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Interview With Michel Barnier; Taiwan Tensions; Interview With Danish Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen; Interview With Composer Terence Blanchard; Aired 1-2p ET
Aired October 11, 2021 - 13:00:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN INTERNATIONAL HOST: Hello, everyone, and welcome to AMANPOUR.
Here's what's coming up.
AMANPOUR (voice-over): Can Europe survive yet another nationalist challenge, this time from Poland? I asked Michel Barnier, a former Brexit
negotiator who's now running for president in France.
JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Today, our children are three times more likely to see climate disasters uproot and unsettle their lives
than their grandparents' generation.
AMANPOUR: As the clock ticks down to the next global climate summit, Danish Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen heads to India, seeking to get one
of the world's major polluters to help turn the tide.
TERENCE BLANCHARD, COMPOSER: If we do stories that are relevant to people's lives, the way Puccini and Verdi and all those other guys did,
people will probably see -- feel a need to experience.
AMANPOUR: Walter Isaacson talks to compose a Terence Blanchard about bringing the African-American experience to the Metropolitan Opera at last.
AMANPOUR: Welcome to the program, everyone. I'm Christiane Amanpour in London.
Polexit, anyone? Yes, that term is tentatively being bandied around now, since tensions in Poland started climbing to boiling point over European
Union membership. The country's Supreme Court recently challenged the primacy of E.U. law over the Polish Constitution.
Tens of thousands of Poles took to the streets in protest over that, since 80 percent of the population wants to remain inside the E.U., while the
Supreme Court decision was led by judges local to the nationalist ruling Law and Justice Party.
Meanwhile, here in the home of Brexit, the economic chickens are literally coming home to roost, with food industry supply chains in utter chaos. The
British poultry industry, much like its oil and gas, trucking, and grocery industries, are severely disrupted by a labor shortage, partly because
Brexit caused thousands of European workers to head for the exits.
And my first guest tonight, Michel Barnier, was the E.U.'s unflappable Brexit negotiator. And now he's laid out that experience in a new book
called "My Secret Brexit Diary." He's also running to be the next president of France and launching his own surprising critiques of the E.U.
So, Michel Barnier, welcome to our program.
Let me first start by asking you whether you share the concerns about Poland and the current situation there. Do you think it can lead to an exit
from the E.U.?
MICHEL BARNIER, FORMER EUROPEAN UNION CHIEF BREXIT NEGOTIATOR: Good evening, Christiane. And thank you very much for your invitation.
Yes, I can share the concern of a large part of the Polish people about what is on stake in Poland in Warsaw, because what will be decided by the
Supreme Court in Poland is very serious, rejecting or opposing the European treaty, particularly the first article of the treaty, which is very
It is, in my view, much more a political issue and crisis than a legal one. And I think that the moment of truth is not very far. And I think that the
European Council, the council of the head of states, will have in a few days or a few weeks if there is no change in Warsaw in Poland to ask the
key question to do the Polish government, do you want to remain or not in the E.U.?
AMANPOUR: Well, they say they do want to remain, so it's quite interesting to understand what kind of a game they're playing.
In addition, Hungary and the prime minister there, Prime Minister Orban, who's challenged the E.U. on many issues, backs Poland's move right now.
How much of a threat is this to the E.U.? You said, in a few days, the moment of truth. Do you mean the moment of truth for the E.U. or for those
BARNIER: There is a moment of truth for everyone.
If you are willing to stay and to remain in the E.U., we have to respect the principles and values of the E.U., exactly as the Polish government,
the Polish people did 17 years ago, when it was the time of the accession in 2004.
And they have accepted clearly the totality of the principle, the values and the content of our treaty, so that what is at stake is now just to know
if they want to continue to respect our values and our principles, and, in particular, on one point, the independence of the judges.
AMANPOUR: And that's obviously been an issue in Poland for many, many months now.
Can I ask you a question? Your book, of course, is called -- it's called "My Secret Brexit Diary: A Glorious Illusion."
So, what I want to ask you about is, essentially, your writing starts with a warning to the E.U. Even though you were the negotiator very firmly,
obviously, in the E.U. camp, you're basically saying the E.U. needs to change. It's very late in the day, but it's not too late.
AMANPOUR: Tell me what you mean.
BARNIER: Yes, it's not too late.
And I spent four years, Christiane, to manage this very serious event, which is the Brexit. And I think the Brexit is not a small event. It is a
very serious and very historical event, a country, for the first one, the first time, I hope for the last time, leaving the E.U., and a great
country, the U.K.
So my first chapter in this book was exactly to say that there is a warning for everybody. It's too late for the U.K. people for the moment, and it is
not too late for us to listen to the people, to understand why 52 percent of the British people voted five years ago against Brussels, against the
Obviously there are more British reasons for this withdrawal, for the Brexit. But there is also what I can call a popular feeling in U.K., but
also in many regions in Europe concerning the E.U., the lack of protection, uncontrolled migration, the lack of jobs, no future.
