Lucas Debargue 1st full interview: ‘For three years I never touched a piano’

Lucas Debargue 1st full interview: ‘For three years I never touched a piano’


norman lebrecht

July 24, 2015

The French pianist who caused a sensation at the Tchaikovsky Competition has given his first in-depth interview to Bertrand Boissard, at Parlons Piano.

Among other topics, he discusses his Russian teacher Rena Shereshevskaia, his two years working at a supermarket till, his preference for learning Prokofiev by ear and his favourite pianists of all time, singling out among French artists the little-known Marcelle Meyer.

lucas debargue paris
Photo ©Bertrand Boissard.

Read the full, in-depth interview here.

Ismene Brown has generously created an English translation here.


  • esfir ross says:

    Marcelle Meyer was a great pianist but suddenly died in Italy before big tour. I heard her on you tube and was impress.

  • Shulamit Maneev says:

    It would be swell if someone
    will translate it to English!
    Thanks in advance!

  • Ismene Brown says:

    It’s a fantastic musicians’ interview (it picks up from my own previous interview, thanks for previous citation, Norman). I’ve translated it here. Marcelle Meyer died in 1958.

  • Neven P. says:

    When something appears too good to be true, it probably is. The interviews sound like a Hollywood movie pitch. And his teacher comparing him to Horowitz – give me a break! Very unprofessional, no responsible pedagogue would ever do that!

    A layman’s psychological assessment : the boy is an introvert and spends a lot of time in isolation. This, in addition to deep immersion in literature might have led him to inadvertently confuse fiction for reality. Even IP, known for eccentricity and wild flights of imagination never claimed to have learned to play these difficult and complex works by ear.

    Planet Earth to Lucas: get a good teacher, practice more, talk less! One Hollywood movie about a crazy pianist was enough!

    • MZ says:

      Having known someone with extremely good ear and extremely good memory, I actually don’t find it too difficult to believe that Debargue learns these pieces by ear. And judging from the interviews, it is not like he never uses scores, it is just that learning by ear seems to serve as a starting point for him. Plus both his teacher and himself have mentioned that there are inaccuracies when he learns to play something purely by ear.

      His teacher also taught Rémi Geniet who won the 2nd prize at Queen Elisabeth a couple of years ago, and I doubt it is fair to conclude that she is a bad or irresponsible teacher based on what she said in an interview. Given the context, I think she was just trying to say that Debargue had some talent, not that he was anywhere near the greatness of Horowitz.

      I do agree, though, that Debargue should focus on his studies and not give too many interviews. There are already a lot written about him in the past couple of weeks and the way some reporters and fans tries to portray him does seem worrisome. He has an unusual background and that could be interesting, but too much focus given to the “unique story” could become harmful in the long run.

    • Karen says:

      Hear, hear ! Well said, Neven P. !

    • May says:

      Neven, a layman’s psychological assessment: you feel deeply threatened by LD’s prodigious abilities. Not being able to comprehend such abilities, you indirectly label him as crazy, eccentric and wild, and even go so far as to having lost his grip on reality.

      If there is one thing that Lucas does most definitely not need, it is a teacher. What might help him in the future is a tough skin to deal with envious intellectual midgets.

      • Neven P. says:

        I do not envy Lucas and do not feel threatened by him. Take a look at my previous posts related to his performance at the Tchaikovsky.

        In David Dubal’s book “Reflections from the Keyboard”, there is an interview with Pogorelich, where he said that the first time he saw the score of Scarbo, he thought it would be impossible for him to learn the piece given its complexity. This is why I have serious doubts about Lucas’ statement that he learned these pieces (Ravel and Prokofiev) by ear.

        In addition, his statement that he didn’t touch piano for three years in his teenage years makes me very suspicious. Even Kissin, who is in a league of his own musically, often states in interviews how much practice he does require and how important in his musical development there were exactly the years during which Lucas claims not to have practiced at all.

        I suspect that given a great number of young pianists chasing too few opportunities in today’s market and due to the enormous pressures they are facing, Lucas and his teacher have concocted a few extra-musical stories in order to attract more audience and give him advantage over competition – they are simply exercising a subtle marketing campaign. In my opinion, this is not necessary since Lucas possesses enough talent to establish a successful long-term performing career even without these gravity-defying stories.

