If you were to set out making a film about a charismatic millennial who decides to devote his life to music, Edgar Moreau’s magical first encounter with the cello would provide a memorable opening scene. He recalls what happened in vivid detail: “My father was an antique dealer and took me with him to visit a shop in Paris where he was selling paintings. I must have been three or four years old at the time. At the back of this shop I saw a little girl playing her cello. Right away, I fell in love with the instrument. That’s how everything began.”
Flash forward from that moment, when he saw the store owner’s daughter in the middle of a lesson, to the present. The 27-year-old Moreau enthusiastically discusses his latest project in a conversation via Zoom from his home in Paris. Transmission is a studio recording of pieces for cello and orchestra, made at the height of the pandemic with the Lucerne Symphony and the ensemble’s chief conductor, Michael Sanderling.
The Covid crisis may have temporarily tainted the image of “transmission” with unwelcome overtones, but Moreau and his colleagues proudly reclaim its affirmative connotation as the handing down of cultural and spiritual values through the generations. The striking cover photograph shows the cellist embracing his instrument and gazing in a contemplative mood at a luminous candle. Transmission as the passing on of light, knowledge, insight—in a sense, it’s the fundamental act of making music.
The album’s program is informed by various aspects of Jewish culture and identity and entails an homage to Moreau’s own heritage. Compositions inspired by Jewish prayer and ritual (including pieces by non-Jewish composers like Maurice Ravel and Max Bruch alongside music by Ernest Bloch) are juxtaposed with a decidedly secular cello concerto by Erich Wolfgang Korngold.
“Transmission is something I wanted to do for a long time,” Moreau explains. “I feel very close to Jewish composers in general, because I am Jewish.” Although he inherited his non-Jewish father’s last name, his mother comes from a Jewish-Polish background. She lived in Jerusalem as a child and works as a Hebrew-French translator. In addition to reflecting on these roots more generally, the album traces a kind of musical autobiography.
After that life-changing first encounter in the antique shop, Moreau begged his parents to let him learn the instrument. His father tracked down the teacher that the shop owner had chosen for his daughter: Carlos Beyris, who introduced Edgar to the cello via the Suzuki method. Beyris taught him for five years.
Moreau advanced so quickly that by the precocious age of eight or nine he was playing Bruch’s Kol Nidrei. Around this time he enrolled in the conservatory at Boulogne-Billancourt (where the young cellist also studied piano). He added Bloch’s Schelomo—Rhapsodie hébraïque to his repertoire a few years later and at 13 was accepted to the Paris Conservatoire.
Transmission charts Moreau’s continuing development with Ravel’s Deux mélodies hébraïques, which he learned in his later teenage years—played here in his own arrangement for cello and orchestra—and a more recent discovery, Korngold’s C major Cello Concerto, Op. 37.
Moreau’s orchestral partner for Transmission is similarly linked to the early stage of his career. After winning top prize at the Rostropovich Competition (2009) and second prize at the International Tchaikovsky Competition (2011), he received the Arthur Waser Award, which allowed him to make his debut with the Lucerne Symphony Orchestra. Moreau has since returned regularly to collaborate with the ensemble.
“I was at the very beginning of my career, so the award helped me a lot,” says the cellist. “After that, the orchestra invited me.” Moreau enjoys a special bond with the Lucerne Symphony and the fabled small city in central Switzerland that it calls home: “So it was very natural to do this project with them.” It doesn’t hurt that the concert hall in their home venue, the KKL Luzern designed by Jean Nouvel, boasts exceptionally fine acoustics.
Moreau had been planning a South American tour with the Lucerne Symphony as one of the soloists in Beethoven’s Triple Concerto when the pandemic brought live performance to a halt. But with the help of a sponsor, the opportunity presented itself to shift gears drastically and focus on the Transmission project that had been on his long-range to-do list.
“I’m so fortunate that Erato trusts me and gives me the chance to do what I want to do for now,” says Moreau. In early September 2020, during a window when some live performances for limited audiences were being permitted in Switzerland, he and the orchestra were able to book some recording sessions in the KKL. With Transmission, Moreau did more than record pieces that are dear to him. “You also want to record with people you have a strong connection with,” he remarks. “All of my albums are also always about friendship.”
