Joë Christophe, prizewinner of the ARD International Competition

Rencontre avec Joë Christophe, 1er prix du concours international de Munich
Clarinettist Joë Christophe won the ARD competition in September. Renowned for its extremely demanding level and known as one of the few independent competitions, this had not been won by a Frenchman since 1957. The young clarinetist's victory is all the more remarkable given that the competition reached this year a rarely equalled level, according to jury president Charles Neidich.

At the age of 25, clarinettist Joë Christophe won first prizes in prestigious competitions. Regularly solicited by orchestras such as the Orchestre de Paris, the Orchestre National de France and the Orchestre Philharmonique de Strasbourg, the young clarinettist is also invited to perform as a soloist with numerous ensembles, including the Munich Radio Orchestra, the Munich Chamber Orchestra, the Orchestre Pasdeloup and the Orchestre de la Garde Républicaine.

In September 2019, he was laureate of the ARD international music competition in Munich. The young clarinetist won the First Prize and 6 Special Prize, among them the Münchner Kammerorchester Prize and the Prize for the best interpretation of the commissioned composition (Three Pieces for Clarinet by Mark Simpson). His performance was widely applauded.

« Joë Christophe was constantly musical, engaging and always fully involved in his performance. As a jury, I think the most important expectation is that the candidate is a natural musician. The best experience arises when we can forget about the instrument and simply hear a wonderful interpretation of the music. This is the kind of "magic" that Joë Christophe created in his performances. He is trully a great musician and I feel sure he will have a long and fulfilling career. » - Eric Hoeprich, jury member

It should be noted that Joë is the fourth clarinettist in the history of the competition to win a First Prize, after Edmond Boulanger (1957), Franklin Cohen (1968) and Sebastian Manz (2008). When we asked Elisabeth Kozik (responsible for the organization of the competition) about this particularity, she confided that it is rare to win a First Prize because the jury expect from the first prize winner the absolute highest level through all four rounds.

« It is very hard to keep the full focus during 9 or 10 exhausting days. Not many people is able and has the (physical and mental) strength to do that. On the other site, having some great prize-winners in the past, you are always tend to compare them with the current participants. »

Eric Hoeprich also told us about possible disagreements between jury members. They face almost 60 excellent candidates in the first round and they have to eliminate at least half of them in the second round, before reducing that number to 6 and then to 3. The scoring system, based on points, avoids discussion and makes it an accurate reflection of the jury's general opinion, but it also causes tensions and disappointments. If a majority of the jury cannot support one candidate in winning the first prize, there is no first prize. But sometimes it works out to everyone's satisfaction, and it was the case in September for the clarinet competition. 

We interviewed the laureate to get his feedback on the experience, four months after the competition...

How have you experienced this contest ?

« I had the chance to go all the way to the end of this competition and I'm very honoured ! I wanted to take part in this competition because it was a great opportunity for me to confront myself on an international level and to become aware of it; it has such a reputation that every year it attracts very talented musicians from all over the world.

I registered because I couldn't miss such an opportunity (the next clarinet edition will take place in 2024) and I was very happy to be one of the 58 selected ! The program was very consequent but very well chosen and in all styles fortunately, because the competition starting in September, it implied to work during the beautiful summer months and to make some sacrifices... But with no regrets, the ARD competition offers all the candidates really great conditions: workspaces available at all times, a friendly and attentive administrative team, precise communication about the competition, shuttle buses, accommodation and food paid for from the second round onwards... And the chance to play with the Münchner Kammerorchester and the Münchner Rundfunkorchester if you manage to get through the stages! I have really great memories of it. »

Do you have a ritual before and during contests?

« The main enemies in a contest are stress and fatigue ! When I take part in such an intense event, I try above all to sleep well and eat well, it seems simple but it's important... The stress, the adrenaline rush, I don't think we can control it totally. I try to use the positive side of it and try to get rid of the negative thoughts, and I try to be aware of how lucky I am to be on stage, to be listened to, and to always enjoy playing these pieces that I've been working on so that I have the best memory of them, whatever the final result."

You've been playing a Bb clarinet for almost four years now. What is your relationship with your instrument and with the brand ?

« I started learning the clarinet when I was very young with a Selmer (Artys!) but later, when I had to choose a professional clarinet, I switched brands. However, 4 years ago, after trying the new Selmer Privilege clarinets, I immediately liked their warm sound, and especially their flexibility. You can play them with maximum power without saturating the sound, and play very softly while keeping the woody side. And I think they allow a very wide range of timbres and colours ; a real pleasure !

Another asset in this factory is that the whole team who works there is very attentive to the musicians and very friendly, there is a family spirit ! »

Do you have any special wishes or plans for the rest of your career?

« This ARD 1st Prize is a great opportunity to experience life as a soloist and a great springboard. I've been lucky enough to receive many proposals since then and it's a real pleasure for me to meet people from all walks of life, to make some great encounters and to share my passion. However, I don't intend to dismiss my desire to play in a symphony orchestra, the career of an orchestral musician is very rich in adventures and the repertoire is magnificent. I will also have the opportunity to engrave some works, I admit it for a rather personal pleasure, but which will interest whoever wants to ! »

His first disc, in a sonata with pianist Vincent Mussat, is scheduled for September 2020. To be continued !

► Discover Joë Christophe's musical universe
► Discover the Bb clarinet/La Privilège

Photo credit : Daniel Delang