Classic FM Meets Renaud Capuçon

Classic FM finds out more about the rising French star.

It seems hard to believe that violinist Renaud Capuçon has never performed in England before. After all, he’s one of the fastest rising stars in the classical world and certainly one of the busiest with recording and performing dates in all four corners of the globe. But the night before we meet, Renaud makes amends and gives his first proper English concert, at London’s prestigious Wigmore Hall. About time, too, Renaud… 

“I can’t believe it was my first concert here and many others say the same thing! I played an all-French programme of Fauré, Ravel, Saint-Saëns. I don’t often play French music as I love lots of other music too. But I do love finally being here in the UK. I’ve travelled all over the place, but not here and so there is so much to learn about.” 

Which isn’t surprising. Renaud Capuçon is only 28, but one thing he’s sure about is his blossoming career in music and the young Frenchman is in the enviable position of not regretting a thing. 

“My parents supported my decision to make music my life. When I was nine I started practising seriously, and from 12 until recently I practised six hours a day and went to Paris at 13 to study at the Conservatoire. 

“I was quite driven, and given the choice now I would do the same again so I don’t feel I lost my childhood. I had a loving family, and growing up in Chambery and the Alps, I used to do a lot of skiing. In fact, until I was eight I couldn’t decide whether to be a violinist or a champion skier! I think you need that stable base for music – only then can you learn and be inspired.” 

You begin to realise just how understanding his parents really were when you know that not one but two of their offspring decided to make music a living. Renaud has an equally talented younger brother – a cellist, Gautier – and the two of them enjoy nothing better than playing in trios together. And the amusing idea of record labels salivating over the music equivalent of the Waltons isn’t lost on him. 

“He’s five years younger than me, so for years he was too little for us to play together. We’re best friends now, although that didn’t happen until he was maybe 18. It does sound like a marketing cliché, but it’s true! Musically we have different ideas, but the main direction for the sound is exactly the same. It makes it easy to change pianists in a trio because they feel they’re playing with one person, not two.” 

One of those pianists is the legendary Martha Argerich, who played with the brothers at her festival in Lugano. For Renaud, it was a seminal moment.

“It was electric – the best experience of my life. You have to trust her completely and follow her, and then it’s amazing. In 10 minutes of playing with Martha I learned as much as in 10 years with a teacher. It’s been the same when I’ve played with conductors Abbado and Haitink – they’re experiences that can change you. I always want to learn and I know I always will.” 

Renaud has just finished another new project (another opportunity to learn), but this time with an old friend. He is about to release a new recording of Mendelssohn and Schumann with conductor Daniel Harding. 

“I love working with Daniel. I’ve known him a long time. The first time I played with him there was an immediate connection – we understood each other. We met in 1996 in Berlin, where we had a few beers and became friends. I also play in a quartet with his wife Beatrice, which is great.” 

Renaud is particularly excited about the Schumann as he’s recently discovered the delights of playing with an authentic period bow, suitable for music of the 19th century. 

“It’s almost like putting a new computer disc in my arm – I feel myself adapting to the new bow – it gives you everything you need for that music. This summer I’ll play Schumann exactly as it was meant to be, and what could be better than that?” 

I know that an hour in a coffee shop doesn’t really qualify me to make an in-depth character analysis, but there doesn’t seem to be much of the tortured artist about Renaud Capuçon. His obvious love of and talent for his music is complemented by a remarkably balanced outlook and family life. 

“My parents aren’t musicians – and that keeps me sane. My father is a customs officer and my mother is a housewife. They love to listen to me and Gautier play, but they’re also our harshest critics. My mother sometimes says: ‘Tonight I didn’t feel anything’ which drives me crazy."

 While his parents still live in Chambery, Renaud himself lives in Paris with his fiancée, Baiba Skride, who is also a violinist. So does that put a strain on their relationship, I wonder? 

“She’s very good,” says Renaud. “She won the Queen Elizabeth competition in 2001. We met at the Gidon Kremer festival and sometimes we play in quartets together for fun, but not too much – we want to keep a little bit separate. But we spend plenty of time together. I would love kids, so my challenge is to do both family and music well. I’m sure it can be done.” 

In the meantime there’s the small matter of being a highly sought-after young musician with the weight of expectation already on his shoulders. 

“Being a violinist in the 21st century you have to be open and complete, able to perform modern works, chamber music, concertos… everything. My ambition was not to be famous but to be honest with my music and be as good as I can be. I like to think of myself as an organic musician, but I don’t want to sound pretentious!” 

He doesn’t, and you really can’t help liking Renaud. He is so eager to please, and the delightful truth is, he already does.