Valentine Michaud: "I couldn't resist playing a golden instrument"
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Valentine Michaud: "I couldn't resist playing a golden instrument"

The Prix Credit Suisse Jeunes Solistes 2017 has been awarded to Valentine Michaud. The likeable saxophonist plans not only to complete her studies at the Zurich University of the Arts this year, but also hopes to launch her career as a professional musician by performing at the Lucerne Festival and the Swiss Chamber Music Festival in Adelboden. Michaud, who is French by birth but now lives in Lausanne, will not let this opportunity pass her by, thanks as much to her charm and winning personality as her undoubted technical abilities.

Asked about musicians she looks up to, Valentine Michaud spontaneously names the pianist Martha Argerich and the violinist Anne-Sophie Mutter. "They are exceptional personalities. I admire them equally as artists, as women, and as mothers", she explains and underlines at the same time how important a normal private life has been for her – and always will be.

"I was fascinated by the sound of the saxophone from the first time I heard it, and of course as a child I loved the idea of playing a golden instrument," she recalls. She began taking saxophone lessons at the age of six, adding the piano at age nine. "I have also been playing the cello for three years, but only for personal pleasure. It's fascinating to be put back into the shoes of a beginner again."

Master's degree under Lars Mlekusch

The daughter of a graphic designer couple with wide-ranging cultural interests, Valentine Michaud was born in Paris on November 22, 1993 and grew up in Nantes. In September 2010, shortly before her 17th birthday, she moved to Lausanne to study saxophone and education at the Haute Ecole de Musique HEMU under Pierre-Stéphane Meugé. Since the summer of 2015 she has been rounding off her soloist training under Lars Mlekusch at the Zurich University of the Arts. "But I continue to live in Lausanne, especially as I am now giving lessons there myself." And if she has any say in it, she hopes to stay there: "I love Switzerland!", she enthuses.

However, making a living as a saxophonist is not always easy. "The saxophone is still the poor relation as a solo instrument in classical music", Valentine Michaud admits with evident regret. At the final of the Prix Credit Suisse Jeunes Solistes in Lucerne in December her performance program featured works by Stockhausen, Denisov, Borne, Tanada and Albright. Names that are probably not very well-known to a wider public. But she would like to put even more contemporary music on the map: "I love playing music by contemporary composers and discussing interpretations with them," says the 23-year-old, who also admits she is a fan of Baroque music by the likes of Marin Marais, François Couperin and Johann Sebastian Bach, as it is ideally suited to being transcribed for saxophone.

Valentine Michaud

Valentine Michaud

Lucerne, 10.12.2016
Copyright: Priska Ketterer / CREDIT SUISSE / LUCERNE FESTIVAL

Glitch - an interdisciplinary spectacle

Valentine Michaud also loves improvisation and interdisciplinary projects. "It could be a way of getting a new, younger audience interested in classical music," the saxophonist says optimistically, thinking perhaps of the "Glitch" project that was performed twice in Zurich last summer. Glitch is based on a mythological poem and deals with epic themes such as the lifecycle and mankind's place in the universe. It is realized in spectacular form by two saxophonists, two dancers, an electronic music specialist and a painter. "It was a huge success for us as six students," Valentine Michaud explains. "We are now hoping to go on tour with it on a professional basis."

However, 2016 was primarily a year of musical competitions for Valentine Michaud, enabling her to lay the foundations for her musical career. As nationality is not as important in classical music as it is in sport, for example, there was no difficulty in the young Frenchwoman taking part in the Prix Credit Suisse Jeunes Solistes, which aims to promote outstanding musical talent in Switzerland. The prize money of 25,000 Swiss francs is a welcome boost at the start of her career. "Even more important than the prize money is the unrivalled opportunity it offers to announce onself as an artist on the world stage by performing at the Lucerne Festival," notes Chairman of the Jury Michael Eidenbenz, President of the Conference of Swiss Universities of Music. Michael Haefliger, Executive and Artistic Director of the Lucerne Festival and also a member of the jury, adds: "Valentine Michaud stood out with an impressive interpretation of her program and seems to have what it takes for an international career as a soloist. I am looking forward to her debut concert on August 17 as part of our summer festival."

Valentine Michaud also won the Migros Kulturprozent instrumental music competition and an international competition in Riga as a soloist last year. However, as the opportunities for saxophone soloists to perform are relatively limited, her successes at chamber music competitions were just as important. Performing with the Lithuanian pianist Akvile Sileikaite as the "Akmi duo" she won a number of prizes, including first prize at the Orpheus – Swiss Chamber Music Competition, which brings with it the chance to perform at the Swiss Chamber Music Festival in Adelboden in September.

Saxophone Festival in Zurich

If you prefer not to wait that long and would like above all else to get an impression of the musical diversity of this likeable saxophonist, you can do so as early as February 10 at the Tonhalle in Zurich, where she and her saxophone quartet will be playing the "Saxophone Quartet" by Philip Glass, or from March 3 to 5 at the 2017 Zurich International Saxfest, at which Valentine Michaud will be performing in various concerts.