Xavier Phillips, a legacy of generosity

It is his water and his air. There is not a day in the life of Xavier Phillips that is not filled with music. Not a minute goes by without his breathing, thinking, speaking of music. It has been flowing in his veins since childhood. His pianist parents, once they realised this undeniable fact, gave up their careers to devote themselves to the musical education of their son and his elder brother, the violinist Jean-Marc Phillips Varjabédian.

From an early age, he was trained with rigour and benevolence by Jacqueline Heuclin, who was Maurice Gendron’s assistant, then by Philippe Muller at the Paris Conservatoire, and finally, after winning a number of prizes at international competitions, was schooled in generosity by his idol, Mstislav Rostropovich, who was to become his mentor for seventeen years. It is from Rostropovich that he takes his credo: ‘You give something as an artist through what you do, with humility, not by showing off your ego.’ Phillips knows the immense debt he owes the Russian cellist: his priceless teaching, concerts under his direction with the most prestigious American orchestras after his debut with the Orchestre de Paris, and that passion for transmission and its imperious necessity.

Xavier Phillips -La Dolce Volta
© William Beaucardet

For Xavier Phillips, who has received so much, teaching cannot be dissociated from his life as a concert performer. ‘You have to focus your attention on others, to look outside yourself, to give back’, he insists. At the Sion campus of the Haute École de Musique de Lausanne, his students learn that one does not cheat in music. It is a question of passion and truth. ‘Of course you have to champion the music as it is written, but above all as the composer dreamt it.’ This is how he sees his mission as a performing artist. These are the values he transmits. As someone who has built himself over time, through experience, he also wants to make his students stronger. ‘He is a rock, a rare personality, of great human and artistic integrity’, says the pianist François-Frédéric Guy, one of his chamber music partners.

To play in a trio or quartet implies a long-term commitment, even if not exclusive for some. For his part, Xavier Phillips has chosen to experience music through new encounters, following the affinities and desires he shares with Guy and with so many other musicians, among them Tedi Papavrami, Anne Gastinel, Cédric Tiberghien – and of course Jean-Marc Phillips-Varjabédian. The brothers have made recordings of Kodály and Ravel, and together they give voice to their Armenian roots playing Khachaturian, Babadjanian and Komitas.

His musical horizon is vast, indeed infinite. Discovery and novelty make his musician’s heart beat just as fast as the works of Beethoven, Brahms, Offenbach or Fauré, recently joined by those of Marie Jaëll and Charlotte Sohy. Following in the footsteps of Rostropovich, he is a passionate exponent of the concertante music of Prokofiev, Shostakovich, Dutilleux and Britten. When he and ‘his’ Matteo Gofriller of 1710 take their places in front of the buzzing excitement of the orchestra, an electrifying adventure begins. The feeling of running a formidable danger, never the same, mingles with the exaltation of playing, the heightened pleasure of the sound and of the exchange. With muscles, breath, mind energised, music springing from his bow, he no longer seeks, he finds . . .


par Jany Campello