Serge Elhaik: Hello Madame Mauriat. Thank you for granting me this interview. You are known to be highly discreet, and you’ve never given any interviews since Paul Mauriat’s death in November 2006. Why have you decided to speak out now ?
Irene Mauriat: It’s with regret indeed that I’m speaking out, because I have to defend my husband’s memory, and to ensure that his legacy is properly respected.
Serge Elhaik: What do you mean ?
Irene Mauriat: Many fans in Russia and the Russian Federation, as well as in China more recently, must have seen the advertising campaign that has been going on for a few months now for a tour by the Paul Mauriat Orchestra in October and November this year in Russia, and around New Year 2011 in China. I’m deeply unhappy about this false advertising, since the «Paul Mauriat Grand Orchestra» no longer exists. I took this decision after my husband’s death. It should hardly be necessary to specify that the «Paul Mauriat Grand Orchestra» no longer exists either. I’ve noticed that certain advertisers seem to want to play on words by presenting slightly different titles, but they always put Paul Mauriat’s name right in the middle!
Serge Elhaik: Given Paul Mauriat’s great popularity, you must have received proposals to allow the orchestra to continue one way or another. Why did you not wish to entrust the orchestra to a new conductor?
Irene Mauriat: That’s an excellent question. As you know, Paul stopped performing in 1998, when he did his «Sayonara» tour of Japan. After this farewell, many fans contacted him to say that they would still love to hear his orchestra and his very individual music. After much hesitation, Paul agreed to allow the orchestra to carry on under another conductor, under Paul’s own artistic direction. For the first tour without his own presence which took place in 2000, he chose Gilles Gambus who went on to conduct three other tours in 2002, 2003 and 2004 in Japan, China and Russia. In 2005, he chose Jean-Jacques Justafre to conduct during a tour of Japan and Korea. Throughout all this this, Paul remained fully in charge of his orchestra. He decided everything, he chose the programmes, he selected the musicians and brought in new talents when necessary, he reviewed all his scores and often made changes in his orchestrations and arrangements when he had a new idea. Then he supervised the rehearsals and gave instructions to the different conductors, so that the sound and style that audiences expected would be preserved as far as possible. In short, artistically speaking, he took care of everything! When he was no longer with us, I decided that I could not entrust to someone else what he himself never delegated. It would have been a betrayal of his intentions, and moreso, a betrayal of his fans.
Serge Elhaik: You mentioned Jean-Jacques Justafre. He is leading these tours in Russia and China where, in certain places, it seems that the Paul Mauriat Orchestra is being advertised. Do you know how this confusion between Jean-Jacques Justafre and Paul Mauriat arose?
Irene Mauriat: After my husband died, his old friend and long-time promoter in Japan, Mike Nakamura, really wanted to organize a Paul Mauriat tribute tour in Japan. In France, my husband’s production company no longer existed and we had no means of organizing such a tour. Mike Nakamura then turned to Jean-Jacques Justafre, who came to ask me for approval to set up this « memorial » tour. I must admit I hesitated quite a lot since I was acutely aware of the difficulty involved in organising a tour to the standards my husband demanded. However, I was reassured by Mike Nakamura’s involvement – he has so much experience of the orchestra and was so loyal to Paul that I was confident that all would go well. I therefore gave Mr. Justafre approval for a single, exceptional tour, under Mike Nakamura’s management, and on condition that the orchestra would be presented under another name. It was very important for me to respect Paul’s fans, and we could not pretend that this other orchestra, even including many musicians who had worked with Paul, was some kind of official successor to the Paul Mauriat Grand Orchestra. Without Paul’s guiding hand, it became something different.
Serge Elhaik: How do you explain the fact that foreign promoters continue to use the name and image of Paul Mauriat and his Orchestra in order to promote Jean-Jacques Justafre’s orchestra ?
Irene Mauriat: I think there’s a lot of misunderstanding about this. Indeed I spoke to Mr. Justafre about it several times. The problem is that, even if he himself calls his orchestra «Jean-Jacques Justafre’s Grand Orchestra», he presented himself in his promotional material as Paul Mauriat’s heir or successor. This led to certain promoters confusing the two entities.
Serge Elhaik: I read in an interview given by Jean-Jacques Justafre to the Russian press that his orchestra includes many musicians who worked with Paul Mauriat in the past. Do you think that the presence of these musicians justifies the idea that Mr. Justafre’s orchestra gives a «second life» to Paul Mauriat’s Grand Orchestra, as written in that interview ?
