INTERVIEW WITH THE PIANIST NICOLE AFRIAT AND BIOGRAPHY

THE  “AFRIAT ADVENTURE”


An experienced mozartienne who dares to play Scriabin and Dukas… Adventurer ? Perhaps ! A lady with long, romantic black hair.....Alluring ? Without any doubt! A great professional who follows the impulses of her heart and wants to share them..... Passionately ? Certainly !
An appetite, Nicole Afriat? Definitely yes… A starving hunger for music, that she has !
From Liszt to Ravel via Messiaen, a repertoire expressed by energetic fingers, someone who subscribes both to the highest classicism and to the originality of contemporary works still to be discovered, absolutely ....music that she devours greedily.


THE HEAT OF THE SUN : A “Daughter of the South”, her origins are clearly visible in her burning eyes, jet-black hair, forcefulness and gentleness.

Born in Oran, into a family of artists, she was noticed for the first time by a piano teacher. She was four years old, and the adventure was only beginning. Then came Claude Delvincourt, who enrolled her in the Conservatoire National de Paris when she was twelve. On leaving at the age of fifteen, she was awarded the First Prize for Piano.

« From those first years of study, particularly in Algeria, my playing has retained a certain tinge, a mixture of Spanish, Arab and French influences ...a mixture of lives that intersect, of cultures that intermingle to produce a richer outlook” – confides this lady with a mischievous, meaningful smile.

« The experience of being uprooted also had an effect on my playing – Paris from the age of ten, then Italy, Hungary, Poland, Israel ...all those countries that I crossed form part of my experience. They taught me about other cultures, and I was touched and enchanted. Some of them, though, I didn’t like”, she added with a laugh.
“All those colours and those experiences make up life, because they are life. They show in my playing, because they have deeply influenced me myself”, she says, with feeling.


« Temporary uprootings have never caused me to forget my real roots, which are firmly anchored in French culture”. Experiences absorbed over the years, considered words, faultless playing, an atypical career path always guided by passion, a profound respect for the composers and their works – all these have made Nicole Afriat an outstanding French and European pianist.

At the age of seventeen, recognized and adulated, the little prodigy from the Conservatoire who gives repeated concerts and recitals becomes aware that the system into which people are trying to put her will not satisfy her. She decides to reject it. She makes the unusual choice to leave, to finish with the extended tours with identical progammes, and with a life without renewal, in which playing means reproducing  the same successful pieces ad infinitum.


SOLITARY and  « ALARMING AFRIAT » ?

If  calling a budding celebrity into question because she is perfecting her art, her analysis of the works, her technique by means of relentless work, and finding her repertoire – if all that is called being alarming ... then yes, she is alarming !

« At that time, many pianists began arriving from Eastern Europe. For me, that was a big shock. I realized how far behind we were. In terms of preparation for international competitions, those musicians were at the “top” », she confides, perceptively.


That is why, the prizewinner at the international competitions in Italy (Viotti) and Budapest (Liszt-Bartók), she decided to rejoin the Moncalieri Academy in the peninsular, where Arturo Benedetti Michelangeli practised.


« Working with an artist of such renown and calibre was, for me, a dream come true. I was going to progress, and also to  « find myself » in relation to my instrument. A kind of baptism of fire, beside this very great Maestro, before attacking the international career that was opening up to me » she remembers.
«During those Milanese years I had an encounter that was perhaps even more important than that with the Maestro. It was with I. Deckers, a lady from Hungary. She was my piano teacher for two years. Through her, all the rigour and intransigence of the East European peoples came to me: a training like that of a racehorse, with no respite, no half-measures. A force, however, which left its mark on my career for ever, by teaching me never to take the easy way », she confesses.
FROM THE GOLDEN SUN OF ALGERIA TO THE RED SUN OF HUNGARY :
A FAULTLESS CAREER WITHOUT A PAUSE, WHICH BRINGS NICOLE AFRIAT, AT THE AGE OF 27, TO THE THRESHOLD OF A GREAT INTERNATIONAL CAREER.



A SPOT...OF BEAUTY

In oriental music, the  « Beauty Spot » is the quarter-tone, the little dissonant note, unknown to Western instruments, a little embellishment which, to our ears that are so accustomed to tonal sound, seems to sound false, but which nevertheless gives to this repertoire all its piquancy, splendour and charm.

Between the atypical and the professional, between the classical and the original, with her rejection of the « déjà vu », with her extremism and her virtuosity, is Nicole Afriat, perhaps, herself a « beauty spot » ?


At twenty-seven, back in France, having acquired maturity and self-confidence in her choices and in her mastery of her repertoire, she now devotes her « fire » and her playing to all passionate lovers of music.


