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Born in 1935, Jean-Claude Casadesus has long led one of France’s finest orchestras, the Orchestre National de Lille. In this book of conversations, he recalls his distinguished musical family of outstanding performers dating back to the 19th century, including his aunt and uncle, Gaby (1901-1999) and Robert (1899-1972) Casadesus, both superb pianists. In Casadesus’s Montmartre family apartment, an ancient Labrousse upright piano played by his elders ‘deserves to be restored, but I refuse to replace the original parts’, he insists. This lineage brings old times closer, as when Casadesus relates an insulting joke about Debussy as told to his grandfather by Camille Saint-Saëns, with a punchline that requires lisping to imitate Saint-Saëns’ speech impediment. In his own time, Casadesus conducted Emil Gilels in Mozart concertos, and was amazed when the noted Russian pianist enlightened him about where Mozart had stayed in Lille during a concert tour centuries before. Recalling Arturo Benedetti Michelangeli, whom he conducted in Beethoven’s ‘Emperor’ Concerto, as a perfectionist in music, Casadesus points out how the Italian pianist’s appearance, ‘with the austere face of a Franciscan monk emerging from a monastery’, was belied by the fact that he adored ‘driving race cars’. At an early conducting assignment in Aix-en-Provence circa 1960, performing Bartók’s Sonata for Two Pianos and Percussion with Jacques Février and Pierre Barbizet at the keyboards, Casadesus was coached by none other than the French composer/pianist Francis Poulenc. If not inherited, musical greatness can be drawn from such nurturing.

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Piano International, 2013 - ©Rhinegold Publishing