Monday, May 9, 2011

The soldierly aspects of making a comeback

We are quite taken with the new classical program, THE PIANO MATTERS, by David Dubal. (Well worth your time.) So much so, we got a copy of an older (1984) book he had written and were struck with the comeback application of some comments by pianist Ivo Pogorelich.

See if you agree....

From REFLECTIONS FROM THE KEYBOARD by David Dubal, Summit Books, New York, 1984 Interview with pianist Ivo Pogorelich

DAVID DUBAL: When did you know that you would devote your life to the piano?

POGORELICH: I don't remember exactly when I realized that the piano would be for me. But I knew relatively early that I wanted to bring alive the part of my personality that needs to give. I knew I would become an artist of some kind.

DUBAL: What was your childhood like?

POGORELICH: It was a difficult life. I was always committed to practicing the piano, yet it was a hardship because I saw all the other children enjoying themselves after school. A child who wants to be a pianist doesn't necessarily understand how much he will benefit from all the work that is done rather effortlessly in childhood.

DUBAL: When did you really get motivated about your piano playing?

POGORELICH: When I first discovered how difficult it was to be really good at it, and how much you had to work and fight for real mastery. This happened when I went to Moscow to study, at age eleven. I studied at a special school for five years before I studied at the Moscow Conservatory. I was with children who had excellent training and who played well.

DUBAL: Which composer attracted you most at that point?

POGORELICH: Right at the beginning I fell in love with Prokofiev's music. I was given two pieces from the Romeo and Juliet cycle that Prokofiev transcribed for piano. They were wonderful character pieces, and I made a successful performance with them.

DUBAL: Have you retained your admiration for Prokofiev?

POGORELICH: Yes, I have, and as you know I have recorded the great Sixth Sonata, which Richter played often, and which Prokofiev premiered. And eventually I want to play all the piano concerti. I think some of the most valuable music of this century is by Prokofiev, and I do not mean just the piano music. His range is outstanding. I put him above Stravinsky. But I worry that Prokofiev is getting lost. Too many pianists play his music without looking at its meaning. They are content with the superficial effects of percussive brilliance. Suppose you participate in a competition-the Seventh Sonata has become a war-horse at these events. If you can play it cleanly you can get good marks. But the tragic and ironic aspects of that work are ignored.

DUBAL: Speaking of competitions, although you have won some, your career really took off as a result of the Chopin Competition, which you lost, but which created a furor among the judges.

POGORELICH: Yes, in one minute I was a star, and in three minutes I hit superstardom. Some of what happened was nonsense, but the main thing is I am playing concerts, which is what I always intended to do. You can't have a big career unless you play the competitions, which then spawn management, concerts and recordings.

DUBAL: Not everyone has the stamina for competition life.

POGORELICH: To be an artist requires more than talent. You need to have a bit of the soldier in you, not just for the performance but for facing all those who smile at you, but who speak behind your back.

DUBAL: Your concerts are packed, your records are hits; have you encountered much jealousy?

POGORELICH: Very much so, from colleagues who are challenged by my ability and fear it. And I've had particular trouble because of my age, because I am artistically mature and some people think that what I do can't be accomplished by someone only twenty-five.

DUBAL: Has this made you suspicious of people?

POGORELICH: No. This is a reality. I don't pay any attention to my detractors. I have always followed my own rhythm in life, and I do so now. But I wonder if some very valuable people are not victims of small people because they may not be as much of a soldier as I am. For instance, Glenn Gould, who was one of the greatest talents of the century, was just too sensitive to take part in the brutal competitiveness of concert-giving. Although I was not fortunate enough to have ever talked to him, I suspect that Gould was not aware of his weakness. He was not a soldier, he was a very delicate personality.

DUBAL: I think he was very self-aware and that he truly hated concert giving .... When did you get to know Gould's art?

POGORELICH: In Moscow, where he was considered the greatest of the great. Unfortunately, like all of my generation, I never got to hear him in concert. But his records had a purity and clarity that I could find only in his playing.

DUBAL: Was there a particular recording which had a great impact on you?

POGORELICH: I think the most stupendous interpretations are the Bach

Three-Part Inventions. There he achieves a piano sound previously unknown to pianists. Neither Horowitz nor any of the other famous pianists of this century were ever able to produce anything like it, at least in my opinion.

DUBAL: Did any other of his records make that kind of impact?

POGORELICH: Nothing quite like that. I am of the opinion that his last recordings show a great decline, especially his second recording of the Goldberg Variations.

DUBAL: I think it shows an advance over his earlier version, the one that made him an overnight success. The later one has an inwardness revealing new aspects of the score.

POGORELICH: I feel it is done with a lack of structure and without Gould's wonderful rhythmic sense. I just don't find the wisdom in his playing that I do in the later playing of Gilels. But still, Gould added more to the development of piano playing than almost any other pianist. In virtually any piece he plays you can discover more beauty than in the entire output of most other artists.

DUBAL: What do you consider the criteria of great interpretation?

POGORELICH: A great interpretation must sound inevitable. But to make that occur, you must be the creator of a whole set of musical circumstances, in which the actors are rhythm, timing, agogics, accentuation, phrasing, pedaling and so forth, as well as an understanding of the aesthetics of the score. The musical line, the essence must be inevitable. In a sense you have to become a creator of the composition. Everything must blend into a perfect form. Look at Picasso's Guernica, where you have three noses and four eyes, or an ear where the nose is supposed to be, or the eye where the ear is supposed to be. You may think it possible to add another eye, mouth, or three more teeth without spoiling the composition of the painting. But no. It must be the way Picasso made it. It was all inevitable.

