Prague Spring artist-in-residence Tamestit: It’s a package, in the best sense

Antoine Tamestit

Perhaps the most anticipated event of the 78th Prague Spring takes place on Wednesday night, with rising classical star Klaus Mäkelä making his debut appearance in Czechia, conducting the Czech Philharmonic and viola player Antoine Tamestit. Ahead of the concert, featuring works by Schnittke and Mahler, I asked Tamestit what it meant for him to also be the music festival’s artist-in-residence.

“This is a fantastic honour, of course, because of the historic reputation of the Prague Spring festival.

“But it’s also a fantastic chance for me as a musician to express myself in different contexts.

“And also as a viola player, where in the last 200 years we have not necessarily been given the same exposure as a violinist, or a pianist or an opera singer to appear as a soloist or an individual.

“But as the artist-in-residence I was given the choice of repertoire, of partners.

“Really, it’s a fantastic chance, for me and the viola.”

On Wednesday you’re performing here at the Rudolfinum with Klaus Mäkelä, the famous, upcoming Finnish conductor. Tell us about your relationship with him.

“We actually met in Paris, in April 2021, so in the middle of lockdown, where we did the Bartok viola concerto with the Orchestre de Paris, which is his orchestra – one of his orchestras [laughs].

“Or course the Bartok viola concerto is the most famous of the viola repertoire.

“And to meet somebody like Klaus Makela, who at this time had not yet conducted the Bartok viola concerto…

“But I could see his genius and his speed and his maturity, understanding exactly how to lead us all, orchestra and me, in this piece, as if he had conducted it all his life.

“So it was kind of love at first sight between us, understanding music the same way.”

You’re performing many concerts here in a relatively short time. How does it work with rehearsals, in this kind of intense situation?

“That is why I think it was important for me to bring partners that I know.

“For example, Isabelle Faust, the violinist, with whom we are doing a fantastic duo programme, very difficult.

“But we have played this programme this season already six times.

“So I was happy to be able to bring such kind of programmes.

“Because for example we cannot organise so many rehearsals until Sunday – Isabelle is not here yet, and I have too many other projects.

“Cedric Tiberghien has been my piano partner for so many years, and a very close friend. Those pieces we have already played – actually even a month ago in Madrid we did this programme.

“The Czech Philharmonic I knew already from playing the Martinů concerto with Maestro Bělohlávek and the Bartok concerto with Maestro David Robertson.

“And I was really dreaming of bringing a conductor with whom there is this close understanding – musically, but also instrumentally.”

Rudolfinum concert hall in Prague | Photo: Petr Veber,  Czech Radio

You also headed the jury for the international music competition here at the Prague Spring, where for the first time there was a viola competition. How did you find that?

“I discovered quite late that it was the first time that the viola appeared in 74 years of the competition.

“I could not have been more proud for the instrument, of course thinking, Finally [laughs], it’s about time that we have a viola category.

“But the way that the Prague Spring festival did this, together with the Prague Spring International Music Competition, by asking me to do this as a package – in the most beautiful sense of the word – that I am jury member, I am jury chairman, I am playing with the jury, I am playing then in the festival…

“It put me both behind the scenes and in the audience point of view, to listen to the young viola players, but also onstage in different situations.

“I have basically a multitasking kind of situation, which I love.

“I love the difference between all these aspects of the music life.

“I cannot just stay in my chair, I cannot just talk about music – I have to also play music; I have to do all these things.

“That was the great feeling that I felt for the last 10 days, being here.

“Also it was a chance to stay in a city, to feel the people of Prague, the culture of the Czech Republic, and really have this contact with the audience, with the music world.

“But for a long time, not just in and out but really appreciating every moment and every artist I have the chance to play with.”

Antoine Tamestit - Pražské jaro 2023