"Innovative and new ideas are essential for an artist, it's part of the never-ending process of art, whether it comes in the form of « how to play », or « what to play » like a sculptor would think which material to use and what to sculpt."
Laura Martin is a French Cellist currently based in Helsinki. Graduated from the Sibelius Academy as a student of Martti Rousi, Laura regularly performs with the Helsinki Philharmonic Orchestra and the Finnish Radio Orchestra, and has been invited last summer to be a Professional Performance Artist at the Boston Music Institute's 12 Hour Masterclasses with members of the Boston Symphony Orchestra, as well as to perform in the music festival of Santander in Spain. Laura Martin is one of the rare musicians to have built her own instrument. She was then 17, and this cello became her musical partner for several years. This unforgettable process opened to her the universe of sound making from its deepest origin.
Could you explain us briefly how you joined the Helsinki Chamber Orchestra?
Yes, it happened last summer in Paris. I had a meeting with James Salomon Kahane -with whom I have already collaborated several times- and he then asked me to join the Orchestra as the principal cellist. Question to which he received a very enthusiastic answer of course!
It seems to be important for you to work with innovative and new ideas. Do you think you can personally impact the orchestra? Do you have examples of interesting projects that are possible to do with this orchestra?
That's a good question! It's true that in my own artistic projects, I like to get out of the usual concert format. Innovative and new ideas as you say are essential for an artist, it's part of the never-ending process of art, whether it comes in the form of « how to play », or « what to play » like a sculptor would think which material to use and what to sculpt. I think that in classical music, it is interesting to think about how do we use the stage for example. This aspect is most of the time forgotten in classical music. It doesn't mean that a traditional concert (by traditional I mean musicians playing and audience listening) is not enough or anything like that, far from that! But getting out of the usual concert format can allow us musicians to enrich the performance itself or convey a specific message. The question of what is the role of the interpreter in classical music is a huge question and I don't want to go deeply into that question here, even the term of interpreter is controverted. But let's say that opening the box of the classical concert gives us the possibility to articulate thoughts, open questions and even throw ideas while playing the music of someone else. In this world, it can be quite useful!
More concretely, I'm really interested in combining different art form for example and that means also exploring the visual aspect of the concert. In our case, as we are a rather small ensemble I'm sure we could also experiment different ways to sit and play with the concept of spatiality. Playing by heart could also open many possibilities...
How do you think your multicultural experience could be beneficial to the orchestra as a whole?
I would put the multicultural experience on a human level, more than on a musical level. Of course, playing in different context and countries and with people from nationalities teaches you many things, but generally, the concept of « schools » or way of playing are melting little by little as people go to study abroad. But the qualities of listening, understanding, open-mindedness, respect, etc... this type of wisdom is crucial and let's say that I hope to influence in that way.
While the value of the orchestra is to share the leadership and break a bit the codes of hierarchy, could you explain practically what it means in a rehearsal situation and how you can contribute to the musical vision?
First of all the question of leadership is extremely interesting, and a bit unclear and underestimate too in classical music. One aspect of it is to define reality. In a traditional orchestra, the conductor is the boss so to say. He is the one who co-ordinates the different impulses coming from the orchestra and who also orientates the vision of the piece. Then, maybe the concertmaster can sometimes give suggestions too. But here, with the Helsinki Chamber Orchestra, we have abolished this sense of hierarchy. Everyone in this orchestra has his role to play and is free and even encouraged to participate in the common vision of the piece. So the goal is to define the reality together. This means that during the rehearsals the conductor is not the only one to speak so we can exchange ideas, try out suggestions, etc... It's so simple but the feeling and I think the result are very different!
"Everyone gives his voice to build a bigger voice, but everyone inside the big voice is still essential and the energy or the presence that one gives makes all the difference."
As an active both orchestral and chamber musician, what is your overall opinion on the "chamber music-like" way to play in orchestra, and do you think it can also apply to larger groups?
That's how it should be! Chamber music is the essence of dialogue, everyone has a voice and articulates it together with the other voices. In bigger groups the scale is different but the principle is the same. Everyone gives his voice to build a bigger voice, but everyone inside the big voice is still essential and the energy or the presence that one gives makes all the difference. In the end, nothing is big or small, everything or everyone is important.
