07/26/2010 11:59 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Young D'Artagnan on Schubert, Chemistry & Grace

The hot young French pianist David Fray was born in Tarbes, close to the pilgrimage town of Lourdes and the border with Spain. The Pyrenees mountains, lying along the border between France and Spain, can be seen from the town. It is the region of France from where Dumas's great French hero, D'Artagnan, was born.


Although David will make his Hollywood Bowl debut* with Beethoven (the Third Piano Concerto -- watch for my review next weekend), his newest CD is a provocative all Schubert affair (Moments Musicaux, Impromptus and the Allegretto in C minor) which has caused ripples in the musical press for the breadth and flexibility of its vision. I called him in Paris to find out what the fuss is all about.

LV: What does Schubert convey to today's 21st century world?

DF: For me, Beethoven affirms while Schubert questions. The feelings that Beethoven expressed are almost totally pure, whereas with Schubert each moment is a mix of feelings, difficult, ambiguous ones and each with a different chemistry. His Moments Musicaux , for example, reflect his state of mind at particular moments, moments that could be channels through to just a few minutes, or two hours, or a year. Each is a musical description of an immobile scene illuminated by an always changing light.

LV: How does the world of Schubert work in today's large halls?

DF: That's always a problem and an opportunity. Schubert requires from the listener something that I really care about: their participation as active listeners. When I play Schubert I need people to stop in order to breathe. When I play a pianissimo I want all of the audience to physically move just a little bit closer to the stage and breath in synch in order to better hear the almost immaterial color of each modulation I play, whether it's in a small hall or the Hollywood Bowl. The listener is always part of the success of a concert. We the players cannot achieve anything without them.

LV: Your spacious take on Schubert, and on music in general, reminds me of the conductor Wilhelm Furtwaengler.

DF: The forward motion of Furtwaengler was totally connected with what he had to say between each note. If he had to take a little more time to express what he needed to express, he took a little more time. Musicians have to play in time and precisely; but it's not the beat of the metronome that must follow; their beat has to be alive, connected with the human heart; and because it's connected to the heart, it can only be deeply and profoundly personal.

LV: How important is the composer's score? Is it merely a point of departure?

DF: Reading the score is the first and the last step. First, you must make sense of the various signs, of expression, tempo, etc. Then you must make your imagination work to bring them to life. At the end, after you have processed everything, you have to go back to the score to check if your vision not only still works but is still connected to the composer. It may seem like a very simple assignment, but you have to read the score. Only then, after months of study, will you begin to realize that the secrets, as Furtwaengler knew, are between the notes.

Look at a Da Vinci: at the beginning you see Virgin Mary and Christ. 15 minutes later you look again and have the feeling that, as Goncourt famously said, the picture is coming to life -- which is exactly what happens in the good moments not only of music and art, but of life. It can happen at any moment, but you have to be available for it.

At a concert, you can't create moments of grace as if they were being turned out on a assembly line; but, with the audience's participation, you can create the conditions for such moments to occur, as if by magic.

Catch David Fray playing Beethoven this week at the Hollywood Bowl:

*Where & when: July 27 & 29, Hollywood Bowl
What: Beethoven Piano Concerto #3, Beethoven Symphony #3 "Eroica"
Who: David Fray, piano, with Pablo Heras-Casado conducting LA Phil