Q. You have recently become well-known worldwide, mostly due to your many successes in international competitions, and you have recently recorded your first CD, at the age of 18. When did you decide to embark on a musical career, and specifically on the accordion, and what were your reasons?
A. I really decided on a musical career when I was 13 years old. I was not very interested in school work, due to problems with some of my teachers. You can't just make up teaching methods and hope they work!! Anyway, they didn't convince me. As for the accordion, this was one of my few extracurricular activities, so the choice was easy.
Q. You have won many international competitions in the last 2 years. Which competitions are they, and have you had other interesting experiences during this time?
A. I have won, in the following order:
Coupe Mondiale 1997 at Reinach - Switzerland
Klingenthal 1998 - Germany
Trophée Mondial 1998 - Recoaro Termes - Italy
Castelfidardo 1998 - Italy
Michèle Boudet Trophy - France
1998 Tremplin Prestige HOHNER - France 1998
Q. What do you see as the most important event of your career?
A. What I would see as most important in my career is simply its long-term existence. To speak of a career at the age of 18 is a bit premature, even if, indeed, many recent events allow me to think of it this way.
Q. Have your successes in international competitions changed anything about your career?
A. You mustn't consider international competitions as an end in themselves. They only give you an item for your CV and a trophy to put in your display case. But it's far from enough to build a career. I know many young people, only a little older than myself, who have won these competitions and whose ambitions had to stop there, because they couldn't find work (concerts, gala events, etc.).
In my case, these competitions have indeed had an important effect. I would say that they precipitated things, because no one could claim that everything that is happening to me now wouldn't have happened without the international competitions. Among others, my TV appearances...
Q. What TV appearances have you made, and what impact have they had on your career?
A. In France, we have one big national show, and 3 others at regional level.
The national one: "La Chance aux Chansons" with Pascal Sevran
The regional ones: "Sur un air d'Accordéon" with Michel Pruvot
"Confidences de Nacre" with Eric Vigneron
"Soufflet c'est jouer" with Didier Ohmère.
Everybody knows that the best advertising opportunity is a TV appearance. In fact, you only need to look around any shopping mall, and you will see many products labeled "As seen on TV". I leave it up to your imagination and reasoning to decide what links may or may not exist between a marketed product and an artist...
Q. What are the factors which distinguish you from other accordionists, and, as far as TV appearances go, specifically from other French accordionists?
A. It's always very difficult to talk about oneself. The first reason - apparently, it makes you sound conceited. However, let's not go to the other extreme - false modesty. At any rate, it's always very important to find your own place and to know where you are. So, in my case, and since we're talking about me, I can speak. So, I think that the adjectives which could describe me are as follows: brilliant, smiling, energetic, natural, and ... not too ugly, not to say presentable...
Q. How does your career differ from that of a more traditional accordionist (with classical repertoire and a teaching job to ensure an appropriate salary), and would it make you, in your opinion, a better candidate than others for TV appearances?
A. I think that part of my previous answer contains enough material to answer this one. As far as my career goes, I think that my many TV appearances attract the interest of show and festival organizers. Having said that, I can't dream too much either; a career is built up slowly, and it will take much more than 2 years to become really well-known. To put it another way, you often see, in show-business circles (singers, musicians etc.) very short-lived careers of some artists, which only last as long as a song: so, I hope that we will be able to talk about this again in a few years' time.
Q. Please describe the idea behind your new CD: Its name, the repertoire choice, the way it was recorded, the number of tracks used by the accordionist, and the ways in which this CD is different from others with a similar choice of music?
A. My new CD is called "Grain de Fantaisie" - "A touch of fancy". This is the title of one of my first compositions (the first track of the CD), which I co-wrote with Maurice Larcange. The music includes a selection of my own compositions: Casse-Gueule (written with Frédéric Deschamps), Coco Samba (with Maurice Larcange), and Nuit à Valencia (with Mickaël Larcange). The other pieces are tributes to dead composers (Astor Piazzola, André Astier) and French accordion repertoire classics (Perles de Cristal, L'Aquillon, etc...).
