Claire Oppert, the voice of the cello



The first chords of a Brahms sonata gently ascend the wooden staircase that leads to the living room. On the floor below, Claire Oppert’s husband, Franco-Russian pianist Roustem Saïtkoulov, rehearses before a virtual concert broadcast live from their home in Saint-Germain-en-Laye. “Music resonates with us all the time. She’s alive “, she smiles.

A soft light illuminates the face of the cellist seated elegantly on the beige sofa. Her light dress, red with hints of gold, wraps her up to the ankles. His “Old companion”, made in 1743, is stored in its case in front of it.

In a little while, she will be giving a private lesson here to Maxime, 14 years old. They met on the day of his entrance exam to the conservatory. Maxime became his student the minute he told him he wanted “To play like Rostropovich”. Claire Oppert has long considered “the cellist of the century” as “His god on Russian soil and in the whole universe”. She learnt “To play like him” in Moscow.

Far from the family cocoon

She is 23 years old and the Berlin Wall will fall soon. The young woman who graduated in philosophy entered the school of perfection and, sometimes, humiliation: the prestigious Tchaikovsky Conservatory. Life in the USSR, far from its family cocoon with a view of the Eiffel Tower, is hard. For four years, her teacher, herself a student of Mstislav Rostropovich, the “Sculpts” as much as she ” broken “. “I, who grew up in gentleness, have never suffered so much, says Claire Oppert. But I also experienced moments of extraordinary joy in learning. “

Back in Paris with the one who will become her husband and the father of her three children, she still hesitates to go to medicine. Child she wanted to be “Writer-doctor” or “Musician-doctor”. Doctor like his father, “Awesome and whimsical”, artist like her dancer mother “Who had made beauty its relationship to the world”, or like his poet American grandmother. ” An encounter “ will change his life (read below).

The meeting with Howard Buten

In 1996, the concert performer attended ” by chance ” at an “Art and Medicine” colloquium at the Louvre auditorium. Howard Buten, the clinical psychologist specializing in autism, is on the scene. A few weeks later, she goes back to see him, but this time he’s dressed as Buffo. She walks into the clown’s lodge and asks if she can work with him. The answer comes on the back of a postcard sent from Prague.

Howard Buten invites him to the Adam-Shelton medico-educational institute he has just created in Seine-Saint-Denis. For six years, the virtuoso musician has performed for children and adolescents with autism spectrum disorders (ASD). Most do not speak. She adapts musically to the reactions of joy or anger of young people, and little by little contact is established. The scratches turn into caresses. The colossus, face down, straightens up.

Ease the pain

They heard the cello’s voice, the one that pierced Claire Oppert when she was 8 years old. “She will seek people deep within themselves, in an intact part of their being, and becomes my voice, their voice” she describes. A graduate of the Faculty of Medicine of Tours in art therapy, she demonstrates through clinical studies that live music can relieve the most intense pain.

“The Schubert Bandage” was born on a spring Monday almost ten years ago. A woman, on the floor of demented residents in an nursing home in Paris, struggles. Two nurses try to give him a bandage. The old lady is in pain but she suddenly relaxes when Claire Oppert plays the theme of theAndante from the Trio op. 100 by Franz Schubert.

The cellist recounts this moment in a book (1) full of poetry. The chapters dedicated to palliative care encounters are overwhelming. At the bedside of those who wish it, she plays pieces on demand or instinctively when they can no longer express themselves. The breath is amplified, the eyes open, the desire to live – annihilated by suffering – is reborn, memories come back …

“One day, a patient paralyzed by Charcot’s disease showed me with his index finger the path that the cello’s voice took in his body, she remembers. The beneficial vibration entered through the feet to ascend to the heart. “

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His inspiration: Howard Buten, the American clinical psychologist and clown

“In contact with Howard, my legs were shaking for a long time, so strong and unique was his personality, says Claire Oppert. He gave me all his trust by inviting me to play for the young autistic people of the Adam Shelton center. Howard didn’t want me to get lost in the theory, but to follow my intuition which he felt was right. He assured me that what I was doing opened up new paths. It’s largely because of him that I am where I need to be today. When I learned that he was suffering from a neurodegenerative disease, I did everything to find him and say thank you. Even though the memory of names and things has faded, he is still present, the core of his heart intact. “

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