Pianist Olivier Hébert-Bouchard acts like a teenager when it comes to classical composers. “I have ‘phases,’” he says. “I get obsessed with a certain kind of music, then find something else.” Hébert-Bouchard will compete in Toronto as one of the 30 finalists of the Canadian Music Competition’s elite Stepping Stone Competition for young musical talent. “But consistently, I would say that I absolutely adore Ravel. I feel like I know him. Of the Romantic composers, I relate the most to Schumann . . . probably because of the impulsive, even wild, moments in his music.”
The Trois-Rivières-born musician would know something about that: he describes himself as an impulsive piano player who might have practised something one way for days but then decides in the middle of a performance to do it differently. This creative approach to a repetitive activity attracts him very much. It’s also one of the reasons he’s so passionate about new music.
“With new music, you get to be part of the creation. Sometimes you get a piece written just for you or share your piano knowledge with a composer. New music is often collaboration and a way to explore. And as a player, I feel more confident that I can tell how somebody felt if we share the same historical context. For the composers from the past, we really have to guess.” Among his favourite living composers he cites Pēteris Vasks, Tomas Adès, Einojuhani Rautavaara, Osvaldo Golijov (“My ex-boyfriend first introduced me to the amazing The Dreams and Prayers of Isaac the Blind”), George Crumb and Arvo Pärt.
Competitions are a good way for a young pianist to get noticed and build connections, but what else does Hébert-Bouchard recommend? “Be active. Be out there and visible; people are not going to look for you. Most of the great projects that I got happened because I started talking to people, talking to my friends, asking if they would like to work on a piece or an event with me, and it would start slowly from there. And now it’s going so well that I don’t have any social life.”
Later this year, Hébert-Bouchard and his frequent music collaborators are starting their own indie label. “Time for some indie classical labels out there,” he says. “There are some new music labels, but they only do new music. What we’re going to try to do is to integrate new and old repertoire — to make recordings based on concept.” Their first project will unite Debussy and contemporary French spectralist composer Tristan Murail.