An avid adventurer, French cellist and composer Dominique de Williencourt has traveled to all the deserts of the world – and brought his cello with him. Prior to these travels, his journey with music started early. “At the age of 15, I met the great French violinist Zino Francescatti who convinced me (and my parents!) to choose the cello and music as a passion for my life,” he says. “Since then, I have been taught by André Navarra, Mstislav Rostropovich, Maurice Gendron, Philippe Muller, and more.” He is now a world-renowned composer, performer, recording artist, and teacher. He has been named Chevalier de l’Ordre National du Mérite – Knight of the National Order of Merit – a prestigious award given by the President of France to recognize distinguished excellence. His extensive, deserved acclaim has been bestowed not simply because of what he plays – but where.
Imagine the remote desert. Now imagine a cello in the remote desert – the sand dunes providing an unexpected backdrop and unique acoustics for live classical music. This is de Williencourt’s distinctive style: playing Bach on his cello, perched on a sand dune or rocky cliff-side, seeking a resonance with the landscape. He has noted that in these spaces, “exploration of silence” can be as expressive as audible music. Throughout his career, de Williencourt has toured in more than forty countries – not always in the desert – and many of the more than twenty-five pieces he’s composed have been inspired by these travels around the world. “I have encountered many different cultures because I want to hear the different ways of creating,” he says. “Thus, I compose music inspired by Tibetan culture, the Caucasian way, the Touaregs of the Sahara, the Natives Navajos in the United States, the inspirations of the Southeast, and many other discoveries of culture.”
A palette of colors
The late French music critic Jean-Luc Macia wrote of de Williencourt: “Refined and cultured virtuoso, Dominique de Williencourt impresses in concert by his probity, the silky tones of his cello, and the elegance of his playing.” This summer marks de Williencourt’s KCMF debut – the first time our audience can experience his elegance up close and personal. He will perform the only solo recital of the festival on August 5th, providing a unique opportunity to hear a composer play his own work. “I will play Incantations of the Lonesome Cellist with two Bach suites and one of my compositions on Caucasian themes. The program will present a palette of colors like a painting,” he says. On August 4th and August 6th, de Williencourt will join other musicians in performing Chausson’s quartet – which “represents the quintessence of French chamber music” – and Popper’s Requiem, an allegory for 3 cellos.
The arts will save the world
As for his inspiration to keep traveling, playing music in unusual and evocative spaces, interacting with people from different cultural landscapes, and composing music that reflects what he learns, he points to the power of music as an art form that transcends boundaries and allows connection to flourish against all odds. “‘The arts will save the world’ is my favorite phrase,” he says. “In the Tower of Babel, every language spoke together without understanding each other. With music, everyone can understand you – without words, but with thoughts, inspiration and relationship.”
Photo credit: I. Baukens