I have tried, as much as possible, to bring a personal touch to the arrangement of each of these pieces: obviously, many of them are of a quality that only my young age will justify, but not all of them are the worst, it's up to you to decide.... The drums are played by real musicians and not by synthesizers, and I have sometimes recorded second voices on different tracks to fully satisfy my musical appetite.
Q. Where can people buy it, and how much does it cost?
A. All information on this topic can be found on my personal web site, which I invite you to visit, at the following address: http://www.accordions.com/richard
Q. You were born in Chôlet - France, in 1980. Tell us about your town - its geographical location, its population, etc.?
A. Yes, I was born in Chôlet, à small country town of 55,000 people, in the Maine et Loire region, very famous for its... many wine cellars!!!
Q. When did you begin to learn the accordion, and, above all, why the accordion?
A. I started learning the accordion at the age of 6. My older brother also played it, and I very quickly became fascinated by the keys.
Q. Did your parents want you to play the accordion, and what influence have they had on you with regard to your musical education?
A. They encouraged me a lot, but as you can guess, at that age, what could a child refuse his parents!
Q. Tell us about your first teachers?
A. As with most accordion beginners, the choice of the first teacher is often the result of luck. In my case, it wasn't too bad, even if I felt I was very quickly left to my own devices. But I'm always told you shouldn't ever regret anything.
Q. Any humorous anecdotes from your first years of studies?
A.Unfortunately, nothing very humorous happened during my first years of studies. In contrast, the most recent years left me only good memories: my first Parisian nights, holàlà (no comment!), wonderful travel, etc.
Q. You now live in Paris. Why?
A. I didn't decide overnight to come and live in Paris. It's true that today, I live in Paris almost all the time. The reasons are many: television stations, concerts, transport, living close to my new teacher, the city, the nights..., in short, I think that these reasons are already sufficient, although I could continue on this topic for some time.
Q. You are a student at the Paris IX Conservatory. Tell us about the way in which your courses take place, on the different subjects which are taught, the number of hours per week, the qualification you are aiming for, the total number of students, and whether the accordion classes take place in the same way as those for other instruments?
A. I am studying at the Paris IX conservatory, in the class of Frédéric Deschamps. The subjects taught are, obviously, instrumental practice, but also everything that is related to music teaching in general: music history, music education, jazz, classical, contemporary, chamber music, and light music accompaniment.
Apart from this musical education, I must stress the fact that the personality of each musician is completely respected. It's out of the question to mechanize music, and Frédéric Deschamps really takes the personality of each one of us into account, even though we always have a lot to learn from each other!!! A feature of Frédéric Deschamps' teaching is making us aware that the instrument that we play is above all a wind instrument, and not just a keyboard one, and an emphasis on all the techniques of compressing the air/bellows.
The number of hours per week is completely variable, in relation to how much each person needs, to the closeness of an event (international competitions, recordings, etc.), as well as our geographical location. In fact, all the students (between 15 and 25 years of age) do not necessarily live in Paris, especially the younger ones. A family balance is one of the most important things to preserve, especially when you are young. To this is added the problem of general education. It's important to be able to carry on with both school and musical work for as long as possible. As far as accordion courses are concerned, this subject is accorded the same status as the others within the conservatory.
The presence of other instruments obviously allows us to perform many exchanges. So, we often have master classes with piano students, harpsichordists, and organists, who teach us directly how to interpret their repertoire on our instruments, as far as figured bass transcription is concerned. We have also had stage behaviour master classes in order to polish our stage presence and to be open to the audience, whatever it may be: a jury, concertgoers, television viewers, etc.
Q. At what age did you make your first paid appearance?
A. I must have been 13 years old. Well, 500 FFR was a good start, wasn't it?
Q. When were you invited to join the "HOHNER Artists" team? What are the activities performed by the "HOHNER Artists' Team", and what are the selection criteria?
A. I have to admit that, far from being invited to join, I simply knocked on the door, as was the case for all of my friends! Frédéric Deschamps, who is responsible for the Hohner artists' team, gave me a very warm welcome. Belonging to the Hohner artists' team is very easy to explain. Frédéric takes care of our musical education, our preparation for international competitions, in short of our CV, and then he helps us to make contacts with the best-placed people in the press, TV, radio, festivals, concerts, tours, etc.