Having left in her full glory, she returns unknown. It is in the festivals that she is re-born.
«It was not then a question of lack of ambition, nor, as one might have thought, of a caprice, that rejection of the traditionals – the music publishers, the management -  but of a desire to assert myself, beyond mere labels. If I excel in Mozart, that does not mean that I should not play anything else ...Dukas, Scriabin, Ravel, Poulenc, Saint-Saëns

also attract me. Why should I restrict myself to only one repertoire ? » Her claim for this different way is loud and vehement.
« Doing something different is perfectly viable. Of course, it is a kind of anti-career » , she agrees, « but I believe that every artist should be able to choose their own way. »


Little by little, festivals and recitals take her to the top, in the company of the greatest. She plays as a soloist with :
- the Brussels Philharmonia, conducted by M. Caridis;
- L’Orchestre de la Résidence de La Haye, under Ernest Bour;
- the Silesian Orchestra of Katowice in Poland, conducted by Karol Stryja;
- the English Chamber Orchestra at La Grange de Meslay;
- the Munich Chamber Orchestra and
the Chamber Orchestra of the European Community.

Her career is sprinkled with memorable encounters: Kurt Redel and the Pro Arte of Munich, Le Trio de France, the Quatuor Athanéum Enesco, Yvonne Loriot. With Olivier Messiaen, it was love at first sight, the spark and the enrichment which impelled her even further forward in her interpretation.
Stars that shine in the firmament of a different, but accomplished career. One of them, however, shone more brightly than the others: Igor Markevitch.



EXCEPTIONAL MUSICAL ENCOUNTERS

« Playing the Partita for Piano and Small Orchestra in Jerusalem, at the invitation of its founder, Igor Markevitch – whose youthful work it was – was one of the most powerful and beautiful moments of my career », recalls Nicole Afriat, still exalted by this memory.
« This new œuvre, a completely new discovery to offer to the public .... it was exactly my purpose. But that does not prevent me from enjoying reviving the classics. It is complementary », the pianist subtly stresses.
« Moreover, I have also recorded for radio the “ Variations on a Theme of  Handel”, which was the last work composed by Igor Markevitch, in 1940, when he was only 30 years old, and before he became the very famous conductor».



Her favourites: composers of the period: 1910-1930.

« In Dukas and Ravel there are many unknown facets still to be revealed…that is what is so fascinating about this period of discovery and change at the beginning of the XXth century »…
We must also mention another ‘great’ from that period : Francis Poulenc. Nicole Afriat, at the invitation of George Cziffra at the Chaise-Dieu Festival,  revived his “ Concert Champêtre ” on the piano, whereas for the previous 50 years it had been performed on the harpsichord.
Another of her exploits that involves recognizing composers whose glory had been forgotten, or too quickly pigeonholed, concerns Alexander Scriabin.
To him whom people had too quickly judged as an ‘ under-Chopin’, Nicole Afriat gives back his noble credentials and recognizes his individuality. An initiative that would become an example : «Whereas at one time Scriabin was hardly ever played in France, today I notice that he is re-appearing everywhere, under everyone’s fingers ... », she says, with amusement.
(Recording of the Etudes pour Piano opus 8 and opus 41, Forlane)
« You will understand that whereas I am happy when I play Mozart, I am twice as happy to see that, following my recordings on CD and for the radio, it is Scriabin and Markevitch who are coming back into fashion »
From festivals to recitals, from prestigious platforms to the most unexpected places, Nicole Afriat walks hand-in-hand with Bach and Fauré, Chopin and Ravel, Mozart and Messiaen, Scriabin and Saint-Saëns, anxious to bring all music to life.


In 1998, Nicole Afriat performed, at the Salle Gaveau in Paris, a recital of Chopin and Scriabin, in the presence of the pianists Raymond Trouard, Yvonne Loriot and Robert Cornman, the son-in-law of Alexander Scriabin.
In 2000 she was engaged for tours in East European countries, notably in Warsaw, Gdansk and Katowice, where she interpreted Mozart Concerti under the baton of Marek Sewen and the Orchestra of Katowice. From 2001 she devoted herself to chamber music. She performed at La Scala of Milan, then in Trieste and in Venice, where she interpreted “ Le Quatuor pour la Fin du Temps “ by Olivier Messiaen.
In 2003 she founded the Trio Saint-Saëns, and has been invited to several festivals in the South of France, including Sète, Nîmes, Alès and Avignon.
Subsequently, in 2006, the Trio’s new base in Pézenas was made official through the support of the direct descendant of  Camille Saint-Saëns, a native of that town. In the near future the Trio Saint-Saëns will make recordings.



That is Nicole Afriat, a very great musician, sensitive and gifted, and someone who has been able to use her professionalism to express the feelings of her heart. So, Nicole, a spot ? Of folie, perhaps ! Of total beauty, assuredly.

 


Musique on/off
Mozart: 1er mvt du Concerto n°17 KV 453 pour piano en sol majeur.
Orchestre Philharmonique de Katowice-Silésie.
Direction: J.W. Hawel.
Soliste: Nicole Afriat.