Jonathan Fournel looks back on his Competition experience

In May, Jonathan Fournel won the 2021 Piano Competition in a nearly empty Centre for Fine Arts, but in the presence of an enthusiastic jury. A few months later, he looks back on this particular but still life-changing experience.

Can you share with us your memories of your participation in the Queen Elisabeth Competition ?

The memories in my head are there to stay, of a moment in my life that I will never forget. The Queen Elisabeth Competition has changed my life overnight, and I can only be grateful for that. It was such a unique moment, which helped me to progress a lot and to surpass myself even more.

How did you feel when you advanced from one round to the other?

When I started playing the opening notes of Mozart's sonata I was terrified and impressed to be on this stage in front of such a prestigious jury. The pressure was more intense than I would have thought. I tried my very best to overcome that by telling me that whatever happened, I had never evolved as much as during the preparation for this competition. All these months of work and advice from my teachers Gisèle Magnan, Louis Lortie and Avo Kouyoumdjian, without forgetting the invaluable help of Augustin Dumay, were a turning point in my life.

You have been an artist-in-residence at the Music Chapel from 2016 to 2021. How did you experience your preparation for the final in this place that you know so well ?

It felt like coming home, to this place that has been so familiar to me for a few years now. But it had a special flavour, because I was not there for the same reasons. It was special to be in quarantine in a part of the Chapel and not being able to talk to friends who were a few feet away in another part of the building. But hey, there was a good atmosphere between us, on our side, and we experienced something indescribable together.

How has your preparation for the Competition been affected by the COVID-19 crisis ?

The biggest challenge in preparing for the competition was the inability to perform in venues and share a musical moment with an audience. Playing music in an empty hall is something special, but we knew as candidates that the conditions would be exceptional, and it was a constructive experience nonetheless.

What makes this Competition stands out from the other ones?

I have met so many people in my life who have constantly encouraged me to participate in the Queen Elisabeth Competition, calling it the greatest piano competition. Being admitted as a candidate was a great joy for me. To one day become the First Prize of this competition seemed something unattainable, as the notoriety of the Competition attracts a large number of high-level musicians from all over the world.

This competition is also unique in its form, in particular the final round which includes the stay in the Chapel, offering a calm environment to concentrate on learning the imposed work. Especially for me who have always loved sight reading, it was an extra challenge that excited me. To be among the big names who took part in this competition, notably Emil Gilels, Lazar Berman, Frank Braley, Youri Egorov or Brigitte Engerer, who has been my teacher, is a huge honour.

How did you feel when you won the Competition?

It was one of the most emotionally intense times, I was both relieved and so happy. I couldn't ask for more. After almost a month of competition, it was the end of an epic. It took a while for me to fully realise what had happened to me, and it motivated me tremendously in my work and my new goals.

How did your First Prize in the Competition influence your life and career this last few months ?

The concerts added on pretty quickly, and I didn't think the change would be so brutal. With the pandemic that has caused concert venues to close and concerts to stop, it's great to see cultural events on the rise again. Among other things, I had the chance to do my first tour in South Korea, and to release my first CD dedicated to Brahms. Life is slowly picking up and I look forward to participating in all these new projects that are coming up.

What are your hopes and aspirations for the future ?

I hope I will have the chance to make many more dreams come true, to record and perform the works I have always dreamed of performing, and continue to share what I love wherever possible.

Photo (c) Robin Ducancel

Jonathan Fournel returns to the Brussels Centre for Fine Arts on Saturday, December 4 at 8 p.m. The concert is open to the public. From his first recording, freshly released on the Alpha label, he will play Brahms' 3rd Piano Sonata.

Relive the performances of Cello 2022
The Competition's CD's
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