So we have to draw the lessons, to listen, and to answer. All the answer are not in Brussels, obviously, but a part of the answer are in Brussels, a
part of the answer also in each capital, in my country in particular.
This is why I recommend to everybody to change what needed to be changed to avoid new Brexit elsewhere.
AMANPOUR: So let me just ask you, if you can, briefly, if you had a magic wand, and you could take your own warning, and change one thing or reform
one major thing, what would it be in the E.U.?
BARNIER: First of all, as everywhere, I think it's true for Brussels, for Washington, or for Paris, to impose and to be to be careful about the
responsibility of the politicians, and not to vote to give the power to the technocrats, first of all.
It's true in Brussels. It's true in Paris. It's true in Washington once again. Number two, to be less naive in our trade relations with the U.S.,
with the Chinese. Number three, to build, as we are going to -- we are beginning to do from the last two or three years, new capacity to be
autonomous, to be independent.
I think about the industrial policy, but also the cooperation in defense.
AMANPOUR: OK, can I ask you to -- let's talk about "My Secret Brexit Diary."
You don't seem very impressed by the negotiating stance of the British team, about David Davis, who was the first negotiator with you. "We rarely
get into the substance of things." About Boris Johnson, you talk about how he wanted to employ the so-called madman strategy.
So you seem to imply that they're not really in control of their brief, that it was a lot of ideology, a lot of just -- of talk. Explain a little
bit how it appeared to you at the table.
BARNIER: Let me, Christiane, just mention the fact that I have a lot of respect for my counterpart in face of me -- four negotiator in four years,
but all of these long negotiation, very competent and professional manner of the civil servants of the U.K.
But my feeling in the last -- perhaps the last 12 months, in particular with the new teams of Boris Johnson, that I face on the other side of the
table people who had much more ideology, rhetoric, political concerns than the usual pragmatism of the U.K.
And the paradox for the French negotiating with British people is that I think that the pragmatism was not on the British side.
AMANPOUR: So are you surprised or not surprised then with what we seem to be experiencing right now in the U.K., a bit of chaos, to put it bluntly or
mildly, with supply chains in the petrol stations disrupted, threats to turkeys that we eat for Christmas here, and all sorts of things, a gas
crisis at least created by the trucking crisis?
Are you surprised by that, or is -- did you expect this to happen?
BARNIER: No, to be frank, I wanted to say that I am not very -- I am never happy when some countries, the E.U. or the U.K. today, outside of the E.U.,
are facing difficulties. I'm never happy.
If you look with realism to these difficult deals, we can see there are many reasons, not only one reason. The first one is the consequence of the
COVID crisis. The second one is about the shortage of raw materials, which is a global problem for many countries, not only the U.K.
There are the price of energy, which is also a global concern for many countries everywhere in the world. And, finally, there is -- objectively
and obviously, there are the direct consequences, the mechanical consequences of Brexit, because the U.K. leaving the E.U. has decided the
end of the freedom of movement, which means that many workers, many drivers coming from the E.U., and are not ready to come back.
And there are so many non-trade buyers, non fiscal buyers for all the exchanges of goods between the E.U. and the U.K. there. These are the
mechanical and the direct consequences of Brexit. This is the truth.
AMANPOUR: So now let me turn quickly to your run for the presidency of France at the center-right conservative Republican Party, which was the
party of certainly de Gaulle -- well, Jacques Chirac and others. It's taken a bit of a knocking since the advance of Emmanuel Macron. The big parties
are sort of kind of struggling to regain their feet.
But I want to ask you this. You had said something -- or at least it was translated as such -- that seemed to indicate that you would call for or
there needed to be a referendum on immigration in France. And this is what your old nemesis Boris Johnson, who still feels triumphant, said this week
at the Conservative Party conference:
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BORIS JOHNSON, BRITISH PRIME MINISTER: Is it not a sublime irony that, even in French politics, there is now a leading center-right politician
calling for a referendum on the E.U...
JOHNSON: ... who is now calling for France to reprendre le controle?
JOHNSON: It's good old Michel Barnier.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: So, tell us where you stand on all that. He's talking about a referendum on the E.U. We understand that you had called for a referendum
on the question of immigration.
What are you calling for as a candidate for presidency?
BARNIER: Frankly speaking, this polemic is not serious. It's not correct. It is not the truth.
I want to maintain the freedom of movement between the E.U. member states, including France. No way to seize or to interrupt this freedom of movement.
It is exactly the contrary that the U.K. wanted and fixated to do with Boris Johnson.
So we are not the same line. Johnson, Farage and some others wanted to leave the E.U. and campaigning with Brexit to leave the E.U., finally, they
wanted this vote, and exactly the contrary that I want for my country. I want my country to remain a strong European country.
