Meet the Artist: Camille Thomas

Inspiration & Motivation

Q. Who or what inspired you to take up the cello, and pursue a career in music?

A. 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.

Q. Who or what have been the most important influences on your musical life and career?

A. 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.

Q. What have been the greatest challenges of your career so far?

A. 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).

Q. Who are your favourite musicians?

A. 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.


In Performance

Q. Which performance/recordings are you most proud of? 

A. 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…

Q. Which particular works do you think you play best?

A. 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…

Q. How do you make your repertoire choices from season to season?

A. 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 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.

Q. Do you have a favourite concert venue to perform in and why?

A. 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.

I also very much enjoy playing in the new auditorium in Bordeaux where the acoustic is particularly amazing.

Q. What is your most memorable concert experience?

A. 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.


Hopes & Aspirations

Q. As a musician, what is your definition of success?

A. 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 through music, for me that’s the real definition of success as a musician.

Q. What is your present state of mind?

A. 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.

Q. What do you consider to be the most important ideas and concepts to impart to aspiring musicians?

A. 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.

Camille Thomas’ new recording of music for cello and orchestra by Saint-Saens and Offenbach is available now from Deutsche Grammophon. Further information here

As published in the Meet The Artist blog published in May 2018 by Frances “The Cross-Eyed Pianist” Wilson. Emphasis, section headings, and photos have been added for readability.