Yes. ‘I tolerate this.’ So the first thing we have to do is to be conscious that we are not better, that our world has positive things but that other worlds have different perceptions and concepts and values, les valeurs. And when you play music with other musicians, you choose to play with them because they are nice, or because you like how they play or sing, or because you feel it would be a nice thing to do together. But there is first and foremost a certain empathy. Then, when you come together, you have to listen to the others, to learn how to start a dialogue; they have to participate in the same way, with you. Music making is the best way to learn intercultural dialogue. You cannot do music if you can’t decide together what to play and how to play and how to leave space for others when you are playing. It’s only if you find a certain harmony that you can do music. Even when people are open, it can be difficult. When I was working with Armenians and Turks and asked the Armenians to play a Turkish march, their first reaction was ‘No, please, this is not for us.’ We live in a world in which every day is worse and worse and worse. The climate, social, financial, political — it’s dispiriting because you don’t see eye to eye. But the world can be safe if each of us is concerned. This starts with our own life, with our family, with our friends, with our village. If everybody was ready to help others, to do something, the world would be different. We are too ready to say, ‘Well, this is not my problem,’ and I think when you see the reaction from fanatical people, you see that the first enemy of humans is ignorance. Ignorance makes fanatics. The second enemy is hatred. And the third is egoism. And all these things can be saved with the development of a sensitive language, like music. Within a class of young black and white students singing, there’s no racism. When people share the beauty of music, you cannot develop these fanatical elements.
As you have investigated more and more musics, what have you discovered as far as musical commonalities?
In the world of classical music, a lot has already been investigated, and there remain few chances to discover a new Bach or a new Monteverdi. But one important discovery I made with Montserrat occurred when we started to explore Sephardic music — in the very beginning of Hespèrion — was that these differences between classical music and folk music or traditional music are very artificial and incorrect. Because why is it that these songs have been conserved for five hundred, six hundred years — without being associated with a famous composer, without being written in a nice manuscript — from fathers to children? And this is simply because this music has had people who have ensured its survival. This is a constant in all societies that suffered persecution or hunger or were minorities — for example, Scots, Irish, Armenian, Basques, Catalans — and the question always comes up: why does this music have such power of emotion and beauty? Well, imagine a family expelled from Spain that arrives in Istanbul in a world where they know no one; and after terrible travel and problems, what do they do? They sing something together. And only in this moment of singing does their peace arrive. And these people conserved these songs because they were the necessary food for having peace and hope. And this is the constant that has moved me to work in these Oriental, Celtic and Armenian repertories because I found in this music something exceptional — this quality of having a strong, simple and emotional message. And this is, for me, the most important thing. A simple Sephardic melody gives me as much energy, beauty and emotion as a big symphony from Mahler. This is the magical mystery of music. This corresponds with life, if you think about it. All the most important and beautiful moments of life are intimate. In the life I shared with Montserrat, we saw this too, in the choice of repertory. We saw that life is too short to play everything, and so you look in music for good friends. One philosopher says: ‘If you want happiness, find a friend and stay close to him.’
There must be an enormous amount of research and scholarship you have to undertake every time you dive in to one of your musical projects. How does that process work? And are you concerned — when you’re investigating a new music — about authenticity? Is there such a thing as ‘authenticity’?