But, at the same time, I want to change what needs to be changed and to draw the lessons of Brexit, what is exactly my line. And the referendum I
have proposed with immigration is just on specific points to get the possibility of kind of moratoire to change and to be able to be more
efficient to control the immigration coming from abroad from third country, not from the E.U.
It is the big and the huge difference between the Brexiteers and me. And I have nothing to do with these people.
AMANPOUR: So you said you wanted a moratorium on that aspect of immigration.
BARNIER: On some very specific aspect.
Let me just recall, Christiane, that the migration policy is a shared policy between the E.U. and the member state. I'm speaking of the migration
coming from third country, Africa, Middle East or Asia, not coming from the E.U.
AMANPOUR: Can I ask you to clarify your statements about the European Court of Justice?
Because, in your book, you say: "Nowhere else in the world is there a common legal order for an entire continent like the one we have built
together over the past 60 years. There is no reason, no justification to accept a weakening of this community law."
I read that you're defending the ECJ. But in a speech last month, at least, it was translated as saying all of the things you wanted to do: "We cannot
do all this without having regained our legal sovereignty. We can't be permanently threatened by a ruling or condemnation at the level of the
European Court of Justice or the European Convention on Human Rights."
So, which is it? Are you defending the ECJ and the European Court of Human Rights, or are you questioning their authority?
BARNIER: No, obviously, I'm defending the ECJ.
The single market, which is the key point at stake during this negotiation, because the U.K. tried every day to get to the best of two worlds, is much
more than the free trade zone. The single market is a core system of rules, standards, regulation, supervisions, and at the top of everything, the ECJ.
So we have to be very careful to maintain the role of ECJ, in particular when the single market is at stake, and no way to unravel or to (INAUDIBLE)
the single market, as the U.K. tried to do during these negotiations.
But the key point is clearly what I mentioned previously. The migration policy is a shared policy between the E.U. And I want to build a more
stronger -- a more stronger European migration policy. This policy doesn't work today.
The Court of Auditors at the European level say exactly what I just say to you a few seconds ago. And I want to build a stronger national policy. And
we need to have more freedom to do that in the framework of a shared policy, once again, for the third time, between the E.U. and the member
AMANPOUR: Very briefly.
BARNIER: The point is that, for the moment, there -- for the moment, there is no real sentences or words in our Constitution and also in the European
treaty about migration, that we need to improve these two points and both at the two levels.
AMANPOUR: Just very briefly and finally, when you -- finally this deal happened on Brexit, and everybody talked about a new relationship between
the E.U. and Britain, are you surprised that almost every single aspect of this deal, not to mention the Northern Ireland protocol, is being
challenged by the Brits?
BARNIER: I think that the U.K., the current U.K. government has to be very, very careful about what they want to decide about Ireland.
We have negotiated this protocol on Ireland carefully, word by word, sentence by sentence with Mr. Johnson, not without him or against him, with
him and with his team. So now what is at stake in Ireland, Northern Ireland, is not about goods, trade, technical issues. It's about peace and
And so I think and I hope that the current government of U.K. will be just in the situation to respect its signature, to be very careful about the
Good Friday and Belfast Agreement, because what is at stake is the peace of the people.
AMANPOUR: Michel Barnier, thank you so much for joining us.
And turning now to tensions between Taiwan and mainland China, which are ratcheting up once again, with both sides engaged in a heated war of words.
At least for the moment, they're words.
President Tsai Ing-wen, she marked Taiwan's National Day this weekend with a huge military parade and a blistering speech, calling out Beijing's
military aggression, and she vowed never to bow to that pressure. In turn, Beijing is accusing Tsai of inciting violence and distorting the facts,
even as it renewed its commitment to complete reunification.
This saber-rattling from both sides is escalating. And it does put President Biden in a tight spot.
Correspondent Will Ripley is in Taipei with this story.
WILL RIPLEY, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Taiwan's growing arsenal on full display at this weekend's National Day Parade to
defend against a growing threat from China.
This small island is spending big on weapons, many made in the USA, F-16 fighters, Patriot missiles, $5 billion in U.S. weapons sold to Taiwan last
year. Taiwan arm sales skyrocketed during the Trump years, the former president's hard-line stance against China one of the few Trump era
policies embraced by President Joe Biden.
Defending Taiwan's democracy against authoritarian China has rare bipartisan support. Some worry Washington politics may be provoking
Beijing, even pushing Taiwan and the U.S. into dangerous territory.
JESSICA LEVINSON, LOYOLA LAW SCHOOL: If you do take steps to look like you are aggressively defending Taiwan, then you arguably put them in a more
vulnerable position. You arguably, again, irritate China.
RIPLEY: Taiwan's President Tsai Ing-wen says the island is on the front lines of a much bigger battle.
TSAI ING-WEN, TAIWANESE PRESIDENT (through translator): Free and Democratic countries have been alerted to the expansion of
authoritarianism, and Taiwan is on the forefront of the defense line of fellow democracies.