Irene Mauriat: Absolutely not. Paul worked with a great many musicians, who in turn played in other orchestras or accompanied other artists depending on opportunities. That’s the normal life of a professional musician! It was Paul himself who gave his orchestra its particular character. Even when he was no longer physically present on stage, he still dominated everything behind the scenes. Today he’s no longer with us. It’s as simple as that.
Serge Elhaik: There’s still one thing I don’t quite understand. In that same interview, Mr. Justafre says that it was you who suggested that he call his orchestra «Jean-Jacques Justafre’s Grand Orchestra». Is that true ?
Irene Mauriat: Yes and no. After the tribute tour to Paul Mauriat in 2009, which, as I already mentioned, I authorized on a one-off basis, Mr. Justafre came to see me again. He wished to make a recording using the name «Paul Mauriat Orchestra», which I refused. He also told me about a proposal he had received for concerts in Russia. I told him he did not need my autorization to give concerts or make a CD in his own name! My husband always tried to give a helping hand to musicians who were trying to develop their own projects. In this same spirit, and in trust, I encouraged Mr. Justafre to give his own name to his orchestra. He was very anxious to pay tribute to Paul Mauriat, which is something anyone is free to do. However, I never imagined for a second that Mr. Justafre would interpret this friendly encouragement as an autorisation to re-name my husband’s orchestra in his own name, which would obviously make no sense! I thought that he would develop his own reputation as a conductor, playing all kinds of music including my husband’s music. It never ocurred to me that he would concentrate his activity exclusively around Paul Mauriat’s name. It’s this approach that has led me to speak out and to state clearly that he is not the heir or successor to Paul Mauriat or his orchestra, nor indeed to his style, and I don’t want there to be any misunderstanding about this among Paul’s fans.
Serge Elhaik: Nonetheless, are you not happy, deep down, that there should be ongoing tributes to Paul Mauriat, especially by musicians who knew him ?
Irene Mauriat: I’ve always said that I would be very happy that musicians, whether they knew Paul or not, would pay tribute to him in their own way. I mean really, in their own way! It’s the ultimate compliment from one artist to another. Indeed, other artists and orchestras have contacted me to tell me of their desire to play Paul’s music, and I’m delighted about this. The difference is that they have their own artistic identity and their own repertoire, to which they just want to add some Paul Mauriat music.
What bothers me about what’s going on in Russia and also in China is that the public is led to believe that they’re going to hear the Paul Mauriat Grand Orchestra, or Jean-Jacques Justafre’s Grand Orchestra presented as the successor to Paul Mauriat. I want to be very clear about this : Mr. Justafre in no way represents Paul Mauriat’s artistic legacy, and has no right to identify or associate himself publicly and exclusively with Paul Mauriat.
In China, some people took things further by declaring that Jean-Jacques Justafre is Paul Mauriat’s own son! It’s a ridiculous lie, and is the sole responsibility of those who made it up for their own purposes. The Chinese public must know that Paul Mauriat never had any children. That’s perfectly clear.
This same promoter of concerts in Shanghai and Hangzhou has stated in his advertising material that Jean-Jacques Justafre collaborated with Paul Mauriat on his arrangements and compositions – this is totally untrue! Mr. Justafre’s only contribution to the Paul Mauriat Grand Orchestra was as a musician in the orchestra – solo French horn – for seven tours, and as conductor for one tour only.
My own name was mentioned in this outrageous advertising, they say that I gave all rights concerning the orchestra to Mr. Justafre. It’s unbelievable! All this nonsense makes me very sad.
I also saw a Russian website selling tickets for a concert advertised as the «Paul Mauriat Orchestra». On the same page, they showed a video of Paul Mauriat himself conducting his orchestra. Fans are being completely misled!
This whole affair is an insult to my husband’s memory, and I’m determined to set things right. I’ve far too much respect for the fans who allowed my husband to have such an exceptional career to let them be cheated.
Serge Elhaik: A final word ?
Irene Mauriat: Today, I’m very upset by this unfortunate episode, but Paul left me so many wonderful memories that it’s my duty to be strong enough to restore and preserve the integrity of his name and his music.
Interview to Madame Irene Mauriat by Mr. Serge Elhaik, France, 17th October 2010