A few minutes with composer Camille Pépin

Camille Pépin © Natacha Colmez Photography

At just 27 years old, Camille Pépin has already carved out a place in the next generation of classical composers.

Her piece for violin and piano, Autumn Rhythm, was commissioned by the International Long-Thibaud-Crespin Competition and was premiered by all six candidates in the recital portion of the competition’s final round on November 7th. Camille found a few minutes to speak with us just before the big day…

 

 


On the unique experience of composing for a competition

“Composers generally hear their work premiered once and then have to wait months before hearing it performed again. Being able to hear my piece performed six times in a single day is an incredible opportunity. I’m not sure it’ll ever happen again in my life! And with such musicians! The level is just incredible.”

“But it’s been a really unusual experience for me! Normally, I work with the musicians before the premiere but I haven’t worked with the candidates at all. I’m really excited to hear their performances tomorrow, to discover the six different interpretations I’m going to get to hear. I haven’t been able to think about anything else for the past two weeks!”

On what inspires her
“I’m often inspired by paintings, and other visual elements—and I think this can be heard in my music. People often say that my work is close to film music.”

“Steve Reich, Bartok, and Debussy… I think those are the three composers that really shaped my music for various reasons—even though they are all completely different! I also like John Adams, Stravinsky, Tchaikovsky too (especially his dance music). Anything linked to dance is really important to me. I danced when I was younger and my dream is to write a ballet one day!”

On her inspiration for Autumn Rhythm
“I was inspired by a painting of the same name by the American impressionist painter Jackson Pollack. It’s an enormous painting (it must measure a good 5×3 meters!) from 1950, which I adore. The canvas is covered in splashes of different colors, mainly autumn colors. All of the lines cross and are superimposed on top of one another, playing with our perception of depth and texture. Personally, I see this as rhythm, and that’s really where my inspiration for the piece came from. I wanted to create this whirlwind of autumn colors.”

Jackson Pollock’s Autumn Rhythm (1950)

 

 

 

 

 

 


On the challenge for the competitors

“My style, in general, tends to be difficult, so I didn’t necessarily set out to compose a difficult piece for the competition, per se. But I don’t mean “difficult” in the way we might often think of competition pieces as being difficult: there aren’t any extraordinarily virtuosic or extremely technically demanding passages. However, the piece is based on a repeated rhythmic loop, which gives it a kind of hypnotic character. It’s intoxicating! So the performers (both the violinist and the pianist) almost need to go into a kind of trance, and it requires extreme concentration—it’s infernal and never-ending! But at the same time, they also need to be detached enough from the score and the rhythm to make it musical. The challenge of the piece lies in negotiating this balance.”

 

On what she learned from her teachers
“I haven’t been a student for over three years now, but before, I studied with Thierry Escaich, Marc-André Dalbavie, and Guillaume Connesson—three composers I really appreciate, and who all really helped me. When I arrived in their classes, I had a strong desire to compose, and I had written a few things, but I had never dared to show my work to anyone. They really taught me how to put things in perspective, how to be myself, and how to be bold, all without judging.”

On building a support network as a young composer
“As a woman at the conservatory, I was told that I couldn’t compose, that there weren’t really any women composers—that it was a lost cause. And my teachers pushed me and supported me. They’re not my teachers anymore but I’m still in contact with them and they still share their advice with me, on things like dealing with the challenge of a blank page. It’s so helpful to be able to rely on the experience of those that came before us. At the beginning, I didn’t even know how much I could charge for a piece! So they also helped guide me with all that… All three are so available and relatable, which is so rare and precious.”

“Today, I’m in contact with other young composers, my colleagues, really. I regret all the silly quarrels that can arise. We can still sometimes be divided along aesthetic lines, and it’s unfortunate, as I think we can all learn a lot from one another. I think it’s starting to change and we’re moving in the right direction, but there’s still a bit of work to be done!”

On the competition experience that pulled her into the spotlight
“I participated in one composition competition in 2015, called the Île de création orchestral work competition, which is organized by the Orchestre national d’Île de France. The four finalists each get to hear their piece played by the orchestra, and the winner has it premiered in concert at the Philharmonie de Paris and broadcast on Radio France. It’s really a launching pad that helps you get your name out there. Since I won back in 2015, I’ve been able to earn my living through composing, so it was a really important event for me. I know my life wouldn’t be what it is today without it! I owe it a lot. I’ve only gotten closer with the orchestra; we continue to work together, I regularly attend their concerts… several of the musicians are personal friends now, too!”


Vajrayana was premiered by the Orchestre National d’Île de France in April 2016, after winning the multiple awards at the Concours Île de Créations 2015.

On the importance of collaboration
“When we compose, it’s mostly a solitary activity… It’s working with performers that really lets me learn and progress… What’s interesting, is that the performers suggest things. I give them a score and I feel like I have one version in mind, and then they can offer others. This is incredible and allows me to think of things I wouldn’t otherwise have thought of on my own.”

On composing for the Long-Thibaud-Crespin Competition at 27 years old
“It’s a huge opportunity. I know I’m very young, and for me, it’s really a vote of confidence. It’s also so encouraging for the future; maybe it will encourage other competitions to work more closely with young composers! I really want to thank the competition and Renaud Capuçon in particular for giving me this opportunity and for believing in me.”


Watch all six interpretations of Camille Pépin’s Autumn Rhythm in the final round of the Long-Thibaud-Crespin International Competition!

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