RIPLEY: China's set a record 150 warplanes near Taiwan in just five days this month. Biden's balancing act, calming cross-strait tensions, defending
democracy, and preventing a conflict that could cost American lives.
BIDEN: I have spoken with Xi about Taiwan.
LEVINSON: I think Taiwan really presents a challenge to any American presidential administration, because you're trying to balance competing
RIPLEY (on camera): This is an extraordinary sight, four kinds of domestically produced missiles rolling through the capital in front of
Taiwan's presidential palace, an ominous sign of escalating regional tensions.
CHANG YAN-TING, FORMER TAIWAN AIR FORCE DEPUTY COMMANDER (through translator): We cannot control whether or not the Chinese Communist Party
has the ability to attack Taiwan. But we are able to control and make sure it does not have the motivation to do so.
RIPLEY: Every Chinese leader since Mao has vowed to take control of Taiwan. Analysts say President Xi Jinping may be the first with a military
mighty enough to do it, even as he calls for peaceful reunification.
CHANG (through translator): Whoever wins Taiwan wins the world.
RIPLEY: China is locked in territorial disputes across the Indo-Pacific region, Taiwan Beijing's biggest unresolved issue and some say Biden's
AMANPOUR: Will Ripley reporting there.
Perhaps the biggest challenge for President Biden and Europe is maintaining cooperation with China on critical priorities like climate, while still
confronting Chinese aggression.
And in just three weeks, world leaders meet in Glasgow, Scotland, for COP 26. That is the climate conference, where they will reckon with a
dispiriting report from the United Nations, which shows the world is in fact warming faster than scientists have previously thought.
Meantime, China the world's biggest polluter, is demanding its own coal mines boost their production. And India, the third largest polluter, is
under pressure now to reduce its carbon emissions.
The Danish prime minister, Mette Frederiksen, is on a state visit to New Delhi right now. She's highlighting the urgency of tackling climate change,
while also trying to do whatever government wants to do, and that is maintain economic growth.
So, Prime Minister, welcome to the program.
You just heard our report from Taiwan. How concerned are you that you, who need to engage with China, as well as India, where you are, on issues like
climate change, also my get caught up in these kinds of escalating tensions that are military and political tensions in China? Go ahead.
METTE FREDERIKSEN, PRIME MINISTER OF DENMARK (through translator): Thank you so much.
I would like to start by saying that fighting climate change is the most important target. And, therefore, the way in front of us before we meet in
Glasgow for COP 26 should be about the climate change. And we need to focus our energy to find the necessary solutions.
I totally respect and I'm totally aware of there are many other discussions that are needed and many other discussions that are very important. But
from now on until we meet in Glasgow for the COP 26, we need to focus entirely on the climate change and how to solve it.
AMANPOUR: So, what about India?
You have had, I think, several days, four days to discuss this issue with Prime Minister Modi and his officials. India, as we know and as you know,
70 percent of its electricity is from coal. They are on the brink of a energy crisis.
And so far, it's generally taken that they're not meeting their carbon emission goals. What have you been able to say to the prime minister? And
have you come away with anything concrete that you can take to COP?
FREDERIKSEN: Yes, indeed, it has been a very good visit, not only for India and Denmark and our bilateral relationship, but also for the climate.
First of all, I would like to say that, with the IPCC report, it should be very clear for all of us in the entire world that we have to act now, and
we have to make the changes faster than what we thought.
We are in a very difficult situation, but also a situation with possibilities. And our responsibilities as leaders of the world is to show
our population and especially our children and young people that we are able to ensure a green transition, and, at the same time, support economic
And both things are needed in a country like India. When you ask me, what are the concrete results and do I believe that India will be able to answer
the questions and to reach the ambitious targets that India has set when it comes to renewables and the Paris agreement, the answer is actually yes,
because what we see now is a very ambitious Indian government, who really wants to transform electricity and the use of power into green electricity
And the partnership with Denmark, we -- one year ago, we formed the first green strategic partnership between India and Denmark. And we have the
skills and India have the size. And when it comes to renewables, this is specifically an area where Denmark has a lot of experiences. And we have a
lot of specialists and companies who have the right answers.
So, yes, when it comes to the Indian ambitions, I think they will reach it. And if you ask Denmark, we have one of the most ambitious goals, I think,
in the entire world, with a reduction of 70 percent in 2030. We are going to reach that target it.
It will be difficult. It is extremely difficult, but we have to do it. We don't have a choice not to do it.
AMANPOUR: So let me just ask you again, do you think or did you get the impression, because India has been a bit of a laggard on this -- and, as
you know, India, which is termed a developing country, likes to say to you all, hey, you guys, you had your Industrial Revolutions and your emissions
and you're rich and powerful now. Don't tell us that we can't do it.
So did you get the impression that they're changing their minds, and particularly that the coal crisis, unprecedented coal crisis that they're
about to experience, might lead them now to move away from fossil fuels?