In other words, chamber music is, first of all, an attitude. It's about the way you position yourself face to face with music, it's your commitment.
That's actually a tragedy in orchestras when people underestimate their importance or lose their voice so to say...if some external elements of today's musical system organization -like status in the group and salary- can sometimes have a role (what we are totally revisiting in our orchestra), it is also a personal attitude towards music that one needs to refresh and rethink everyday.
As a musician, you are a member of the Far(away) Ensemble and a strong advocate for music of our times. What does modern music from living composers mean for you?
I think there is nothing more natural than to play music from our own century, from composers that go through the same problematics and questions that we have on a society level. Somehow we are the most able to understand those composers, not five generations later when the world will be again very different!
Also, as I said earlier, art is a never-ending process of creation and research of expression, so that would be a refusal of evolution not to support the music of our time. It's impossible.
Actually, new music is such a big question sometimes, also very controverted, but when you think about it, which music was played in the time of Bach and Mozart? The music of Bach and Mozart! I think we also need to learn from our history: how many composers died almost unknown and poor and are now considered as geniuses?
Plus, we so often regret as musicians not to be able to ask Schumann for example what he really wanted here or there, but with new music, we have the luxury to work with the composer or have indications from someone who knows him or her. It's wonderful!
As a final word to that question, without considering myself as a specialist of modern music either, I think it is our duty to contribute to the present and share what is being created now.
"Modern music has a lot of different faces."
Why do you think that modern music sometimes meets resistance from the audiences?
Well, first of all, I think it is evolving in a good way, and like everything, it is a matter of education. Not even in a sense of intellectual knowledge, but most importantly in a sense of ear education. At least in Helsinki, I notice that all the new music concerts always gather a nice audience and also both the Helsinki Philarmonic Orchestra and the Finnish Radio Orchestra have almost every week one or several modern pieces in their program (if we think of « modern » in a broad way).
Concerning your question, I think the principal objection concerns the frequent absence of melody as we used to think about it. But we have the same crisis in visual arts if you look at abstract art for example. Nowadays the codes of the language are different and the purposes of art are more diverse.
For example, music used to serve mainly religious or entertainment purposes, but little by little the awaking of consciousness through centuries brought to a very different sphere of thinking. The place of art in society has changed too.
The beginning of the 20th century and all its politicals events together with the change in society has been a huge accelerator that leads to a totally different conception of humanity and jostled the mentalities. Later, after World War II, the « Absurd Theater » that emerged is another example of a radical turn, in the field of theater literature this time.
So basically the language has changed, and we should even talk of languages. But if new music is sometimes assimilated to very extreme, dry, cold and difficult music it's very important to underline that modern music has a lot of different faces. You can't put everything in the same bag.
What do you think can be done, from the orchestra/musician’s side, to help promote new music?
Well, we should love it more, no matter what style of performance it is. Sometimes it takes more time to relate to it, and it doesn't always speak directly to your emotions as romantic music would do. But there is always something to grab on it. And little by little, you discover a whole world. When you love, it's easy to be convincing! And as Jean-Claude Casadesus says « Music is the shortest way from one heart to another », so I believe it works independently of the music you play!
"Knowledge and technique are a start, but it's definitely not the end!"
As a whole, what do you think are the ways for classical music to reach even more people than it currently does?
I would say that there are different angles to be considered. One is of course education, whether it happens at home or at school by listening to music, going to concerts or by singing or playing an instrument. And then there is the responsibility of the musicians themselves when they are on stage, how they communicate.
The creation of schools and conservatories in the past has helped to develop and increase the level of playing, but it has also increased the marathon for perfection, the search of extreme contrôle, which leads when it's not correctly balanced to more uniformity. Knowledge and technique are a start, but it's definitely not the end!
Another angle is the way we advertise classical concerts, how we create the bridge, the whish to push the entrance door as well as to perform a very diverse type of program, not always the same masterpieces that are, at least, recognized as such in order to show that the so-called « classical music » has so many faces and is more « human » than just « classical ».