Interview with Ambroise Aubrun

Ambroise Aubrun, a remarkably accomplished French violinist from Nice praised for his “marvelous ease, suppleness and beauty of sound” (Nice-Matin), will soon be making his solo debut with Kaleidoscope on their next concert featuring composer Alyssa Weinberg’s piece in somnis. Though performing in the role of a soloist is not new to Mr. Aubrun, as he is has won numerous awards in international solo competitions, this debut is in stark contrast to how he can normally be seen performing as co-concertmaster for Kaleidoscope. Interested in how he is preparing for this new role with the orchestra, he graciously donated his time to allow us to go behind the scenes to find a little bit more about who he is and what he values as a musician.

Carrie Rexroat: How did you get started in music?

Ambroise Aubrun: I started playing piano when I was four years old and picked up the violin at age five. I played both instruments for about seven years. My parents are not musicians, but have always loved music and pushed me and my brother to practice when we were little. They have always been very supportive. 

CR: Is your brother also a musician?

AA: Yes, my older brother is the principal flute of the Lyon National Orchestra under Maestro Slatkin. I grew up listening to him practice both flute and piano, because he is six years older than me, and it was just natural for me to want to imitate him and play an instrument as well.

CR: Wow, that’s great! So, what sorts of things in relation to music were you exposed to being that your parents aren’t musicians?

AA: Every Sunday at 5PM there is a classical concert on French TV. I remember watching these concerts every week, and my parents tell me that the moment I saw the string instruments on TV for the first time, I pointed at them and said, ‘I want to play the cello.’ At the time I don't think I knew the difference between a cello and a violin, but my parents thought a violin would be easier to carry around, so I started with the violin. Sometimes it's that simple I guess. 

CR: *laughter* So what do you love most about your instrument?

AA: Beyond the various colors that a violin can provide, violins are masterpieces on their own. I have been very lucky to play on a great Italian violin from the 18th century which is on loan to me, and every time I take it out of the case and simply look at it, I feel a great emotion. The relationship one has with his or her instrument is very unique, and violins have lived for centuries, being played by so many musicians over the years. That generates such an amazing feeling on the instrument’s current owner. Aside from the actual instrument, the violin repertoire is endless, and it is a huge journey to discover the countless masterpieces written for violin.

CR: It is pretty incredible that they withstand the test of time for so long. In relation to performing, when collaborating with an orchestra as a soloist, what are some things you do in preparation for a performance? 

AA: I study the score! 

CR: How does that specifically help with your goals as a soloist? What exactly is your primary goal in a solo setting?

AA: When I perform, my primary goal is always to not get in the way of the music, and that’s whether I play chamber music, in an orchestra or as a soloist. For in somnis, I might have to cue a little bit when I play for technical reasons, but I think the orchestra part is as important as the solo part. During the rehearsals, we will have to determine what really needs to come out and what is less important musically, but that can even be the solo part, not just the orchestra. Knowing the score and studying it is crucial when being that intimate with the collaboration. 

CR: Definitely, that’s a great point. What do you love most about Ms. Weinberg’s piece, in somnis? 

AA: When I first heard the piece, I immediately loved the very unique atmosphere and the range of expression. It is not a long work, but we get to hear a lot of different characters and the violin has multiple personalities. After working on the piece, I can also say that it is really fun to play, because it’s also very well written for the violin.

CR: What personalities does the violin take on in this piece?

AA: Well, in somnis was inspired by Picasso's painting "le Rêve", and I feel like the piece is such a success because just like the painting, it expresses different emotions, both peaceful and bold, but also provocative and beautiful. There is a certain sweetness that comes out of the piece even though a lot of it is quite rough, and I think it represents the painting very well in that way. 

CR: I can’t wait to hear what that sounds like! Going back to this idea of collaboration that you were talking about, what exactly does collaboration mean to you? Obviously you think it is important, but why is it important?