DUBAL: You have told me that your wife, Alice Kezeradze, with whom you studied, has been the great musical influence of your life.

POGORELICH: Oh, yes, my wife has been my biggest influence. We say she was related to Franz Liszt because her teacher was a student of Liszt's pupil Siloti.

DUBAL: How did you meet your wife?

POGORELICH: It was like a Hollywood movie. I was at a beautiful reception, in a lovely home filled with antiques and paintings. I noticed a Steinway piano, but thought it was probably not ever used. I sat down and played and soon someone made a very simple remark to me about my playing. Yet I could tell that there was great knowledge behind that remark. It was Alice who made it. I immediately asked her if she would give me lessons. She said, "Why not?" In October I started with a Beethoven sonata. I well remember that the first bars took us three and a half hours. The world's treasures began opening for me at that lesson. This was especially important for me because at that moment I felt that I wasn't getting enough from my teachers at the Moscow Conservatory.

DUBAL: Wasn't that during the black period at the Moscow Conservatory when so many great teachers died?

POGORELICH: That's right. They started to die off there left and right. Each day we went to the Conservatory expecting to discover a new black poster telling us of the next funeral service. During that time there was a terrible atmosphere of loss at "the House," as we called it, and it began to lose its importance for me.

DUBAL: How do you practice and how much?

POGORELICH: I do five hours a day if possible, but it's getting more and more difficult with my engagements. For me the best practice is when I have a practical task to accomplish. If I manage to fulfill it, then I've had a good day's work. Of course there are many different levels of work. Sometimes there is that deceptive level when you think, "Oh, how easy this is going to be)" But sometimes it's the opposite. When I first looked at Ravel's "Scarbo," from Gaspard, I could hardly read the text and I thought, "I have to have a third hand to accomplish this!"

DUBAL: I think your" Scarbo" is amazing piano playing.

POGORELICH: Thank you; I am pleased with the outcome of the recording. But what I went through to make it happen!

DUBAL: Have you ever terminated a relationship with a piece that you performed often?

POGORELICH: Yes, I'm not going to play the Schumann Symphonic Etudes any longer, although I've recorded it, and it was one of my best stage works. I just don't have anything to say about it anymore. It's dry for me. Maybe I will come back to it in some years.

DUBAL: What repertoire are you working on now?

POGORELICH: I am working on a Haydn sonata. For generations Haydn has been considered a lesser genius than Mozart. But I say no, not true. Even in his piano sonatas, Haydn goes higher and deeper than Mozart does in his sonatas.

DUBAL: Are you asked to play a large repertoire each season?

POGORELICH: I choose to play very little in public. Usually no more than two concerti per season, much less than my colleagues, and only one and a half or two recital programs per season. I try to keep my concert programs separate from what I work on at home.

DUBAL: What is the most crucial aspect of playing on stage?

POGORELICH: For me it is always one thing, that it should be as effortless as possible. You must know everything about a work in order for it to go easily under whatever circumstances-bad hall, bad audience, bad digestion.

DUBAL: Have you ever felt so exhilarated on stage that you became careless, or lost control?

POGORELICH: No, the control must never be lost. You are not there to be personally exhilarated. You are up there only to create art. You must be king on stage and dominate it.

DUBAL: In your preparation, what do you concentrate on most?

POGORELICH: I research every sound. By that I mean being constantly attentive to what I am playing at the moment. This involves using the ears as much as the hands.

DUBAL: Speaking of hands, yours are huge.

POGORELICH: My hands are very large, but that is not essential. Hands really should not be big. The important thing is a compact, flexible hand, and it's best if they are not too bony, but with pads on the ends of the fingers.

DUBAL: Have you ever had any curious things happen to you on stage?

POGORELICH: Oh, plenty of things. For example, I was on stage playing the Schumann Toccata once when a fly landed on my hand and started walking on it through the most difficult tightrope passages-and it held on! Suddenly it flew away and I was relieved, but just as I started the octaves in the other hand it descended upon me again. Perhaps the fly loved Schumann.

DUBAL: Do you know the charming episode in Paderewski's memoirs about the spider that came down its web only when he played the Chopin etude in thirds? As soon as he finished it the spider would climb back up. It happened this way for months. Do you know Paderewski's music?

POGORELICH: No, I don't, except for the Minuet in G, though I do know that he mesmerized audiences.

DUBAL: We have often heard of the demonic forces that possessed Paganini and Liszt when they performed. Goethe defined the demonic as "that which intelligence and reason cannot account for. It is something external to my nature, but to which I am subject."

POGORELICH: If the artist on stage has this quality he must let it escape. But this can be very draining, even dangerous, because the performer must release all of his personality and being, the way Horowitz could. He was white-hot-his passion and vo1canic power, his ability to excite, the fire of his temperament dominated the piano-playing world. I only wish he had not gone to play in Japan, where I heard him. Someone wrote of this performance that "Horowitz appeared in Japan as a beautiful antique vase, unfortunately broken in many parts." Because he didn't play his best he killed his legend.

DUBAL: How difficult it must be for such powers, such force to succumb to age. The world thinks of you as a god, and you're only human.

POGORELICH: The frustration must be terrible. To know that you once scaled the heights, but that the bull will finally defeat you.

DUBAL: I know you love to play in Japan.

POGORELICH: Yes, I do. I've played several times in Hiroshima. There are no more beautiful or appreciative young people in the world than in that city that was destroyed in seven seconds.

DUBAL: When do you think one is most receptive to great music?

POGORELICH: You never know when you are ready to begin to love music. Many don't get the chance in childhood and then they must wait. It's like falling in love with someone. You only know you're ready when it happens.