English profiles

Utrecht, 18 February 2003

There is no bigger difference when facing master pianist Grigory Sokolov on stage just before the beginning of a concert to meeting him afterwards. Sokolov doesn’t lose any time when appearing on stage, he takes his bows and seems already totally absorbed by the music, one wonders if he notices the audience.. The atmosphere in the hall is reminiscent of the concerts of the legendary Sviatoslav Richter, with only a small light on the piano, which made it difficult to see the facial expression and the hands of the pianist.

Amsterdam, 15 September 2010

“I like an honest audience”, says Hannes Minnaar when I tell him that I will go to a concert in Amsterdam where Maurizio Pollini should have played (He cancelled his concert and was replaced by Till Felner). His reaction referred to a recital of Pollini in Amsterdam during which he was booed by a dissatisfied listener.
With this comment, Hannes Minnaar sets the tone of the interview, a pianist who is not only modest, but also one who is down to earth.

WB: Again, congratulations with your victory during the last Queen Elisabeth Competition in Brussels! I normally do not feel national pride when, for instance, our football team wins, but this time I felt proud! Do you realize in retrospect how unique your third prize was and still is?

HM: Yes, I do realize this, but of course things are relative: two years ago, I participated in the Geneva Competition and won the second prize (that year, no first prize was awarded, WB). The same happened to the aforementioned Pollini. At that time I fully realized that I had achieved something unique. The second time something similar happens to you, it is a bit less special. But Brussels is closer by and has an ever bigger reputation. The organization manages to generate much media attention, therefore the overall impact was bigger.

WB: Did you expect to come third?.

HM: No, it seemed almost impossible to beat such massive competition coming from such successful traditions. On the other hand, I knew after Geneva that even unexpected things can happen and I did not want to exclude anything beforehand. It felt a bit like a gamble to register for Brussels, so shortly after Geneva and I could have ruined the limited reputation I had established (during the latter competition). You only have to play one wrong note and you can be kicked out, although it does not mean you are a bad pianist when that happens.

WB: Were there moments during the competition when you thought: “Now I am doing really well, I could be a potential winner?”

HM: No, of course certain things went ok (reasonably well), but the feeling of “I am doing really well” is rare when you are a perfectionist.

WB: Are you?

HM: Obviously!

WB: And how are you doing now? Are you being approached by people who had not contacted you before?

HM: Yes, I have received a lot of attention in the Netherlands, although certain people thought I could have achieved more. The competition certainly paid off and the end is not near. My name is getting better known and I have the feeling that something good is in store for me. A few things have changed, e.g I have an agent now. Before Brussels, contacts with CD labels and orchestras were not within reach and to make contact with the management of an orchestra you need an agent.

WB: Do they select concerts for you?

HM: Not yet, but since there are agents involved, I can concentrate on the “manual work”. The first week after Brussels, I hardly had time for anything because of all the requests for interviews.

WB: What was your motivation to participate in Brussels, was it the feeling “now or never”?

HM: To a certain extent, it did play a role. I graduated last year and decided at that time not to pursue my studies. I wanted to make my own plans and a competition was the big stick in order to set clear goals for myself, otherwise you easily forget important deadlines or do not find time to study new compositions. Furthermore, I am 25 now and I would have been 29 by the time of the next competition which is two years too old, so this was indeed my last chance!

WB: Are you satisfied when you look back on the whole experience?

HM: How can I be not positive about the result?

WB: I meant “satisfied” about the phenomenon “competition”, about which you hear a lot of negative comments?

HM: There is a lot of suspicion about competitions, for instance, stories about political games in Brussels. That may have happened in the past, but I can hardly imagine that people still decide that “X or Y should win”. I had only one teacher, Jan Wijn, if there is one teacher who does not take part in the competition mafia or who does not use his elbows, it is him! That could not have been the reason to award me the third prize. I have never had the idea that I am the most reliable pianist, so they must have chosen me for another reason.

WB: What could have been the reason then?

HM: You should ask them..

WB: Did you get to read the jury reports afterwards?

HM: I have not read any reports, but one of the members told me that he would have bought a ticket for one of my concerts, but not for many of the other competitors.

WB: Who was that?

HM: Tamas Vasary, I think the jury selects according to the criterion “Do I find him or her interesting enough to listen to another time?”.

WB: How difficult was the work you were assigned to perform?

HM: There were two of them: first of all in the semi final. We received it mid-March, approximately 1,5 months before the start of the competition. I received the second work for the final round one week before I had to play it. It was the product of a competition contest, written by a Korean composer, ………


WB: Does an required work that you do not know cause even more stress than you normally have?

HM: Yes, it does. The amount of repertoire for this competition was, of course, considerable. Fortunately, you have time between the rounds. The first round, I played on a Wednesday evening and the results would be announced on Saturday. One would think that it gives you three days to practise more. However, for the second round, the jury could choose from two different programmes and this was announced only one day before the performance. This means that you studied one of the two programmes for nothing. That was only half of the second round, the other half consisted of a Mozart concerto with an orchestra. It was a completely new concerto for me, the concertos I had studied were not the ones we were asked to play. You had to be very focused to pay attention to several aspects at the same time. Every time you thought you had everything under control, it appeared you had forgotten something. The required work for the semi-finals was one of the things I could not find time for and for which I had to work very hard at the last moment. The results of the second round were announced on the day I had to play my Mozart concerto. In the meantime, I had no time to work on the programme for the finals. And, at the time you arrived at the chapel, you were assigned another work on top of that for the finals, which you had to study within a week. In short: the whole schedule was so tight that I was constantly stressed, because it was a bit too much.

WB: To come back to the second  assigned work, was it a difficult piece?

HM: Technically speaking it was ok, but it was very complex to play together with the orchestra. The orchestral part was more difficult than that of the piano, so I had to depend on the conductor.

WB: Marin Alsop…

HM: Yes, that is correct. You were obliged to play from the score, but that did not make sense because it was so complicated that you often had to look at the conductor. As a result of that I still played it by heart!

WB: Is it true that you played for the first time with an orchestra during this competition? Isn’t it a huge risk to do so during such a difficult competition?

HM: Of course, I had played with an orchestra before, but it was the first time I did the 5th Saint Seans Concerto. That might explain the misunderstanding that arose in previous interviews.

WB: You have received a lot of praise for your choice as this concerto had not been played since the 50s. It was indeed refreshing to hear something else than Tschaikofsky First Concerto, Prokofiev Second Concerto or Rachmaninov Third Concerto. Why did you decide to play the Saint Seans concerto?

HM: First of all, because I find it a beautiful piece, I already thought so when I first lent the score from the library of the conservatoire.  For this competition it seemed a good occasion to study this concerto, I thought: “If I am lucky, I can play with an orchestra”. In the meantime, I have played it eight times, after the finals there were seven laureate concerts, I have the feeling that it really suits me!

WB: It is not an easy piece..

HM: No, but nothing is really easy and I was running out of time to study a piano concerto.

WB: Do you know who last played it in Brussels?

HM: No, but it should be possible to find out. It was in 1952 or 1953 I believe. I happen to know, because I read a book by Willem Andriessen. He was a member of the jury and described his experiences.

WB: A delicate question: nowadays it seems that you can only win this competition with Prokofiev Second or Rachmaninov Third. Would you, if put under pressure have played such concertos or are they, as they say, “not your thing”?

HM: I have not played a lot of Prokofiev, but Rachmaninov is definitely my thing, I am very fond of his music. For my final exam, I played his First Piano Sonata that was written in D-minor, the same key as the Third Concerto. I also love The Bells and the symphonies. I would have loved to study the Third Concerto. Last year, I was very busy with my exam and with a lot of concerts. This did not leave me a whole lot of time to study new concerts, but “Rach Third” would not have scared me off! However, it is a concerto that is very much part of the collective memory: every member of the jury knows it or plays it and has an opinion about it, therefore it might have been an advantage that not every member of the jury has performed Saint Seans Fifth Concerto. I had the feeling that I would stand out with this choice.

WB: Another delicate question: what did you think of the first prize winner?

HM: I did not hear everyone play. He played last and I remember hearing him on the car radio when my host family drove me to the presentation of the awards at the Paleis der Schone Kunsten. He played Prokofiev Second Concerto and he gripped me right from the beginning, it was clear even on the car radio..

WB: What distinguishes you from the first prize winner?

HM: It is not up to me to judge! I only heard part of his final concert. Later on, I heard him perform Brahms’s Second Concerto during the laureate’s concert and that was also excellent. If you ask me, I think all laureates have a right to exist as a pianist. I am glad I was not asked to rank them.


WB: How unreal is it to win such a prize?

HM: It was a special moment! You are not allowed to listen to the radio when you are living in isolation (the week before the finals). I had noticed though that there were a lot of differences in interpretation between the second prize winner and myself. When his name was announced, I expected to come eleventh

WB: The jury obviously appreciated different interpretations?

HM: They did indeed!


WB: You also played Ravel’s Miroirs, do you like playing French music?

HM: I like a lot of styles, but yes, I am fond of French music.

WB: I saw that you will perform Chausson’s Concerto for piano, violin and string quartet shortly?

HM: That is a wonderful piece, but it is very difficult to play, it is sometimes almost unfrench, it is even darker than Franck’s music. It is definitely a difficult job for a pianist. Other than that, I like Saint Seans and especially Fauré, but Brahms and Rachmaninov are also close to my heart. I would have loved to do Rachmaninov’s First Sonata during the competition, but it is too long unfortunately, you were not allowed more than 35 minutes for the solo repertoire.


WB: How important is it for you to learn new repertoire?

HM: I have been scheduled for more concerts for the next season, most of the planning has been finalized now. I especially want to focus on learning new concertos, because there are not many of them in my repertoire yet.

WB: How fast can you learn a new concerto?

HM: It depends on the piece itself.

WB: For instance, how fast can you study a Beethoven concerto?

HM: It depends on which one  of the five we are talking about: there is quite a difference between the Second and Fourth Concertos!

WB: I would like to ask you a completely different question: I saw a film on Youtube the other day, in which pianist Jorge Bolet was interviewed. By then, he was around 70 years old and he told us that a performer (in his case a pianist) often knows a piece better than the composer himself. After all, a composer goes on to write different compositions after he has written a piano sonata, e.g. an opera or a symphony, whereas an artist studies his entire life on that particular sonata. Bolet did not think his assessment was pretentious, what do you think of this?

HM: Interesting, I have not heard of a pianist who ventilated his opinion in a similar way. I value the notes themselves and I do not approve of artists who impose ideas that are not there. You must not pretend to be interesting or go against a composition. On the other hand, I do not mind pianists who allow themselves liberties like Cortot, while remaining faithful to the character of the composition. There is room for interpretation. Bolet had his own interpretation, but did not “sin” against the composition. Tamas Vasary said something similar in Brussels: a composer gets his ideas from somewhere, but sometimes you feel as a performer that there are things in the score that should not have been there. It is the kind of gut feeling that is more important than being 100% faithful towards the score.

WB: I can remember that you participated in Menahem Pressler’s master class at the Concertgebouw one year ago!

