The orchestra Les Siècles is synonymous with François-Xavier Roth. But it has attained international renown because the maestro has been able to rely on a group of faithful and talented musicians, with François-Marie Drieux in the front rank. This outstanding violinist and student of Jean Lenert and Pierre Doukan began a career as a soloist and chamber musician with Toulouse Chamber Orchestra in 1995, before commencing his adventure with Les Siècles in 2002.

How did you become Les Siècles concertmaster?

At the very beginning of his career as a conductor, François-Xavier Roth invited me to be his concertmaster for a production of Pelleas and Melisande that he was conducting. We had been friends since student days, back when he was a young flautist. It was then he told me that he wanted to start his own orchestra and that he would like me to join as concertmaster. He knew me when I was playing in quartetsist and had been following my progress as an orchestral soloist for a number of years. He described how he wanted to gather together young, multi-talented musicians in order to tackle a vast range of repertoire contrasting works from different periods, often in the same concert. Without hesitation, I accepted his wonderful invitation to participate in this venture, led by a man with such immense talent and indefatigable energy.

On the left of François-Xavier Roth, François-Marie Drieux watches over Les Siècles © Mark Allen
On the left of François-Xavier Roth, François-Marie Drieux watches over Les Siècles
© Mark Allen

What is the role of the concertmaster within the orchestra?

The most important aspect of the role is being able to consolidate everyone’s efforts towards the same goal: the service of the music and of the conductor’s vision of it. You have to continuously create connection, awaken desire. For that, you have to earn the trust and respect of your colleagues, which I strive for every day by fostering trust and commitment. There are multiple roles to fill. Of course, you have to perform the solos, but there are also other responsibilities which are not so obvious but just as important and complex, such as leading one’s own desk, creating a smooth interchange between the quintet of soloists [the section leaders of each of the 1st and 2nd violins, cellos, violas and basses: ed] to unify the texture of the whole string section, to be constantly sharing and exchanging with each desk of the orchestra, all instruments included. That involves being sufficiently disengaged from one’s own responsibilities to be able to work with everyone else’s.

How do you facilitate communication between the conductor and the orchestra?

The concertmaster should be the bridge between the conductor’s interpretation of the piece and the energy of the people in front of him. The concertmaster conveys their thoughts physically and acts as a relay between the conductor and orchestra using only technical gestures. There is an additional link between François-Xavier and each member of the Orchestra which allows our mutual energy to circulate more fluidly. I am fortunate to have a privileged relationship with François-Xavier, built over fifteen years through trust and collaboration. On the one hand, this allows me to continuously improve my understanding of the main principles of his interpretation; on the other, it helps me to react instantly to, or even sometimes anticipate, his gestures. The orchestra are aware of this link and know that what I relay to them is fed by it.

Independently from the conductor’s musical vision, what initiatives can you take interpretation wise?

A conductor is not only a person of a particular vision, aesthetic or energy, they are also the person who knows how best to use the instrument they have before them: the orchestra. Just as a virtuoso can excel themselves with an outstanding violin, the conductor should know how to make the most of a orchestra of great artistic and technical ability. The concertmaster is the catalyst in the orchestra’s musical offering. The conductor take this into account, shaping and adapting the music according to his own vision. When it comes to playing a solo, when I am temporarily disengaged from the ensemble, it’s essential that I take the musical initiative: the conductor demands that, even if he wishes to influence me in some way or other. It’s also a very important step for earning respect from your peers.

An orchestra is a complex organism, with its own hierarchy between the different sections. How do you make sure that this hierarchy works smoothly without conflict?

I don’t feel like there is a hierarchy within our orchestra per se, but more the awareness that each musician, whatever their place, should give their all – even if their roles are different. The desk leader should be able to lead and the musician behind him should follow, but it can also work vice versa… In Les Siècles there aren’t fixed categories like in a permanent orchestra but each member knows what they need to do so that the orchestra will sound its best. This can only happen with mutual respect which comes from each musician’s skill. But there’s also a strong connection and faultless solidarity between the musicians, especially as they face the continual challenge of changing tuning, instrument or bow for different repertoires.    

Is there one thing in the concert ritual that you would like to see changed?

Concerts have developed a lot already. A lot of attempts have been made, some of them original, some really convincing, but in any case, I think that a concert should remain something outside of time, cordoned off from everyday life, an exclusive space in which each listener can find means of experiencing intense emotions. We’re creating a decompression chamber in which we can become as receptive as possible – that’s the purpose of this production that we call a concert. It has to adapt to the audience, the context and the venue whilst still fulfilling that main function. Some people might be put off by what is considered a rigidity of a bygone age. But I think the desire to enter a concert hall comes from being sensitive to musical emotion and then from understanding the music’s language. It’s artistic education which fills a concert hall, not the concert ritual that empties it.