Amsterdam, 12 February 2014
Both Plamena Mangova and myself were happy when the interview could finally take place after several attempts to meet earlier. She had kindly offered to answer my questions by mail, but hadn’t got round due to her hectic schedule and she mailed me one day before her recital at the Concertgebouw on 11 February that she’d be available most of the next day, but I had to teach….. until I remembered that there was a 3 hour break in between, which left me time to come to Amsterdam. Thank god, everything worked out fine and when Plamena Mangova showed up, she said to me: “It is surrealistic that we are meeting!”.
Willem Boone (WB): What is your relationship with the piano? Is it your “friend”?
Plamena Mangova (PM): It is supposed to be my friend ! But it is my biggest passion at the same time.For pianists, it is much harder than for string players with their permanent friends! They can almost become “lovers”.. It is always risky for pianists to play on a different instrument each time, you also have to take into consideration that every hall has its own specific character and acoustics. But to answer your question, in an ideal situation pianist and instrument have to go hand in hand, that is what we all dream to achieve. On the other hand, string players have to face other problems, such as the problem of humidity that can damage their instruments, to search for a best possible luthier in every city,etc
WB: You told me last night after your recital in Amsterdam that you were still “completely into the music”. I was wondering how long this feeling lasts?
PM: Sometimes, after a truly memorable experience (after you have played in a prestigious venue or with a great conductor or inspiring partners), the feeling can last a couple of days or you will even remember it for the rest of your life!
WB: Can you give examples of such experiences?
PM: There are many examples, because of several great partners with whom I performed. I also remember great halls, e.g. the music hall in Saint Petersburg where I played with the St. Petersburg Philharmonic. Another example is the château de George Sand in Nohant, it was such a romantic place, where I saw some of Chopin’s instruments. Or one year ago, I went to Mantova, yes, Mangova went to Mantova (laughs), where I played with the Orchestra di Mantova, the best Italian string orchestra. We performed a Mozart concerto in the Theatro Babiena. It was such a beautiful hall and by coincidence, I found out that Mozart had played there himself at the opening of the theatre! In December 2012 I was on tour with the English Chamber Orchestra in Baku (Rostropovich's native city) and had the greatest pleasure to perform at the festival named after the great musician ,the Shostakovich Piano Concerto n1 under the baton of Maxim Vengerov - a special moment to play on stage with the huge portrait on stage of this genious of cello and music , the feeling he is still there with his unbelievable high energy,poetry and emotional impact on each one of us. Many years ago when I met him during a master class ,I remember he left the cello for a moment and played Rachmaninov 2nd piano concerto on the piano in an unforgettable way, what a personality he was...such a honour for me to take part first at the festival in Baku ,and later at the Rostropovich Festival in Moscow this year with Radio France Philharmonic and Maestro Myung-Whun Chung. Another fantastic experience recently- I participated at the Jerusalem Chamber Music Festival , an extremely high standard chamber music event in the holy city ,artistically directed with great enthusiasm and dedication by renowned pianist Elena Bashkirova. The concert hall YMCA there ,where we participate is a dream for any musician, most incredible athmosphere. Sometimes ,the experience from concerts as the mentioned before can be so powerful that one cannot sleep until the next morning.
WB: On the other hand, I can imagine that it must be hard to be in a hotel room once the magic is over…?
PM: When it is over, you know there will be a next beautiful experience!
(We talk about several things, e.g. piano series, for instance the “Meesterpianisten” series at the Concertgebouw. I compare it to similar series like Piano 4 étoiles in Paris or the Southbank Piano Series in London)
PM: Funny you mention the Southbank Piano series, a few years ago, I played there Mozart’s Concerto K 482 with the English Chamber Orchestra, conducted by Sir Colin Davis. It was very memorable, one of my most fantastic and memorable experiences, because of his very special relationship with Mozart's music and also because this brilliant orchestra is almost forever traditionally known for their baroque and classical style performances and recordings, notably with artists like Daniel Barenboim, Sir Colin Davis, Murray Perahia, etc.
(After this question, Plamena Mangova says some very nice things about my website and previous interviews. She mentions in particular the one I had with her teacher Dmitri Bashkirov).
WB: It’s good that you bring up Bashkirov, because I have a few questions about him. What kind of a teacher is he?
PM: That is a complex question, he is actually my ex-teacher now,only officially, but he still remains my teacher and he will always be..He has an ever lasting influence on me. We do not meet every day any more, sure (he still has an incredibly hectic schedule) but whenever I can, I play for him and that's always so helpful.
WB: Does he still see you as one of his students?
PM: Maybe I would say more as a young colleague, I am not the same little girl any more, although I sometimes still feel very young. Anyway, he will always be my highest critic.
WB: Is he always positive as a teacher? I remember one of his master classes where he said to one of his students: “What you are doing now, is criminal!”..
