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Music is a lesson we learn every day

Music is a lesson we learn every day

By Ainars Pudans on Apr 05, 2024

Vincent Lucas is an incredible musician, known for his ability to bring out so many colors from the flute. Since 1994 he has been the Principal Flute of the Orchestre de Paris.
Laureate of Concertino Praga, Prague International Radio Competition, he started his orchestra musician career with the Orchestre du Capitole de Toulouse. For six years Vincent Lucas has been the 2nd flutist and the solo piccolo with the Berlin Philharmonic until he took a solo flute post with the Orchestre de Paris.
Vincent Lucas is renowned as an orchestral musician and is often asked to play as a soloist with orchestras in France and internationally.
Since 1995, he has been the Assistant Professor at the Paris Conservatoire and he was appointed as the Senior Professor at the CRR de Paris in 1999. Additionally, he gives numerous masterclasses all around the world.

We met with Vincent after the concert with "Sinfonietta Riga" where he played D-major concerto by W.A. Mozart, led by young Latvian conductor Aivis Greters, the Assistant Conductor of the Orchestre de Paris. We wanted to know more about his musical upbringing, time in Berlin, and source of inspiration.

How did you become a flutist?

I come from a family with four children: three boys and one girl, being the third child. My parents tried to allocate a different musical instrument for each kid. So, my oldest brother Jannik took piano lessons for some time, and the next child, my sister Helen wanted to play the flute. However, on the day when she was supposed to meet her teacher, the teacher wasn’t available for some reason. When I had to choose an instrument at the age of seven, my parents asked me if I would like to play the flute, and I said “Yes”. Mostly to please my parents rather than by deliberate choice.

I started to study at the Clermont-Ferrand Conservatory (Conservatoire à rayonnement régional de Clermont-Ferrand), which is located in the middle-size city in the middle of France, in the mountain area. My teacher at that time was Pierre Caseau, a very, very good teacher who came from the generation of Jean-Pierre Rampal, Maxence Larrieu, etc. He was solo flutist at the Opéra de Clermont-Ferrand orchestra. Besides, he was a student of Ferdinand Carragi and Marcel Moyse. So, it was incredible to study with such a quality teacher in Clermont-Ferrand at that time.
I stayed there until I was 14, learning very fast and winning nearly all national competitions at that time. Then I won a position at the Conservatoire de Paris (CNSMDP) where I studied initially with Ida Ribera, assistant teacher, and then with Jean-Pierre Rampal. Then I continued my studies with Michel Debost.
Immediately after my studies, I won the Concertino Praha competition. And then I got a position with the Orchestre du Capitole de Toulouse. For five years I stayed there and then – for six years I was in the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra.

Do you remember your audition for the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra?

Actually, this is a rather incredible story. My colleague Philippe Boucly, a solo flutist in the Orchestre du Capitole de Toulouse who recently won the solo flute position with the Deutsche Opera Berlin mentioned to me that there’s a second flute opening in the Berlin Philharmonic and he would be willing to give me a recommendation letter that was required at that time. And I said: “Why not?”. So, that’s how I received a formal invitation to come to Berlin for the audition.

And I still remember the date of that audition. It was October 19, 1988. There were around 40 or 50 people at the beginning and only three in the final round: two Germain flutists and me. We all stood on the stage and Karlheinz Zöller asked to play the excerpts from the “Ma Mere L'Oye” (Mother Goose Suite by M. Ravel), Beethoven’s 9th symphony, etc. All orchestra members were present in the hall, including Karajan.

So, when you think about it, it seems impossible to win the position based on all these circumstances. But at that time, I was only 21 and happy to be able just to play without really thinking too much about that. After the discussion one violin player who was very fluent in French came up to me and said: “Congratulations, you won the position”. Karajan just said “Bravo” and left. 

Afterward, I learned that I received maximal YES votes from the string instrument players and mostly NO votes from the wind instrument section.  And I learned that it was already 5th or 6th audition for that position. To get a position in that orchestra you don’t have to get 100% votes, it’s enough to get around 60%, at least that’s how it was at that time. And, since the string section voted in my favor, I’ve got this job with a 2-year trial period, of course. After these 2 years, the orchestra members had to vote again and then I received 100% votes. I was very moved.

But I couldn’t play in Berlin immediately because I needed to stay in Toulouse for another year.
So, when I finally moved to Berlin in August 1989, there was already a new musical director – Claudio Abbado, and my first program was Brahms’s Third Symphony.
That time in Berlin was an incredible experience. Not just musically but on a personal level as well. We had to move to Berlin with my family, and my first daughter. Then my twin boys were born in 1990 while I was just 22 years old. Now when I look back at those years, I can only admire my courage: only such a young and inexperienced human being can accomplish all that.
So, that’s why I encourage my students to take auditions at the age of 20-25. If you start doing that at the age of 30 or 35 it’s too late in my opinion.