HM: Pressler is of small stature, but otherwise he is an enormous personality with  invaluable experience! He knows how to convey things. Maybe that has to do with his age: he has been through so many experiences. If he sits down at the keyboard and plays three notes, you hear his entire life time experience.

WB: Isn’t it your own ideal to have felt every note as deeply as well?

HM: It may sound stupid, but I have! That is why I did not want to pursue my studies after six years; I wanted to follow my own path.

WB: But were you not eager to study more with Pressler?

HM: Yes, we had another lesson that was as inspiring as the first one. He always knows exactly what he wants to achieve.

WB: How difficult is it to do what someone asks you to do on the spot, whilst playing before an audience?

HM: You can only try to do what someone asks you to do and mostly it works. It is much more difficult to play things in a musical way! I often feel ill at ease during master classes: you are in an dependant position and the teacher is “always” right. As a participant, you can hardly defend yourself. I have to admit that I found some of these public master classes inspiring. However it is a fact that things often work better the second time than the first time. That also happens when you are rehearse and during a master class, it is the teacher who gets the credits for this.

WB: When did you know you wanted to become a pianist?

HM: Right from the moment I heard music, I loved it. You become aware that you want to pursue a career in music. In my case it happened when I was 13 years old. At that age, I started to take private lessons with Marien van Nieuwkerken and I had to work hard. It was not always easy and once, when things were not gong smoothly, he said: “You want to become a pianist, don’t you?”. I had never thought of it, but it was the first time that I became aware of this and he was right. I did not know anybody at the time who was a pianist and I did not know what the profession was like.

WB: You do know now, so what are you current thoughts about the job: is it what you expected it to be?

HM: I do not have any clear defined ideas about this. What I find disappointing about the job is how often you are busy to sell yourself!

WB: How well do you succeed?

HM: The attention I have got was not due to PR, but to my playing! I notice that people expect more from you and I am not good at these things. You need to have a good network and you need to say the right things to the right people at the right moment. They can be of a lot of help, more importantly: you cannot achieve anything without these conditions.

WB: In an interview in the Dutch newspaper NRC Handelsblad you said that your faith in God helps you, in what way?

HM: I liked the way the journalist expressed these things. Otherwise, it is difficult to describe faith in words; maybe it will become easier when I am as old as Menahem Pressler (laughs). Theology shares common ground with music, e.g the way you interpret the “text”.

WB: Do you mean that one should not always take biblical texts literally either?

HM: You should take a score seriously; it is not the same as taking it literally. Most important is to grasp the essence, but the notes are what you should hold on to, so you should not be messy with the score.


WB: Who are your favourites?

HM: Pianists or composers? The latter would be easier..

WB: Go ahead with the composers!

HM: Bach comes first, then, although not necessarily in this particular order, Brahms, Ravel, Fauré, Rachmaninov and the works for keyboard by Sweelinck.

WB: And who are your favourite pianists?

HM: I find it difficult to say, but I’d definitely want to mention Cortot, Kempff and Edwin Fischer. Furtermore, Zimerman and Brendel in Mozart concertos, Paul Lewis is fantastic in Beethoven sonatas, Gilels too. I would have loved to hear Richter live.

WB: Finally, how do you see your future?

HM: That is the most difficult question of this conversation! There will be a lot of concerts and nobody knows how things will go exactly. I look forward to playing more piano concertos and there are plans to record a CD







October 2022

When I approached Turkish pianist Idil Biret whether I could interview her during her stay in my home city Utrecht in October 2022, where she was to be a member of the jury of the Liszt Competition, her husband Sefik B.Yüksel informed me that she was unfortunately ill and therefore couldn't attend. He kindly offered me to send my questions by e-mail. A few weeks later, Idil Biret sent me her detailed answers, which resulted in an interesting interview. I’d like to thank both of them for their help and generosity!

Willem Boone (WB): You made your debut at the age of 11 in Mozart’s Double Concerto with Wilhelm Kempff. How did you experience that event?

Idil Biret (IB): Prof. Kempff told my family around 1951 that he would one day give a concert with me. Then after some time he said we should now play together and the concert was organized for February 1953 in Paris at the Theatre des Champs Elysées. His daughter and my friend Irene said many years later that Prof. Kempff had never before or after that concert played with a child. 

WB: Were you aware of being a child prodigy or was it something natural for you to play before an audience?

IB: Not really. It was very natural for me to play before an audience. At the time some people said that I played the piano with the same ease as I breathed. As a child I was not aware of being a prodigy. My parents were very careful and my mother kept saying to me “ every child is gifted in a special field. The important thing is to discover the child’s gift”. 

WB: What was it like to play with a famous artist like Kempff?

IB: I did not realise what it meant to play a concerto for two pianos with a great artist like Wilhelm Kempff in front of 2700 people. I was too young. However, I knew this was a very important test and I had to do my best. I was well prepared and had memorized both piano parts. Prof. Kempff trusted me and I knew I should not disappoint him. During the rehearsals I realized that the best way was to listen to what the master was doing and try to imitate him to avoid any accidents. Thus, I had to be in the shadow of Prof. Kempff, so I could hear his delicate nuances, his articulation. I had practiced without using the pedal which was very useful as I was now trying to imitate the magic sound of Prof. Kempff which he produced with his superb legato, without using the left pedal. He did not like the muffled sound this pedal produced. Mozart’s music was clear and singing by itself without the artificial help of the pedal; a well controlled legato with clarity of articulation was the key to this luminous sound.  

WB: Kempff said about you that you were “his favorite student” and “this genius on the piano is among the most exceptional artists of our time”, was he one of your teachers too?

IB: He did not want to work with me until I finished the Paris Conservatoire. I went to his home in Ammerland near Munich in 1958 for the first time and studied with him privately for a week. These visits continued periodically for many years. I also attended the Beethoven masterclasses in Positano in1958 and 1966.   

WB:  For a lot of artists, the transition from their first years (child prodigy) to a grown up artist is a difficult one that often doesn’t go without problems, how difficult or easy was this in your case?

IB: This is probably due to the teaching they receive. The theoretic side of music is somehow neglected by fear that the child may lose his spontaneity by becoming self conscious. I did not have this problem thanks to the training I received at the Paris Conservatory.

WB:  In your biography on Wikipedia I read you studied with Alfred Cortot, how long did you work with him?

IB: For two years. I had monthly private lessons with him between 1958-1960. He came to Paris from Geneva every month.

WB: What did he teach you?

IB: Alfred Cortot was a profound musician, an incredibly cultured man. When playing, the beauty of the sound was unique. He was very honest while teaching. In fact his priorities were similar to those of Wilhelm Kempff and Nadia Boulanger. The technique had to be impeccable.  He would not forgive any sort of weakness in a work I played, like missing a scale or a series of awkward octaves in both hands such as those in the Chopin Fantaisie in the episode preceding the superb middle part leading to the coda. The right hand going upwards and the left hand going downwards; Monsieur Cortot advised me to concentrate on the ornate arpeggio figure of the right hand and told me that this way the left hand would follow automatically so that the danger of a mistake in the left hand could be avoided. This sort of advice was very wise and sound.   Once when I was playing Bach’s Partitas he suggested that I learn how to do these dances. (note: Pls see section on Cortot in IB book for further details)

WB: Your website lists your complete repertoire, it’s incredibly broad, probably one of the broadest I have ever seen, how did you manage to learn so many different compositions, are you a quick learner?

IB: Yes, I am a quick learner. I try to see in which context certain harmonics are used, which helps to understand the character of a work

WB: You play the complete piano solo works by Chopin, Brahms, Rachmaninov and the 32 piano sonatas by Beethoven, how important is it for you to be a completist?

IB: Not really important. Chopin and then Brahms and Rachmaninov were proposed by Mr. Klaus Heymann and as I knew and had played most of them I accepted. Beethoven’s 32 Sonatas I had played in seven concerts so later I went ahead and recorded them all. I also recorded all the piano concertos of these composers and many others (in total about seventy piano concertos). 

WB: What was the most recent addition to your repertoire?

IB: Works of two Turkish composers: Ilhan Usmanbas - 6 Preludes and Muammer Sun – Country Colours Bk II Three pieces I recorded in March 2021 just before I fell ill.

WB: Do you still learn new pieces, like Shura Cherkassky did when he was past 80 and studied Ives’s Three Page Sonata?

IB: Yes, I did when necessary. I was about to play and record four Haydn sonatas three of which I had never played before I fell ill in April 2021 a few days before the concert.  

Incidentally I liked and admired Cherkassy very much and also his endless curiosity and the way he built his recital programs. There is no age limit for learning.

WB:  Are these all pieces you currently play or are there compositions you would have to study again when you are asked to play them?

IB: I do not fully understand this question. Of course you have to go over a work again that you are asked to play after a long interval. But, this also depends on the work and my familiarity with it. A few years ago I was to record Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition. My husband Sefik found the score of Glazunov’s 2nd Sonata score next to that of Mussorgsky and asked me if I could also record it; The score was given to me by the daughter of Glazunov in Paris where I played it in a recital in the early 1960s. I remembered the work very well and so said yes to Sefik and recorded it the day after Mussorgsky. Now I am practicing again Godowsky’s paraphrases of Viennese waltzes; years ago in the 1970s I played Künstlerleben in my recitals. (note: She played Künstlerleben at the UN Assembly Hall in New York on 10 December 1975. The recording of this recital can be found on the internet . SBY)

WB: You play piano works by Kempff, how do you rate him as a composer? 

IB: On certain points I discover a relationship between Kempff’s composing style and that of Busoni.  I especially like the highly original work where a choir of young boys is used together with piano and orchestra. The Italian Suite for solo piano is also an inspired work. The transcriptions of Bach Chorales and Haendel’s Menuet I greatly admire and I have played them in many of my recitals especially as encores.

WB: You have been a member of the jury of the Liszt Competition in Utrecht before, how important is this composer for you?

IB: Very important. Some of Liszt’s works are very close to me and I have played them often all through my life on the stage. The two Concertos, the Sonata, Venezia et Napoli, the Two Legends of St. Francis, the Schubert song transcriptions were among them and much else. 

WB: What are characteristics a good Liszt player should have in your opinion? 

IB: A good Liszt player should not be afraid of the jumps which are numerous in his piano writing. Should have a good sense of polyphony and possess a great pianistic control of the keyboard. Have an impeccable rhythmic sense and be careful to avoid excessive speed especially in the scales and virtuoso passages. The use of the pedal should be perfectly controlled; it is wise to use the pedal sparingly. A good legato is a must. Harmonic analysis is important too, as well as voicing. You need to know what the important lines are and which voices you want to bring out in the base and middle register. I remember Nadia Boulanger’s enthusiasm when she came back from a competition where she had heard a wonderful rendition of the Sonata where the pedaling was used very sparingly. She appreciated the fact that all the modulations were so well prepared. There was not any pathos in this highly musical performance of the work.  

WB: It is often said that Liszt’s music is ‘acquired taste’, what do you think of this assessment?

Idil did not answer this question as she had never heard this being said (SBY).

WB: What’s Liszt’s most important quality according to you?

