Presenting our musicians: Christopher Palameta

Muusikkohaastattelu 18-03-2019

Primarily known as a highly skilled oboist, Christopher Palameta is also a veritable language expert: he speaks at least four languages fluently, and his Finnish vocabulary is gradually growing, too!

Photo: Pierre-Etienne Bergeron

Christopher Palameta


Short introduction
I was born in Montreal and currently reside in Paris, France. I was a core member of the Tafelmusik Baroque Orchestra (based in Toronto, Canada) for five years before relocating to France in 2008 to pursue work with many European ensembles such as Pygmalion, Les Siècles, and La Grande Ecurie in France; Die Kölner Akademie in Germany; Vox Luminis and La Petite Bande in Belgium; The Gabrieli Consort in the UK; Il Pomo d'Oro in Italy; Capella Cracoviensis in Poland; and various other ensembles such as the Australian Brandenburg Orchestra, the Helsinki Baroque Orchestra, the Finnish Baroque Orchestra, and MusicAeterna (Perm, Russia). With these orchestras, I've toured on five continents and recorded over forty discs for the Sony BMG, Deutsche Harmonia Mundi, BIS, Alpha, Naxos, Atma, and Analekta labels.

I took my graduate degree from McGill University in historical oboes, where I studied with the late Bruce Haynes and the late Washington McClain. I'm currently pursuing my PhD at the Royal Academy of Music in London (supported by the Canadian Centennial Scholarship Fund's Belle Shenkman Award for the Study of Arts) and teach historical oboes at the Sibelius Academy (Helsinki University of Arts).

Tell us about yourself.
I grew up and studied in Montreal, Canada. My late father was Croatian with an Italian surname, and my Mum is a Peruvian-born hispanophone, with Spanish, Italian, and French ancestry. We spoke a bizarre mix of English, Spanish and Croatian at home and I did most of my schooling in French. So, it's a miracle that I speak any of these languages correctly.

My childhood household was moderately musical. My Croatian grandmother was a huge fan of Puccini (Turandot and Madama Butterfly was her favourite operas), my late father loved Beethoven, and my mother loves anything to do with Romantic piano and Russian ballet (Chopin and Tchaikovsky are her favourite composers). She also used to play a bit of flamenco guitar, and there was always classical music LP on the Telefunken turntable growing up.

Both my parents worked at McGill University, my mother in human resources and my father in accounting. Even though there was an appreciation for music at home, my parents were quite surprised when I decided to study music at university (my mother secretly hoped I'd become an architect). They never openly opposed my decision, although it definitely took a few years of me making a decent living on my own to win my Dad's trust and convince him that music was indeed a viable career option!

How did you end up with your instrument? Who or what made you choose it?
I initially started life off as a clarinet player, but switched to the oboe early on at age 15. My mother had bought me a CD of the Strauss oboe concerto. Despite being a monumental oboe concerto, the clarinet has a very prominent role in that piece, which allowed me to closely compare the timbre of both wind instruments. I was instantly hooked by the oboe's plaintive and more pungent tone.

What inspires you as a musician and in life?
My inspiration in music comes from the five oboe teachers I had as a student. I was fortunate enough to always study with musicians I greatly admired. These were Diane Lacelle and Theodore Baskin on the modern oboe; and the late Washington McClain and the late Bruce Haynes on the baroque oboe. I also took private lessons in Europe with Marcel Ponseele, whose playing I adore, before moving to France in 2008.  

The late Bruce Haynes, who began his career as a trailblazing performer of the “baroque” hautboy and ended it as a renowned researcher, author, and university lecturer, has always been a guiding light on my career path.

What other art form is close to your heart?
As mentioned earlier, my mother is a die-hard fan of ballet. Every so often she would take me to the ballet with her, and I guess it's through her that I developed a special fondness for classical dance.

I also love Renaissance art, and studied art history at university as well. I love Velazquez and Vermeer the most.

Which is your greatest musical dream?
I would love to perform in Japan one day very soon. My partner teases me relentlessly that I won't be a real musician until I perform in Japan.

Which is your favourite travel destination, and why?
Although I'm Canadian, I loathe winter with a passion and thrive on heat. I literally come alive at +30 degrees C. I can sit for hours reading on the beach, preferably on a secluded island in the Mediterranean. That's where I really recharge my batteries.

In what kind of a place does your soul find rest?
Definitely on the beach, and the hotter the better. I find the sound of seabirds and waves crashing on the shore very soothing. I dream of drinking caipirinhas and Aperol spritz on a Greek island and having mangoes peeled and fed to me...

How do you feel your art is affecting society at large?
For those like myself who don't have children, art is the legacy we leave behind for future generations. Art is expression, it's how we define the human experience, and ultimately, art is what transcends mortality, whether it be literary, visual, audio, multimedia, interdisciplinary, digital, or other. As such, it's our link to the past, our commentary of the present, and our legacy for the future.

Why do you enjoy playing music that is over 300 years old?
One thing I love about baroque music is the stark contrast in it. Like Renaissance painters with their newfound technique of chiaroscuro, the best eighteenth-century composers skilfully create subtle effects of light and shadow in their works to plunge listeners into a world full of contrast and diversity.

Choose your favourite among FiBO’s spring 2019 concerts, and motivate your choice.
Of course I would have to say the upcoming "Baroque from the Nordic courts" project, since it features an oboe concerto by Roman that I will be performing. I've always been intrigued by the neglected works of lesser-known composers, and this concert will feature two of them, Scheibe and Roman. It'll be a fun tribute to these unsung heroes.

Do you have a secret special skill?
My secret skill is my knowledge of nearly 80 words in Finnish! I figure after working in Helsinki for the past three years, that's quite the accomplishment. Plus, I can even count to seven!

If you had to run the Cooper test or bake for a party of 30 people, which would you choose?
I make an amazing carrot cake (if I do say so myself) so baking for 30 would be a cinch. Six cakes would probably suffice. Five for me and one for the guests.

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