Interview with Bechara
El-Khoury (Paris, November
For Naxos France-Integral Distribution.
You were born in Lebanon. Why did you
leave your country and why did you choose to establish yourself in Paris?
I left Lebanon in
1979, four years after the start of the war which lasted 20 years, though I did
not leave because of this war. Even though I had already completed my musical
studies in Lebanon (piano, harmony, counterpoint, fugue, orchestration) with Agop
Arslanian, my goal was to go to Paris to perfect my craft as a composer and orchestrator
with Pierre-Petit. He gave me the keys to the subtleties of the structure of a
piece of music as well as the techniques of the contemporary orchestra.
In Paris I was
given the opportunity to listen to modern music from all backgrounds and to
take full advantage of French culture - which was mine anyway in Lebanon. In
1987, I became a French Citizen.
What has been your musical path? What are
the different musical directions you have taken in your compositions until now?
Does your inspiration come from both your backgrounds?
When I was still
a teenager (between the ages of 12 and 22) in Lebanon, I composed a number of
symphonies and concertos, as well as fugues, but none of these works are present
in my official catalogue (published by Max Eschig). It begins in 1979, the year
I came to Paris. In Lebanon, I was Kappellmeister at the Saint Elie Church in Antelias,
near Beyrouth. I led the Mass every Sunday at six o’clock in a huge church
which could hold up to two thousand people. Sometimes I played the piano, other
times the organ, and also conducted the choir and other musicians. I conducted
my own works which were especially written for the mass as well as more
We made a record
at EMI of my religious works (for soloists, choirs and orchestra) when I was
16. Other records were recorded later. At that time too, at the age of 14, I
published three poetry books.
At the beginning,
I was mainly influenced by Russian music, then by German composers and later by
French music. But I think the oriental aspect is still perceptible; it has
probably lessened with time but I think I naturally synthesised all these
influences. Among all those that nourished my musical imagination I would cite
Richard Strauss, Mahler, Zemlinsky, Berg, Rachmaninov, Tchaikovsky, Scriabin,
Stravinsky, Penderecki, and Dutilleux.
My music is tonal
but it is an enlarged tonality, it is also modal and does not shirk away from
dissonance. I have always been outside of the current movements . . . because
what interests me is to write what sings deep inside of me. I have a preference
for symphonic writing and in the silence of the night when I’m orchestrating my
work, I feel total bliss and feel that I am completely free.
3) Tell us about your latest
recording which came out at NAXOS recently.
This recording groups four of my
symphonic works interpreted by the Symphony Orchestra of Ukraine under the
direction of Vladimir Sirenko.
symphony, the “The Ruins of Beyrouth”, is the last piece of a Lebanese
Trilogy dedicated to the tragic war in Lebanon; the two first pieces were the
Symphonic Poem “Lebanon in Flames” and the “Requiem” for
orchestra. This first symphony was written in 1985 for the 10th
anniversary of the Lebanese War and is a work in which hope and drama are
mixed, an absolute nightmare within a beautiful dream. The influence of Schoenberg
appears especially in the first movement which plays on this duality of
The fourth symphonic
poem “Wine of the Clouds” is an impressionist work full of poetry which
transforms itself at the end in an orchestral orgy where the musicians can
unleash all their virtuosity.
Harmonies” was written in memory of the great
French conductor Pierre Dervaux who conducted my works many times at The Théätre
des Champs Elysées and at the Salle Pleyel. It is a work where hope lies
amongst the most sombre expressions of drama.
And finally, the
symphonic meditation “Hill of Strangeness” is a poetic work in which
romance and impressionism mix in a serene meditation.
It is a great
opportunity for me to have been recorded by NAXOS because for the last 16
years, its president Klaus Heymann has been advancing an extraordinary policy
which is saving classical music and living composers by recording their music
and distributing it across the world.
What are your plans for the future?
Thanks to René Bosc,
director of music at Radio France, I have had a commission which was recorded
by the Orchestre National de France in 2001: ”Eternal Rivers”. This
piece has been performed by the London Symphony Orchestra at the Barbican Hall
under the baton of Daniel Harding who will again conduct that piece at the Théâtre
des Champs Elysées in Paris on the 19th of February 2004 by the Orchestre
National de France.
Rene Bosc is an
open-minded, authentic composer and a conductor who has restored the balance at
Radio France. Thanks to him, composers of all musical styles and of all
horizons are played. He has repaired an injustice.
My other concerts
will take place in Tel-Aviv with the Israel Chamber Orchestra, in Russia and
Ukraine. I also have projects in the United States.
Recently, I wrote
a concerto for violin and orchestra for the great French violinist Gerard Poulet.
Its debut is planned for the 2004-05 season. This important project will mark
the beginning of my collaboration with Alphonse Leduc Publishers.
At the moment, I
am working on my second symphony and my third piano sonata, which are both
inspired by the life of Jesus.
My dearest wish
is to continue my collaboration with NAXOS which will of course be beneficial
and stimulating for my musical evolution.