IB: The imagination and a true modesty when transcribing the orchestral works with the aim to be as faithful to the orchestral score as possible. The great musician he was, is perceptible in the choice of the harmonies in his original works. Liszt has been an inspirer to many composers. Neither in his lifetime nor later was he understood.

WB: You play Liszt’s transcriptions of all the Beethoven symphonies, what’s their interest in a time where you can hear the original versions everywhere?

IB: There is more to these transcriptions then introducing them to a large audience that could not listen to the original version of a Beethoven symphony at a concert in mid 19th Century. Many others transcribed these symphonies but only the Liszt ones are performed now which indicates their excellence as transcriptions and also works for the piano in their own right. Horowitz once said that his great regret was that he had not performed the Liszt transcription of the Beethoven symphonies. It is a sheer pleasure to play these transcriptions on the piano as Horowitz realized later in his life. They are also an important introduction to correctly conceiving Beethoven’ s piano sonatas, especially the late ones – a solid classical harmonic knowledge. 

WB: How difficult is it to play an orchestral score like a Beethoven symphony or Berlioz’s Symphonie Fantastique on a piano? 

IB: They vary in difficulty. Perhaps most difficult is the fourth movement of the 9th Symphony. In my opinion it is the beauty of the music that is important and one should not try to imitate the orchestral sound on the piano. Clarity of text is the main thing in performing these works. 

WB: Vladimir Horowitz called the Liszt transcriptions of the Beethoven symphonies ‘the greatest piano works ever written’, do you agree with him?

IB: I knew that he said he regretted not having played them but I did not know that he had also said they were the greatest piano works ever written. Taken out of the context of possibly a longer statement, it is difficult to comment on this. There is no doubt that they are great piano works, 

WB: What would you consider Liszt’s best work(s)?

IB: The symphonic poems Les Préludes, From the Cradle to the Grave which are the banners of romanticism and also the Faust Symphony.

WB: During the edition of the Liszt competition that starts this week, the competitors are asked to play works by Schubert as well as works for violin and piano, what do you think of this idea? Does it allow you to give a more complete idea of what a musician is capable of?

IB: Yes and I would have suggested also the Liszt transcription of Harold en Italie for viola and piano. I have not seen the program but Die Winterreise and Die schöne Müllerin of Schubert would also have been appropriate

WB: In an earlier interview from September 2019 with Rudy Tambuyser in ‘Pianist’, you said that musicians play faultlessly nowadays, but “refinement is not about perfectionism”, what do you mean by this, can’t you be both at the same time?

IB: Most of these pianists that I referred to believe that to be perfect means to play fast and without hitting wrong notes respecting the nuances and accents more like a well designed robot. Certainly, refined and technically perfect playing is possible together. A good example is Rachmaninov’s playing. 

WB: In the same interview, you said that “it’s often about either playing very softly or very loudly, without anything worthwhile in between”. You mentioned pianists like Backhaus and Rachmaninov, who had ‘simplicity, style, beauty, a left hand’, how come we lost this, whereas the technical level and mastery of young pianists seem to have no limits?

IB: The limitless technical level and mastery of young pianists is the level of teaching of a high class conservatoire. Very often these new generations of pianists are only interested in playing the notes correctly without understanding the main musical problems of the work they are playing offer. The importance of the left hand I referred to is the base line. By following the base line it can be guaranteed that it will hold all the other lines together.  Nadia Boulanger, at the classe d’accompagnment au piano was asking the pupils to play separately all the voices which made the work, with special attention to the line of the base. Kempff’s left hand was also superb, it had a singing sound. He was following, the great musician he was, all the voices separately. Kempff also had a consummate way of using the pedal which was the most important part of the piano and use it with great care so that the harmonies were never blurred (unless asked by the composer). The foot had to have rythmical independence. It could be syncopated or kept for some base like in Beethoven. He was often doing a sort of tremolo on the pedal when he was not sure of the acoustical conditions. I have learnt all the pedaling secrets thanks to Kempff.   

WB: You said in an interview with Joanne Talbot for Hi-fi News & Record Review UK (July 1988),when asked about your relatively small hands and how you could master works like Rachmaninov Third Piano Concerto: “There are no limitations to repertoire, because if you want to do something, you do it. There are always more possibilities than you think. It’s just a question of imagination.” How did that concretely work with this Piano Concerto for instance? What are the possibilities if the composer had twice the size of your hands?

Idil did not answer this question. But, I know that she does what seems impossible. For example she plays the octaves of the opening of the first movement of Rachmaninov’s 2nd Concerto as they are written. I have seen her do it with her hands as they are. How she manages this may remain a mystery. (SBY) 

WB: You are from Turkey, is it a country with an important tradition when it comes to piano? I remember the twin sisters Guher and Suher Pekinel and Fazil Say, are there other famous Turkish pianists?

IB: The pianist you mention are more recent and rather well known due to their substantial media presence. In my generation there is Aysegül Sarica and Verda Erman who both studied at the Paris Conservatoire Verda was one of the four finalists in the Leventritt competition (1971) where no first prize was awarded. Setrak, who had been a student of Yvonne Lefebure at the Paris Conservatoire was of Armenian origin. He was a natural Liszt player, a brilliant virtuoso who had the heroic romantic temperament with an impressive sound that he expressed in works of Liszt with brio. Whenever we met at his home in Paris we sightread Liszt’s poems in the two piano versions and in the piano concertos one of us playing the piano part. Later came Hüseyin Sermet, Özgür Aydin and most recently Can Cakmur. I could name many other younger ones like Gökhan Aybulus, Can Okan (also an excellent conductor). Gülsin Onay who studied in Paris with Nada Boulanger and  who is well known.). There were also quite a number of so called amateur pianists who had other professions but played the piano excellently. One of them was Dr. Herman Miskciyan who was a pediatrist as well as a horticulturist (he cloned and grew orchids). I performed the concerto for two pianos of Poulenc with the orchestra conducted by Herman’s piano teacher Cemal Resid Rey in Istanbul (1978). He also gave concerts in the Soviet Union playing Tchaikovsky’s 1st Piano Concerto. More importantly, there was an almost forgotten pianist who stopped performing around 1980 due to an eye problem. She is Tomris Özis who was a student of the the German pianist Rosl Schmid at the Munich Conservatory. Schmid was a finalist in the legendary 1938 Ysaye Competition (Now called Queen Elisabeth) in Brussels where Emil Gilels won first prize. Other finalists included Arturo Benedetti Michelangeli, Jakov Flier, Moura Lympany. In 2017 with Idil’s encouragement IBA issued a box set with live concert recordings of Tomris Özis which included piano concertos of Mozart (No. 23), Beethoven (No. 5), Liszt (No. 1) , Brahms (No. 1), Prokofiev (No. 1) and also the Burlesque of Strauss (Her teacher Rosl Schmid had recorded Burlesque with Joseph Keilberth and the Bamberg Symphony in 1958)as well as many solo pieces.  

WB. How important is classical music in Turkey? 

ÏB: During our stay in Positano in 1982, Wilhelm Kempff told us one evening after dinner about his all night discussion with President Atatürk at his residence in Ankara in 1927. My husband Sefik wrote down what he said which is below at the end of this note. As you will see there, for Atatürk reform in music in Turkey was a necessity and very important as part of the modernization efforts in the country. Classical music had a specially important place therein. The priorities, needless to say, are no longer the same in the Turkey of today.

WB: Who are the most important classical composers in Turkey?

IB: From the first generation we had Cemal Resid Rey, Adnan Saygun, Ulvi Cemal Erkin whose piano concertos I have played in concerts and recorded and there is the music of Necil Kazim Akses.  I also recorded the solo piano works of Erkin, Saygun, Ilhan Usmanbas, Muammer Sun, Ilhan Mimaroglu (electronic music), Ertugrul Oguz Firat (who had also studied law and was a judge). Then my contemporary Ates Pars whose piano concerto and sonata for viola and piano I recorded (with Rusen Günes at the viola) and Cetin Isiközlü whose piano concerto and ballade for piano I played and recorded. There are many younger ones I cannot remember off hand. (note: all these recordings are in the box set Best of Turkish Piano Music IBA 8.504058 cover enclosed SBY)

Prof. Wilhelm Kempff in Turkey

It was in June 1982 during a one week stay of Idil Biret in Italy with Prof. Kempff in his Villa overlooking the Mediterranean from the Positano village heights that the subject of Prof. Kempff's visits to Turkey came up. He was particularly happy that day. He had played a  Schubert sonata in the late afternoon and Idil had joined him for a photograph taken near his piano. Later in the evening, after dinner, the question of his first visit to Turkey was posed. Was it in the 1930s? "No, much earlier" was his reply. "I first visited Turkey in 1927", said Kempff and then continued, "I gave a recital in Ankara at the Halkevi (a hall for public concerts, theatre shows etc.). Kemal Pasha (that was the way he referred to Ataturk)then invited me for dinner with his friends at the Presidential residence (note: in Cankaya, a hilltop in Ankara). There was a large gathering of people in the evening and the dinner lasted until about 11.00 pm. When the guests were leaving he asked me to stay and when everyone was gone we passed into his study. There Kemal Pasha started the conversation  by saying that as part of a drive for modernisation in Turkey he was introducing many reforms in law, education and other areas affecting the public life. He continued to say that classical music was an integral part of the western culture which was the source of his reform movement. He therefore felt the necessity of the widespread  introduction of classical music in Turkey  as part of the drive towards modernisation in the country. Kemal Pasha said that he was afraid that without parallel reforms in music in Turkey his reforms in other areas would remain incomplete.Kemal Pasha then asked  my thoughts on how this could be achieved, the schools, institutions to be formed for this purpose and the eminent musicians and musicologists I may recommend for invitation to Turkey to help build the foundations of classical music. I expressed my ideas, advised him to consult also with Wilhelm Fürtwangler on this subject and perhaps invite him to come to Turkey to assist with a plan of organisation to introduce classical music systematically in Turkey. Our discussions continued until 4.00 am in the morning at which time I took my leave." Prof. Kempff then looked towards the sea and after a moment of silence said, "Kemal Pasha was a great man".   

Turkish government subsequently extended an invitation to Fürtwangler to come to Turkey to provide the necessary advice to establish the institutions for education in classical music. Because of his engagements he was unable to do so, but recommended that Paul Hindemith be invited for this purpose. Hindemith then came and prepared a report and a plan of action for the establishment of the Ankara Conservatoire and other institutions for public music education. The great statesman Atatürk’s vision set the path in music as well as much else in the Turkey in the 1920s and 30s.  

Prof. Kempff visited Turkey many more times from 1927 to 1963. He was much loved by the public, had many close friends there and  he knew personally Mr. Ismet Inonu who became president after Ataturk in 1938. In November 1963, when Inonu was this time prime minister, he  took his whole  cabinet to a concert Kempff was giving in Ankara. During the same trip Prof. Kempff was scheduled to perform in Istanbul on 23 November. When he heard about the tragic death of President Kennedy on November 22nd he became very sad and then said to Mr. Mükerrem Berk, the manager of the Orchestra, "Idil was scheduled to play today with the Boston Symphony Orchestra her US debut concert. What will happen now?" * The Istanbul concert on 23 November was given as a memorial to Kennedy and before the concert started Kempff came on the  stage alone and played the 3rd movement "Marcia Funebre" from Beethoven's Sonata op.26  in memory of the late President. The public was asked not to applaud. He then played  Bach's Concerto in F Minor and Beethoven's Emperor Concerto with the Orchestra. This was  Prof. Kempff's last visit to Turkey.