In 2013, Moreau signed an exclusive contract with Erato/Warner Classics. He has released seven albums on the label to date. The influential Philippe Muller, his mentor at the Conservatoire, briefly partnered with him on one of the tracks on his 2014 debut, Play: Works for Cello and Piano (with pianist Pierre-Yves Hodique). Other close associates with whom Moreau has teamed up include violinist Renaud Capuçon and pianist Bertrand Chamayou (for a 2020 recording of violin and cello sonatas and the Piano Trio No. 2 by Camille Saint-Saëns).
Moreau makes music with his siblings as well. On A Family Affair, which also appeared in 2020, he is joined by his sister Raphaëlle and brother David, both violinists, and his pianist brother Jérémie in works by Dvořák and Korngold for the unusual formation of two violins, cello, and piano. While their parents were not themselves musicians, Moreau uses the beautiful French word mélomane to describe their obsessive love of music—and with transmitting that love to their children.
“When we were very young, music was everywhere. We used to be taken to concerts, to opera. I would practice together with my sister and brothers,” recalls Moreau. As the eldest sibling, he helped set the tone for this passionate commitment to music. He was taken to hear the leading performers of the time, including Rostropovich in the twilight of his career.
Through his connections in the antiques trade, Moreau’s late father acquired a David Tecchler cello built in Rome in 1711. He entrusted his son with the treasure after his victory at the Rostropovich Competition at age 15. What’s so special about his Tecchler? “It is the cello of my life,” he responds. “It has for me the best mix, between the clarity of a Stradivarius and the power of a Montagnana. And that fits perfectly with my style of playing.”
After his father’s death seven years ago, Moreau’s mother considered selling the instrument during a period of financial stress. “So I decided to buy the cello so it could stay in the family,” he says. “I’m very proud I was able to do that. I have a very special connection and think I will never change this cello,” which he has used for all of his recordings. When asked about his plans, Moreau slips into a habit of using “we”—referring to himself and his Tecchler as an inseparable couple.
A combination of clarity and power: that is an apt description of Moreau’s artistic personality, which I first experienced when he played the two Shostakovich concertos with the Seattle Symphony under Pablo Rus Broseta in 2017. In a feature story that appeared in Le Figaro in 2014, the critic Jacqueline Thuilleux wrote: “His technique is golden, his sonority expansive, generous, velvety, and without the vibrato that tends to thicken the voice of the cello… In his playing, one clearly senses the finesse of the French school, where the manipulation of the bow evokes the art of fencing for its flexibility and the speed of its reflexes.”
Asked about his identification with the French school, Moreau characterizes himself as “a French cellist with a little bit of everything.” He adds: “I’m French, but I try to play German music, for example. And because I’m not German doesn’t mean that I cannot try to understand Brahms. That’s what we try as performers to do every day. It’s the beauty of culture in general, in the large sense of the word: You can be French, you can be American, you can be a man or a woman, and you can still try to understand what the composer wants to say.”
The repertoire on Transmission largely calls for an intimate, introspective clarity—call it “prayerful”—which Moreau delivers to magnificent effect. There is pained, passionate lyricism in his account of Bloch’s three short pieces comprising From Jewish Life, written in 1924 for the cellist Hans Kindler, with which the album opens.
But his palette here also encompasses the extroverted virtuosity called for in Korngold’s compact Cello Concerto, which Moreau calls “a wonderful piece” and plans to continue championing. A product of Korngold’s years as an exile in Hollywood—he had been driven from Europe by the rise of Nazism—the concerto expands on an episode from his score for the 1946 Bette Davis flick Deception, in which a live performance by a cellist plays a key role in the plot.
Moreau speaks of the “pureness” he finds in many of these pieces, referring to their association with his early studies, when he was discovering this music for the first time. “I try to maintain the very natural way this music first spoke to me—when it was just between me and the score and the composer.”