        • Sandy says:

          He could not learn by ear, because IP could not. He lies about three years of break, because Kissin practiced much at that age. Aren’t you kidding?

          • Neven P. says:

            If you want to believe this, go on. I personally do not. Why doesn’t he just say that he has been kidnapped by Martians and implanted a chip in his brain that makes him play all of these pieces? This is just an attempt of building a personality cult. As I said, I believe he is very talented. However, he needs to study more and stay away from the press. It can be a double-edged sword.

        • Sandy says:

          Kogan “took” the Waxman Carmen from a vinyl disc, there was no score available in the USSR. Took and played in concerts. Of course Bizet is not Ravel, but if you don’t believe in something it doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist. Me personally I know people able to catch nearly everything by ear, not exactly, but the essential – just what Debargue said in an other interview.

          • Neven P. says:

            My former piano teacher is one of the people you mentioned who can play almost anything they hear. However, even he always acknowledged that pieces like Gaspard and Prokofiev 3 were a world into themselves. This is why I will remain a sceptic.

            If you want buy into the hype, go on. I will not, but at the same time believing that Lucas is an exceptional talent and wishing all the best for his future.

          • Sandy says:

            did you former piano teacher play in a Tchaik final? I have impression that not, I don’t know why…
            To be serious, you build your accusing edifice on a strange supposition that the impossible for somebody is impossible for anybody else. Well, let’s return you your “go on”.

          • Neven P. says:

            He was close and studied with some of the biggest pianists of the 20th century. So hold your judgement.

            A good friend of mine knows a woman from West Virginia who claims to have gotten pregnant without an intercourse. He believes her, but many people, including myself for some reason don’t. Perhaps you could join this support group, too.

          • Sandy says:

            ok, let you speech be the last one, it becomes annoying, indeed.

          • Neven P. says:

            Have a nice day! Drop by sometimes again. I love annoying people and getting annoyed. No hard feelings 🙂

  • pianofreak says:

    Not so well said, Neven P.
    Where in this interview is said that his teacher is comparing him to Horowitz?
    Why do you think his current teacher isn’t good? I believe there’s a lot of her work noticed everywhere. Without her teaching mr Debargue wouldn’t have ever played the way he plays now.

    • Neven P. says:

      I do not know Mme. S. personally and therefore can not say whether she is a good or bad teacher (for the record, I have never stated that she is a bad teacher). It is just my humble opinion that a young pianist seeking a long-term performing career should stay away from those who do not have a problem with dropping him (Lucas), Vladimir Horowitz and God in the same sentence. But that’s just me…

      • MZ says:

        Well, you “have never stated that she is a bad teacher”, but you did call her “very unprofessional, no responsible pedagogue would ever do that!” And you did say that Debargue should “get a good teacher”, which seems to indicate that you consider his current teacher not good enough.

        I agree that Debargue (and his teacher) should keep a necessary distance from the media, but I find it somewhat unfair to suggest that they are not telling the truth and/or he is borderline crazy and cannot tell fiction from reality. And I think a teacher should be judged by what and how she teaches, not how she answered an interview question.

        • Neven P. says:

          I said that her statements in the interview were unprofessional and I stand by this. No responsible pedagogue would ever say what she said in light of Lucas’ current situation. He is already under too much pressure and not yet ready to handle it.

          Apparently, his concerto performances in the final round were not so good and his stage etiquette was lacking, too. So yes, he needs somebody who is going to teach him that since she did not.

          His statements in the interview reveal a person who is not completely grounded in reality (this may also be a result of the excitement, pressure, etc. – the last couple of months have certainly been very stressful and shocking for him). I know people who are very intelligent and successful and who say things which are not true, but they believe they are. This may be a case with him, too.

          He needs to be shielded and gradually introduced to the career of an international virtuoso. It is apparent that he is not ready yet for this, but I am not saying he will not be in a couple of years if he is in good hands.

