PARIS — A concert violinist’s choice of encore is a window into his or her deepest personality. So it was telling when French violinist Renaud Capuçon, one of Europe’s most electrifying new talents, followed a recent performance here of Beethoven’s rocketing concerto in D minor with a quiet, introspective melody by Gluck.
“Why should I feel I have to come out and play a caprice by Paganini?” offers Capuçon over drinks at the Grand Hotel. “To stay with the obvious virtuoso thing, that’s what people expect. Of course, if I did that, I could be called back for another encore. But I don’t need that.”
Capuçon, though he has no problem igniting his own musical pyrotechnics, feels he has nothing to prove. At 29, his musical understanding is mature beyond his years and he has the confidence and panache to take the audience to unexpected territory.
Critics praise his wide range of color, decisive tone and dynamic nuances. Earlier this year, he was named soloist of the year at the Victoires de la Musique, France’s answer to the Grammies.
“I like to be surprised, touched, shocked,” he says. “I never get bored playing. I’m always trying to find something new in the music. Even if I play a piece a thousand times, I’m still looking for an undiscovered feeling in it, a new way of saying something.”
Certainly it helps that Capuçon has lived and breathed music since he was four, when he first took up the violin.
“I always wanted to be a musician,” he says. “At eight, I told my teacher I wanted to play violin in the summer and ski in winter.”
He enrolled at the Paris conservatory at 15. Soon thereafter, he hit the European concert circuit, quickly climbing the ladder and playing with more accomplished orchestras and conductors.
“Today, I’m lucky,” he says. “I’m at the point where I can pick what I play and with whom I play it.”
Capuçon’s reputation — and appeal with the public, especially in France —also has been boosted by his performing with his equally talented younger brother, Gautier, now 24, whose instrument is the cello.
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And his brother isn’t the only star in Capuçon’s musical universe. His fiancée, Baiba Skride, to whom he proposed last year on Venice’s Bridge of Sighs, is also a rising violinist.
With a repertoire solidly rooted in Romantics from Beethoven to Brahms, Capuçon says he likes to play to “tell a story. Honesty is something that completely obsesses me, even in life. It’s an integrity thing.”
He points to his violin case, inside of which is his 1721 Stradivarius, which once belonged to Fritz Kreisler, as if he had to earn the rights to it.
“There’s no end to your development as a musician, no matter what you’ve achieved,” he says. “I feel things today that I was incapable of understanding even three years ago.”