Philippe Entremont, Principal conductor, Boca Raton Symphonia
When Philippe Entremont spoke to Boca Raton recently, he kept his responses short and precise, not wasting a word. The legendary pianist and conductor, 78, had just suffered a debilitating bout of bronchitis and was still taking it easy. But you can bet it didn’t slow down his playing—his primary voice being those 88 black and white keys.
“What is good about music is that there is no language barrier,” he says. “It can be understood by everybody. It is the international language.”
Entremont is a fine spokesman for classical music’s internationalism, having performed on five continents, led orchestras in three nations and played at one Olympics—the 2008 games in Beijing, where he was one of 10 pianists who joined in the “the piano extravaganza of the century.”
Born in France to a pianist mother and a conductor father, Entremont grew up with orchestration in his blood, and he scored his first music prize at age 12. Enriching stints with the Vienna Chamber Orchestra and New Orleans Symphony Orchestra eventually led him to Boca Raton, where he has been the principal conductor of the Boca Symphonia (561/376-3848,bocasymphonia.org) since 2010. This year alone, Entremont has conducted Rossini, Copland, Mozart and Beethoven, with help from star soloists from around the world. Next on his schedule is a March 24 program of Respighi’s “The Birds,” Mozart’s “Flute Concerto No. 1 in G Major” and Shchedrin’s “Carmen Suite” at the Roberts Theatre at Andrews Hall (Saint Andrew’s School, 3900 Jog Road, Boca).
You’ve had such a long and distinguished career. Others in your position might have retired by now. What motivates you to still do what you do?
For a musician, retirement doesn’t exist. I’m not thinking of it. That means instant death. It keeps me going and in good shape, and that’s it.
How has music education changed since you were young?
This is an endless story. Music education has to be done in schools. Big music schools are meant for professionals, as you know, but music is an art that has to be taught, like painting and theater.
What was it like performing at the 2008 Olympics in Beijing?
It was an extraordinary event. Classical music was very well-represented for the occasion. That was the only Olympics that I’ve ever attended, and it was wonderful. For me, the border doesn’t exist, that’s for sure. I have been everywhere except in North Korea and Cuba.
How does Boca Raton, and its classical music culture symphonies, compare with some of the major institutions you’ve worked with?
Boca Raton is a unique place; this is a very large community of people living very nearby, something like 2 million people. This is large, and there aren’t many orchestras left in the state. This is why we have to promote and to continue the orchestra.
Is there a particular composer or piece that you get the most joy out of conducting?
I never conduct anything I don’t like. I don’t see the point. Unfortunately, I like a lot of things. What is very important in my eyes is the quality of the orchestra. We have the best musicians around, and they make a very, very good orchestra. Boca Raton should be proud of that…
To read more, pick a copy of our March/April issue.