* The death of President Kennedy was announced during the intermission of the Boston Symphony Orchestra's concert in the afternoon of 22 November 1963. After an initial proposal to cancel the second half, it was  decided to continue with the concert in memory of Kennedy and Idil Biret played Rachmaninov's 3rd piano concerto. The radio broadcast recording of this performance was added to the National Recording Registry of the Library of Congress in 2019 as a sound recordings deemed “culturally, historically or aesthetically significant” by the Library of Congress

Prepared by Sefik B. Yüksel for Bayerische Rundfunk TV – 1995

Presented by Idil Biret on the Bayerische Rundfunk TV program on the life of Wilhelm Kempff televised on his 100th anniversary of birth on 25.11.1995. The filming of the part with Idil Biret was realised at the Kempff family residence in Ammerland near Munich.


Program of Kempff’s recital in Istanbul on 7 February 1927 (at the German Embassy)*

Beethoven Sonata Op. 27 No. 2 (Moonlight) / Variations on the Turkish March  / Sonata Op. 53 (Waldstein)

Note: Most probably the concert in Ankara had the same program

*In 1927 the German Embassy had not yet moved to Ankara.


16 November 2011

I was keen on doing an interview with Imogen Cooper for my site, since I have known her for a long time. I heard her for the first time in 1989 in Utrecht and remember I went around to see (and thank) her. I was struck, not only by her kindness, but especially by her question whether I would come back to listen to her recital during the next season. I did and she remembered me. The same happened a few weeks later in Amsterdam and we became friends. I heard many of her concerts in the Netherlands. It was not easy to find a moment for an interview until she suggested to do a phone interview, which worked out fine. I was impressed by her eloquent answers and her honesty, those of an artist who has been around long enough to know what she wants..

Willem Boone (WB): How was your trip to Japan?

Imogen Cooper (IC): Wonderful! It was moving to go there after the catastrophies.. I felt lucky to get on a plane and leave after ten days, but the people in Tokyo have no choice... The Japanese are so resilient, patient and hopeful, it moved me. I enjoyed the experience more than before and I have travelled to Japan since 1986. A lot of things have changed, e.g the position of women travelling alone. I also noticed that they are more western in their understanding now. It was quite a hectic tour with several recitals, but I loved being in a bubble of work.

WB: They say that Japanese audiences are very cultivated and attentive, what was your experience?

IC: Good question.. the character of the audiences was different in several cities, especially between Osaka and Tokyo. In the former city the audience was into being “wowed”, whereas in the latter they were happy to be drawn into the music of Schubert and I sensed these differences! The earthquake in Tokyo had an enormous impact, people still don’t take the risk of going out in the evening..

WB: You studied in France and you once said in an interview that going to France was “the obvious choice”, however, I could imagine that you would have got along really well with someone like Sir Clifford Curzon, who excelled in much of the same repertoire as you?

IC: I did work with him, but that was when I was older. Curzon would never have taken on an 11-year-old student. That was the moment when I decided I wanted to become a pianist and for that I needed more fundamental training. In the 60s, there were no schools like the Menuhin School that specialized in young people. Conservatoires and schools in the United Kingdom were for people from 17 year and up. For young children like me, there were only two choices: Moscow and Paris. Paris was far away, but Moscow was definitely too far away.

WB: In Paris you studied with Yvonne Lefébure?

IC: I studied with tons of people! The reason I wanted to go to Paris was that I wanted to work with Jacques Février, but he taught exclusively chamber music. I only found out about this after I arrived in Paris, so I had to find another teacher. I studied with Lucette Descaves, but I am not sure what I learnt from her. I was still seeing Jacques Février at that time and he and Descaves would write each other cynical notes and not very complimentary remarks about each other on my scores. I remember that Février wrote on a score of Ravel “Ravel says... “ in a spirit of one-upmanship. After three years, I went to see Yvonne Lefébure and her assistant Germaine Mounier, who was wonderful.

WB: Was Lefébure famous at the time? I had the impression she was not really well known outside France?

IC: Oh yes, she was! There is a recording of her playing the Mozart D-minor Concerto with Furtwängler, which means that she was showing her stars everywhere. I also heard her once at the London Proms.

WB: Did she differ a lot from the school of Marguérite Long?

IC: I am not sure whether I can tell you that, but she was always bitchy about Long, so I guess she did differ indeed! She studied with Cortot, who had been her main influence. There is a video where she plays the posthumous variations of Schumann’s Etudes Symphoniques. There you can hear very clearly how she was influenced by Cortot. There was something quintessentially French about her teaching. And she could be fairly devastating.

WB: In what way?

IC: Let me think, what did she tell me? That I was “molle” (soft) and like a “robinet d’eau tiède”(tap of running tepid water). I was probably more introverted then, but you shouldn’t say that to a 15-year old! She was not psychologically clever in her teaching. She preferred teaching boys anyway...

WB: And then you went to study with Brendel?

IC: Before that, I came back to London at 18. I was really more French at the time and rarely saw my parents while I was in Paris. After that, I had very different teachers, among others Peter Wallfish, a German pianist who helped me to understand the music of Brahms better. I also worked with Sir Clifford Curzon, but we fell out. I did nothing to offend him, but he was a very touchy man. As a performer, he was nervous and had his on and off days. My father used to work as a music critic and once we heard Curzon on an off day. My father wrote an honest review and I received a letter from Curzon saying “Your father obviously thinks I have nothing to teach you”. I guess he didn’t take it very well in the beginning when he heard that I could study with Brendel, but later he was pleased and said: “Go and have a wonderful time!” I also played five or six times for Rubinstein, which was as much a human experience as it was a musical one.

WB: How distinctive was the stamp Brendel left on you?

IC: I definitely feel a clear line from Edwin Fischer down through Brendel, more than with anyone else. The timing of everything was right. He was 40 when I went to work with him, but not yet a household name. He was learning Schubert sonatas and wanted me to learn them at the same time. He did travel, but he was also often in Vienna during these years 1969 and 1970. I saw him twice a week during a period of seven or eight weeks. The lessons took long, sometimes an entire afternoon. I also played second piano for him when he was working on Brahms’s Second Piano Concerto and other concerti. And we listened to a lot of recordings by different artists like Cortot, Lotte Lehmann, the Busch Quartet...  He was an extremely strong influence; he was articulate, eloquent, he knew why he did things and wanted me to do them the same way. That is valid, but you shouldn’t stay too long with such a person. I was honoured when he played me new works and wanted me to write down anything I didn’t like, so I was sitting with the  score and had to be “on my mettle” , because not anyone can criticize Brendel! Later, we recorded Mozart’s concerto’s for two pianos (K 365 and Mozart’s arrangement of the Concerto for 3 pianos K 242) with the Academy of St Martin in the Fields.

WB: I have a lot of questions about Schubert. You have done a lot of things, but one of the composers I very closely associate you with is Schubert. He must be very close to your heart, is he your favourite composer?

IC: (sigh) I don’t think I can answer that question, but I will answer obliquely: he has a unique place in my heart. On the other hand, I am working on a lot of Schumann now and I have such a passion for him.

WB: The next question is corny..

IC: Try me!

WB: What do you like most about Schubert?

IC: How long have you got? (laughs) First of all, his humanity. He was such a human being.. the way he manages to convey so much emotion in music through the most glorious melodies that range from the imaginitively dark to the devastatingly simple. The way he switches between the dark and the light in his psyche. I have a theory that people get illnesses that suit them. Schubert’s illness alienated him from what he most wanted: love of a partner, therefore he had to dig deeper in his reserves of emotions. Would he have written so many masterworks if he had been married with five children? He wasn’t without love, as he had close friends, but he suffered from a horrible disease, like Aids now. He was only in his 20’s when he got ill and didn’t know he was going to die, he could have expected to live another six or seven years.. At the end of his life, he was weak as a result of the amount of work he did..

WB: Your late colleague Claudio Arrau once called Schubert “the ultimate challenge”, what do you think of his assessment?

IC: I wonder why he said that? I wouldn’t associate him with Schubert and don’t think he ever recorded any of his music?

WB: Oh yes, he did, at the end of his life he recorded the last three sonatas among other things!

IC: I’d love to hear what he did in the C-minor Sonata (D 958, WB)!

WB: I can send you a copy of his recording!

IC: Some of his works are enormously long, for instance the A-major Sonata (D 959) or the String Quintet, it is a challenge for a pianist or a string player to hold the span. If Arrau meant that, I agree and I think he is also right from a pianistic point of view. You need a huge palette of colours, physical means, imagination and most of all you have to tell a story. When I perform with Wolfgang Holzmaier, he always says to me “Erzähle die Geschichte!” before we walk out on stage!

WB: You have played many of the big Schubert song cycles and a lot of other songs, how important is it for a pianist to have performed them if he wants to play his piano music?

IC: It certainly helps, because the songs are a major part of Schubert’s make- up.

WB: Do you study the texts of Schubert’s songs as well when you have to accompany a singer?

IC: Of course, especially when you work with someone like Holzmaier. I am very careful to understand what I play, a pianist has to provide the light and darkness in the piano parts.

WB: What can you learn from a singer?

IC: How to tell a story and how to make long lines if he or she has impressive breath control. Singing is the most natural way to shape a melody

WB: Can a singer also learn from a pianist?

IC: You would have to ask the singer! It never occurred to me, but probably I wouldn’t be the worst guide for Schubert, I have been on this journey for so long...

WB:I have always wanted to ask a question about the B-flat major Sonata (D 960), the last one Schubert wrote. Although it was written in a major key, I have always had the feeling that it is a tragic piece. I don’t know whether this is odd or not?

IC: Compared to the other two late Sonatas (D 958 and 959), it is not in essence a dramatic composition. It’s lyrical and there is nothing of the drama you find in the second movement of D 959. It is certainly a big piece, though! By the way, I don’t play the repeat in the first movement of D 960, I think these eight bars don’t belong to the piece. Had Schubert lived two years longer, he might in my view have moved from the shadow of Beethoven and he would have reviewed the structure of this sonata. For me these eight bars don’t make sense.

WB: How would you describe the overall atmosphere of the whole sonata?

IC: Edwin Fisher said about Mozart’s last concerto K 595 (which is written in the same key, B-flat major, WB) “It is an endless outbreath”, that’s what it is. The atmosphere is slightly autumnal, but the scherzo is spring-like. Other than that, I can’t tell you the general feeling.

WB: You have conducted Mozart concertos from the keyboard, why would you do that? Isn’t it making the task very difficult since it is not easy to play his concertos anyway?

IC: I am about to do it again (laughs), but I don’t move my arms at all, not like Ashkenazy or Uchida. Pianists who conducted his concertos from the keyboard made a lot of gestures. If you play with a top chamber orchestra, it works. I don’t want to conduct, I’d rather go to the musicians and say: “How do we do this?”. I am planning to play concertos with the Academy of St Martin in the Fields and love the experience.

