The secret of Camerata Bern’s success is the harmony of diversity

27. July 2018

’Andras Schiff hasn’t got large hands either’ – remarks Louis Dupras, director of the Camerata Bern while we are looking at Liszt’s life-size hand cast in bronze in the Liszt Memorial Museum. Dupras knows exactly what he is talking about: he has seen the hands of legendary musicians close by. During its long history, Camerata Bern have worked with guest soloists such as Jean-Pierre Rampal, Gidon Kremer, Maurice André, Vadim Repin, Heinz Holliger and the above-mentioned András Schiff. As the ensemble began the rehearsal with guest soloist Balázs Fülei for the concert the next day at Liszt Ferenc Academy of Music, we explore the museum together, and under a portrait of Liszt we find an appropriate place to talk.

CONCERT MAGAZINE: – You lived the life of a full-time musician for a long time. Have you ever had a concert with Camerata Bern as a flautist?

Louis Dupras: – I didn’t play with the ensemble, but I worked with some of its members in chamber concerts or taught them in music schools. However from the early nineties I became more and more interested in the management, and started to work with a Baroque ensemble. In 2006, Camerata Bern inquired if I would like to work with them because they were dissatisfied with their former director. Understandably they sought somebody they had known for a long time.


CM: - You’ve taken over a world-renowned ensemble founded in 1962. In what way do you think the Camerata Bern differed from the other ensembles also founded by students which split a couple of years later because they ran out of air?

LD: - The founder members were very talented musicians; all of them were the students of the violinist Max Rostal who taught in Bern in those days. Even now we have a violinist in the ensemble who was a student of him. So they were very talented, I think there was also a bit of luck involved too, but it was mainly due to the success and the recognition which they earned very soon. Four years after the founding, they were invited to a 20-week-long tour around the world. By the way, the quartet of Sándor Végh was on its tour on the same route at the same time, but they departed from the other direction. The two ensembles finally met in New Zealand.



CM: - You mean the quick results multiplied their energies.

LD: - Indeed. It gave them a great boost. After the tour, in the early 70’s they got numerous great record deals such as with the Deutsche Grammophon, and they had many performances. Camerata Bern discovered the long forgotten 17th century Czech composer Jan Dismas Zelenka in those years and made several records of his pieces. This was a kind of musical revolution because nobody knew this music, and it gave fresh impetus to the ensemble. Then came the Füri era. Thomas Füri, also the student of Rostal, joined the ensemble as a second violinist in 1967. Eleven years later he became the concertmaster and the artistic director of the Camerata and worked with them until 1993. His influence was very essential and many believed that during this time the Camerata Bern lived its golden age. Tours and recordings followed one another, most of them were of Baroque music, they performed the concertos of Tartini and Geminiani, and of course Bach with Heinz Holliger for the most part. At the same time, they were engaged with contemporary music too, and many contemporary composers dedicated their pieces for Camerata Bern, including Sándor Veress. The ensemble was always characterized by the diversity of the repertoire.


CM: - And now you have broadened it further to several theatrical performances.

LD: - I’m convinced that we need to leave the concert halls as many times as we can, and must exceed the traditional frames of our work. When we first took part in such a project, a dance performance with the Bern Municipal Theater, we didn’t have a planned or printed program, we just played parts from pieces of Tartini, Martinu, Penderecki and Silvestrov. The music was jumbled, and the audience didn’t know exactly what we were playing, but they enjoyed it. Then we were asked to play Baroque music in another dance performance, mostly Corelli and Vivaldi. The third joint production with the theater was an opera, Monteverdi’s Orfeo, three years ago.


CM: - And now you had another theater premiére a few weeks ago. This play evokes a strange conversation between well-known figures of the 20th century.

LD: - Yes, the rehearsals have started this spring. The title of the play is The formula, or the invention of the 20th century. It’s about an imaginary meeting of Einstein, Paul Klee, Lenin and the Swiss writer Robert Walser in 1905 at the Bern Central Station – by the way this meeting could have happened in reality. The premiére was in March, and the music is by a German composer Torsten Rasch.


CM: - You mentioned that you willingly perform in unusual venues. Would you mention some?

LD: - In Dresden we played in the glass hall of a car factory. We could look through the glass walls from the stage and see the cars to be assembled. Two years ago we had a concert in Basel in a large joinery where furniture is made for department stores. In March we performed again at a rather unusual venue: the Bern Museum of Natural History. The music was Peter and the Wolf by Prokofiev but the story was re-written. The title of the play was Alarm at the Hospital of Animals. Our musicians played in a large hall among taxidermied animals.


CM: - Earlier this year you had another unusual performance called War and Chips. What does one thing have to do with the other?

LD: - In the performance there was an actor sitting on the stage, eating chips and watching war reports on the television. And all of the music played in this performance was related to a certain war in history. First we played a piece by Heinrich Ignaz Franz Biber which was composed during and under the influence of Thirty Years’ War. That was mixed with George Crumb’s music entitled Black Angels which was composed as a response to the Vietnam War. That is, we mixed Baroque music with a contemporary piece of the 70’s. Then we played Honegger’s Symphony No. 2. which reflects the horrors of the Second World War; and finally, we played the Violin Concerto in A major by Mozart which evokes the Ottoman wars. We played these pieces one after the other for one and a half hours without interruption. The audience didn’t have a chance to applaud. It was a joint project with Patricia Kopatchinskaya, who came up with this concept.


CM: - From this fall Patricia Kopatchinskaya will be the new artistic director of Camerata Bern.

LD: - Yes, and again, a new chapter begins in the ensemble’s history.


Gabriella Bokor