From blog to blog A reply to Hugh Mather about pianists out of control

Not sure if my reply to Hugh Mathers blog was recorded.

It was done in such a hurry that I intended  to reply at length later .

Actually after a concert that is  one of the few times in my life I left as soon as was decently possible.

Why did I leave? ……….what did I say to Hugh?……..this is a consideration ….my consideration ……..who am I to consider anything? …

That I leave to others to judge .What right do I have  to  judge  anyone or anything ?.I can only give my opinion and am always happy to be proven wrong.

An excess of modesty on my part but also on that of Hugh Mather who not only has created one of the most prestigious pianistic calendars,giving professional engagements to the needy young  talents that he has been able to spot as  great up and coming talents ,  but  also plays in public himself .His last appearance was with the Hammerklavier and his next will be with the Archduke on the 12th October with one of the best young cellist of today Jamal Aliyev who loves making music with this very modest retired consultant doctor .

Hugh had made a consideration that maybe many talented young musicians were tempted to play fast passages too fast and slow ones too slow.Citing Chopin 1st and 3rd Ballades and the F minor Fantasy  also including the fatally monumental Liszt Sonata in B minor.

A highly esteemed  doctor Hugh Mather may have been but he is also a very accomplished musician who now can dedicate himself to his real passion.Something he does with a modesty and generosity that are very rare indeed these days.

When I was  made a sub professor at the Royal Academy in London …many illustrious doctors from nearby Harley Street would ask if there was anyone that could teach them the piano.

I was of course the obvious choice – the new boy – .I well remember a very accomplished physician telling me that it was me or the psychiatrist and I was a bit cheaper!!!!!.

So many doctors ,lawyers and professional people have been brought up in privileged , more often  than not Jewish families ,where music was an important family activity,but was not considered a serious profession .So many professional people have grown up with their musical passion  momentarily stifled but it was always there simmering under the surface.

I had replied to Hughs comment about speedy pianists quoting my teacher Guido Agosti who put paramount importance on what was written in the score.

Tempo and dynamic indications are shown by the composer and the respect for these indications are the foundations on which the interpreter can begin to build .Adding,of course his own personality,passion,musicality etc etc .

It is not a straight jacket but on the contrary once these fundamental indications are mastered and understood it leaves the interpreter free to express all his personality and individuality.

Without this initial stage there is nothing .

That may seem drastic but this is the line that many of the greatest musicians from the very  first apparition of  Schnabel that Lechititsky declared was a musician but no real pianist .This opened the door to a new type of pianist – the musician pianist that we know today  of Serkin,Arrau Pollini  and Barenboim to our modern day Perahia and Zimerman

Every time that the ” High Priestess of Bach”  Rosalyn Tureck came to play she would always ask me for a metronome  to reset her performances even after years of knowing them.There was always something new to discover in the score even when she was well into her eighties and the rhythmic impulse was fundamental to her performances of Bach.

Infact this was the lesson that we all flocked to Siena to understand from Agosti.who was, after all, a pupil of Busoni.The school of Liszt  and the man who was perhaps the most modern of pianists,one of the very first to edit and play the Sonatas of Beethoven .

And how many students came to grief in the class of Agosti if they had not prepared their scores according to the composers wishes.I remember a graduate from  the famous Julliard  School in the USA playing his prize winning piece Miroirs by Ravel to Agosti only to be asked if he was  reading it for the first time.

The same lesson was an essential part of Toscanini’s revolutionary conducting that was passed on via Giulini to Riccardo Muti and many other great Italian interpreters which includes nowadays Antonio Pappano.

Joyce Di Donato on Desert Island Discs ,only  this week,  very candidly told of Riccardo Muti at her first rehearsal at La Scala  walking out saying she was not ready to sing .Such was the shock she not only sang but says she had never sang so well in her life.Excellence has a price !A question of courage ,passion and God given  talent,above all, of course

A great artist is always in the search of the impossible and nothing will get in their way .

It is a very hard lesson to learn and many get destroyed,unfortunately ,on the way.But for the greatest interpreters  it is a dedication and life time struggle that comes across to their world wide admirers .

How many times one hears the Schumann piano concerto first movement with so many variations in tempo .The real artist will follow the indications in the score and find the tempo that will work for the opening flourish as it will for the first theme that follows.

This does not mean that one is in a straight jacket …on the contrary ..anyone that heard Martha Argerich the other day and will have noticed the freedom and subtelty of her playing  in the Schumann Piano Concerto that comes from an absolute fidelity to the score .Of course the difference is between the amateur pianist who thinks he or she is playing with great sentiment etc and maybe does not have the technical means to control their feelings .This is fine in the confines of ones private studio,but the professional pianist more  is expected and is obliged to study the score minutely to discover what the composer wants and to put his/her talent to this end .

There is though the strange anomaly of a master pianist who does what he “thinks” the composer wants.Herein is a curious phenomenon, sometimes with  great public following

Was it not Martha Argerich herself that walked out of the Chopin competition when Pogorelich was not admitted into the second round.She ,the great complete artists that she is,had noticed that here was a great pianist discussible musical ideas,but a great pianist nevertheless .

How should it be judged or should it indeed be judged or just taken as  highly original musical taste!Food for thought indeed.

Ivo  Pogorelich had a  wonderful control of sound,a fantastic technical command but a total disregard for the composers indications.In fact  when Deustche Grammaphon asked Vlado Perlemuter ( a disciple of Ravel) for some words of wisdom to market Pogorelich’s recording of Ravel that included Gaspard de la nuit and Valses Nobles ,Perlemuter simply replied ” What is that “!

Another master pianist  who does not always follow the score has an enormous following is Simon Trpceski.Fine in concertos but in the recital hall very individual indeed.Too much for some  with the modern day taste of absolute fidelity to the text.A series of wonderful moments rather than an overall architectural vision.

There are also the light music phenomena  :the singer Bocelli and the pianist  Aleevi both with an enormous following from a doting public but for the discerning musician  they are artists that have not understood the very meaning of  interpretation and must remain in the world of light music rather than that of the great interpreters .Capable of filling vast stadiums such is their stage personality .They are popular entertainers .

Lang Lang sits firmly on the fence very rarely  venturing these days into the treacherous territory of the  classical music interpreter,as outlined, but more often than not entering the world as a marvellous  entertainer and advocate for the piano a real beacon   for  the millions of his followers not only in China but throughout the world .

An educator one might say………a real prophet one might even hazard !

A real modern day phenomenon that one can only admire even if his concerts are not always  for the discerning listener .

A very interesting subject indeed ………..but the fact is that when one hears a really great interpretation no words are needed .In fact there are no words – for music enters a territory where words are just not enough.Music is a language of its own- a real universal language ,in fact.

It is a direct line from  mind to heart  and generally has meant a total  dedication and study on the part of the interpreter to the exclusion of all else.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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