Young Artist Interview: Maxence Bretel (Violin)

French violinist Maxence Bretel is The Musicians’ Company 2022 winner of the Lambert Fellowship, an award given to an RCM student of exceptional talent. Performing as a soloist, orchestral and chamber musician, Maxence has played with some of the world’s best violinists and conductors, and performed at renowned venues including the Royal Albert Hall. Maxence tells the Company about his journey from the Paris outskirts to the international stage.

When did you realise that you wanted to pursue a career in music?
I began playing the violin at the age of five and so was brought up involved with music from a young age. At around 11 years old, however, I became more serious about pursuing a career in music due to a number of factors. Firstly, despite having other interests at school, the violin became a large part of my daily routine and I found that I immensely enjoyed performing. Secondly, I met Christiane Chrétien at around the same age, one of my first violin teachers and certainly my role model. I distinctly remember watching her play with the Paris Orchestra at a concert to which she had invited me when I was 12 years old, and realising that a career as a musician was a path that I very much wanted to forge.

What period of music are you most attracted to. What draws you to that era?
Although I enjoy playing a wide and varied repertoire on the violin, the period that has long attracted my interest is music written in the 20th and 21st Century. It is particularly interesting for me to keep in touch with contemporary music of the current time, as I find that it is often an accurate reflection of the times that we live in. Moreover, I find that the experimentation of sound, textures, and colours in contemporary pieces is useful for wider practice. I envisage contemporary violin pieces as hypothetical toolboxes, in which technical and cerebral challenges not found in other repertoire reside. These challenges, once mastered, are easily transferable to classical and wider repertoire.

How do you preserve the traditional styles and techniques of classical violin playing while incorporating modern and contemporary music into your repertoire?
Incorporating modern and contemporary music into my repertoire has in fact only helped to refine my playing of classical violin in many aspects. As mentioned above, contemporary music will often bring challenges to the performer in ways that they would otherwise, in other repertoire, not be afforded. The technical and musical skill it fosters is hugely helpful when returning to more traditional styles and techniques, as it gives the musician a flexibility in playing that is often difficult to achieve.

Does French culture and history influence your approach to playing and interpreting music?
France, of course, has a rich tradition of classical music and its own distinct school of violin. An idol of mine is the great Christian Ferras, and I have always strived to produce a sound as focused and as clean in colour as he did.

How do you continue to challenge yourself and grow as a musician?
Challenging oneself as a musician is essential for development. Again, contemporary music has a large part to play here. One of my most recent projects has been to explore the meeting of computer-processed sound alongside live performance, finding that the limits of what one would expect from live music performance can always be broadened.

I also find that teaching violin to private students is an effective challenge, given that it allows me to better understand the fundamental tenets of violin playing on a daily basis.

What have been your most memorable musical experiences so far?
Choosing just one memorable experience is a difficult task, given that the last 7 years at the RCM have been so enjoyable. Although my most memorable experiences have often been when touring abroad, where I was able to share music with different people all over the world, from concerts in Dubai to orchestral projects around China. One particular experience that stands out in London was a recent concert organised as part of my Junior Fellowship showcase, in which I played Pierre Boulez’s Anthèmes 2 for solo violin and live electronic system. This concert was the culmination of much practice and research, and I was very pleased that the result helped to push the boundaries of live performance at an institution such as the RCM.

What projects or performances are you currently working on?
I am currently working on multiple projects. Firstly, there is my final recital which will mark the completion of the Artist Diploma I am currently working towards. Secondly, my third Junior Fellowship showcase is upcoming, in which I shall play Astor Piazzolla’s Four Seasons of Buenos Aires, a daring and exciting piece which honours Vivaldi’s Four Seasons but reflects the seasons of Buenos Aires. Further, I am currently attempting to feature the work of contemporary Middle Eastern composers, as I want to create a platform upon which various cultures might have their music heard.

What opportunities have you had as a 2022 Musicians’ Company award winner?
Being a 2022 Musicians’ Company award winner has been very beneficial for my both my playing and my career goals. One highlight that comes to mind is when I represented the RCM at the AEC Conference and performed Pierre Boulez’s Anthèmes 1 to an audience of other representatives from conservatoires around the world. The contact that I am afforded with the other fellows at RCM has also brought me a great number of teaching and performance opportunities. One of these being the Fellowship showcase concerts, which have allowed me to show the variety of styles that I have cultivated over my years studying at the RCM. Moreover, the school outreach projects organised by the Company have been a fascinating experience. This has allowed me to be an ambassador for the violin in a school environment, with the ultimate aim of inspiring the younger generation to learn more about classical music.

Will you be doing the summer festivals with your ensemble?
Unfortunately, I have had to place the Occam Quartet to one side so I can focus on my Junior Fellowship priorities and responsibilities. However, through a recent partnership with the Young Musician’s Guild, I am currently organising a series of concerts in the summer with a newly found quartet, aiming to explore the ever-growing contemporary chamber repertoire.

You can find out more about Maxence on instagram @maxencebretel


Interview by Suzy Willmott

Suzy is freelance copywriter who works with the Musicians’ Company