PM: Of course, he loves students, such things can happen in the teaching process, but he never says them with a bad intention, in fact, he always has an incredibly positive intention! He really likes when musicians have fantasy or really try to develop that,so to speak when music has wings , yet he remains very faithful to the score of a composer.
WB: I have said this earlier to some of his other students, however different from each other they may be, they are all excellent!
PM: Yes, you are right, and you are not the first one to say this. It is something that makes Prof. Bashkirov always very happy, he’d be glad to hear such praise. His students are not the same, it is not a factory. He leaves room for artists to develop themselves and to show their best qualities as well.
WB: Which pieces did you study with him?
PM: Plenty, it is a very long list, I have known him since I was 15 years old. I met him through my teacher Marina Kapatsinskaya, she was my main teacher at the Sofia Academy and she had studied with Bashkirov at Moscow Conservatory.We went to his master classes in Salzburg 18 years ago (“O, my God,l is it that long ago?”, she exclaims) and that was such an incredible turning point for me, I woud always remember that !
WB: Did he show you things on the piano?
PM: Yes, always. But he was expressing himself sometimes even without touching the piano at all ,and that was not less interesting . Also ,he says often ,that once you are almost ready with a new piece ,it is fantastic just to take the score and to learn it that way as well - just like if it would be that you are reading a book . I might say this incredible advicer, helps enormously as any of us could develop a great visual relationship with the score for studying its dramaturgy.
WB: What did he most focus on?
PM: He wanted you to be free at the piano and he insisted a lot on the aesthetic of sound.
WB: Your sound is amazing!
PM: Thank you..
WB: You are a true poet at the piano..
PM: That is very kind of you. You cannot always be poetic at the piano though. In last night’s programme, there were a few diabolical pieces, e.g. the first Mephisto Waltz by Liszt or the third of the Danzas Argentinas by Ginastera. You should have a very big palette of sounds. When you play Chopin, it shouldn’t sound like Bach, therefore you should use the most appropriate technique, colours to serve each specific style.
WB: But how do you manage that? In what way is Chopin different from Liszt?
PM: To discuss that, we would need at least three hours.. You need talent of course, but a lot depends on how much great music you listen to. For instance, if you play Brahms, you should also listen to his symphonies in order to discover analogies.. It is all about a developing of an appropriate taste ,we call it good music taste ,towards the different styles .
WB: You also worked with other teachers, e.g. Abdel Rahman el Bacha, how different was he from Bashkirov?
PM: He has a different temperament, but he is an extremely intelligent musician in many ways. He said: “You were quite ready already when you came to see me”.
WB: Did you actually need another teacher after Bashkirov?
PM: It is always useful to receive advice from another great musician.
WB: How important is music for you?
PM: Music represents a very solid basis in my life, I can’t imagine my life without music! It is more than a passion. I love sharing that with people ,with other colleagues on stage.
WB: Could you live without music?
PM: Impossible! In another life maybe.. (laughs).
WB: Are there people who inspire you?
PM: There have been great conductors or amazing chamber musicians I have learnt a lot from.
WB: For instance?
PM: There are many names, I have had plenty of fruitful collaborations ,which had enriched my soul and view about music and life in general.
WB: How do you practise? Do you have any “rituals”?
PM: I never practise scales or passages, because they should be integrated in the music. I do not want to repeat the same passage 500 times.
WB: So you prefer Chopin etudes?
PM: Everything is inside the music of course! There are days when you can’t rehearse properly. Sometimes you have to take two air planes and a concert on the same day.
WB: How long do you rehearse per day?
PM: There is no general number of hours.. As I said, there are times that your schedule is hectic. I remember a tour in New Zealand where I played Tschaikofsky’s First Piano Concerto five times within eight days, each time in a different venue, so it was difficult to find time to practise other repertoire at the same time ,for example. Actually when I come now to speaking about New Zealand ,I have to say that this place counts as one of the most exceptional and beautiful places in the world I've ever visited ,with their fantastic New Zealand Symphony ,with some amazing concert halls like the one in Wellington , such warm and welcoming people ,an astonishing nature landscapes...
WB: What do you find particularly challenging in the repertoire ,technically speaking?
PM: It depends on what you find difficult. Rachmaninov’s Fourth Piano Concerto is extremely difficult to put together with an orchestra or Strauss’s Burleske is one of the most beautiful pieces ever, but so difficult... I recently studied Bartok’s Third Concerto, even if it is more tonal than the other two concertos, it is not always so obvious to make it work with orchestra. You need a really high class orchestra.
(At the end of the interview Plamena Mangova remembers with enthusiasm that the Queen Elisabeth Competition has taken her to quite a few Dutch venues already: the Concertgebouw in Amsterdam, the Doelen in Rotterdam, Arnhem, Nijmegen (she is fond of the hall of De Vereeniging!), Tilburg, Eindhoven..)