playing and listening with others – has given genuine meaning to my life.”
Born in 1944 in the picturesque town of Segré in western France, Gaudin says education played a central role in his upbringing. His father was an amateur musician who became active in the Musical Confederacy of France, a movement that trained musicians after the destruction of World War II. “My father, who had played the violin in his youth, introduced me to music when I was just five years old,” recalls Gaudin. “I started by learning to play the flute.”
Though appreciation of music was installed in him from an early age, Gaudin first fully recognised its transcendent power when he was a teenager. “The first thunderbolt was Béla Bartók’s Concerto for Orchestra,” he remembers. “I found it in my school's record collection when I was 15, and I listened to it over and over again.”
The sense of wonder that Gaudin experienced on first hearing Bartók’s five-movement masterpiece, which was composed just one year before the conductor’s birth, has stayed with him, and informed every step of a career that has enjoyed many highlights.
One of special note, and which emphasises the importance Gaudin places on learning, came about in 1982, when he and friends established the Collectif Régional d'Activités Musicales en Poitou-Charentes (CoRéAM). The collective was established in south-western France to promote the joys of classical music through concerts and professional training, and to showcase amateur choral singing supported by professional musicians and singers.
“Thus was born a set of choral-singing workshops that led to the annual Coréades Festival, which takes place every autumn,” Gaudin says with some pride, adding that the theme for the 2014 event, to be held over four weeks in September and October, will be Russian music.
During his career, Gaudin has also been fortunate that dozens of world-class soloists have performed under his direction. “Mentioning names while omitting others would be unfair and pretentious,” Gaudin says. “At this level, there is a constant running through these encounters: simplicity!”
“Whether working with violinist Svetlin Roussev, the actor Michael Lonsdale, harpsichordist Ton Koopmann or the fabulous Gustav Leonhardt, as well as so many others, everything was kept simple, and their ability to listen and the subtlety of their approach contrast so strongly with our simplistic image of the temperamental star.”
“Their talent, the talent of the major figures I've had the privilege to meet, is in never forgetting to serve music instead of using music.”