Is it true that Andreas Blau made you to buy a new flute at some point?

Initially, I didn’t want to get another flute when I came to Berlin. But Andreas Blau, solo flutist of the Berliner Philharmoniker, insisted that I needed a new instrument for one sound identification of the orchestra, otherwise “I have too much French sound”.

So, I bought this flute at Bertram's shop in Berlin in 1990. This flute now is 34 years old. Some say that this instrument doesn’t have enough power but I disagree. Besides I still learn a lot about my flute every day, discovering more and more of its possibilities. This instrument is never aggressive and gives out so incredible colors to enjoy.

And I have to thank all my colleagues from the Berlin Philharmoniker who were a big support for me over those 6 years while I was there. And not only Andreas but my other colleagues as well: Karl-Heinz Zöller, Wolfgang Dünschede, and Michael Kofler. Michael was a big support for me, I learned a lot from him.

I’m still cleaning my flute while we are talking. I am a maniac when it comes to my flute. Whenever I finish any concert with an orchestra or chamber music group, I am the last person who leaves the room. It’s impossible for me just to put my flute in a bag and leave to drink a beer. It’s impossible. I have too much respect for my flute. No instrument can give you more than 50% of what you want to get out of it. But this particular flute gives me around 90-95% of that.
And I have a special flute box which was given to me by Muramatsu for my 50th birthday.

Why did you decide to leave Berliner Philharmoniker and choose the Orchestra de Paris instead?

There was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to come back to France as a solo flutist with the Orchestre de Paris. The position of Michel Debost. It was his place, after all.

I clearly remember that when someone from the orchestra called me to invite me to that audition, I remember asking “Are you sure? Does the orchestra accept that there will be two solo flute positions?” And they said “Yes”. And then I said to myself again: “Why not?”. "What do I have to lose?"
Because, once you already have the position in the orchestra, you have this security of having a place.

So, when I was doing this Paris audition, there were 75 flutists for this job. Since I had nothing to lose, I didn’t worry too much. My only worry would be in choosing between Berlin and Paris.

In 1994 and 1995 I played in both orchestras since the Berliner Philharmoniker didn’t give me a year of absence. All my colleagues in Berlin were sad about my decision. It wasn’t normal to leave the Berlin Philharmoniker orchestra, especially in Abbado time. It was a sad time for me as well since we were well-settled in Berlin.

Now, when I look back, I think it was a good decision. I was 27 years old. It was the right time to take a solo position, not wait for some more years. In Berlin everything was great, I played quite a lot and participated in various chamber music projects but it’s not the same career when you have 7 flutists in Berlin compared to a solo position in Paris. And, if you’ve been a second flute or piccolo for some time, it’s more and more difficult to establish yourself as a soloist.

Now I receive many more invitations to play as a soloist, like this evening, but, of course, my main position is in the orchestra. Besides, many conductors know me and I’m pleased when I receive some good compliments from them. I especially cherish collaborations with Christoph Eschenbach, Paavo Järvi, and Klaus Mäkelä to name a few. Especially I’m fond of working with Klaus and I’m able to propose to him many colors and he really loves that. 

And I play quite a lot of recitals — flute and piano, especially in China, Japan, and other countries.

Music is a lesson we learn every day. I still practice a lot. When I was 12 or 13 years old, I practiced 4 hours a day. That’s why I have a lot of admiration for my children who are professional musicians as well.

Was it difficult for you as a French musician to play in Berlin, the German orchestra?

It is a very interesting question. Why did the Berlin Philharmonic accept my French style? I believe that the musicians understood that I could bring something more to the orchestra. And, of course, I agreed to change my instrument and learn from my colleagues as well. Perhaps this was possible only with the Berlin Philharmonic and wouldn’t be possible with other German orchestras at that time.

Imagine you would have a chance to play any piece with any conductor and any orchestra in the world – what would it be?

It is a rather difficult question. I have two options then – I would like to play J.S. Bach’s Suite No. 2 in B minor with Klaus Mäkelä and the Orchestre de Paris. As the second option, I would like to play Ibert concerto with Philippe Jordan conducting.

What inspires you? Do you have a hobby?

Cars, they represent the best time of life for young boys as well as grown men. Because we never forget that there are always two parts present in each person: a child and an adult. And both parts should be in perfect balance with each other. You can't lose that inner child within to be able to fully enjoy various aspects of life and you are crazy if you allow yourself to lose a certain structure of your life.

I love cars and most likely would be a mechanic in some garage if I weren't able to play the flute. And I have a quite big collection of car models. But what’s important – I look for some car models that come from older times, car models with some story to it. The new car models are just plastic, there’s nothing special about it. So, it’s not just a toy or object for me. It represents some particular part of my life with some particular event or person. It’s like a souvenir but in fact, it’s much more. It's a way to remember some particular moment of my life. And I think it’s very important to keep these memories.


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