Interview with Célia Oneto Bensaid

As part of its philanthropic activities, Lazard Frères Gestion wishes to support artists by inviting, every month, renowned musicians, to make their chords resound despite the silence of the concert halls. This month, we are pleased to introduce you to Celia Oneto Bensaid, a French pianist, who also agreed to respond to our questions.

1/ Can you tell us a bit about your background? Where did your the desire to learn to play the piano come from?

It was my father, a great piano lover, who later became a piano teacher, who wanted to share his love of this instrument with me. One thing led to another, and I quickly progressed through the program of my local music conservatory in Paris, and then found myself in a special program in middle school, before realizing at fifteen that the piano was the reason I got up in the morning. At eighteen, I was admitted to the CNSM of Paris, where I won prizes in piano, chamber music, piano accompaniment, voice direction, and vocal accompaniment.

My mother and my sister are actors, so I wanted to do what they did, that is to say, tell stories, but in a different way. I have a rather passionate relationship with music and the repertoires I approach. As a pianist, you have an embarrassment of riches, so I try to explore both the “great works of the repertoire” and less-often played pieces that would benefit from being more well-known. I also feel that as a performer it is essential to be connected to living composers and I try to explore these contrasting and fascinating repertoires.

2/ Which piece did you choose to play in this video?

I chose to play Desdemona by the French composer Mel Bonis. This piece is from her cycle of Femmes de Légende. The appeal of program music has always resonated with me. Playing with the dramatic plot of this woman who marries the man she loves against her father’s wishes is very inspiring. Shakespeare is an author whose work still seems contemporary in our society, over 400 years after his death.

In addition, I have been trying for several years to include in my repertoire works by women composers who are unfairly forgotten. The history of each one is singular, but we often find the fact that during their lifetime, their works were played and appreciated, to the point that these composers were sometimes real stars, before gradually sinking into oblivion after their death, to be seen from the point of view history as mere pedagogues most of the time. Melanie Bonis, for example, shortened her first name to Mel so that her work as a composer would be taken seriously…

3/ Has the closing of the concert halls changed many things for you?

My life has changed a lot in the last year. I have traveled much less and stayed home more – an original confinement! I’m what is called an intermittent artist, which protects me a little financially, even if my income has sometimes been a fourth of what it would be normally.

I decided to take advantage of this to explore new repertoires: the Goldberg Variations, for music’s mythical Everest, and many female composers: Rita Strohl, Marie Jaëll, and Louise Farrenc, as well as pieces by Philip Glass.

I have also been able to develop recording projects: it is one of the few things we have left. I have the prospect of releasing my next solo album, “Metamorphosis,” with NoMadMusic in May, in a program of Maurice Ravel, Philip Glass and Camille Pépin that is particularly dear to my heart. I have also just recorded eighteen pieces based on a reading of Dante by Marie Jaëll for the newly created label Présence Compositrice, which should be released in late 2021.

I miss the public, as do all my colleagues. I can’t wait to get back to the warmth of the stage, the exchanges with the theater managers and the euphoric post-concert dinners. I am crossing my fingers that spring will bring back all these opportunities to share!

I would like to thank Lazard Frères Gestion and François-Marc Durand for inviting me to participate in this series of videos that support artists.


Photo credit : Yves Petit