The only musician from Luxembourg to have won a Grammy Award, Gast Waltzing is also very fond of fine wines.
As a musician, does wine inspire you?
Gast Waltzing: I’ve always liked wine. My father and grandfather used to drink Luxembourg white wine so I was used to seeing it at mealtimes. That was when people still drank Elbling, since then things have changed! And then of course I’ve done my own research! But no, wine doesn’t provide inspiration. That’s all just nonsense: artists become drunk just like everyone else!
Between being sober and inebriated, isn’t there a window when ideas come thick and fast?
It doesn’t work like that, believe me! So for example, for this sort of project [his work on the music for Harry Potter, see box], I didn’t touch a drop of alcohol for at least three weeks before starting it. You have to have all your wits about you. And since I don’t know how to make do with just one glass… I don’t drink all the time, but when I do drink, I really like to have… two glasses! (He laughs).
Artists create emotions. Do you think that winemakers are artists too?
Of course. But not just winemakers – bakers, chefs and so on – they’re artists too. Even a garage mechanic. When I take my car to my garage man because it’s making spluttering noises and he knows straightaway what needs repairing, he’s an artist.
I enjoy appreciating the skills that others have.
You play music with your groups and you also compose film music. Are these two activities as different from one another as the work of an independent winegrower producing wine with his grapes and an oenologist whose expertise is used by a major wine estate?
Obviously when I have to write film music I adapt to the film. It’s not my music, but rather a composition that helps the film to work. When I write for my big band or my quartet, then I can do what I enjoy. However, even with my groups, Atmosphere or Park Café, we made sure that we gave the public what they wanted. I’d rather have people listening to my music than play it for myself all alone. That doesn’t mean that I compromise all the time, but I want people to listen to what I create. For winemakers it’s the same thing, they can make the best wine in the world but if nobody buys it there’s no point.
When it comes down to it music – like wine – only makes sense when it is shared…
It gives a winemaker great pleasure when customers buy his wine, drink it and tell him it’s good. Just like after a concert when someone from the audience comes to tell you that they enjoyed it. In general, people go to concerts to listen to something they can’t do themselves. That’s exactly how I feel about wine and gastronomy. I enjoy appreciating the skills that others have.
Winemakers often say that they’re pleased to be awarded medals but that medals don’t change much. Is that what you think, having received the Grammy Award with Angélique Kidjo in 2016, one of the music world’s most prestigious awards?
This Grammy, I had never given it any thought beforehand. It was so far from my sights… When I was awarded it, I was absolutely thrilled. And there’s a really positive side: it opens many doors. Now, I no longer have to prove that I can lead an orchestra. However, each year there are new award winners, life goes on and having a Grammy doesn’t allow you to start slacking. This business is very hard and being given the award doesn’t guarantee that everything is going to run smoothly. The project with Angélique was fantastic. It needed time, just like wine does. We worked for five years to put it all together. Sometimes people think that you’ve simply put on a concert, but it’s not like that at all!
More and more winegrowers are playing music in their vineyards as it’s said that certain acoustic waves stimulate the vine stocks to produce proteins. What do you think about this?
Music is also played in cowsheds to calm the cows. It’s a little like homeopathy, you have to believe in it… I agree that music can do people good, so why not cows. But then to go on and say that grapes can enjoy a Bach fugue, well, I really can’t comment! (He laughs).
There’s music for every occasion. And in the same way, do certain emotions evoke particular wines for you?
I only ever drink wine when I’m eating, so I tend to choose it to go with the meal. And I always drink in company. I’m not one of those people who pour themselves a glass on their own in the evening. When I’m with friends I get my wine out and then we may well open a few bottles!
The winemaker retorted to me: “And you and your music, do people also say that it’s not bad for someone from Luxembourg?”
What do you enjoy drinking?
I really like French wine, especially white Burgundy. But, I tend to go through phases. For a time, I used to prefer Burgundy reds to Bordeaux reds but now that’s changing. I also had a period when I would only drink white wine and then another when I only drank red. Nowadays, it’s more balanced.
Are you also interested in Luxembourg wines?
Yes, I buy from several estates. A few years ago I was at the Wine Fair at Luxexpo with a friend who is a sommelier who had asked me to come and try some Luxembourg wines. I wasn’t terribly excited by the idea as I didn’t have a good image of them. He won me over with a blind tasting. There was a moment when I said to him: “Wow, this one is really good, it can’t be from Luxembourg”. He told me that indeed it was and I then replied that for a Luxembourg wine it was really fantastic. What I didn’t realise was that the winemaker was standing right behind me. He retorted: “And you and your music, do people also say that it’s not bad for someone from Luxembourg?” Since then, I’ve got on really well this winemaker and I am still buying wine from him! We share the same problem in sticking up for our work. In our small country you often hear people say: “It’s not bad for a Luxembourger.” This is condescending. His retort was spot on, and he was right to say to me what he did.
We shouldn’t denigrate Luxembourg wines, there are some excellent ones. And the proof: they’re going up in price!
Which grape varieties do you prefer from here?
I really like Riesling but also Pinot Gris, at times. Both can be extremely good. I enjoy it when they’ve been aged in barrels. There are a couple of winemakers who do that here and it’s really not bad at all. We shouldn’t denigrate Luxembourg wines, there are some excellent ones. And the proof: they’re going up in price! On the other hand, I don’t find New World wines at all appealing. I prefer wine from Europe to wine from America, Chile, Argentina and so on.