When Melancholy is Welcome: An Interview with Mathieu Moutou ‘22


Mathieu Moutou/Courtesy Photo

Mathieu Moutou ‘22, a music and mathematics double major, will have his senior recital on April 10 at 7:30 PM.

As college semesters come to a close, seniors are frantically hustling to get everything in order for their grand finales. While the familiar hurrahs of thesis bindings are what are most common at these end-of-semester points, I wanted to explore a different side of the senior sendoff, specifically in the realm of music.

I spoke with Mathieu Moutou ‘22 as he prepares for his senior recital. I was curious about what he was working on, who he’s working with, some of the challenges he experienced, and his general background. What resulted was a delightful interview that I hope sheds light on how much thought and planning goes into preparing for a performance of this level.

Moutou is a Music (performance) and Mathematics double major. He started the violin at 12 and obtained the Licentiate of Royal Schools of Music (LRSM) in London with distinction in 2016. Before coming to Bates, Moutou was a music teacher and a violin teacher for beginners in Mauritius, where he lives. He won first prize in the Bates Concerto Competition in Fall 2019 and performed the first movement of the Mendelssohn violin concerto with the orchestra. He served as concertmaster for the Bates Orchestra for several semesters throughout his time at Bates. His recital is presented in partial fulfillment of the Bachelor of Arts in Music with Honors. 

To begin our chat, I wanted to know not only what he was performing, but a bit of background on the songs and why he ended up choosing them.

IW: What selection of songs are you performing; what led to those being the finalists?

MM: All works are composed by Pyotr I. Tchaikovsky. “Violin Concerto in D Major, Op. 35, I. Allegro moderato—Moderato assai,” “Piano Trio in A minor, ‘À la Mémoire d’un Grand Artiste,’ I. Pezzo elegiaco – Moderato assai” and “String Sextet in D minor, ‘Souvenir de Florence,’ II. Adagio cantabile e con moto.”

MM: Tchaikovsky wrote only one violin concerto, and the violinist to whom he dedicated the piece refused to perform it because he deemed it “unplayable.” After its premiere in Vienna, the influential music critic Eduard Hanslick declared it music whose “stink you can hear.” Audiences, however, immediately responded to its passion, energy and virtuoso fireworks and it did not take long for the Concerto to emerge triumphant as a repertory favorite.

MM: The second piece I am playing is the first movement of  “À la mémoire d’un grand artiste” which is scored for piano, violin and cello. As an elegiac piece which also happens to be one of the longest piano trios in the history of chamber music, the [“À la mémoire d’un grand artiste”] is written as a two-movement work whose recurring somber and heavy theme is the basis for the whole composition. It is, however, in my opinion, one of the most beautiful pieces ever written because of many lyrical and expressive sections which showcase all three instruments. 

MM: “Souvenir de Florence” is scored for two violins, two violas and two cellos. It was composed in the summer of 1890, more than a decade after the creation of the violin concerto. Considered one of his late works, it was written as a gift to the St. Petersburg Chamber Music Society. The title references the poetic and culturally rich Italian city which Tchaikovsky visited when he was writing the œuvre. 

Because relationships are essential to the development of music, I also wanted to know about some of the figures Moutou has worked with to get to where he needs to be for the recital.

IW: Who have you been studying under in preparation for this recital? What is your relationship with that person like?

MM: I have been taking lessons from Dean Stein throughout my four years at Bates. During the summer, I would sometimes go back home to Mauritius and study with my violin teacher Gerard Telot (Associate of the Royal College of Music) with whom I started the violin at 12.  

MM: I also learned a lot playing with Chiharu Naruse, who has been my accompanist almost every time I performed at Bates! During my time at Bates, I have [also] played under the baton of Hiroya Miura, who is also my thesis advisor. I enjoyed working with him especially during the pandemic where the orchestra was forced to be a string orchestra, and we performed movements from the Dvorak Serenade for Strings and the orchestra version of Tchaikovsky’s  “Souvenir de Florence.” 

With anything of this magnitude, there’s guaranteed to be some roadblocks for every highlight.

IW: What has been the biggest high and low in the lengthy preparation for this performance?

MM: Figuring out the program was hard. I had to narrow down the total duration of the program to one hour. The best part: Getting to play with other musicians from whom I can learn. Especially Naruse (piano), Christina Chute (cello) and Stein (violin).

I concluded the conversation with a brief, musical-personality question.

IW: Finally, who’s your favorite composer?

MM: Tchaikovsky! I find that there is a lot of melancholy in his music. By melancholy, I mean this definition from “The School of Life:”

“Melancholy is not rage or bitterness, it is a noble species of sadness that arises when we are open to the fact that life is inherently difficult for everyone and that suffering and disappointment are at the heart of human experience. It is not a disorder that needs to be cured; it is a tender-hearted, calm, dispassionate acknowledgement of how much pain we must inevitably all travel through.”

Moutou’s recital will occur this Sunday, April 10, at 7:30 p.m. in the Olin Arts Center Concert Hall. Tickets are available on Eventbrite.