WB:I like your repertoire and heard you in a lot of different styles, I remember the first book of Iberia or music by Janacek, Liszt and Smetana. Are you a curious person?

IC: No, I am not and this probably doesn’t do me credit. I don’t do the obvious things such as whole Beethoven cycles. Well, I do the concertos, but not all of his sonatas, it doesn’t interest me. If I fall in love with a work and want to convey something that I haven’t heard before, I go for it, but I don’t go on the internet to search for rare scores, absolutely not! I don’t feel the need either to play music by Stockhausen.. It is healing to play music on a deeply spiritual level. We all need healing, since we live in a very frightening world.

WB: Do you have challenges ahead?

IC: Certainly, but I don’t know what they are! I have to fall in love with a work and I need to block time in my agenda to learn it, it’s difficult..

WB: Didn’t you want to tackle Brahms’s First Piano Concerto or was I thinking of another pianist?

IC: No, I haven’t got the build for it. I have left it, but I can hear it,  it will survive the fact that Imogen Cooper hasn’t played it. I would like to take up his Third Sonata, which I love and played many years ago. And maybe for myself, I would like to play Ravel’s Gaspard de la nuit again, that I studied in Paris...

WB: What’s the biggest sacrifice in this job?

IC: What other people would call “a normal life”: to go for a long walk, to mix with the world more.. I need to be alone after ten years alone, I am happier alone than not, but I missed out on quite a few things! Sometimes I long for a more normal life, since mine is completely dysfunctional.

WB: Is it worth all this?

IC: Sure! Whether I can say that in twenty years when I probably can’t play any more, I don’t know. I don’t know any other life,  music has been at the center of my life and humanity. But yes, I am one of the blessed 5% whose sense of life and work is intermingled. I sometimes fight to the instrument, but ultimately I don’t know any other life...

WB: What’s the nicest thing anybody has ever told you with regards to your piano playing?

IC: I am not sure whether I can answer your question, therefore I will answer in a more global way. I don’t often read reviews,  but I am really happy when people start hearing what I am doing at greater depths. I am moved when people in the audience describe what music has done to them in terms that I would use myself. That gives me more pleasure than anything, more than people telling me “I played very well”.When everything is flowing, it is circular and you come out better!


Utrecht, 16 October 2017

Interviewing Canadian pianist Janina Fialkowska, a major interpret of Liszt and member of the jury during the 2017  Liszt Competition in Utrecht, was also an excellent oppotunity to remember her legendary mentor Arthur Rubinstein. A fascinating interview that took place in the lobby of the hotel Karel V in Utrecht..

Willem Boone (WB): What is it like to be on the jury of the Liszt competition: is it hard work, is it fun or is it both?

Janina Fialkowska (JF): I have been on quite a few jury’s but this is one of the most pleasant and harmonious ones! There are seven of us, which is a nice number. I know most of the others and we get along well, even if we disagree. Everybody admires everybody, which is unusual. There are no tensions and that’s heavenly, because we have enough stress dealing with decisions!

WB: Aren’t you tired of Liszt yet?

JF: You are prepared, but sometimes you get tired of certain pieces of Liszt ( very few), I got “sick” of La Contrabandista.. There are only a few composers that I could listen to all the time: Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, Chopin, Liszt, but other than that, no!

WB: What are you paying attention to when listening: sound, technique, interpretation or everything at the same time?

JF: There are different levels, but on a very basic level I am looking for a clean performance in good style. Beyond that, I am looking for colour, imagination and beautiful sound. I haven’t heard any banging during this festival, it’s extraordinary! The pre-screening must have been wonderful. The real thing is someone who makes my heart stop.. It happens sometimes when you are exhausted and right from the first note, you feel awake and light!

WB: How often does that happen? I remember that I attended most of the semi-finals of the 2nd and 3rd edition and one day, I heard the B-minor sonata six times in a row. There was only one performance that struck me, the others were fair but nothing out of the ordinary..

JF: It happened once in this competition, one candidate was really strong and made my heart jump. It’s great when you feel that someone is going to be successful! During competitions, you often hear nothing that is going to change the world or make it a better place. By the way, in general those who played the other programme (the one that didn’t include the B-minor sonata, WB) fared better!

WB: How difficult is it to listen objectively to pieces that are played so often like the B-minor sonata?

JF: It’s smart to avoid the sonata, because it’s a monster work! It’s a dangerous piece: you should learn it at an early age, because it can develop. It’s hard to be objective, but hopefully we are grown up enough to have a lot of tolerance. I understand these kids as I have been through competitions myself. It’s only when I feel that they don’t give everything, that I am not interested. You really should be exhausted after you have played the sonata!

WB: Do the members of the jury vote independently like at the Queen Elizabeth competition in Brussels or the Chopin Competition in Warsaw or do you discuss performances?

JF: It’s the same as in Brussels and Warsaw: no discussion officially . Also here there are no points but it’s a simple voting system with either a yes or a no.

WB: As far as the music of Liszt is concerned, you often hear that his is acquired taste, do you agree?

JF: Everybody’s music is acquired taste, I remember that my father didn’t like Mozart! Liszt has been little known for a long time and his music, often only a handful of works, was often badly played.  That’s different now because of competitions and thanks to people  great Liszt pianists like Leslie Howard, Gyorgy Cziffra, Barenboim,  Argerich  , and even myself. I was considered a specialist until I injured my arm. After my recovery I had no problems with Mozart, Chopin and Beethoven, but I thought Liszt was over, since I can’t play pieces like the concertos, the sonata, the Dante sonata and the Mefisto Waltz any more. I was very unhappy about it until I realized that Liszt wrote thousands of pieces that I could still play so I recorded another cd with some of this music. It’s impossible that people say they don’t like Liszt, because he is so multi-faceted: there is the religious, the cruel (Well no, never cruel, demonic), the happy Liszt.. He had an attractive personality and as a colleague he was great. I didn’t get bored for a second during this competition, except for La Contrabandista. The latter was a dedication to George Sand, whom Liszt didn’t particularly like.

WB:  Can you give examples of the happy Liszt?

JF: The Valse-impromptu, some of the etudes, some of the transcriptions are hilarious. He has a sense of humour, for instance the Bagatelle sans tonalité.

WB: Almost nobody dislikes Chopin, yet a lot of people have a hard time with Liszt, why do you think he often has the reputation of a composer who wrote a lot of empty and loud music?

JF: I know people who don’t like Chopin! Liszt needs more people who play his music and he needs more variety: not always the same works, some of the lesser known music such as the Harmonies poétiques et religieuses is fabulous. Chopin is the composer I feel closest to, Liszt liked Chopin and they both understood the modern keyboard so well, their music is exquisitely written. Liszt took much longer to find the perfect way of writing for the piano, but he lived much longer. The first version of his études was impossible, but he made them playable. The late pieces sound incredibly hard, but they fall beautifully under the hands, that’s what these boys Chopin and Liszt had in common! I adore Schumann, but he is always a bit awkward to play, Brahms is definitely difficult to play, Ravel also had a great understanding of the piano.

WB: When did your relationship with Liszt start?

JF: Not early, not until I was 19 years old. I studied in the school of Cortot, who did play Liszt, but his pupils were snobby about his music. I played a few of his études d’exécution transcendante, then I discovered the sonata and that’s how it started. In 1986, the year of the celebration of Liszt, I toured with the 12 études d’exécution transcendante and the Variations on Weinen, Klagen, Sorgen, Sagen. I might have been the only woman by then to play such a programme. That’s how I got known. Later, I was asked to do his Third Piano Concerto, an unfinished short piece that I performed a lot.

WB: Is that the concerto that Liszt wrote for Sophie Menter?

JF: No, that’s another concerto, this one is shorter. It was written at the same time as the other two concertos, that were revised by Liszt, but not this one. In 1989, a young doctoral student found it either in Budapest or in Weimar, I am not sure. I premiered it in Chigaco and recorded it. It  is extremely difficult and lasts only twelve minutes,  it can’t be played by itself. It has a lovely melody in the middle.

WB: Were you the only to have ever performed it?

JF: No, there are other Hungarians who did it, Jeno Jando as well. It’s not a terrific piece, it’s more a curiosity. It’s so hard that you think: “What’s the point?” I did it for three years and then people didn’t ask for it any more.

WB; What’s Liszt most important quality according to you?

JF: The many facets of his music, he composed more than anyone. There is such variety of styles, as well as the development of his personality. He was a lady killer and he was religious, he was a fascinating character who wrote fascinating music. The theme of Faust is recurrent in his music, like Florestand and Eusebius for Schumann.

WB: Which performances of Liszt impressed you the most?

JF: Maybe unexpectedly,  I love Rubinstein. He didn’t do a great deal of Liszt, but he understood his style, for instance in the 12th Hungarian Rhapsody, but then again, he played anything like no one else, with nobility. One of the best Liszt recitals I heard, maybe 30 or 40 years ago, was by Barenboim, when he still practised! I admire my friend Leslie Howard and go to any of his cd’s when I want to know how a certain work should be played. Apart from that, I blank, which pianists would you mention?

WB: At first, I had a hard time with Liszt and felt as if I sinned while listening to his music, but the first pianist I can remember was Nelson Freire with the sonata (Janina nodds), but the one who won me over was Claudio Arrau!

JF: Arrau, he was definitely up there! I heard him in the 70’s at Lincoln Center and it was absolutely the greatest sonata I have ever heard!  And I am crazy about Cziffra, he was so captivating in his madness: he had an understanding that was fabulous.

WB: Ashkenazy who didn’t really care about Liszt, did one of the most incredible Mefisto Walzes and his Feux Follets too was amazing!

JF: Yes, I know that recording. I was not too fond of Lazar Berman, but when he showed up in New York to play all of the 12 études d’exécution transcendante, it made a huge impression, it was a blast! And I heard Martha Argerich play the sonata live!

WB: (enthuses): Really?! Wow, I am probably her biggest fan and I envy you!

JF: It was do die for, it just poured out with such instinct! She also played the Fantasiestücke by Schumann.  Her Bach is  sensational too. The live Liszt sonata must have been in 1971 or 1972, she came every year to New York. I went with Jeffrey Swann, Emanuel Ax and Garrick Ohlsson. Martha is so natural  and every note is alive!

WB: Again, I envy you, whereas I heard her about 70 times, even the first time in a full recital (April 1979 in Utrecht, the Netherlands, WB). And last year, I was lucky enough to hear he play Gaspard de la nuit in Lugano… Are you actually jealous of her abilities?

JF: NO, not in the slightest. I know my place and she is somewhere else...way above me.

WB: Ohlsson is also a heck of a pianist if not very well known…

JF: He is fine and yes, he should have had a better career. You mentioned Eugen Indjic earlier, he should play more in the US, he is American!

WB: Your colleague Leslie Howard once gave a masterclass and a young girl played the Faust Paraphrase. He asked her what the opera was about and she had no clue. He was obviously gobsmacked, is that unforgivable for you too?

JF: Yes, absolutely. You should at least listen to a cd with the highlights. People take incredible slow tempi, whereas in the opera it goes faster!

