What is the best thing that I love about my work?
I like being in touch each day with great works, new thoughts, creating a show with inspiring people, musicians, singers, conductors, as well as stage directors, whose work I find fascinating, with dramaturges, costume, stage and light designers.
I love that opera is an art form that combines so many different aspects. Another thing I enjoy about my job is the incredible opportunity I have to travel and meet different people and different places. Last week, for instance, I played in Davos for a fundraising event where I had the opportunity to meet the co-founder of the Davos World Economic Forum. A few days later, I performed Harawi by Olivier Messiaen in Duisburg at the Ruhrtriennale festival in a huge abandoned industrial space. In addition to our concerts, there were two occasions to reflect on two aspects of economic development.
What is my idea of happiness?
To be with people I love and have opportunities for meaningful activities and development. The improvement and discovery of new things is a significant part of my idea of happiness. I also think that happiness is largely a result of one’s adaptive capacity. We need to find a way to be happy under the real circumstances we face. We cannot expect to always avoid unhappy moments.
What is my greatest fear?
Much more than death, the notion of eternity in death. Illness and inevitable suffering.
What is the trait that I most deplore in myself?
Which living persons in my profession do I most admire?
First of all, I should here mention ALL the singers of the Staatsoper Stuttgart Ensemble and the ENTIRE musical team. I admire their commitment to art, how they rehearse and the long journey we share together before we bring a new production on stage. I have also to mention the great French singer Nadine Denize, with whom I worked for six years in Paris. The beauty of her voice and her deep and meaningful interpretations will remain unforgettable for my entire life. Inspiring conductors like Kirill Petrenko or Thomas Guggeis, stage director Krzysztof Warlikowski, Barbara Frey, Sandra Leupold, Peter Konwitschny, the pianists Muza Rubackyte, Evgeny Mogilevsky and Elisabeth Leonskaja with whom I studied, my pianist friends Hyun-Jung Lim and Jean-Frederic Neuburger… I have listened to so many beautiful performances and concerts! There’s not enough room here to mention all the great artists I admire so much!
What is my greatest extravagance?
There are periods when I focus exclusively on a specific project, and can stay at home all day long working on it… and other times, I feel like discovering many new things! I am then able to travel extensively, read a lot about completely different subjects, listen to music I don’t know (mostly contemporary works), meet new people, have a really intense social life and… sleep very little.
On what occasion would I lie?
I usually don’t lie, but maybe I should do it more often… that might make it easier sometimes. Generally speaking, it is necessary to lie if telling the truth only brings pain and if there is no chance that it will improve things. But anyway, I prefer omission than lying…
What is the thing that I dislike the most in my work?
Knowing what your schedule is for the next day only at 1:00 p.m. the day before!
When and where was I the happiest, in my work?
Being on stage, feeling that we’re creating something special with space and time, right here and now. These very few moments on stage of absolute control and passivity at the same time, when what comes next, the following sound is an absolute necessity, when through extreme concentration, we feel the expansion of time. That is beyond happiness. Happiness is not the right description for these moments, but they are the most beautiful experiences on stage.
If I could, what would I change about myself?
Have less hesitation, less fear. But maybe it comes with getting older. I already feel slightly more confident today than when I was younger.
What is my greatest achievement in work?
Work still in progress…
Where would I most like to live?
I don’t attach so much importance to which city I live in. More important is who I am with and what I do. For these reasons, I am perfectly happy in Stuttgart. But in the summer, I love being near the sea or even better, the ocean. I grew up in Bordeaux, France, so spending hours in front of the immensity of the ocean was something usual. I miss that now. Typically, I spend my free time in southern European countries, such as Greece and Italy.
What is my most treasured possession?
What is my most marked characteristic?
Probably can’t stop thinking… it might sometimes be a problem… and boring for my entourage.
What is my most inspirational location, in my city?
Definitely Bärenschloss! It is 6 km away from my house, on the top of a hill. I run there nearly every day, along a lake, in the midst of a beautiful forest.
What is my favorite place to eat and drink in my city?
La Piazza ! An Italian restaurant with a huge terrace. It is the only restaurant that stays open late and where we can eat after the rehearsals and performances. Everybody from the opera goes there, musicians, dancers, directors, singers… there is not one single production without joyful evenings at La Piazza!
What books influenced my life and how?
The books and autobiography by George Sand I read in my childhood were crucial for two reasons. First, because she was an incredible writer who captured very well the beauty of nature, the essence of emotions, and wrote beautiful stories about popular musicians or the life of a singer during the Baroque time. Second, because she was a female writer. Her autobiography showed me at an early age that a woman can write, create, and lead a life independently. Dostoevsky’s novels were also of the utmost importance in the sense that I learned a lot about human psychology and behavior, while following his intense reflection on morality. I also deeply love Plato’S Dialogues, Phaedrus the most, Racine’s tragedies, Thomas Mann’s novels… above all the poetry of Paul Celan! Simone de Beauvoir’s autobiography,… I have always read a lot, so the list could be very long!