Because China, as you, as you heard is telling its coal companies to boost their output because of the current oil -- energy crisis.
FREDERIKSEN: Yes, I actually believe in India, because the mind-set of Prime Minister Modi and the Indian government is a green mind-set.
So, I actually believe that they are going to change and to make the right decision. But, at the same time, I would like to underline that we, I
think, all have to respect and really understand that we have different starting points, even though it's difficult also for Denmark to make this
truly green transition and to change almost everything in our own society to reach our ambitious goals.
Even though it's difficult in Denmark and also in Europe, it is much easier for countries like Denmark and the -- most European countries to achieve
these goals than it is for a country like India.
And if we respect the different starting points and make partnerships like the one we have made between India and Denmark, then, collectively, I think
we are going to show the rest of the world that we are able to do it, because we don't have a choice not to do it.
But we have to respect the different starting points. And, therefore, it is also extremely important when we meet in Glasgow and for the COP 26 that
some of us, the richest countries, are willing to deliver when it comes to financing on climate change, because if we are -- if we want to reach the
goals, some of us has to deliver more than others.
And Denmark is ready to do our part also when it comes to financing.
AMANPOUR: OK, so let me read -- you say the rich countries.
So, Alok Sharma, who is the British president of the COP summit, says: "Australia are our closest mates, and I want them to come to our party and
sing the same songs. And that means making ambitious commitments on emissions reductions by 2030 and obviously a net zero target."
As you said, some G7 nations are lagging behind. France and Italy have not made new financial pledges on climate assistance to developing countries.
So, how concerned are you -- I mean, you touched on it -- that those pledges will be kept and that countries like Australia will get away from
their coal mines and their fossil fuels and come to COP with some real commitments for the future?
FREDERIKSEN: My key message for you tonight is that we all have to do more.
When I saw the IPCC report, it was totally clear that even countries that do a lot already -- and, gladly, I'm very proud that Denmark is one of
those countries -- even us, we have to do more, also Australia.
And I think the G20 meeting just before, the high-level meeting in Glasgow, is as important actually as the COP 26, because we need G20 to show the
way. If Denmark can do what we do, to set ambitious targets, to show that we are able to make concrete results, and now also give more directly in
financing, then the other countries can do the same.
AMANPOUR: Prime Minister, one of the things you say and your government says is that, as we have become greener, we have become wealthier.
And, sure, that seems to be the big panic in the countries that are climate-resistant, in the quarters that are climate deniers, and in
ordinary people's homes when they don't believe that they're going to be well-off enough or able to support themselves if they take green measures.
This story has not been told properly. What can you do and what can you say to, let's say, Prime Minister Modi or whoever you're talking to that,
actually, look at us, we are wealthier now that we have gone greener?
And, actually, can countries like India do the same?
FREDERIKSEN: First of all, I think we have to recognize why some people fear the green transition, afraid that maybe they're going to lose their
jobs, or what about economic growth, because we need economic growth, and we need to create more jobs, because unemployment is a disaster in all
When you look at Denmark, it is exactly what you just said. We have been able to grow our economy. We are now a more rich country than we were 40
years ago. And, at the same time, we have shown that it is possible to do it in a green way.
So, the Danish example or the Danish green model is hopefully something that other countries can use as well, because we have shown that social
responsibility goes hand in hand with the green transition if we insist on it.
And, therefore, when you look at it globally, we really need all the rich countries to step up now and to use the COP 26 to tell the rest of the
world that we are ready to set the ambitious targets or goals. But at the same time, we feel as responsible -- as we do for the climate, we feel as
responsible for other dimensions as well as, the social dimension, the fight against inequality, and gender issues, and sustainability, because
welfare and social justice has to go hand in hand with the green transition and the fight against climate change.
We have shown it in Denmark. So it is possible. It is possible. It has to be possible. We don't have a choice not to deliver what we have to deliver
now on this agenda.
AMANPOUR: Can I switch and ask you about your internal politics at home and actually the issue of immigration?
Successive Danish governments have introduced some very tough immigration laws. Let me just read a little bit, some of the toughest in Western
Europe. This year alone, your administration has instituted a zero asylum policy applications.
And you're also now requiring some immigrants, migrants, to work 37 hours a week in order to receive welfare benefits. Some critics are worried that
this will chip away at your very basis of human rights and your welfare and the general respect for immigrants.
What can you tell us about that? And you might have just heard Michel Barnier, the former Brexit negotiator running for French president, saying
that he wants to impose a moratorium on immigrants coming from outside the E.U., not inside, the freedom of movement, but outside the E.U.
FREDERIKSEN: Well, thank you also for that question. And I would like to say some different things about it.
First of all, I think we have to be honest with each other that the asylum system that we know today is not longer functioning. It is only those who
are able to cross the sea and to have -- those who have money enough or the health, they are strong enough.