WB: But you can still play it well if you don’t know the opera?

JF: No, you have to know the opera, you have to be a complete artist. People like Horowitz knew a Beethoven quartet, all the great pianists had a certain culture. I was once in New York with Rubinstein and Emil Gilels and his wife were invited for lunch. Rubinstein had stopped playing and he loved listening to chamber music. He asked Gilels whether he knew the Dissonant Quartet by Mozart, Gilels didn’t know it, so he put on the record and Gilels’s face lit up, there were tears on his face. He was in his 60’s, but he didn’t know the music.

WB: As to the B-minor sonata, would you call it his greatest masterwork?

JF: Among his works for piano, yes. There are certain pieces I have a passion for, like the 2nd Ballade. It breaks my heart that I can’t play it any more…

WB: Do you agree that it is a tricky piece to bring off, maybe not so much technically, because a lot of young kids play it flawlessly, but more in terms of structure, to play it as a whole, unified piece and pay attention to all the transitions. Arrau is one of my heroes and he succeeds very well, but I heard Cherkassky, another great pianist, who was much less successful!

JF: Yes, it’s a piece where you need maturity and overview of the piece to know where it’s going. It can be a big bore, you can certainly kill it!

WB: What are the highlights of the sonata for you? For me, one of them are the descending scales just before the fugue.

JF: The entire middle section and the ending are extraordinary. The long ending is perfect, you can’t go too slowly, you have to keep it fluent. Yes, these scales are magic.

WB: Another impressive moment for me is the stretta, just before the final pages, where I often regret that pianists don’t held the pedal long enough, since the piano can sound so orchestral here!

JF: Yes, it can seem hollow at the top if you don’t keep the pedal!

WB: Do you know that Saint Seans transcribed it for two pianos?

JF: Yes, Leslie told me about it, I haven’t heard it. Saint Seans and Liszt together, that must have been curious.. All those transcriptions that Liszt wrote: Rossini, Chopin, Berlioz, he covered such a stretch of people. And Salieri taught Liszt harmony for Christ’s sake! Liszt said he didn’t teach him about musicality, but he learnt a great deal from Salieri.

WB: A few questions about Chopin…

JF: Oh boy, I love him!

WB: Rubinstein qualified you as a `born Chopin player`, that´s no mean praise coming from him?

JF: Unbelievable, he was so very generous, he helped me launch my career and got my career going!

WB: The magazine Piano News wrote that you have “a soul connection” with Chopin, do you feel the same way?

JF: That’s nice! Yes, I do. Unabashedly, not because I want to sound arrogant, but when I play Mozart or Chopin, I am not afraid. I may be wrong, but I feel comfortable, whereas with others, I am searching, particularly with Beethoven. I never play a programme without Chopin, I relax with his music 

WB: On your last cd, you play among others the 4rth Ballade. The Gramophone mentioned your performance “ a triumph”. Would you call it one of his most glorious pages?

JF: It’s Chopin’s Liszt sonata!

WB: Are the last pages as difficult as they sound?

JF: No, it’s not difficult, the only difficulty is not to panic and keep my tempo down. Every note is part of a melody, it’s very vocal. If you slow down the coda of the 4rth Ballade, it’s a beautiful melody. Sing it in your head and play melodically as you would sing it, but the tempo is a bit faster. You wouldn’t believe it, but that’s where my French training helps, I did a lot of solfège. I just imagine Christa Ludwig or Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau sing it.

WB: Isn’t that effective with any composer you play?

JF: No, Chopin has very subtle inflexions you can figure out by singing, other composers are not as vocal.

WB: I always wonder about the climax at the end, then there is a silence, then the five descending chords and finally the last pages. Is it true that this silence shouldn’t be pedalled? Is it in the score? I understood that Rubinstein pedalled them to avoid that people start applauding.

JF: That’s it! I just played it in Portugal and they started applauding, I couldn’t believe it! I don’t pedal them, I put my head down and hope they don’t clap.

WB: Did you read the comment on YouTube about your performance of the 4rth Ballade saying “risk-taking, uncompromising playing, she reminds me of Gilels”?

JF: I never read comments on YouTube, I am bad with computers, my husband is much better. The comment is nice! Any of these old boys were so extraordinary, you hear a recording and say: “That’s Gilels or that’s Argerich!”

WB: Rubinstein thought very highly of you, what was he exactly for you: a mentor, a teacher, a colleague?

JF: He was a mentor, he would dispute he was my teacher, but still.. I played the Barcarolle for him and he played it for me, that’s a pretty good lesson! At the end of his life, he was blind, but he still demonstrated things at the piano. I was like a granddaughter to him and stayed with him. He was entertaining, well read, funny, generous and I was nervous and shy. Half of me adored being with him and the other half didn’t. Because I was afraid I could not live up to his expectations..

WB: How did you get to know him?

JF: During the first Rubinstein Competition. I had no expectations whatsoever and didn’t make it to the finals. One person in the jury gave me a zero and Rubinstein said he would leave as the chairman if I dodn’t make the finals. He sought me out and wanted to know more about me. I told him I was about to start law school.

WB: Did you really want to give up?

JF: I had no career and had to make a living! I was 22 and didn’t want to teach kids.. I was accepted in a very prestigious law school in Canada. Rubinstein went on a farewell tour and asked that I played the next year in all the cities (44 in total), that traced my career.

WB: He was unusually candid about his own shortcomings, since he said he couldn’t play the Chopin études. Yet he had no mean technique either and until the end he maintained his abilities!

JF: He was a funny man and had this complex about his technique, it’s ridiculous! He had a most natural technique, he couldn’t see the point of working so hard when it all came so naturally. He never practised more than 20 minutes, he also wanted to have fun,  he read a lot for instance.

WB: I saw pictures of his hands and his pinky was a long as the other fingers, is that correct?

JF: Yes, it’s true. He was not a good practiser. I once came to his hotel in New York when he was practising Chopin Second Concerto that he knew very well of course. He made a mistake, then redid it, made the same mistake, redid it again, made the mistake for the third time and went on without stopping. That evening during the concert it went well!

WB; And yet, with all his qualities, I thought he lacked a certain amount of diabolism à la Horowitz?

JF: It’s a myth that he heard Horowitz and had this complex, o please…He probably worked for two hours and thought it was a lot. His son Johnny also said he never practised! I have the most fun when I practise, I have  problems on stage, because I am not a stage animal, but he loved performing. I heard him a lot, around 15 or 20 times. He was my idol, it was he I loved the most. Otherwise I admire Horowitz a lot too, as well as Michelangeli, Serkin, Richter, Pollini, Argerich, Lupu, Zimerman…

WB: As I asked before, I had the feeling that he was always walking on the sunny side of the road, didn’t he have a demonic side?

JF: There was a dark side, but he had a happy philosophy. I have one particular memory though, he didn’t get along with his wife and had marital problems. Once I came back to his apartment in Paris and the house was dark. He was sitting in a room with all the lights off, I didn’t believe it, but he, the happiest man, had been crying. I was shy and tried to cheer him up. He said: “You are sweet, but I enjoy being miserable!” . At the end of his life he went blind, almost overnight, but he took it so wonderfully. I never saw him depressed, except for that day. He was a lucky man, he didn’t worry, even blind he wanted to go to movies and sit on the first row..

WB: He was a model of longevity!

JF: Indeed, he was 96 when he died, and he was really well until 92, he had no old men’s brain. There was this healthiness and sanity to his playing, you don’t know how much I miss him…. And there was such honesty, no “me, me, me”, first there was the music. He was revelling in beautiful music. I have never been to concerts where people left more happy, not frantic. It was wonderful, I didn’t feel that with anyone else. He had the most beautiful sound, it filled your heart. I really miss that guy… And he had charisma, there was an aura, light around him, something supernatural. His recordings are nothing compared to his live concerts. The live recording from Moscow comes closest, he did practise a lot for that concert, since Richter and Gilels were in the audience, he had to..

WB; I hope you don’t mind me asking this question, you have been quite severely ill, which kept you away from the instrument, you thankfully recovered but to which extent did this change your attitude on life or on music making?

JF: (touches wood): I thought it might take away some of my nerves.. People say you take things less for granted after such an experience, but I still get nervous and I never took things for granted. I hope to not get sick again. I get tired much quicker and as the French say, “Il faut ménager ses forces”, but other than that, things are going fine.

WB: In an interview that I found on YouTube, you said your goal was not music, but a vegetable garden…

JF: I got a flower garden, because vegetables need daily attention. I got 500 bulbs waiting for me.. It’s a beautiful garden, my husband got really frantic about it.

WB: Were you serious when you said that?

JF: No, I meant I wouldn’t add new repertoire and I am reducing now. However, my European manager asked me whether I wanted to play the Panufnik Concerto next March and I had to say to myself: “You can do it!”

WB: You could have said no, right?

JF: I haven’t said yes yet..

WB: I don’t know any composer by the name of Panufnik?

JF: He is part of the generation of Lutoslawski and Penderecki. I met him. I premiered his concerto in the USA.

WB: Is it a modern concerto?

JF: It’s a crossing between Bartok and Penderecki.

WB: In your bio I read that you played around 60 concertos?

JF: Not only concertos, there are also pieces like the Totentanz and the Chopin Fantasy on Polish airs.

WB: That’s pretty much all the Mozart, Beethoven concertos and…?

JF: both Brahms concertos, Rachmaninov 2nd and 3rd and a lot of French repertoire. When you are young, you can do it, you are fearless. You don’t really know it’s not possible, you just do it..

WB: I was pleased to see that you played the Moszkofski concerto!

JF: Yes, it’s great, you know what else is great? The Paderevski concerto.

WB: In an interview you said: “The more control you have over everything, the more spontaneous you sound.” That sounds contradictory to me!

JF: It’s a complete contradiction! Take a pianist like Zimerman: you just think he composes when he is on stage, he knows every note exactly.

WB: Is there music that makes you truly happy? I listened to Saint Seans’s Carnaval des animaux today and it always makes me smile…

JF: Anything by Mozart or by Schubert is heaven. In the music of Schubert there is something very powerful, the simple beauty of it all..

WB: You don’t often play in the Netherlands, do you?

JF: Only once, Liszt First Piano Concerto in Amsterdam with Kondrashin conducting and Rubinstein in the audience. I remember they also played Sheherazade, Rubinstein came round and said: “I took a nap during Sheherazade.” I also remember Kondrashin was very nervous, later on I heard he defected the next day..



Amsterdam, 16 November 2019

The interview with Spanish pianist Javier Perianes took place in the restaurant of the Movenpick Hotel in Amsterdam, we were the only ones and there was some loud music on the radio. I was really glad when he asked the waitress after a few minutes whether she could turn down the volume of the music…


Willem Boone (WB): I looked at your discography and noticed that you didn’t record that much Spanish music, are you afraid of being pigeonholed?