Each of us progresses at their own pace, in relation to their motivation and to the goals they set themselves. Nothing could be easier.... Today, I can really appreciate the chance that I have of belonging to a young and dynamic team whose principal aim is to move forward, both in educational terms and in terms of the instrument fabrication.
Indeed, apart from the richness of our teaching, we are becoming more and more demanding with regard to the quality of our instruments, and we collaborate very actively in the evolution of our own instruments. This explains the particular tone colour of our instruments, as well as their shape, which are both specifically adapted to our way of playing. As for the "cyber cool" look, it corresponds to our state of mind: young and into it!!
When we put our accordions down, we don't go to relax in a café or a musette dance, but in a Techno night-club!! So, to say something about the selection criteria, I would say that they are more oriented towards human qualities: likeability, openness, motivation, charisma, respect for others, in one word - normality!
Q. What is your favourite kind of non-accordion music?
A. I don't really have a specific favourite. I like all types of music, as long as they are of good quality! And then, it's obvious that when we go out together to have fun, we don't go to listen to a preludium and fugue by Bach, with all due respect to this genius of the baroque repertoire (joke!!).
Q. Tell us a little about your instrument. What are its special features? Tuning, look, etc.?
A. As I was telling you before, our instruments evolve with our repertoire and our musical inclinations. This is one of the great advantages of the brand which joins our group: to be in touch with the musicians. The name of my new accordion is Fun Flash HOHNER. It is fluorescent pink in colour. Why not?
At least, if people don't remember my name, they will remember the colour of my accordion. As for the tuning, it's not too musette, to allow me to play a larger repertoire. When I play pure musette, I use a Fun Musette HOHNER model, 3 musette voices (3 flutes), very out of tune!!! It's great! The look is deliberately in the direction of modernisation of the look of our instrument in general, in order to ensure - hopefully - its modernisation, to attract the maximum interest from the young generation.
As far as its formal features go, We have tried to give it a new, rounded shape, specially designed to allow better formation of sound waves, as well as a slight "V" shape in the right-hand box allowing to better place the instrument on the right thigh when you play sitting down. We have also asked that the keyboard be moved slightly forward, to get a better natural position of the wrist. In fact, the traditionally "flat" keyboard causes a "bending" of the wrist which goes against finger flexibility, causing a tension on the hand and arm tendons.
On the technical side, the model that I use has 4 voices for the right hand, two flutes and a double basson (10 registers), 96 basses and 5 voices for the left hand (4 registers, with medium and low voices separate), with music entirely a mano, all of it weighing 10 Kgs, which for me, well, my name isn't Rambo...
Q. Do you see your future career as a soloist, or in a group? In the latter case, what instruments would make up this group, and what repertoire would it perform?
A. As far as my future career goes, honestly, I can't give an answer for the moment. I feel like saying that everything interests me, or, at any rate, there isn't anything that I would dislike. After having won all the competitions in the "light music" category, I am now preparing for the "solo" categories of the Coupe Mondiale and of the Trophée Mondial, as well as Castelfidardo and Klingenthal, to be continued...
Even though I don't think that a solo career would be realistic, due to the too small number of concerts which are organised in this discipline worldwide (as of now, at least...).
I also practice dance music, and why not organise a ball orchestra in a few years' time? It's still a bit early to precipitate things... For the moment, let's keep a level head. I prefer to think of myself as a student for as long as I can.
Q. What are your other interests, apart from the accordion?
A. I've always been fascinated by percussion instruments, and by drums in particular. My younger brother plays the drums, and I often work off my frustrations on his instrument! I love good wine (my origins!!) and all the activities of a young man of 18. Need I say more?
Q. What are your short-term career goals, and how would you like your career to develop?
A. I am preparing for the 2000 season, with a 12 week "tour" in duo with Frédéric Deschamps, under the auspices of the "Musical Youth of France", a national organisation which brings all the young people from general school circles (11 to 18 years of age) to the most beautiful theatres in France to discover diverse and varied musical groups. I also have many overseas concerts (Scandinavia, Germany - to mention the closest ones only). I am also preparing for important TV programmes on national television, notably "Surprise Party" with Pascal Sevran, which is broadcast on Saturday evenings at 8.30 pm. All perspectives of interesting experiences.