The 30th anniversary of your career at the Conservatoire National Supérieur de Paris was celebrated in joy and conviviality. How did you feel on this occasion ?

« I didn't expect such a success; more than eighty former students, especially from all over Europe and Japan, showed a lot of joy in gathering and playing together, it really moved me.

Teaching at the Paris Conservatory is a responsibility with regard to history. You are working there with artists who will be among the best instrumentalists of the next generation. »

What did you expect from these four days?

« Beyond the festive spirit, the idea was to strengthen the link between the Paris Conservatory and the establishments where my former students teach, and to provide an overview of the saxophone profession.  Such moments can be "pedagogical elevators"; for several years now we have noticed a certain reluctance, in France in particular, towards higher education. Too many young people prefer to end their studies prematurely and prefer small local jobs. They fear their foreign counterparts who are now sometimes better prepared for the entrance exam. In addition to concerts and master classes of an incredible level, the round tables on the baritone saxophone, the saxophone quartet and musicological research provided an opportunity to hear the full diversity of new career profiles. Saxophonist-composers were also in the spotlight. »

Nicolas Arsenijevic with Vincent David and his orchestra

What's your best memory at the conservatory?

« There are a lot of them... But I felt that the anniversary was a highlight of my teaching career. The most intense moments were the great encounters. As early as 1990 I had invited internationally renowned composers like Stockhausen, who spent a week with my students to prepare the premiere of "Linker Augentanz". These are moments of revelation for a class. As a result of this, some of the students became composers! Pedagogy must "reveal" the best of a pupil, the uniqueness of his person; the encounter with great creators promotes this. These are privileged moments when my artistic life finds an extension in the pedagogical life and vice versa. A kind of synergy is then established. »

Is it essential for you to invest yourself beyond your concert career?

« It's not "beyond", since it's the same job. I don't envisage the activity of a concert performer without passing on the means to access it. The musician transmits to an audience. It is wrongly considered that the finality is the stage. The concert is the tip of the iceberg, but not the most important part. The 90% immersed is the pedagogy, which is the heart of music. Without a desire to transmit, a musician is almost useless. The truth of music is in the ability to transmit it.

Besides, a course is a performance, a moment of concert, a moment when one produces and when one is the listener of one's pupil. A musician is not a concert performer and then suddenly a worker specialized in pedagogy. Transmission is the most exhilarating and noble part. »

How did you become a consultant at Henri SELMER Paris?

« When Georges, Jacques and Jean Selmer invited me to replace Michel Nouaux as a tester, it was both an honour and a great question. You can't enter the history of instrument manufacturing from the outset without asking yourself what you can bring to it. Knowing how to play the saxophone is not enough! How can you take part in this beautiful saxophone goldsmith's art?

Working alongside all these workers and engineers has been a revelation for me. I've learned to feel part of this great body of instrument making, to take on everything that works, everything that's extraordinary and everything that can be improved. My image today is totally linked to the company, which has "coloured" itself with my personal artistic adventure.

I contributed to the development of the Series III saxophones, the flagship of elegance and sound flexibility. Currently we are finalizing the production of a mouthpiece that bears my name. Instrument making has become for me, like a second nature as a musician, a way of getting back to the heart of acoustics and of maintaining a relationship that is both closer and more detached from the saxophone. I have blown into so many instruments, given so many opinions, written so many notes on the classification of materials, on manufacturing processes, on ergonomics, consulted so many proposals from the factory and the musicians ! Today, my point of view is very objective and a little detached from all the passion that usually mixes with the musician's preference for such and such an instrument. Paradoxically the enthusiasm for the beauty of the sound and the object has not left me ! I am very grateful to the Selmer company for everything I have learned in this long relationship of mutual trust. »

 Claude Delangle at SELMER manufacture

What does this work consist of?

« Verifying the conformity of production is the tester's first line of work. The second is to enhance his role as an interface between the market (colleagues, students, the amateur sector) and the company in all its forms : from small-scale to industrial production. The third demonstrates the quintessence of the observation of the first two: the need to work on new models and the development of prototypes that will become the reference models of tomorrow.

Blind testing of instruments from production, particularly at the suggestion of the factory, helps to avoid any drifting. The acoustics of an instrument is not only determined by its shape and the nature of its metal, but also by the manufacturing process. Questions of time and temperature, varnish, boilermaking techniques, etc. are absolutely invisible to the instrument maker, but they affect the acoustics considerably. The role of the tester is to validate or not the processes. We often coordinate meetings with other musicians who participate in a "Council of Elders" in order to take the necessary hindsight in major decisions.

The improvement of ergonomics, emission, accuracy, intonation and research on the evolution of sound aesthetics is implemented by an extraordinary team, very efficient in terms of musical acoustics and mechanics. It is a very enriching work. »

How would you describe this collaboration in three words?

«  – Patience ! You don't change the acoustics of an instrument with a magic wand; you become part of a story. You have to be patient and wise. Nothing can be done without a culture of sound, a culture of organology and a corporate culture. Selmer existed before me and will exist after me. You bring a culture, a knowledge, but you have to take into account the heritage.

- Creativity ! Having a sound, a technique and a musical sense are not enough to advance in our profession. Improvisation, writing, curiosity, musicological research and collaboration with composers are essential to shape a musical identity and become part of history. It's also all of this that I've tried to implement at Selmer. For example, what is beautiful in the mouthpiece that is currently coming out, designed in close collaboration with Christophe Grezes and his entire team, is precisely the balance of sound that is perfectly in keeping with the great Selmer tradition, presenting itself as the best possible synthesis today between all the skills required of a classical mouthpiece open to all repertoires: a technologically ambitious marriage of ebonite on a gold-plated metal tube.

- Empathy ! Finding a technical language and common goals between the different aesthetics of the musical environment and the company's staff is a major challenge. The people we've been working with for 30 years have become friends; that's kind of what makes it all worthwhile. I enjoy working in a team and developing a relationship based on trust. This is what has emerged over the years with Jérôme Selmer, Patrick Bourgoin, Christophe Grezes, Florent Milhaud and most of the plant staff. Difficulties and successes are thus shared by all! »

Can you tell us about your next projects?

« Numerous tours on the five continents in 2020 and the recording of a new solo album: a lively way to promote the Claude Delangle mouthpiece! »

Henri SELMER Paris, 28th November 2019


You can watch the teaser of the event below :