When I was four, I told my mum I’d like to play an instrument. She played records for me so I could listen and choose. The shock of the grave, deep sound of the cello is my very first memory! That was “love at first listen”, and I have been a cellist ever since. Music is part of me; I have never given a second thought to my vocation. It is just obvious to me.
Who or what have been the most important influences on your musical life and career?
My parents first and foremost. My mother for giving me her high-sensitivity and my father for his inexhaustible optimism and confidence. Then my teachers of course, I am so grateful to them (Marcel Bardon, Boris Baraz, Frans Helmerson and Wolfgang-Emmanuel Schmidt) for helping me develop my own musical personality. Learning an instrument is so difficult, and not just technically. There are also so many psychological and personal aspects involved in the development of a young musician: they did not just teach me how to play the cello but they made me a better person.
What have been the greatest challenges of your career so far?
Every step is a challenge because nothing ever repeats in this type of career: there are never the same two concerts, recordings, musical partners… But I love challenges… It is having the courage to accept them in order to progress.
The past few months were perhaps the most challenging in my life because so many changes happened in a very short time (signing to Deutsche Grammophon, recording, management change, learning to deal with a big concert schedule and the promotion of the album all at the same time).
Which performance/recordings are you most proud of?
This is a difficult question! I am so self-critical that I am often not very proud of the things I play. After a performance I am happy if I feel I’ve had a very special connection with the public and that somehow we momentarily left earth together through the music.
In my recordings I would say I am proud of the Ysaÿe Sonata from the album Reminiscences, and also particular parts of the last Deutsche Grammophon recording, especially Offenbach’s Barcarolle that I recorded with Nemanja Radulovic – it was such a beautiful and special moment together with his ensemble Double-Sens in Belgrade – and « Mon coeur s’ouvre à ta voix » from Saint-Saëns, one of the most beautiful pieces ever written. It opens your heart like nothing else…
Which particular works do you think you play best?
There is not as much repertoire for the cello as for the violin or the piano, so as a cellist it is impossible to be specialists (like pianists) of a particular period. And this is actually something I really like about being a cellist: you have to be ready to play everything – from very early baroque music by Gabrielli to contemporary pieces. It is so inspiring to see that composers, no matter which era they come from, always write about universal things in life and yet their languages and voices are so different.
But I have to confess that I am a very romantic person and that, of course, I love to play the Romantics above all…
How do you make your repertoire choices from season to season?
As a young artist unfortunately it is difficult to have free rein over all the repertoire choices from season to season, as you are not yet in the position to always tell the orchestras which concertos you want to play. So I’m playing a many different concertos over the coming seasons. However for the recitals I try to plan them with different pianists (for example Fazil Say, Julien Libeer, Cédric Tiberghien, Shani Diluka and Lucas Debargue) and to invent programmes which tell a story and also fit the personality of the pianist.
Do you have a favourite concert venue to perform in and why?
I really loved performing at the Elbphilharmonie for the ECHO Klassik Preis with Kent Nagano last November. This place is absolutely magical, from the dressing room view to the immense and gorgeous hall. I also love the Victoria Hall in Geneva which gives a very intimate feeling with the public from the stage.
Who are your favourite musicians?
Jacqueline du Pré and Rostropovich are my two cello idols. I am always fascinated to hear how intense and moving their sound is. They give absolutely everything when they play as if they would die for each note.
From the living musicians two of my favorite are Janine Jansen and Fazil Say. They both completely live the pieces they are playing on stage, as if they are actually creating the music at the exact moment it is being played. I am very happy to have the chance to collaborate closely with Fazil Say. He just composed his first cello concerto for me and we are going to play recitals together over the next few seasons. For me this is a great chance, an honour and an inspiration.
What is your most memorable concert experience?
Again, difficult to say… There are so many concerts I deeply enjoyed playing which I will never forget! Maybe my debut in Paris at the Théâtre des Champs-Elysées playing the Shostakovich concerto…it was particularly intense for me because it is always something special to play at home for all your friends and family… I also remember as sheer happiness the communication, partage and fun we had with Rosanne Philippens, Lorenzo Gatto, Dimitri Murrah and Julien Libeer in Flagey in Brussels with the amazing Franck quintet a few months ago.
As a musician, what is your definition of success?
Making people happy!
I strongly believe that music has the power to enlarge the heart, to make you feel everything with more intensity. Music gives hope for the beauty and the greatness of the human soul.
When you speak to people’s souls though music, for me that’s the real definition of success as a musician.
What do you consider to be the most important ideas and concepts to impart to aspiring musicians?