Javier Perianes (JP): No, I think with my record company Harmonia Mundi we are looking for a balance between the Spanish repertoire and repertoire that is part of the life of a pianist, e.g. Debussy, Chopin, Mendelssohn, Beethoven.  My last cd d edicated to Ravel will be released in two or three weeks. It includes Le Tombeau de Couperin both in the orchestral and original version and the Piano Concerto in G major.  In the past I recorded de Falla, Turina, Granados, Blasco de Nebra, Mompou, so quite a lot of Spanish music and I am planning more of it for the near future.  I am not afraid of being pigeonholed as a Spanish pianist “only playing Spanish music”, if I record or play it in concert, I do so because I think it needs to be played as international repertoire. At the moment, I am doing a beautiful project of Spanish and Latin music with viola player Tabea Zimerman.  A lot of projects are planned ahead, but Spanish music will always be at the center of my attention, along with international repertoire. 

WB: Can you say that there is a Spanish tradition or a piano school?

JP: Probably there was one, but at this moment not so much. We live in a world with many influences, a lot of information is only one mouse click away and you have everything you want. In the past, we had our glorious representative Alicia de Larrocha and she will remain the greatest ever. 

(To one of the servants in the restaurant: Sorry, I have a question for you,  could you put the music a bit softer?) 

Alicia was for me the perfect example of how to combine the classical repertoire, Mozart, Brahms, Chopin with Spanish music, she was the last descendant of a big school, she was a pupil of Marshall, who studied with Granados, so there you could find a direct line and a proper school.   After Larrocha, I find it really difficult to define a Spanish piano school.  I heard a great conductor once say: “Spain is a country of individualities, not a country of collectives.” I don’t know whether I agree, since our orchestras sound much better than before, but when you think of Spain, you think of Larrocha, Casals, Narciso Yepes, when thinking of the Netherlands,  there is Haitink and a lot of great instrumentalists like Brautigam and Janssen and especially the Concertgebouw Orchestra!  Of course, there are many other great Spanish pianists, e.g. Orozco,  who is sadly neglected by today’s generations, since they don’t know exactly who he was. There is a beautiful recording of the Rachmaninov concertos with Edo de Waart . 

WB: Larrocha had a lot of students, hadn’t she?

JP: Yes, she taught mostly Spanish music at the Academia Marshall, but mainly at the end of her career, because before her she had such a busy schedule that she was constantly on tour. 

WB: I know she was the “queen of Spanish music” but I think she was sometimes annoyed that people always asked for Spanish music, whereas she wanted to play the classical repertoire as well.

JP: Of course! It’s good you ask me this question, I listened to a lot of her recordings lately and she is a pianist and a human being who fascinates me. I had the chance to know her and work with her, it was a privilege, a gift that she wanted to listen to me. It was very special. She was one of the artists for whom the cd played an important role in their careers and lives, there were no recordings of Albeniz, Granados, de Falla, Mompou, Montsalvatge until she recorded them, or at least there were no performances on the same level of perfection. RCA and Decca made sure they were distributed in the whole world. One year ago, there was a beautiful documentary on television and a lot of pianists were speaking about her, Martha Argerich, Maria Joao Pires, Daniel Barenboim.. I remember what Argerich or Pires said about her:  “She had everything we always wanted: rhythm, beautiful colours.. Among colleagues, she was not the Spanish pianist playing Spanish music, she was a lot more. Andre Previn said in the same documentary  that he was looking in his schedule for the dates he was working with Larrocha, because he knew that those weeks were going to be exceptional! There are impressive recordings of Brahms 2 with Eugen Jochum,  Rachmaninoff 3 with Previn, Khatchaturian with Frücbeck de Burgos, both Ravel concertos.

WB: Even today there are not that many recordings of Iberia or Goyescas,  and nearly all by Spanish pianists!

JP: Yes, probably. I honestly think that’s a mistake, because I am convinced that you can approach that music without being Spanish! People are confused by the necessity of being from the same country as the composer, you don’t have to be German either to play Beethoven, nobody has ever thought about that. Spanish music is inspired by Spanish folklore, but Schubert, Beethoven and Mozart were inspired by folklore too. It’s mostly music coming from the people. 

WB: Maybe the rythms in Spanish music are very difficult for people from other countries?

JP: I am not entitled to say I play certain music better than other pianists, because I am Spanish. 

WB: I spoke to one of the best Dutch piano teachers, Jan Wijn, and he is very interested in Spanish piano music. I asked him whether a Dutch person can learn to play Albeniz like Larrocha or yourself and he said not all Spanish pianists are convincing either and some of them play Granados like Schumann..

JP: I know, but the influence of Schumann on Granados is huge! 

WB: Yes, I was going to say: “It’s not that bad!”

JP: No, it’s not that bad at all! In the Goyescas there are some traces of Spanish music, but he was basically a romantic, a post-romantic in his case, so if you are going to play the Goyescas, do you have to be Spanish?

WB: Can you mention any non-Spanish pianist who plays “your” music really well you think?

JP: I heard Beatrice Rana the other day, she played one of the books of Iberia without any problem, the Argentine pianist Ingrid Fliter plays de Falla, even Angela Hewitt plays de Falla, Benjamin Grosvenor plays a lot of Granados and Albeniz. During his last tour in South America, Kissin played Albeniz, Daniel Barenboim recorded a couple of books from Iberia, you can go on. Aldo Ciccolini was very famous for his interpretations of Spanish music, Martha Argerich played de Falla’s Nights.. Some of them have a different perspective, but are they less good? No way! 

WB: I have the feeling that a lot of people may not realize how difficult Iberia and the Goyescas are! Iberia seems to be very unpianistic

JP:  Iberia is quite difficult and challenging, but in the end, it works, it’s clear what Albeniz wanted to achieve. With the Goyescas, it’s different: it’s also very challenging, de Falla wrote a very difficult piece, the Fantasia Baetica. 

WB: Does it add aything when you are from the same country as the composer?

JP: Probably, or you think you can add something, it’s the preconception a lot of people have. Imagine that you have a score you want to study without any recording: you open the score, you look at the rhythm indications on the first page, what are your references? Music itself! If you wish to play Iberia, the worst way to approach the score is listening to one of Alicia’s recordings, approach the score as you would do with a contemporary piece the first time in your life! If you are Spanish, do the same. Having said this, the recordings by Larrocha and Orozco are spectacular of course!

WB: How can you memorize Iberia or Goyescas, a Beethoven sonata seems logical to me, but this music is like one huge improvisation!

JP: I understand what you mean, but in the case of Iberia, it’s much better than you think, the “system” in all the pieces is quite similar. The central part is slower, the “copla” as we call it in Spain and the first and last half is usually faster, with some exceptions, like Evocation, it’s like a Debussy-prelude written in Spain. 

WB: That’s maybe one of the easiest to remember!

JP: Of course, because it’s very short, but the other ones are not that difficult to remember. I can tell you that a Schumann piano sonata, Brahms 2nd Piano Concerto or even the 4th Beethoven concerto are difficult too, there are a lot of notes to remember too!

WB: You mentioned the second Brahms concerto, but there are not that many changes in rhythm whereas in Iberia it changes almost every minute!

JP: O no, take for instance El Albacin: the first section is the zapateado (sings), the middle section is the copla, curiously Albeniz wrote: “Keep the same tempo”, people use to play slower, I don’t know why. You should maintain the same tempo throughout the whole piece. Of course you have to be flexible, the tempo is not like a metronome, I am completely against that,  but the base has to be more or less the same. Or with “Corpus Christi ..” , you have more or less the same structure which is, even with all the episodic writing, easy to understand. There are definitely a lot of notes to remember, but in a Chopin sonata, there are a lot of notes as well. It’s about perspective. If you start to play Brahms second concerto, it’s very difficult and you think: ”This concerto lasts about for 50 minutes, it’s like the duration of the whole Goyescas. “

WB: There is another Spanish pianist I like a lot, although he is not very well known, Esteban Sanchez. 

JP: You mention one of my idols! His Iberia or his de Falla are very different from de Larrocha’s, I wish I could play like him, his interpretations are full of character and there is a feeling of improvisation, with Sanchez, you feel he is reading the music for the first time. It sounds fresh, inspirational, anew. He was one of the greatest Spanish pianists ever and all the famous colleagues like Alicia and Orozco respected him. He took the decision that he didn’t want to have an active concert career.. 

WB: Yes, I wondered about that, he made only a few recordings, but did he play a lot?

JP: No, he was a good friend of Daniel Barenboim. A lot of Sanchez’ recordings were no longer available at some time, but Barenboim was indirectly responsible that the recording of Iberia was not forgotten. He visited Spain and said: “Why are you asking me about Iberia whereas you have here, together with Alicia, one of the best pianists I ever heard in my life”. I have a recording of Sanchez in Beethoven 4th concerto and Beethovens Bagatelles, It’s amazing and spectacular. 

WB: I do agree that the recordings are great, but they were not very well recorded!

JP: No, the quality is not good.  Iberia was recorded in only a few days, but te spirit is amazing. It’s not comparable to Alicia’s recordings with all the amazing engineers from Decca. 

WB: But she said, and I thought that was quite alarming, about her own recordings that she didn’t recognize her own playing!

JP: O my god, you are right, that sounds alarming indeed! Maybe she was happier with other companies, since she made more than one recording of Iberia. But returning to Sanchez, he was one of the most talented pianists I ever listened to in my life.

WB: Did you attend any of his concerts?

JP: No.. yes, I did, it was some kind of informal concert. It was part of a competition and several contestants played, he played for only five or ten minutes, but it was magical. The sound!

WB: What did he play?

JP: I don’t remember, I was only 14 years old at the time, I was shocked to see him, since he was not in a very good physical shape, but the sound that he created was magical. It’s curious you mention Esteban Sanchez! Even young Spanish pianists have no idea, when you mentioned Sanchez or Orozco!

WB: I remember when internet was “booming” around 2000, there were all these forums on Yahoo, and I discovered a lot of piano “buffs” like myself. There were a few people who said “Esteban Sanchez is really good”. I got hold of one of his recordings and I thought that it was really good and that he and Alicia are complementary!

JP: Absolutely! 

WB: They are both fantastic and they are very different..

JP: It’s true!

WB: And I got other recordings like his Iberia, de Falla, Fauré. I don’t have his Beethoven 4 though..

JP It was not published, only as part of some Spanish collection. It’s strange, the Spanish national radio started a series about great national pianists, which was very good of course. There was Alicia, Orozco, Iturbi, Achucarro, and there was a recording of Beethoven 4 with Sanchez, I believe with an Italian conductor. There is another live recording from the Danish radio of Rachmaninov 2, but then unfortunately he stopped playing and wanted to live in a little village in Baragoz. He was dedicated to his pupils, playing concerts here and there, but nothing serious..

WB: And didn’t he die young?

JP: No, indeed, he was killed in an accident. 

WB: I read in an earlier interview that your main aim is to “enjoy the music. Each and every one of the projects that I have the opportunity to face.” Is that still applicable to you?