Today, it is primarily the smugglers who are the winners of the asylum system. And, therefore, I think, Europe, we have, of course, a big
responsibility when it comes to refugees and asylum seekers. But we can help many more people, many more people, if we help in the neighboring
regions and countries.
And, at the same time, we can avoid that all these people are being mistreated on the way to Europe. So, asking me, as a Social Democrat, I
think it's much more human to help people in the surrounding and neighboring areas than it is to ask people to come all the way to Europe,
AMANPOUR: All right.
FREDERIKSEN: ... when we know that a lot of them is not really asylum seekers, and they will be sent back.
I don't know if we have any more time.
FREDERIKSEN: I really wanted to answer your other question as well.
AMANPOUR: We don't, Prime Minister. I'm sorry. I wish we did. I wish we did. I'm sorry,
I should have left more time for this. But the climate is our existential issue. And we will talk to you about immigration another time, I hope.
Thank you, Prime Minister, for joining us from New Delhi.
Now, in its 138-year history, the Metropolitan Opera in New York has never hosted a performance by black composer until now. The pandemic close The
Met for a year-and-a-half. And it's reopened with "Fire Shut Up In My Bones," which is a new opera by the six-time Grammy-winning musician and
composer Terence Blanchard.
His New York -- his new memoir is based on the memoir by "The New York Times" columnist Charles Blow. And he's been speaking to Walter Isaacson
about his artistic process.
WALTER ISAACSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Thank you, Christiane.
And, Terence Blanchard, congratulations on the opening of your opera at The Met, and welcome to the show.
BLANCHARD: Thank you, Walter. It really means a lot.
ISAACSON: I was struck by the fact that you're the first black composer to do an opera at The Met. And there haven't been very many contemporary
And you do Charles Blow's memoir of growing up in Louisiana, just like you did. Tell me about that opera.
BLANCHARD: Well, I chose it because of the notion of the isolation of him growing up in his own community, and him overcoming being molested by a
And the other reason why I chose it is because he's still around. He's still with us. He can be the shining example of what happens when you stick
to your guns and when you have the resilience to get through anything.
And when we did the opera in Saint Louis, I didn't let Charles come to any rehearsals. And the night of the premiere, man, I really regretted it
because I was scared to death. But after the premiere was over, I walked over to him, and I said: "Hey, man, are we OK?"
And he said: "Yes, yes, yes, we're good." He says: "I realize that's not me anymore."
And that statement to me was one of the reasons why I wanted to do his story, because that in itself -- and then he went on to write a piece about
it, but that, in itself, could be the motivating factor for a number of kids who are probably going through something similar.
ISAACSON: Tell me about reading Charles Blow's memoir, and why you thought that would make a good opera.
BLANCHARD: Well, my wife read the book. My wife, Robin Burgess, she read it, and then handed it to me. And when I read it, the first thing I kept
thinking about or the first thing that resonated with me was the notion of being isolated in your own community, a community that you really wanted to
belong to, because I knew what that was like.
You know, Walter, we grew up in a music town, but that doesn't necessarily mean all of our neighborhoods were, like, really supportive of that young
kid walking to the bus every weekend with his horn trying to go get that lesson.
In my neighborhood, everybody wanted to be athletes, wanted to be football players and basketball players. And, at my home, we had this big bay window
in the front. And the piano was right there. So when I was practicing my piano lessons, it wasn't the most popular thing to do while all my boys
were outside playing football.
So I can understand what Charles was feeling in that situation. I wasn't molested by a family member, so I can't speak to that. But the whole
isolationist thing was something that had a profound effect on me.
ISAACSON: But the scenes in the opera, I loved it when I saw it, but I didn't feel like I was listening to jazz. It wasn't a jazz opera. But it
was an opera sort of in jazz, meaning it had a lot of the sort of syncopations and rhythms of it.
Tell me, what were you aiming for? Were you trying to create a jazz opera?
BLANCHARD: No. No, no, no.
That's why we have been calling it an opera in jazz, for that very reason, because when I have met with Opera Theatre of Saint Louis at first, first
thing they told me, they said, well, they felt like we haven't really defined what American opera is.
We know what German opera, French, Italian, obviously. And they said, well, maybe American opera should have some elements of jazz in it. And, for me,
I went back to the whole notion of Stravinsky.
I will never forget, when I was without Art Blakey, I went to Hungary for the first time. And, man, I'm walking around. And I heard some young
musicians on the street playing these Hungarian folk songs. And I'm sitting there going, man, they're playing Stravinsky.
BLANCHARD: And when I realized what was going on, it was a big education for me. So I held on to that idea for a number of years, obviously.
And when it came time to do this, I said, what, that's what I'm going to do here. I'm going to use the DNA of jazz. Sometimes, there are harmonic
progressions that I'm using, but I'm not using it in a jazz setting. I'm using it more in the orchestral way.
