Héloïse Werner, you are a cellist by training, but the voice really seems to be the epicenter of your creative universe…
I started very young with the cello, around 3 or 4 years old. However, at the same time, I immediately started singing. I joined the Maîtrise de Radio France at the age of 12, and then devoted myself a lot to the voice, until university. Today I rather use the cello as a means of composing or improvising.
What memories do you have of this period at the Maîtrise de Radio France?
I was a Masters student for 5 years, during which I built very nice memories. I then moved to England where I currently live. Also, returning to Radio France twice during the season means a lot to me. Of this period of study at the Maîtrise I keep beautiful memories, musical and human, both with the other singing students and with Tony Ramon, musical director at the time. La Maîtrise also made me discover contemporary music, through so many beautiful creations.
Which ones for example?
Very different works! From an exciting jazz work by Thierry Lalo to the pages of Edith Canat-de-Chizy, Thierry Machuel and Isabelle Aboulker. In addition, our master course included composition lessons with Julien Joubert; it is in this context that I made my first attempts at writing.
What changes for you being, more often than not, the interpreter of your music?
It’s very liberating. Only I have in mind the precise idea of what I want to hear, it’s a very pleasant sensation. It’s all the more practical as I often insert short improvised elements into my works, depending on my mood, the room, the audience. These are small elements that I adjust according to the circumstances of the concert.
Is improvisation an important concept for you?
Yes. Also, there will be some improvised elements Close ups, created at the Festival Présences. It will be a very theatrical, humorous work, which lends itself well to the playful aspect of improvisation, and which describes four characters, sometimes snobbish, sometimes crybabies… I hope it’s fun!
In your compositions you use the voice as a real instrument, with onomatopoeia galore, a mix between György Ligeti, Georges Aperghis and Meredith Monk. Are these three names specific inspirations for you?
Absolutely, and this is a good summary of my music! I really like the theatrical aspect of the music of Aperghis, which is sometimes also sung by real actors… and with which I became familiar at the Maîtrise. I discovered Meredith Monk later, at the university; I sang many of his songs, especially his legendary ones Double Party. Ligeti’s music also inspires me a lot, with the freedom and beauty of his “written/unwritten” notations, using arrows and other symbols…
Meredith Monk is a total artist, looking for an artistic form between song, dance and performance. Is this posture that interests you, you playing the cello while singing your music?
Monk is also a choreographer, a director… I won’t call myself that, but I think singing, composing, playing, using the cello, exploring other styles like jazz and folk create a whole.
There is a strong bond with the Anglo-Saxon universe in your music and in the one you defend.
Having lived in London for ten years now, I realize how dynamic and diverse the British contemporary music scene is. I have a contemporary music ensemble here with which we play composers from all walks of life. In England it is easier than in France to create ensembles and music.
We notice them as “found objects” in your compositions. In coronasolfeggiowe hear a lot of very tonal harmonies, avant-garde gestures, Steve Reich-esque schemes… Are you “post-modern”?
In truth, I try not to place myself too much in the musical landscape. Above all, I write the music I want to write. coronasolfeggio sometimes it has quite “avant-garde” aspects, but in my piece Phrases, the atmosphere is much more folk. It’s really variable and very broad. I’m more a fan of polyrhythms and complex rhythms than Steve Reich for example! My idea is above all to reach the public in the most direct way possible, and above all with my voice.
What is the place of language in your music?
Language is an issue that interests me, having lived in the UK for ten years, and moving away from the French language a bit. The “abstract” language of the voice helped me, in the sense that the sung expression allowed me to more easily make the connection between the two languages, French and English. I also like to reconstruct other forms of language, as in my piece Mixed sentences which assembles Rimbaud’s verses in a different sense.
Mixed sentences is a work for soprano and contralto, Close-Ups will be for soprano, and you also composed for soprano and bassoon: you like these duets for voice and melodic instrument!
Indeed! The repertoire of the vocal duo, with instruments other than the piano, could be even richer. If the viola or the violin can reach harmonic sounds that are by definition impossible on the piano, I also like that the instrument I sing on is right next to me. “Equal” in a sense.
Interview by Thomas Vergracht