          • Sandy says:

            his statements in the interview show a person with deep reflection and an exact self-consciousness, and even more – what he says fits perfectly to how he plays. Without playing these are just words of a vainglorious kid, but together with his music – an example on a honest self-analyse.

          • Neven P. says:

            Sorry, but in my vocabulary this is called marketing!

  • Sandy says:

    Memoirs about Rach’s ear and memory here. To play a different piece from one or two listenings quite possible for some…

    • Sandy says:

      difficult, not different, sorry

    • Neven P. says:

      Since you have provided a link to the Russian text in Cyrillic alphabet, which could as well be Rasputin’s diary, my next response will be in Chinese.

      • cv says:

        Dear Neven P. are you take a guardian position over the artists like LD? Why do you allow yourself to write in that deceiving manner as you’re a prosecutor or judge?? I’d like to know what are you up to here?
        HE WANTS what’s He think is necessary and already has a consultants and people he trust and love.Please, stop your harassment, nobody ask your “protection” from media, his teacher, followers, public, friends etcetera. How unintellegent your attitude is as it’s abuse. Please vanish now!! Thank you.

  • Neven P says:

    Abuse? Harassment? “unintellegent”??? 🙂

    First learn proper spelling and improve your reading skills. Then you will realize that my intentions were not those that you accuse me of. This is a public forum and I have the right to express my opinion. With valid arguments, of course, which you do not have.

    By the way, I am aware that this is the same person I have been conversing with. You have been using different aliases in order to make an impression that there were many people opposing my views.

    I will not dignify you with any further responses. I have life besides this. All the best!

    • Raymond says:

      @Neven P: many people see things the way you do about Lucas Debargue and completely agree with you.

    • Steven Holloway says:

      The signs are there that English is not the writer’s first language — and I think you know that. Perhaps it is Chinese, and we know you don’t know that. That apart, the answer to all your verbiage on here is close at hand for us all — Debargue’s first cd, which contains masterly performances, full of insight, and idiosyncratic without a hint of eccentricity. Just shut up and listen for once. You might learn something, though it may be too late for that.

  • javier says:

    He turns music into golden bits, this is real alchemy, magic, he has out of this world expressive pauses and silences, his sound is full of quality and virtue, his silvery phrasing…his moderate singing melody, so in balanced with diamond symmetrical rhythm and harmony, the 3 dimensions of music he talks about casually at the end of a radio interview…and I suspect this is one of the keys of his perfect playing, cause these wisely equilibrated 3 aspects of music make just almost everything work…only has few unimportant wrong notes…his casual image, his funny falling glasses, tics touching the glasses that must relax him…but has highest concentration and relaxation possible…and Debargue is at composer´s imagination and creativity level, he is what Mozart was and looked for, a virtuoso balanced with feeling, taste, and expression. Haydn said of Mozart, ” I will never forget his clavier-playing as long as i live, it went directly to the heart. ” just happened with me too listening to Debargue, and this happened to me very few times in my life….as with Horowitz, Arrau, Perahia, Pollini, ,Pires, Pogorelich….and now with Lucas Debargue, no doubt, a star is born, he looks like a shooting star in slow motion…but he is a huge radiant star very far away. He has his own gravity force and laws different from anybodys, he has almost invisible style cause he is so natural,humble and musical, this is what I like a lot about him, cause he lets the composers breath…he gets near to spiritual and technical perfection, comparable not just to Horowitz, but also to composers level, as high as Mozart and Chopin, Debargue is what Mozart said a musician should be ” a virtuoso perfectly balanced with feeling, taste and expression. ” and has what Mozart said a player should possess ” a natural lightness and gliding rapidity of which is so developed that the passages flow like oil ” and has what perhaps was the most crucial to Mozart ” time, playing in time, is the most essential, the most difficult and the chief requisite in music.” Mozart recomended ” always to play in strict time, even in tempo rubato in an Adagio “, Mozart said ” the left hand should go on playing in strict time. ” ALSO DEBARGUE IS ONE OF THE BEST EXAMPLES OF CHOPIN´S ADVICE ” SIMPLICITY IS EVERYTHING, IT IS ART¨S FINAL OBJECT. ONE HAS TO HAVE STUDIED A LOT, TREMENDOUSLY, TO LET SIMPLICITY EMERGE WITH ALL ITS CHARM, GRACE AND MAGIC.” It is simple and obvious,,, Debargue must have studied a lot, 24 h a day for years and somehow never burned out like most people including me, if he completely stopped and rested some months no problem…, probably safe him from destruction, many are force to continue and then music is used and abused and this destroys the musician´s fragile soul…so Debargues reward is that he got Chopin art´s final object, ” simplicity, with all its charm, grace and magic. ” You either admire or envy Lucas…thousands of students and teachers try this…but never get even close, a mystery, Lucas might have exaggerated or invented some things or facts…no big deal…press will find out..or not…so did Horowitz with his birth date and some exagerated facts his wife said. I am one of those who are not afraid to compare them both…chills down my spine cannot lie…few years ago I stopped attending concerts cause the spellbinding went away, now is back, can´t wait to hear him live.

