At the age of 24, Stéphane Denève hit what he describes as his ‘big break’ as a conductor, when the legendary Hungarian conductor, the late Sir Georg Solti, asked him to assist him at Paris Opera and then with the London Philharmonic Orchestra.
In 1996 the French national 24-hour news channel broadcast this short film about the rising star and his formidable master (in French). A rough English translation is below.
The famous Hungarian conductor, knighted by the Queen of England, Sir Georg Solti, is currently recording Mozart’s Don Giovanni in a London studio.
On this occasion, the Maestro has decided to be assisted by a young French conductor, who is only 24 years of age…
“When he studies sections of Don Giovanni in his flat, he has no time to think of his past as a young musician in a little band in the north of France. Because, at the age of 24, Stéphane Denève has chosen to be a conductor. A choice nurtured by work but also by encounters as well, most importantly the one with Sir Georg Solti.
[Stéphane Denève]: He told me: ‘you are a conductor, right?’ I answered, ‘yes’, very impressed. He gave me his huge annotated score and told me, ‘Tomorrow, I would like to hear how it sounds from the hall, so learn my score before tomorrow.’
And that’s how the accompanist got the baton in his hand!
Six months later, when the Maestro decides to record Don Giovanni with the London Philharmonic, Stéphane is also part of the adventure. Now it’s no longer about the magical effect of an encounter, but the wish of a master to find a way to thank his disciple.
[Sir Georg Solti]: I always have an assistant when I conduct an opera because I like to hear the balance outside – you cannot really judge on the podium. And so for that reason he helped me for Don Giovanni in Paris, he knows me well, he’s very talented.
[Stéphane Denève]: It’s absolutely incredible in this place, where so many orchestras, conductors, so much life has happened, obviously it is quite something!
‘A modesty seemingly as an homage, because way before the arrival of Stéphane, Sir Georg Solti was an assistant himself, of somebody called Arturo Toscanini…’