—by Elizabeth Jaxon
My journey to Brest to meet Nikolaz Cadoret took me first through the major European capital of Paris, as all roads in France do. But as the train moved away from the city and plunged deeper into the countryside, the terrain took on its own unique quality. The city of Brest can be found all the way at the far-western tip of France, where the land reaches out into the Celtic sea. It lies within the cultural region of Brittany, the traditional homeland of the Bretons—one of the six Celtic nations. Most people associate the term “Celtic” with the British Isles to the north, because the Celts also made their home in Cornwall, Wales, Scotland, Ireland, and the Isle of Man, but one pocket of this ancient culture survives across the channel to the south, here in France.
Growing up within this Celtic culture, Cadoret’s first experiences with music were a mix of styles. He began his studies with Dominig Bouchaud who not only introduced him to traditional Breton music but also to classical music. The diversity in his early music education gave him a well-balanced foundation from which to explore many different genres. He went on to play in traditional music bands as well as the Berlin Comic Opera, and in 2004, he took home one of the top prizes from the USA International Harp Competition. Today, he is a multifaceted harpist, excelling in not only traditional and classical music, but also incorporating jazz and improvisation to create a style that is uniquely his own.
Harp Column: Here in Brittany, there is a strong Celtic music traditional. I’m curious how this Celtic music culture that you grew up in has influenced you. How did you get started with the harp?
Nikolaz Cadoret: Actually, I never dreamed of playing the harp. I just wanted to do music—that was for sure. I really didn’t know which instrument. I began with one year of solfège lessons at the music school in Quimper, and when it came time to choose an instrument, the school organized a concert for the pupils as a way of introducing us to all the instruments. I was with my father, and first there was a performance of the “Pink Panther” on a trombone. “Wow!” I said. “I want to play the trombone!” But my father told me, “Just wait a bit until you’ve heard the rest of the instruments.” I don’t remember the exact order, but then there was a guitar, and that also sounded very cool and made strange sounds. And I said, “Okay, I want to play the guitar.” Next came the harp—very cool as well. I was like, “Wow, that’s nice!” But my father asked the teacher, who was then and still is the teacher in Quimper, Dominig Bouchaud, “How can you cope with so many strings? It seems so complicated.” Dominig Bouchaud told my father, “Put your son on stage, and he will see for himself.” So, I went on stage. It was probably a very small stage—I don’t remember the way it was exactly—but for me it was like Carnegie Hall. Dominig Bouchaud just put the harp on my shoulder, and I don’t think I even plucked a string, but I saw the light coming through the strings. That was my first contact with a real musical instrument. After that, I just knew I wanted to play the harp. That was it, without even playing. I really have no memory of the sound. It’s quite important, this beginning, because I didn’t see the harp as a fantasy or a dream or anything. For me, the harp is just a medium, really. It happened that I began the harp, that I play the harp; it worked between me and the harp. That’s it.
HC: So, you’re saying that it could have happened differently. It could have been the trombone, for instance.