More recently, I discovered the work of the American philosopher Martha Nussbaum. I found her reflection on Justice, her list of 10 capabilities and her theory of emotions fascinating and very convincing. The many themes on which she has written are precisely related, and form a dense yet very clear network of concepts with a pragmatic aim. The reading of her work greatly enriched my thoughts on many important topics, including music. I would like us to discuss more about her work in France, particularly in the area of justice, ethics and politics.
You Only Die Once. What music would I listen to on my last day?
Annie Fischer playing Mozart piano concerti.
Who is my hero or heroine in fiction?
Phedre, who can’t fight against love.
Who are my heroes and heroines in real life?
Two women from Belarus: Nobel Prize laureate in literature Svetlana Alexievich and Maria Kalesnikava. We premiered in 2020 in Stuttgart an opera based on Svetlana Alexievich’s book, Second-hand Time. She was threatened after Lukashenko’s reelection and her books are still banned from Belarus. Maria Kalesnikava was a flutist in Stuttgart. She went back to Belarus to lead Viktar Babaryka’s presidential campaign. After the protests against the contested election of Lukashenko, she was arrested and sentenced to 12 years prison. She founded a new political party to defend human rights and received numerous awards. In spite of all the demonstrations and the terrible injustice of her detention, she is still in jail!
Which movie would I recommend to see once in a lifetime?
Fellini’s movies. All of them.
What role do stories play in my life and work?
Opera is all about stories. Because they are supposed to be fictional, stories create a certain distance between us and the characters. This distance facilitates observing and understanding certain ideas, behaviours and situations.
What do the words ‘You are the storyteller of your own life’ mean to me?
Well… this phrase poses a huge problem for me. I am very suspicious about the so-called “successful people” who explain that everyone is able to get rich, to choose his life, one should just want it and be strong enough! It’s actually a really dangerous idea with huge political implications. Just in the very first weeks of life, proper nutrition is crucial for survival, health and brain development. Later, a safe environment and education for personality development and so on… and I haven’t even mentioned economic opportunity, education, connections, family, etc.
If we are lucky enough to live in a country where the government does its job, those kinds of capabilities are more or less secure, and if we are healthy, then we can begin to make decisions about the way we want to live. You see, there are a lot of “if”s. So I would rewrite the sentence this way: “Under extremely favorable circumstances, you can possibly become the storyteller of your own life.” This is far less heroic, but far more true.
Who is my greatest fan, sponsor, partner in crime?
It would not have been possible to become a musician without the support of my family and my music teachers. I am very thankful for that, especially for the teachers who taught me when I was a child.
Partners in crime? Rachael Wilson, who is a magnificent mezzo-soprano and a person with a unique artistic imagination. The director of the Institut francais in Stuttgart, Johanne Mazeau-Schmid, is also an incredible support for so many projects! I am lucky to have met very enthusiastic people!
Which people or companies would I like to work with?
I have a network of musicians and artists with whom I love to play and to imagine new projects and I hope we will continue that way for many years. New opportunities and new encounters occur naturally. I’ve only worked in Europe so far, but I also would like to play sometime in America and Asia.
What project am I looking forward to work on?
This year, a complete Wagner Ring Cycle and Messiaen’s Saint Francois d’Assise at Staatsoper Stuttgart. I am also very excited about a symposium I am co-organizing with the philosophers Fabienne Brugere and Felix Heidenreich on Martha Nussbaum’s work. The event will be hosted by the Literaturhaus Stuttgart on 13 January 2023. About Art and Democracy.
Where can you see me or my work?
Regularly in Stuttgart for concerts and Liederabends, for example during the Messiaen festival in Mai/June 2023, where I will perform the solo piano part from Les oiseaux exotiques with the Staatsorchester Stuttgart, Harawi with the mezzo-soprano Rachael Wilson and the Quatuor pour la fin du temps. At the same time our production of Saint Francois d’Assise will be performed at the Opera House. On YouTube, you can find all the recordings of the festival I organised with the French Institute during the pandemic. (Fantaisies nocturnes. Institut francais Deutschland). A CD recording with works of the French composer Graciane Finzi (Arion) will be released on 7 December.
What do the words “Passion Never Retires” mean to me?
It has a very concrete meaning: on the day of each performance, or before a rehearsal, I look at the score and I ask myself: How should I play tonight? I already have a clear formal structure in my head, and then I look at every detail: “Why this phrase, this chord, this word, this dynamic? And which emotions should I create?”
After the performance, I talk about the concert with friends and the other musicians. “This part was good, that part improved, this could have been better, we should try this next time…” it never ends. It is a source of delight, but also of sorrow and fear, as the word “passion” describes it well.
Which creative professionals should Peter invite to tell their story?
Rachael Wilson, singer
Claudia Jane Scroccaro, composer
Elliott Carlton Hines, singer
Manuela Hartel, media artist
Matthieu Cognet, pianist
Claire Gibault, conductor
Jean Frederic Neuburger, composer, pianist
Hyun Jung Lim, pianist
Francesco Ciurlio, composer,
Anna Göckel, violonist
Yseult Lendvai, dancer, ballet master