February 16, 2016

An interview with Salut Salon: a quartet's fantasy world

With the new album 'Carnival Fantasy', Salut Salon unleash their animal side.

Like no other chamber music group, Salut Salon fuse classical music with tango, folk and film scores featuring stunning solos played with passionate en-thusiasm, charm and humor. They go beyond the boundaries of traditional classical concerts to amaze the purists among classical music lovers and even convert those who are not typical classical music fans. Something that usually only happens to pop stars: a YouTube video of Salut Salon’s version of Vivaldi’s Summer, entitled 'Competitive Foursome' became an overnight YouTube sensation with 20,000,000 views and counting.

You took your inspiration for this album from Camille Saint-Saëns’ 'big zoological fantasy.' What can we expect from Salut Salon’s interpretation of this oft-played work?

Salut Salon: We had the idea for quite some time to write a theme-based programme. And Saint-Saëns’s Carnival seemed a perfect choice. Many know him and are pleased when they recognise some of his pieces ... but we couldn’t fill an entire album with the 14 zoological fantasies that only last 20 minutes. We have, so to speak, been inspired by Saint-Saëns and his music, but, as always, created new interpretations with original arrangements. We play other pieces by Saint-Saëns, such as Africa, and add a few other animals from the realm of fantasy.

You also feature the Armenian song Les Deux Guitares, and many are familiar with the version by Charles Aznavour. How does a piece such as this fit into your programme?

Salut Salon: We took our cue from Saint-Saëns: in his Carnival he transformed pianists into animals and dedicated a piece to them. And we did the same thing with Les Deux Guitares. At the beginning – as the title suggests – there are two and by the end there are four. And they only actually play guitar briefly ... But that’s what it’s like during a carnival. The world is turned upside down!

Camille Saint-Saëns himself forbade the chamber music performance of his Carnival during his life-time because he worried about his reputation. Only The Swan was allowed to be played. In your programme it is played on the singing saw!

Salut Salon: Yes, on the singing saw this piece sounds like a never-ending melody. You almost lose a sense of time. Saint-Saëns himself was very experimental. In his Danse Macabre from 1874, he was the first composer to feature the xylophone in symphonic music. In the piece 'Fossils' he used it to make bones rattle.
A true animal virtuoso in your program is the Escualo, 'the shark', by Astor Piazzolla. For many years his Argentine Tango Nuevo has played a major role in your work – how important is Piazzolla’s music to you?
Salut Salon: Tangos by Astor Piazzolla are a must in every one of our programmes! Since our world tour when we were in Buenos Aires in the tango bars of San Telmo and danced tango in the streets, we have been in love with Astor Piazzolla and his music. Escualo is so special because Astor Piazzolla himself was a passionate deep-sea fisherman and fascinated by the battle with a shark on a hook. This passion can be felt in his music. It is profound. It is fate brought to life.
A similar display of virtuosity is one of the Argentine dances by Alberto Ginastera, which also describes a fight – this time between vain cowboys at the rodeo. That the two are so similar is perhaps because the slightly older Ginastera gave composition lessons to Piazzolla at the Conservatory in Buenos Aires.

Animals are one focus on your new album, the carnival is the other: disguise, masquerade. Man becomes animal ...

Salut Salon: We believe that humans differ only slightly from animals. And at the carnival, of course, anything is possible. The world is turned upside down. Incidentally, the same applies to Camille Saint-Saëns. The carnival itself doesn’t feature at all in his Carnival of the Animals, and not a single animal disguises itself. The suite is so named because the premiere, performed by the Paris concert cellist Charles Lebouc in 1886, happened to fall on Shrove Tuesday. We, on the other hand, celebrate wildly and in true carnival spirit – with the waltz from Aram Khachaturian’s Masquerade Suite, Brazilian rhythms and even carnivalesque music borrowed from the Peking Opera.

Does the quartet have a favorite animal?

Salut Salon:While working on the programme for this album, all four of us went on safari in Kenya. We couldn’t agree on one animal. Angelika has a soft spot for the prey animals, Sonja would love to work with dancing snakes and Anne was fascinated by the lion and its voracity. Only Iris is unabashedly immodest. She sings: “There’s a zoo inside of me …”

Stephanie Schiller (Translation: Suzanne Suessenbach)

Salut Salon's Carnival Fantasy is out 26 February: find the CD and DVD set here.