But the elements of it come from that world. Roger Dickerson told me, he said, listen, man, you're gaining this experience of writing for orchestra
with -- in the movies. You need to start thinking about how you can incorporate the language and articulations and rhythms and harmony of jazz
and what it is that you do with orchestra.
So that's what I have been doing. And it's developed. It's grew -- it's grown into this approach of writing that makes my music sound a little
ISAACSON: How did the murder of George Floyd and the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement, how did that affect your work?
BLANCHARD: It had a huge effect on my work, because it had a huge effect on the country.
When that event occurred, I have a lot of friends in New Orleans who are well-meaning people who saw that and started calling me, started texting
me, asking me if I was OK. And I kept thinking, maybe something happened to a family member of mine. And I talked to one friend. I said, well, what's
And he said, well, no, I just saw the video. And I realized that they finally saw what we have been talking about for generations in this
country. And being a captive audience around the nation because of the pandemic, I know that it had a profound effect on a lot of people, which,
in turn, made people feel like they needed to make some changes.
So kudos to Peter Gelb, because even told me -- he said that had a huge effect on him and his thinking about what he could do to stem the tide of
intolerance and racism.
ISAACSON: Peter Gelb, who runs The Met, recruited you to do this.
Do you think there's going to be a change at The Met now that this worked out so well?
BLANCHARD: I know there is, because I met two young composers who had been commissioned by Peter, one of Asian descent and one who's a female.
And I think, that, in itself, speaks to what it is that I have been saying about not wanting to be a token. I want to be a turnkey. This can't be a
one-off. And I think Peter is committed to that.
He's also announced that he's going to do Anthony Davis' opera about Malcolm X. So, hopefully, this is -- like, this will be a sea change in the
world of opera, because at a time when opera was struggling trying to sell tickets, this opera has done extremely well.We have sold out just about
every show. And I think there are new people who are coming to opera.
As a matter of fact, when we did "Champion" in New Orleans, there was a gentleman who walked up to me after the show is in his mid-70s. and he said
to me: "Man, if this is Opera, I will come."
And that blew me away. I went, see, if we do stories that are relevant to people's lives, the way Puccini and Verdi and all those other guys did,
people will probably see -- feel a need to experience, because I have been trying to tell my friends, stop thinking of what you think opera is.
This is the highest form of musical theater you can ever experience.
ISAACSON: You're an only child, and your dad loved opera.
I'd love to hear you talk about rattling around the house as a young kid, where your dad's trying to make your love opera.
BLANCHARD: Well it was always kind of funny, man, because, in my neighborhood, opera wasn't the most popular choice of music to listen to.
So when my friends would come over, and my dad would be sitting in the front singing his parts to something he was working on, I would always rush
them by the front room and say, man, let's go in the back. And they would say, man, what are you doing? I'm like, dude, come on, let's go. What is
your dad doing? I'm like, don't worry about that.
BLANCHARD: But any time a good piece of music or opera would come on PBS or anything, he would scream across the house: "Hey, Terence, come here,
come here, come here."
And he would make me sit down and he'd make me listen to it. And he would say: "Now, see, that's music. That's music. See, that's great music."
And I hated it when I was a kid, to be honest. But I grew to love the music when I became older. And I think it's just so ironic that I'm in this world
right now. I know -- I have been telling everybody I know he's up there looking at me going, I told you so.
ISAACSON: The first opera in America was staged in our hometown of New Orleans.
And opera has been really a part of the city tradition. Louis Armstrong used to hang out at the French Opera House in the French Quarter listening
to Puccini and others.
Tell me about all the musical strands of New Orleans that come together both in your work and in music today.
BLANCHARD: Oh, man, it's -- I can't even put it in the words, when there's so many times I hear that beat, that street beat from New Orleans in other
forms of music.
I have talked to a friend of mine, Danilo Perez, who's from Panama, and we even talk about how it influenced Latin music. Art Blakey used to talk
about how the rhythm from New Orleans and the rhythm of Latin cultures is the same, just on the other side of the beat.
If you say one, two, three, four, one, dinka-din, dinka-din, dinka-din. And then, in Latin music, it is dinka-din, dinka-din, dinka-din. So it's a
similar beat, just on the other side of the beat.
And there's so many elements from that I hear in all different types of music, the spiritually-based music, Mahalia Jackson and all the things that
those people created and contributed to the world of music. We're here today.
There's one aria that we do in the piece called "Peculiar Grace," where Angel Blue responded to a conversation that we had the first day of
rehearsal, where I told them. I said, I know a lot of you guys grew up in the church. And you're told to put that aside when you're going to sing
classic opera, when you're going to sing Puccini. You can't bring that into that, right? I understand it.
But, here, I want you to bring all of that back to the stage. And Angel responded in a way that is so hauntingly beautiful with this one aria that
I feel very, very blessed to have all of these extremely talented people on board.
ISAACSON: In your opera, you really honor tradition. I mean, this is a very traditional form.