  • javier says:

    here i answer to sdorr from another chat where he nicely recommended debargue to get the best agent possible to triumph while not getting burned out, like agent Sol Hurok did with some of the greatest in the past, he also recommended degargue to go west,,, to the new world,,,instead of staying in the dangerous europe…in order to find sanctuary and support for his fragile gentle and poetic soul…thank you sdorr, your words and advice inspire and i hope could help a bit lucas debargue, i fear for debargue evolution too, he is more a poet than a spiritual warrior, too delicate, the huge forces around him could diminish him very soon, although only a diamond can cut a diamond…we will see, yes…europe is too dangerous, materialistic, decadent,,,bach´s music consigned to a century of oblivion…one of the happiest of all…mozart.. and a poor, sad life full of envy…and not even a decent funeral…shame on europe…callas at the end destroyed and only japan loved her till the end, when an artist naturally decays and when love is most needed…as you say debargue will need sanctuary and support to endure, he seems so susceptible and delicate…has to be…this is part of his genius…i wish he finds a hurok…i like your invocation of the manager of my admired fonteyn, heifetz, michelangeli, richter…i wish debargue the best luck choosing agent…i would advice him to disregard all matters and choose agents of the artists he admires and loves the most like pogorelich he just said in an interview…i like what robinson said about hurok…. that ” he didn,t have much scholar musical understanding, but he had a sixth sense for the aura surrounding an artist, most people in an audience don´t have any special education either, like hurok they just have hearts. “…. i love it… just have hearts… this is the problem in artists, concerts, in europe, almost everywhere now…the connection with our spirit and heart has been cut…degargue´s hasn,t, he has like nobody today what hurok appreciated more…” some warmth and some fire, which are in the nature of the great artists, temperamental artists, who project it into an audience making it respond. ” lucas please don´t you ever loose that, do whatever, just do 5 records like lipatti…or 15 like pogorelich…they are among the greatest…or retire from public concerts like gould…i don,t know…do whatever is necessary…only your heart will know…

  • javier says:

    takes two seconds… and talent, genius, beauty and mystery are obvious self evident here. a couple of jurors at the tchaikovsky competition turn and brought debargue down as much as they could, one was french like lucas…just incredible, now i see thumbs down…i´m sure a few bad critics will come and try to hurt him a lot…watch out for this lucas, they can wait years to catch you off guard…horowitz suffered a lot due to a few stupid critics about his mozart playing, they said too romantic with too much color and pedal…horowitz was old and weak…and was hurt when love was most needed…it happened to so many…callas much worse…at the end destroyed and alone, only japan appreciated the greatest soprano…and mozart… always envied…and not even a decent funeral for one of the greatest geniuses in history, shame on europe, shame on envious rotten people anywhere.
    – the envious will die, but envy never. moliere
    – envy makes the bones rot. proverbs 14:30
    – bitter jealousy in your heart…and there will be disorder and every vile practice, unspiritual, demonic. james 3:14-15-16
    – love is patient and kind; love does not envy ; it is not arrogant. 1corinthians 13:4
    – the envious die not once, but as often as the envied win applause. baltasar gracian
    – envy puts down and asails the noblest: the winds howl around the highest peaks. ovid