SOME NOTES ABOUT “THE LABÈQUE WAY”
The Labèque Way is a feature length music documentary that sketches a portrait of two of the most distinctive artists of our time. Discovering the way in which they understand life and art is a real lesson in these times of crisis and transformations. Katia and Marielle have consolidated their career practically since they were born. Their origins in a family of artists and an almost unprecedented acceptance of sisterhood have shaped their development. Their professional union has made the relationship between them, as sisters, much more intense and committed. After forty years performing together, their lives and their work are fused in a very intense way, hard to imagine for those who don’t share it. That will be one of the elements in the documentary, the peculiar relationship between them on both professional and personal levels.
Another of the themes which we will deal with is their condition as women and artists, self-employed and independent. The Labèques have total control of their career, without agents, managers or a team of collaborators. This is unusual in artists at their level, who are usually surrounded by a full group of professionals who isolate them from the rest of the world. Their case is the opposite. Without mediators, and with an overwhelming capacity for work, they manage their careers directly. In recent years, they even control their recording activity.
After years recording for the world’s leading record companies, they broke with all of them and created their own label with which they record and edit their works. This spirit distances the pianists from the traditional world of classical music. Their vision of a music business outside of record companies, self-managed and based on Internet and new technologies makes them more like big pop stars than their fellow virtuosos.
Their passion for Spain and Spanish culture is one of the main features of the documentary. Born in the French Basque Country, the sisters have a perfect command of Spanish and are also experts in Spanish history and culture. Flamenco and other types of traditional music from Spain are very present in their career. Proof of that is the fact that they established their artistic residence in a small Spanish cityto the detriment of other large European cities, with a greater musical tradition than the Castilian capital, that call on them insistently.
The narrative thread of the documentary is made up precisely of the different stages of the pianists’ artistic residence in Valladolid. Structured in three major chapters, each one corresponds to a stage of the residence. Each stage shows us a different facet of the artists, both professionally and personally. On each visit to the Castile-Leon capital, they collaborate with different artists and show us new aspects of their personalities and their artistic and social commitments.
In between stays in the city, additional sequences were shot in Dublin, Rome and London to complete the portrait of our protagonists.
THEIR SPANISH ROOTS
Each visit to Valladolid is an occasion to learn a new facet of the artists, personally and professionally. In the first stage of their residence, the Labèques make a debut with a completely Spanish program: Albéniz and Ravel. After playing a piece by Schubert in order to test the sound of the pianos on which they will perform before the Valladolid audience, they introduce us to their guest artists: the KALAKAN trio, three extraordinary French-Basque musicians with whom they play Ravel’s “Bolero”, adding the power of Basque percussion instruments to their spectacular piano performance.
At another point in the documentary, they will accompany the flamenco singer MAYTE MARTIN, playing “Vidalitá”, a popular song with great emotional depth.
JUST ONE MUSICIAN, TWO DIFFERENT WOMEN…
The second stage of the artistic residence in Valladolid offers us the chance to discover another facet of the artists, their affective relationships. The life style of someone devoted to music can only be understood and shared by another musician. Katia and Marielle have found in musicians like them the partners with whom they can extend their view of art and life.
On this second occasion, Katia doesn’t travel to Valladolid with Marielle, she does it with David Chalmin, her partner, a young French musician half her age. With him she has formed “B FOR BANG”, an eclectic electronic pop group which is triumphing in Europe with a distinctive repertoire made up of songs by the Beatles.
The spectacle is surprising and ground-breaking. While Katia dazzles the Valladolid audience with her unedited reinterpretations of “While my guitar gently weeps” and other classics by the Liverpool quartet, Marielle takes the opportunity to meet her husband in London.
Marielle is married to SEMYON BYCHKOV, one of the most acclaimed orchestra conductors in the world. They are constantly looking for days and cities in the world where they can coincide, trying to share free dates or to combine professional commitments that will make it easier to be together. This year they are meeting in London, where Marielle is accompanying Semyon during the rehearsals and premiere of the spectacular “Requiem” by Verdi in the legendary Royal Albert Hall.
IN PERMANENT CHALLENGE
The third stage of the residence will show us another important aspect of the duo. Katia and Marielle have been working for years with the world’s most outstanding composers, from whom they commission concertos for two pianos with which to extend their art beyond the classical compositions they have played so often over the course of their careers.
They arrive in Valladolid with one of those commissions: “Nazareno”, a concerto for two pianos, latin percussion and orchestra, composed by the Argentinean Osvaldo Golijov. Their choice of Golijov is further proof of the Labèques’ talent and curiosity. Golijov represents the most developed avant garde in musical composition. He links the European tradition with the exuberance of South American rhythms and the popular roots of his continent’s music. The result is a piece that drives the audience wild with its daring mixture of religiousness and paganism, its hot rhythms and its explicit sensuality.
But it isn’t easy to premiere a concerto. As soon as rehearsals start, problems arise. The proposal isn’t easy, the musicians from the CASTILLA-LEON SYMPHONIC ORCHESTRA have to tackle an unknown score, the South American percussionists have no experience of being part of a symphonic orchestra, the guest director MIGUEL HART-BEDOYA, who has already worked with the sisters, has to find the way to get 100 musicians to sound as one in record time… things don’t look easy.
Finally, the hours of rehearsals and tension are translated into an explosion of rhythm and intensity that has a profound impact on an audience surprised by the innovative proposal.
In addition, showing their sense of spectacle and their total dedication to the audience, the sisters wear the spectacular costumes designed specially by Jean Paul Gaultier for the premiere in Valladolid.
