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May 31, 2024

What Blaise Déjardin learned about music from magic, pastries, and golf

The BSO principal cellist talks croissants and card tricks.
A headshot of Blaise Déjardin with an inset picture of a cat
The BSO principal cellist and his beloved cat, Baloo

Blaise Déjardin is not someone who idles for long. Since 2018 he’s been the 14th principal cellist of the BSO. He was also, until recently, a member of the prolific Boston Cello quartet, was writing audition advice for the blog “Cello Bello”, was a founding member of the Boston-based chamber orchestra A Far Cry — with which he still plays when he can — and in 2013 he founded his own music publishing company, Opus Cello. He’s also written a book called “Audition Day” and continues to publish his own cello-centric arrangements of music. We caught up with the native of Strasbourg, France after rehearsal to talk about what all his various extracurriculars have taught him, juggling his side projects, and the differences between French and American pastries.

How did classical music come into your life? 

Both my parents were scientists, but they love music. They used to sing in choirs, my dad plays the piano, and my mom played the violin. My older brother played the cello, so I always heard the cello at home. I picked it up, and I always thought I was going to be a cellist. It took me a while to learn I would have to practice a bit more to be a professional cellist. I did my studies in France at the CNSM in Paris, and then I came to NEC in 2005 and joined the BSO three years later. 

You had a lot you were doing outside of performing before you were principal.

That’s true, but I do a lot less now. I enjoy being home with my partner and my cat Baloo and relaxing, even more so in the Berkshires. My cat is a Chartreux, one of the only two French cat breeds with the Birman. It was a lifelong dream for me to have a cat, ever since I was a kid. You can probably blame the “Aristocats” Disney movie for that! I got him the year I became principal, and it was very timely to have a cuddly and funny kitten to go home to after a long day at work. He has beautiful copper eyes and is the sweetest cat. I still do a lot for Opus Cello. I write fewer arrangements myself these days, but I do publish other arrangers. It’s a lot of editing, publishing, advertising, shipping…

You’re the whole company.

Yes, but that seems to work for now! Some of the best cellists and cello ensembles in the world rely on my cello ensemble music inventory, and that’s a blessing. I have 115 pieces available so far on the website. I do work with a printer in Colorado for music shops who order printed scores but most of the sales are online by PDF file downloads. It's fun to see those pieces being played all over the world. It’s sort of my baby. I also donate all of this music to the Tanglewood Music Center library so the cello students can play together if they wish.

Déjardin (left) with Seattle-based luthier Michael Doran. Blaise Déjardin

Did you ever think about what you might do if you hadn’t pursued music professionally?

I love visual arts so that’s a world I could see myself in, working in a gallery, a museum or an auction house. I’m a bit of an art geek. I particularly love post-war abstract expressionism. Joan Mitchell, Pierre Soulages, Hans Hartung and Zao Wou-Ki are some of my favorites. Their works produce deep emotions in me, just like great music. I always thought I would love working in interior design or architecture. I used to love writing also. I wrote a book about how to have a successful orchestra audition, it was very fulfilling to write my thoughts on paper. Lately I was curious about arts management. I think I would have done something creative for sure. I greatly admire bowmakers and violin makers and have commissioned numerous bows from today’s best makers. The bow is a fascinating tool for us string players and too often overlooked. A good bow has great tonal and handling qualities and can make your life playing the cello a lot easier. I just got my first commissioned cello from Seattle-based maker Michael Doran, and I can’t wait to play it at Tanglewood this summer, it sounds fabulous! I definitely have many other interests besides music, it keeps me balanced in my life.

I read you used to do card magic?

I used to do card magic, yes. It’s a very demanding hobby which I picked up shortly before arriving in Boston. Magic has to be perfect, it really doesn’t suffer imperfection. There are a lot of parallels between magic and music. The creativity, the storytelling, the importance of details, the amount of technical skill that is unseen, the connection with the audience, and the way you have to practice so much to do good magic. It also helped me a lot with the concept of taking risks on stage and improved my confidence as a performer.

I know many classical musicians who are very good at magic. I think it’s just like golf, which requires lots of practice time. We don’t feel it’s a chore. So, we’re willing to take on these more challenging hobbies.

When did you pick up golf? 

I picked up golf as soon as I got tenure as a section member. I saw the 2009 U.S. Open in the spring of my first season in the BSO, and I was really fascinated. But I felt it was wise to get tenure first before spending my days at the driving range.

It's fun to get out on the course and enjoy nature and whatever your round gives you that day. I learned a lot about myself in the process. I don't know if I could have made my transition from section to principal if I didn't play golf. I learned about mental mindsets, emotions and expectations management, it was a fascinating journey to me.

What was it like switching from being a section member to being principal?

The biggest change is that people hear me alone now when I have a solo, and before they didn't. I enjoyed the artistic and personal growth from that new responsibility, but it took some time getting used to it. It is a very strange dynamic to always alternate between moments under the spotlight and others being part of the section’s sound. I love leading the section, influencing maybe the pacing, the phrasing, the dynamics and having some direct impact in the concert. Often the impetus comes from Andris, sometimes I throw my own ideas in the ring. He is the only conductor I know who smiles or winks at you after you do something he asked for in the spur of the moment. I find that very special. And I feel a great connection with my stand partners too, we are always very in tune with each other.

Like Andris [Nelsons, BSO Music Director] used to say, this orchestra is a Rolls Royce, and the cello section is exactly that. I can just sit there and it drives itself. I find that especially these days the cello section sounds absolutely incredible. When I listen to a recording it all sounds like one instrument. Everybody is playing their heart out and contributing emotionally to the piece. I really treasure that, and the fact that everybody gets along. 

Haldan Martinson Blaise Deìjardin William R Hudgins play Gal
Déjardin (center) with Haldan Martinson (left) and William R. Hudgins (right) at a 2022 Boston Chamber Players concert.

I've also heard you love baking. What are your favorite treats? 

I have an uncle who was a pastry chef, and he had a shop in north of France. Every vacation we would go there to see my grandparents, and we would benefit from his creations, especially at breakfast. They were all terrific. I love a good croissant and light pastries that have refined flavors. Many of the famous French pastry chefs actually come from Alsace, like Pierre Herme or Christophe Felder.

American pastries are a bit too sweet for me, to be honest. So I thought I would just make my own, like what I could find in Paris. This was also the time I was taking auditions to become principal, so it took my mind off all the stress of that process. 

Back then, I think I was a bit more of an overachiever with the cakes I was making. Some of them had very complicated recipes. Now I'm a bit less ambitious, but I do like to make brioche and British scones in the summer and the Galette des Rois for the Epiphany. I make a good black forest cake too, a sweet memory from my childhood in Alsace. This one disappeared in a matter of minutes last year at the NEC end-of-year cello party. A champagne Sabayon with red fruits can be delicious too.

Déjardin's Galette des Rois, traditionally eaten for Epiphany celebrations in January in France. Blaise Déjardin

Have you let your colleagues try any of your goodies?

Oh yeah, they’ve tried a lot of them. Sometimes I feel like that's how I got my principal job[laughs]. When I was baking a lot, I used to always bring the rest to work because I didn’t want to eat everything myself. That’s also what I love about baking is the sharing.

Lightning round! What’s your favorite place to grab food out in the Berkshires?

Prairie Whale.

What is your coffee or your tea order?

A single espresso, short. I also like a Spanish latte or a London fog.

 What is your favorite pizza topping?

Otto's butternut squash-ricotta-cranberry. Feels a bit like a Thanksgiving meal on a pizza!

Maya Shwayder is the BSO's senior contributing editor and copywriter.