ARMEL DESCOTTE : A FRENCHMAN AT LA SCALA !
If you are looking for Armel among the one hundred musicians at La Scala, look straight ahead! He is right in front of the conductor. His clear complexion and 1.88 m do not go unnoticed, even sitting! He is especially happy to be there and it shows ! Armel Descotte has a sunny personality, the opposite of the sometimes fixed image of a high-level musician. I met him between his recording of a CD, his departure for a master class in Japan and his return trip to Marseille where he lives with his family. No stress, no anxiety. A smile plastered on his face, he is there and he has all the time in the world. It sounds pretty good no ?
Who are you Armel?
I’m 36 years old and I’m from the Landes in France. For the past 2 years, I’ve been first oboe at La Scala in Milan. But I’m not from a family of musicians at all! I was 6 or 7 when I discovered the oboe…
How did you choose the oboe as a child?
I went to listen to an audition and as we left I told my mom that I wanted to do it. I was able to start classes as an 8 year old. In high school, I ate in 5 minutes at noon and then I went home to practice. After the baccalaureate I joined the conservatory of Rueil Malmaison and later the CNSM of Paris…
It seems almost easy when you put it that way!
No ! I am a hard worker. Technically I need to practice a lot. My mother raised me alone and she borrowed money to pay my studies, so I worked hard ! And as soon as I could, I started competitions.
How are competitions held?
You can have 30 to 60 musicians competing for a position. Generally you have to start preparing 2 or 3 months in advance by working every day. The competitions are usually anonymous because we play behind a screen. My first was for the Philharmonie de Marseille, and I got it! I was 22 years old.
How did you arrive at La Scala?
I met Fabien Thouand, the other oboist of La Scala. He is French too ! One day he offered me a place as a substitute for the Marriage of Figaro. I knew it 6 months before, and I was overjoyed ! For me it was inconceivable to enter La Scala. I had never even dreamed of it!
Upon my arrival it worked immediately with all the musicians. I still remember the first reading. Total love at first sight ! It made me lose my mind! I was living in Marseille with my family, my friends and I had only one desire: to be here.
When I learned that there was a vacancy I auditioned as usual, behind a screen! We were 4 finalists, with 4 nationalities before Ricardo Chailly, one of the greatest conductors in the world. And I got it! So I got myself in trouble. Because even if I was happy, for my family it suddenly caused an imbalance …
The 2 oboists of La Scala are French. It that a coincidence ?
No ! The French School of Oboe is well known. The teaching is excellent, and we have great instruments. I play with an oboe Marigaux, a famous French house.
Has there been an unforgettable moment since you arrived at La Scala?
A concert remains unforgettable. The Tchaikovsky’s 6th symphony directed by Valery Gergief. I remember that night, we gave everything we had. We flew away ! I left the stage with a big emotion. I gave everything.
I like playing for people. In concert I look a little at the public to see their reactions. I want to convey an emotion.
Do you ever get nervous?
Very honestly no! You have to have a good dose of unconsciousness when you have the chance to be on this chair: when you have to go, you have to go ! The public is here to travel.
Sometimes I am nervous before a concert. My mind is constantly occupied by what I am working on. And we are so dependent on reeds. (End piece made of a blade of reed wood that vibrates to produce sound.) My work will be essentially to practice my material and my scores enough to get to feel the maximum freedom and be turned to music and its transmission.
What is your typical day when you are in Milan?
We work a lot at La Scala. There is the Philharmonic Orchestra and the Opera. We therefore regularly arrive at 2 rehearsals: the first in the morning from 10am to 1pm and then one in the afternoon. And finally direction the pit in the evening for an Opera.
It is also necessary to practice daily on one’s instrument and to play sports. Do not forget to eat take care of yourself in other ways, like going out or spending time with people we love.
It is a tough schedule but I do not get tired of the atmosphere of this room. I think a week never goes by without me taking a picture !
How would you advise someone who has never been to La Scala?
I would tell you to come an hour before the beginning of the evening, that there are regular places in the galleries. Despite what people think, La Scala is very accessible! You can see shows with the greatest conductors for ten euros.
Even if it is sometimes necessary to stand up a little to see well, you can take in the special atmosphere and this magical place for the price of a movie ticket! And if you do not know Opera, let yourself go without thinking …
Armel seems to have chosen to be carried away since his arrival at La Scala. Don’t ask him what his life will be like after playing in this legendary place. For the moment he is here and he is counting on not losing a bit of his happiness.
Written By Jessica Lia @thefrenchmakers