‘From my earliest childhood, I dreamed only of being a musician’: the words of Pierre Dervaux, whose parents were both musicians, his mother being a pianist and his father a trombone player in the Colonne Orchestra of Paris. He entered the Paris Conservatoire in 1926, studying piano with Isidore Philipp, Armand Ferte and Yves Nat, and composition with Jean Gallon and Samuel Rousseau. However Dervaux’s real passion was the orchestra, and in 1930, after studying percussion he became the timpanist for the Orchestra of the Pasdeloup Concerts. He finally realised his dream of conducting in 1945, when he led the Pasdeloup Orchestra in concert and was quickly launched upon a distinguished career.
From 1946 to 1953 Dervaux was a principal conductor at the Opéra-Comique, Paris, and from 1949 to 1955 a permanent conductor of the Pasdeloup Orchestra. In 1954 he was appointed as a permanent conductor at the Paris Opera, retaining this position until 1970, and became the Colonne Orchestra’s chief conductor in 1958. Throughout the post-war period he was very active as a conductor in Paris, directing the Lamoureux, Paris Conservatoire and French Radio Orchestras (Orchestre Symphonique and Orchestre Radio-Lyrique), in addition to the ensembles with which he held permanent positions. He appeared as a guest conductor throughout Europe, South America and the USA, in 1968 taking up the position of chief conductor of the Quebec Symphony Orchestra and remaining with it until 1971 when he became chief conductor of the newly-formed Orchestre Philharmonique des Pays de la Loire.
This ensemble was created as part of the French Ministry of Culture’s large-scale programme of decentralisation. Dervaux held his post until 1978 and initiated a strong programme of activities by the orchestra, including concerts throughout the large area served by it, educational concerts, and participation in major competitions, such as the Concours International de Chant de la Ville de Paris, Concours International des Jeunes Chefs d’Orchestre de Besançon, and Concours Marguerite Long-Jacques Thibaud. After his spell in the Loire, he served as music director in Nice, conducting both opera and symphony concerts there. Pierre Dervaux was also active on two other fronts: as a teacher and as a composer. He succeeded Jean Fournet as professor of conducting at the École Normale in Paris (1964–1986), and taught conducting at both the Montreal Conservatory (1965–1972) and the Nice Summer Academy (1971–1982); his pupils included Jean-Claude Casadesus, Gabriel Chmura, Antoni Wit, Sylvain Cambreling, and Georges Aperghis. As a composer Dervaux wrote two symphonies, concertos for piano and for cello, and several chamber music works.
Pierre Dervaux was a highly professional musician, much respected by orchestral players. His conducting was characterised by precision and a strong sense of rhythm, as well as a refined sensitivity to orchestral colour; he was a sympathetic accompanist and a keen exponent of contemporary music. His recordings appeared on a number of different labels, including the early American LP label Dial, the Concert Hall Record Club, and Command Classics, as well as EMI, for whom he recorded a wide repertoire. Among his most significant recordings are complete recordings of Poulenc’s opera Dialogues des Carmélites and Bizet’s Les Pêcheurs de perles; Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto No. 1 with György Cziffra, Schoenberg’s Chamber Symphony No. 1, the complete works for violin and orchestra by Saint-Saëns with Ulf Hoelscher, orchestral pieces by Ravel and Tchaikovsky for the audiophile label Command Classics run by Enoch Light, Rabaud’s La Procession nocturne, d’Indy’s Istar and Wallenstein and Pierné’s Images. Dervaux was a fine example of the French conducting school: efficient and clear, as well as sensitive and stylish. He died in Marseille, on 20 October 1992.
© Naxos Rights International Ltd. — David Patmore (A–Z of Conductors, Naxos 8.558087–90).