And, in jazz, you honor tradition. And yet what you also have to do is break tradition. You have to break away from the mold. How do you balance
breaking tradition with honoring tradition?
BLANCHARD: Well, the first thing is to really study the history and to know your craft. That's the first thing, because knowing the craft, then I
will be able to say, OK, well Stravinsky did this, this way, but I'm going to add this element to it, I'm going to add this type of harmonic passage
to it, I'm going to add this orchestration to it.
And it's really interesting, because, like, I love Puccini, and I love the way that he writes for voice, the way sometimes he will double the vocal
line with the orchestra. So there are elements of those things that I take that are structural, right, that are not actual phrases.
But I take those things and I implement them in the way that I see fit for the way that I create phrases. So, it's -- that's the way of honoring the
tradition, but still moving forward.
I always have to tell my students what Ellis Marsalis used to tell us all the time. He said a turtle never gets in the way unless he sticks his neck
BLANCHARD: So you got to take a chance every now and then.
ISAACSON: You did the "Tale of God's Will," which won a Grammy. And it was a requiem for Hurricane Katrina. Tell me how Katrina -- it really hit your
neighborhood pretty bad, Pontchartrain Park in New Orleans. Tell me how Katrina affected your work.
BLANCHARD: Oh, it had a huge effect on my work. As a matter of fact, that album is the reason why I'm doing opera, because Jim Robinson, he told me
that's one of his desert island albums. And it was a reason -- that that was the thing that made him think about me writing opera.
That moment in time was something I could have never fathomed. And, Walter, I was so hurt when the realization of those train tracks in my neighborhood
being above the roofline in our neighborhood finally made sense. Every movie that I saw when I was a kid, train tracks were on the ground. They
were street level.
And I never understood why the train tracks in my neighborhood were so high. And then when Hurricane Katrina came in, when I saw that satellite
photo of my neighborhood, where the only thing I could see was water, rooftops, and those train tracks, that had a heavy effect on me in terms of
how I felt betrayed by government.
And it made me realize we're all in this together, because that was the beautiful side of that tragedy. When Hurricane Katrina hit that area, man,
we didn't have any red or blue states. Everybody was on the same page, trying to help anyone in need.
And that really clued me into how powerful human nature is, the human spirit, our willingness to help brothers when they need it. And that was a
turning point of what I was telling you earlier about how I wanted to create music to help people heal.
ISAACSON: Tell me about -- you have spent 30 years scoring films for Spike Lee, including "When the Levees Broke" about Katrina.
Tell me what it's like to work for him in scoring movies, what's that's like.
BLANCHARD: Working with Spike, man, has been a godsend, because he's such a unique filmmaker that it's always challenged me.
I remember when I first started working with Spike, he kept telling me: "I don't like underscore. I want to hit melody. I want to hear themes."
And then, sometimes -- I think it was "Summer of Sam," one of those early films. I was talking to him about: "You sure you want theme here, because
there's a lot of dialogue here?"
And he would tell me -- he got upset with me one day. And he goes: "Listen, man, it's been scientifically proven that the brain can focus on more than
one thing at one time." And I went, OK, got it.
But that, in itself, made me realize I need to figure out ways of writing these orchestrations that will carry the themes the way he wants them to,
but still won't get in the way of important dialogue.
And that, in itself, I think has allowed me to develop the style that people recognize in my film writing. And he's just been -- I don't even
know how to explain it. He's one of these guys that is so secure with what he does, that he gives you room.
Like, when I'm working with Spike, the only thing he asks is for me to send him themes. And when I send him the themes, and then he starts to assign
them to characters, I literally don't hear from him until it's time to go into the studio.
When we did "Da 5 Bloods," the last film, I didn't hear from him until we got in the studio. Then, when I got in the studio, I just made sure
everything was the way he loves it. I know what he likes. And I think he does that because he wants to have the reaction that an audience would have
by hearing the music for the first time.
ISAACSON: You have got a great new album out called "Absence."
And I think Branford Marsalis, I have heard one of the cuts, was playing "Go" with you on it, and it's a homage to Wayne Shorter. Tell me why.
BLANCHARD: Well, Wayne Shorter is one of our great American treasures, I think.
I think Wayne Shorter has been a person that has been so meaningful in my life. I know that for sure, because I learned so much from him. I didn't
want to wait until he was no longer with us for me to tell him how much I love his music, how much I love him as a person and a musician, and show
him that by putting this album together.
And what I thought would be most interesting for him would be not to just do an album of his music, but to combine his music with original music from
the guy in the band to show him how he's influenced us in our writing.
And it's just a love letter to Wayne Shorter, because he's meant so much to so many people.
ISAACSON: Terence Blanchard, thank you so very much.
BLANCHARD: Thank you, Walter. It's good seeing you, man.
AMANPOUR: Inspiring and uplifting, indeed.
And that is it for now. You can always catch us online, on our podcast and, of course, across social media.
Thank you for watching, and goodbye from London.