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Interview: Pascal Rogé debuts with NJSO, travels the world

French pianist Pascal Rogé debuts with New Jersey Symphony Orchestra this week
Photo courtesy of New Jersey Symphony Orchestra.

“Music is my life.” So said French pianist Pascal Rogé, who spoke with briefly after yesterday’s New Jersey Symphony Orchestra rehearsal, Friday, Jan. 24, 2014. He appears this week with NJSO under the baton of maestro Jacques Lacombe. “Music has been my companion for 60 years. My mother, grandmother and grandfather were musicians. I could read notes before letters. I can do without many things, but not without music.”

The artist will solo in Vincent D’Indy’s “Symphony on a French Mountain Air,” Op. 25, a beautiful, rarely-performed work from 1886 for piano and orchestra, the centrepiece of this week’s concert series. Further concerning music, he said:

It’s something I can share with others or be completely alone with. I have never thought of music as work, it has always been a pleasure. I get to do something I like, as a hobby that makes me happy, and I get paid for it. Some people go home after a stressful day at work and they play music. I get to play music all day, every day.”

Pascal Rogé has performed on-stage at innumerable concert venues throughout the world. “I have played in legendary halls, but I like the space of modern halls, like here,” referring to Newark’s Prudential Hall. “When I play where Mahler was a conductor or Franz Liszt once played, I become self-conscious and feel the weight of history on my shoulders. I prefer good modern halls. Those in Japan have wonderful acoustics and pianos. Everything is so well done there.”

“The Sydney Opera House is one of the most beautiful buildings outside and in. It’s also a beautiful city, by the sea with water everywhere.” After playing there, he and his wife, Ami Rogé, also a concert pianist, travelled two weeks south to north throughout Australia, “to see the red deserts of the continent and other inspiring vistas. I enjoy discovering, getting away to see nature. It’s a need I have.”

What other needs does Pascal Rogé have? Very few apparently. By choice, he and his wife have gone two years without a home. They have “a base” in Switzerland “where we have a few things and three pianos. But we are constantly travelling for concerts. Wherever we go, we set up home. We have been away from Europe two to three months at a time. For me, home is wherever I am with my wife and a piano.”

The pianist has played everything by French composers Claude Debussy, Maurice Ravel, Gabriel Fauré, Cesar Franck, Erik Satie and Francis Poulenc. “Debussy,” he says, “was a totally original composer; he changed the world of music with new harmonies, new sounds.”

Regarding the historical context of Vincent D’Indy’s “Symphony on a French Mountain Air,” Pascal Rogé said: “D’Indy was not a pianist; he was a composer, a professor. So his approach to music was more orchestral.” For that reason, “the piano is not meant to stand out with flashy passages. If it were a concerto, the piano would be showing off more. Many passages I blend with the orchestra. I have to follow the flute, the horns, the strings; I have to be part of them.”

What to listen for. “It’s a piece about the outdoors. It’s related to popular songs of the time and describes wide open spaces and nature. You hear birds, you hear dancing.”

What about composers outside the French repertoire?

I always say Debussy, Fauré, Ravel are all my friends. The others are gods. I find it easier to communicate with friends than with gods. I can live without listening to Beethoven, Mozart, even Brahms for a few days. But Bach … I really need his music. I don’t play much Bach, but all his works are part of my life. I need to hear Bach regularly.”

Pascal Rogé first visited North America in 1968, landing in Montreal. “Then I took the bus to New York when I was 17 and said one day I would live there. It took me 40 years, but I did live there eight years.” The artist just came from Frankfurt, Germany. After this engagement with NJSO he will perform at Yale University, then in Dayton, Ohio. Then it’s on to Japan for a month. His long-time collaboration with maestro Jacques Lacombe suggests he will someday return to Newark for more pianism and maybe even some exploring.

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