THERE ARE ALWAYS DREAMS TO FULFILL
Some removal men come into the Roman apartment where the Labèques live in the little free time they have. They start to dismantle the enormous grand pianos that fill practically the entire room, the instruments at which the sisters spend hours and hours rehearsing, never lowering their guard for a moment, never getting carried away by the security that must come from a career of forty years at the top.
The pianos, without the legs, are transported through all of Rome by some burly removal men. The operation is complicated but necessary.
The Labèques’ pianos finally have a new location. For years Katia and Marielle have been working on their great dream: their own rehearsal and recording studio with which to develop their artistic freedom to the full. The place chosen is the popular Roman neighborhood of Ostiense, an area whose regeneration will be helped by the opening of the center.
In what was a former school in Mussolini’s Rome, the Labèques are building a center for musical studies, rehearsals and recording which will be open to everyone who wants to use it for creative and social ends.
After years of hard work, the arrival of the grand pianos at the studio is a symbol of the achievement of a dream. After crossing Rome in a truck, the men bring the large instruments into their new location.
Once they are installed, the premises, smelling of paint and surrounded by rubble, take on a new life. Emotional, Katia and Marielle sit at their instruments and, as if it were the first time, play George Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue”, the piece that revolutionized their careers and transformed them into what they are today, after forty years on the stages: two artists, two sisters, two exceptional women.
SOME PERSONAL STUFF: A PROJECT THAT COMES FROM LONG AGO
Of all the elements with which a director of films and documentaries has to work, music is undoubtedly the one that interests me most and obsesses me. Its evocative power and its ability to provoke sensations, feelings and ideas are fundamental in my perception of the medium and of audiovisual language. I’ve always devoted a lot of care to the musical aspects of my films, so it was easy that, from there, music should become one of my main plot contents.
The experience with Gijon Symphonic Orchestra, with which I recorded the sound track of my feature film “El Refugio del Mal”, led to “Cooking for Jenny”, a project centered entirely on the experience of the orchestra and its components. Since then I have continued with this subject with new proposals that have allowed me to go more deeply into the world of music, its performers and its hundred thousand emotional worlds. That work was followed by “La Tierra de las Mil Orquestas”, a documentary about the so-called Venezuela Orchestra System, the method of music teaching and social integration that is transforming Venezuelan society and, by extension, the whole continent, thanks to the integrating power of music. The documentary, narrated by Plácido Domingo, is a sensorial and emotional journey through the Caribbean country, full of music and intense stories.
Inevitably my next step led me to Katia and Marielle Labèque. For years I’ve been a devoted admirer of their distinctive artistic mastery, ever since, by chance, their first recording of Spanish pieces (Albéniz, Falla, Infante…) fell into my hands.
Since then, my admiration and obsession have led me to follow with amazement a trajectory that hasn’t stopped growing despite their apparently limited offer: the repertoire for two pianos isn’t exactly the most abundant on the composition panorama. Their interpretations of very well-known pieces are always novel; their search for composers, collaborators, their image, everything about this distinctive piano duo is surprising and attractive for me.
After a first and not very successful attempt to approach the artists, finally, at the start of 2010, after finishing my Venezuelan documentary, I managed to contact them. Right away we realized the interesting work we could do together at a time like the present and in very special circumstances: Katia and Marielle Labèque were going to establish their artistic residence in Valladolid for two seasons.
In addition to their repeated visits to Valladolid over the course of two years, we shot footage in Rome, their residence, and in Dublin and London, where they had other special personal and professional experiences that we wanted to include in the documentary: their meeting in Dublin with Simon Rattle to play Mozart, one of their high points as pianists, and the opening in London of Verdi’s “Requiem”, conducted by Semyon Bychkov, Marielle’s husband.
With THE LABÈQUE WAY we have sought to obtain a music documentary that expands in many directions. It is, above all, the portrait of two great artists of our time and of their commitment to art and culture as the only valid arguments for obtaining a better future. It is also a plastic and sensorial experience, thanks to the music that will be a constant in its footage and that undoubtedly figures largely in the proposal.”
FÉLIX CÁBEZ BIO
He graduated in Imaging Science from Madrid’s Complutense University and has been involved in the audiovisual industry since the early 90s, when he began working as a scriptwriter with Televisión Española. He has worked as scriptwriter, director and executive producer for the main Spanish television channels.
Before focusing on directing documentaries, he directed several short film which won awards at important international film festivals.
In 2000 he wrote and directed his first documentary, “Buñuel en Hollywood”. Produced by Canal Plus, it examined Luis Buñuel’s bitter experience in the United States during his long exile. Later he directed “Almodóvar siglo XX”, a documentary about Pedro Almodóvar’s work, produced by El Deseo for Vía Digital. During the last decades he has written scripts for feature films and collaborated with important Spanish choreographers and dancers in various audiovisual works which have won many awards.
In 2002 he directed his first fiction feature film, the psychological thriller “El Refugio del Mal”.
In 2005 he wrote, directed and produced his first documentary on a musical subject, “Cooking for Jenny”, about the premiere of a concerto for piano and orchestra.
In 2010 he wrote and directed the co-production by Zebra Producciones and Televisión Española, “La tierra de las mil orquestas”, a music documentary that looks at the Venezuela orchestra system and is narrated by Plácido Domingo.
In 2012, following the appearance of unpublished material, he re-edited his 2000 documentary “Buñuel en Hollywood”, incorporating into the original montage new images of the protagonist, lost until now, and a new contribution by Woody Allen, who was also present in the original montage.
“The Labèque Way”, a feature length music documentary about Katia and Marielle Labèque, the extraordinary duo of French pianists, is his latest work.