AA: Well, the reason why I picked violin over piano when I was twelve was because I felt the violin allowed me to collaborate better. I think that collaboration is essential in music making, and it is important for all of us involved in Kaleidoscope. We all learn so much from being part of this group.
One of the very unique experiences that Kaleidoscope offers both its members and its audience is truly the sense of playing chamber music, but on an orchestral scale. I am a big fan of chamber music and I have had the chance to play in different groups from duos to octets to chamber orchestra, and although the rehearsal process has to be different than if we are playing in a regular chamber group, the goal, and the sensations are the same. We really are here to play together and create a sound together, and I have personally never experienced that on that scale with any other ensembles.

CR: You’ve been involved with Kaleidoscope as a member from the beginning, yes?

AA: Yes, I was lucky to be part of the very first Kaleidoscope rehearsal, when there were only two violins in the orchestra, and later in the evening, three! The concept immediately attracted me, and after playing the first concert, I knew that this group could go far. I love playing with Kaleidoscope, and I am very happy to be part of a project that I believe is really important for the Los Angeles music scene.

CR: Definitely. Being a part of the Los Angeles musical community is something that is definitely important to Kaleidoscope, but even more so the orchestra absolutely wants to be part of the general Los Angeles community. How successful do you feel that Kaleidoscope has been in wanting to be involved this way?

AA: Well, Ben has always talked about how we could be more involved in the general community. In this second season, Kaleidoscope has given outreach performances, and the reaction of the audience was so positive which is very inspiring for us to do more of those performances. I am very happy we will be going to different places and playing for people who do not necessarily have access to classical music. I think it is important and it is part of what Kaleidoscope is and we all want to keep doing it. I remember that in one of the first meetings of this season, I was asked to say what I would want Kaleidoscope to be tomorrow if I could magically make something happen, and one of my answers was that I wanted Kaleidoscope to be part of the community in a way that a professional football team is. I would love for Kaleidoscope to become one of the biggest attractions of the city, and that people feel that they almost need to support us like a sport team, to come to enjoy, gather, discuss what we did, and look forward to the next performance. I think that Kaleidoscope is new, fresh, fun and belongs in the Los Angeles community. 

CR: What about going to see Kaleidoscope in concert is fun or different from going to see another group perform? 

AA: Performing without a conductor is like not having a protection net for a trapeze act. Kaleidoscope certainly does not choose to play without a conductor for the sake of doing something harder. The reason of not having a conductor is musical; the actual sound and musical aesthetics are different. It requires all the players to be very reactive to each of their colleagues, and that makes it very interesting not only to listen to, but also to watch. I think the young generation is also happy to see young players on stage, and can affirm that they are all having fun playing together just by seeing us happy on stage. I think this is the typical types of ensembles that young people can relate to, and a Kaleidoscope concert is just very fun to watch and to listen to which is a characteristic that people don’t always amalgamate classical music with.

CR: It definitely is fun to watch, I can attest to that! So, rounding off the interview, what are some of your hobbies outside of music?

AA: I just love spending time with my friends as much as possible, and also eating and discovering the great food of LA. When I eat too much, I play tennis. I love cinema, I go see lots of movies.

CR: What is one of your most memorable musical moments? 

AA: Well, I remember two very strong moments from my orchestral experience. One of them was while playing the Symphonie Fantastique with Maestro Krivin in Paris, and the other one was Malher 4 with Kaleidoscope. That was absolutely unique. A few months later I still very clearly remember the feeling I had after finishing the piece, and I know I will remember it for many years. It was very stressful at first because we decided to climb this huge mountain, at first not knowing if we were are gonna make it, but we didn’t really have a choice. It truly was one of those performances were music was beyond the technical difficulties, and although we all do music for those kinds of moments, they don't happen as often as we wish. Mahler 4 was one of those moments that I will just be talking about for a very long time.

CR: Great! Well, thank you so much for a great interview! I’ve really enjoyed speaking with you, and best of luck on your preparation and the concert!

AA: Thank you! 

Carrie Rexroat