When you play, forget about yourself. The great performances happen when the artists get out of themselves. This is also the only way to deal with the stress: just think about giving to the audience and not about what people think or how perfect you want to play. We are just a conduit of the music between the composer and the audience, nothing more.
What is your present state of mind?
Happy! And grateful to have the chance to live this – sometimes difficult but oh-so beautiful – musician’s life. Each day I am more in love with the music, and always striving to improve in order to give the deepest and most affecting experience to the audience.
Camille Thomas’ new recording of music for cello and orchestra by Saint-Saens and Offenbach is available now from Deutsche Grammophon. Further information here
Nominated as Newcomer of the year 2014 by the French-Grammys ‘ Les Victoires de la Musique’, the Franco- Belgian cellist Camille Thomas was chosen by Musiq’3 – RTBF to represent Belgium at the European Broadcasting Union Competition, where she was awarded the 1st price and named “New Talent of the Year 2014”.
She has won numerous prizes at national and international competitions, including the Seventh Antonio Janigro International Competition in Croatia, the Yamaha Music Foundation of Europe Strings Competition, the Edmont Baert Competition and the Léopold Bellan Competition. She just signed as an exclusive artist with Deutsche Grammophon international, becoming the first Belgian artist to sign with the prestigious yellow label.
The season 2017/18 will include the release of her first album for Deutsche Grammophon with the Orchestre de Lille conducted by Alexandre Bloch. She will play the world premiere of Fazil Say’s cello concerto, a piece he is writing especially for her, on April 2018 at the Théâtre des Champs-Elysées with the Orchestre de chambre de Paris conducted by Douglas Boyd. She is also invited to perform with the Bremer Kammerorchester under Paavo Jarvi, Staatsorchester Hambourg in the Elbphilharmonie under Alondra de la Parra, the Lucerne Festival Strings in the Herkulessaal in Munich, the Orchestre National de Bordeaux, the Orchestre de l’Opéra de Toulon, the North Czech Philharmonic, the Krakow Philharmonic, the Aarhus Symphony Orchestra, the Orchestre de Massy, the Orchestre d’Avignon, the Orchestre Royal Philharmonique de Liège, the Orchestre de Bretagne…
She is a regular guest at leading venues such as the Salle Gaveau, the Théâtre des Champs-Élysées, the Victoria Hall in Geneva, the Palais des Beaux-Arts in Brussels, the Jerusalem Music Center and the Berlin Konzerthaus.
She regularly appears as a soloist with orchestras such as the Sinfonia Varsovia, Orchestre Philarmonique de Baden Baden, Brussels Philharmonic Orchestra, Orchestre National de Lille, Orchestre de Picardie, Orchestre Philharmonique Slovaque, Orchestre de la Radio Slovaque, Orchestre Symphonique de Bretagne, Orchestre Philharmonique Royal de Liège, Orchestre Lamoureux, Orchestre de la Garde Républicaine, Orchestre des Nations-Unies, La Baule Symphonic, Junge Sinfonie Berlin etc under the baton of conductors such as Theodor Guschlbauer, Darrell Ang, Faycal Karoui, Jean-Christophe Ferreaux, Pavel Baleff, Kriistina Poska, Debora Waldman, Giedre Slekyte, David Navaro-Turres, Antoine Marguier, Rastislav Stur ou Aziz Shokhakimov…
Her debut album « A Century of Russian Colors » for the label Fuga Libera (Outhere) released in May 2013 has been very well received by the international press (Choix de France Musique, 5* Volkskrant and 4* La Libre Belgique, Klara 10 Beste). Her second recording « Réminiscences » dedicated to French music with the pianist Julien Libeer, has been released in the Fall 2016 on the label La Dolce Volta and has been awarded a CHOC Classica among other prices . Her concerts are regularly broadcasted on international radios and TV such as ARD Das erste, BR, Arte, TF1, France Musique, Radio Classique, Espace 2, DR Danemark, Musiq‘3-RTBF, Deutscher Rundfunk etc.
She has been chosen to be one of the « Stars of Tomorrow » by Rolando Villazon for his TV show presented on Arte in March 2016.
Camille studied in Frans Helmerson’s and Wolfgang-Emmanuel Schmidt’s class at the Hochschule für Musik Hanns Eisler in Berlin, after working with Marcel Bardon and Philippe Muller in Paris and Stephan Forck in Berlin.
She plays a magnificent instrument by Ferdinand Gagliano (Napoli, 1788), the “Château Pape-Clément”, on a generous loan from Bernard Magrez.