JP: Absolutely, every single day. If someone asks me: “What is your goal? What are you really enjoying?”, I say: “Today’s concert!” Of course, we should enjoy what we will do in the future,  yesterday, I got good news, well, it  isn’t really good news when you have to replace someone who cannot play. I heard Nelson Freire is recovering from surgery, and I was asked to stand in for him in a concert with the Boston Symphony Orchestra in the Beethoven Emperor Concerto. I played there three years ago with Charles Dutoit, so yesterday, I was happy on the one hand, but on the other hand I thought of poor Nelson.. I admire him so much, he is a giant, we know each other very well. I was together with him in the last ICMA, when he got a lifetime achievement award, we spoke a lot about pianists and piano. So if you ask me whether I am excited to play with the Boston Symphony Orchestra, I answer: “No, I think of the Granados and Brahms Piano Quintets of tonight”, and yes, I performed them two days ago, but these pieces are endless. You always discover new details, along with the string players. You have to be focused on what you are doing at that moment.

WB: I read a review about your recital in the Queen Elizabeth Hall in London from April this year:  “Not a Spanish fire eater, but a world-class poet”, does that suit you?

JP: I don’t know! I don’t like to think about myself too much. The good thing about yourself and finding your own voice and sound is that you don’t have rivals. You know what I mean? There is no one like you! I asked one of the greatest pianists ever about this and he said:”That’s wonderful, because nobody can be like you!” You have to find your own voice and the only way you can do that is by searching. Probably I am one of the pianists who enjoys most what he is doing. 

WB: Are you sometimes surprised by what critics write or tell, either positive or negative?

JP: I have a very good friend, a conductor with whom I recorded, Joseph Pons, and he said something I love: “If you believe the good reviews, you have to believe the bad ones too. “ Sometimes you get a review and you think: “That’s true, because I was absolutely fantastic”, you have the obligation to believe a bad review too.  So it’s like I told you at the beginning of the interview, perspective is something very important. When someone writes something in a constructive way, you can agree or disagree. I have to confess too that I don’t read a lot of reviews, only when someone gives them to me. I don’t have the time, if I spend an hour reading them, I can’t practise! The main goal of what I do is: “Enjoy what I do and make other people happy!”As long as I can make at least one person in the audience happy, my mission is accomplished. 

WB: There is a question I am dying to ask you and for that reason alone I am very happy to interview you: I have a recording of you at home of Blasco de Nebra. I didn’t know the music very well and I really love it, I think it’s touching and not terribly difficult to play, I am a bad pianist, but I believe there are bits and pieces that I could play myself, but there is a problem: the only score I saw of it was a facsimile. I am not a good sight reader and I couldn’t read what was written. Is there any good printable score of it?

JP: Yes, there is! In Spain, there is a place, called Union Musical, I think you can find the score there.  You can ask Sophie of my management to remind me to find scores of Blasco de Nebra. I can take pictures of both editions I have and send them to you and I will let you know where you can find editions. 

WB: That’s terribly kind of you, I went to the local music shop and they showed me the only edition they had and I truly couldn’t read it.. 

JP: It shouldn’t be that difficult, or I could let you know where to find the scores. 

WB: It’s very beautiful music!

JP: It’s special, but the second movements are challenging, they are Scarlatti-like..

WB: As I told you, I am a bad pianist, but interestingly enough, I have affinity with Scarlatti and Blasco de Nebra sometimes reminds me of Scarlatti..

JP: It’s perfect, because the second movements are like Scarlatti, the first movements are like Soler and the third movements could be Carl Philip Emanuel Bach.. 

WB: Hmm, I am not very fond of Carl Philip Emanuel Bach!  Do you know much about the life of Blasco de Nebra? 

JP: No, he was an organ player in the cathedral of Sevilla. Apparently, he composed much more than the music that was published, a lot of it disappeared. We don’t know what happened with a lot of his scores. You can’t imagine, I got the scores of his sonatas from Denmark! 

WB: And he was a Spanish composer?

JP: Yes, he was from Aragon and he moved to Sevilla, where he stayed for a long time. 

WB: Was he a contemporary of Soler?

JP: Probably he heard of Soler, I don’t remember exactly when these composers lived. I am planning to do another cd of Blasco de Nebra. 

WB: For which instrument did he write, was it for the harpsichord?

JP: No, it was for the fortepiano, that’s what you can read in the original score, but I am not sure what he meant. 

WB: That must have been around 1750 then..

JP: Yes, although I am not sure that he had the same fortepiano in mind as the instrument you and I am thinking of! 

WB: At least he must have known these instruments! I read a review in the Independent of your Blasco de Nebra cd and the critic wrote “Scarlatti is the clearest model for these sonatas”, would you agree?

JP: For the second movements probably, for the first movements, no way! 

WB: I must say this music was really a discovery!

JP: It’s very special music indeed, I like it very much too. 

WB: I have a few questions about Granados, you will play his Piano Quintet tonight, is that a youth work?

JP:  Yes, that’s true and it’s very experimental. It appeared that musicologists in Spain noticed that the score was printed with a lot of mistakes. When the quartet and myself recorded this piece for Harmonia Mundi,  we did a good job finding possible mistakes in the score and correcting them. I have an old edition in which I made all the changes and I am not sure whether there exists any “good” edition of it in Spain. It’s a very short piece, it lasts only 15 minutes. People love it, because it’s very fresh and inspired, but it’s not easy!

WB: You said there were mistakes in the score, how do you know that?

JP: It’s quite obvious, if you have a G-major chord and you write an F in the base in a perfect cadenza, you think: “This is the editor!” They haven’t changed it. There are even mistakes in de Falla’s music. He was very peculiar, I read some of the letters he wrote to his editor: “Don’t change that note! I want it there for a reason. “ And even with that, the editor in London was making the piece a bit sweeter and less bitter, like de Falla wanted it. So this happens all the time, but in the case of Granados, I think we are talking more about a sloppy editor.

WB: Did Granados write much in general, because I only know some of the famous piano works…

JP: The Valsos Poeticos, the Goyescas..

WB: Yes, that I know, but did he write a lot of orchestral music?

JP: No, apart from the Goyescas, you know, it’’s also an opera, not a lot of orchestral pieces. You may know, he died quite young, I am sure he was to write a lot of other pieces.

WB: I already quoted from your concert in April in London, the critic wrote, I am not sure whether I pronounce it correctly, Montanesa from the Four Spanish Pieces, composed in Paris, not long after the Estampes, sounds like a water colour imitation of La soirée dans Granade , what do you think of this assessment?

JP: Could be, but curiously, it could also be the other way round! Why not? We have to remember that de Falla and Debussy were very close friends, de Falla respecte Debussy very much. The reason that he composed “La porta del Vino” was that he received a post card from Granada, sent by de Falla! Debussy was never in Spain

WB: I think only once?

JP: Not in Granada, not in the South! And that only time is difficult to prove. Ravel went to Spain a lot.

WB: Debussy wrote an orchestral piece, Iberia, do you think it sounds Spanish?

JP: Absolutely! It sounds more Spanish than a lot of Spanish music does! 

WB: So you don’t necessarily need to go there?

JP: That brings us back to the beginning of this interview: do you need to be Spanish to represent anything Spanish? Debussy was even more serious: he got inspiration from Spanish rhythms, but he never went there. That proves that Spanish music can be absolutely international, Debussy proved it, and Ravel too with the Rhapsodie Espagnole! On the other hand,  in a lot of pieces by de Falla, you can smell the French colour all the time, e.g. in the Nights in the gardens of Spain. De Falla met a lot of French composers, like Dukas, Ravel and Debussy. He was involved in the cultural life of Paris at the beginning of the 20th century. 

WB: What do you think of the “Noces”, do you think the piano is only primus inter pares?

JP: I think so, it’s part of the orchestral colours. It’s obvious that de Falla didn’t want to write a proper piano concerto.  You don’t need to be “mad” about that, you have to accept that the piece is beautiful the way it is and the piano is part of the orchestra. I would say it’s a beautiful landscape that starts with the sunset and it finishes with the sunrise in the morning. So it’s a night in Granada or in Andalusia, but you don’t need to be there to feel that! It’s a magical piece, but if you go to a concert hall, expecting to hear a proper piano concerto, don’t listen to this piece! 

WB: Another maybe questionable quote from the same review as the one above, regarding your performance of the 3rd Chopin Sonata: “You could hear the voice of Elisabeth Leonskaja , as master interpreter of this work, echoing her master Richter exclaiming: “What, don’t you love music enough? “ as Perianes ignored the first movement repeat.” What’s your opinion about repeats?

JP: You know, I just recorded the sonata and I played the repeat of course, I remember during that recital, I also included some Nocturnes and with the repeat of the first movement of the sonata, the concert would have been a bit too long. I remember I did play the repeat in other recitals during the same tour. It’s not something I do deliberately. It’s the same discussion about the last Schubert sonata, people ask me: “Do you play the repeats?” and I answer: “Yes, I do.” “Do you always play it?” No, it depends on the concert. 

WB: Do you play Chopin’s second sonata too?

JP: Yes, I do. 

WB: Because it seems that in its first movement, you also have to repeat the Grave!

JP: Yes, that makes sense, because it’s a very short piece. 

WB: It seems Chopin wrote it in the score.

JP: Yes, absolutely. 

WB: But almost nobody does it?

JP He was very explicit!

WB: Tonight you play with the Quiroga Quartet, I know you know each other really well, would you have accepted an invitation from a quartet you don’t know and play the same repertoire?

JP: Yes, of course! I played with the Tokyo Quartet, I played at the London Proms with the Calidor Quartet from the United States, also with the Brentano Quartet, but I have less and less time, I am more inclined to play with the same partners, e.g. Tabea Zimermann, the viola player, we recorded a beautiful cd for Harmonia Mundi. We are playing in the United States and in Paris. Of course, I am open to work with other musicians, I just made a recording with the cellist Jean Guihen Queyras of the Debussy sonata. I am completely open to new collaborations, but I have very limited time with recordings, orchestral rehearsals, recitals, you can’t do everything. Seasons are planned two or three years ahead, so for this project with the Quiroga Quartet, we have one week, and for my recital tour with Tabea Zimermann in the USA two or three weeks and another week for the recording. 

WB: Which repertoire will you be playing with her?

JP: You are not going to believe it, Spanish and Latin-American repertoire!

WB: For viola and piano, there is not much, is there?

JP: The seven Spanish songs by de Falla, arranged by Zanetti. We will also play the Grand Tango by Piazzolla, the Tango by Albeniz, the Cantilena from the Bachianas Brasileiras by Villa-Lobos,  Montsalvatge, Granados. Of course, we are talking about arrangements, also of beautiful songs by Casals. It will be out in March 2020. 

WB: What’s the reason for tonight to combine Granados with Brahms?

JP: I think the promotor wanted us to do this. With a Spanish pianist and a Spanish quartet, they sometimes ask to play Turina or Granados. It would have made more sense to play the quintet of Turina, one of his first pieces, in which he tried to imitate Franck. It would have fitted nicely with the Brahms. On the other hand, the link between Granados and Schumann – in spite of what the Dutch pianist you mentioned before said- is closer than you think, so it makes sense in a way to put Granados together with Brahms, since Schumann was close to Brahms. We are all trying to find an explanation for a programme for which there isn’t really one: Ginastera – the first piece the quartet will play – is not Spanish, but Latin American, very powerful, than Spanish repertoire and then general repertoire. 

WB: The Brahms is really what they call a “meaty” piece!

JP: My god, it’s full of meat, it’s like a big entrecote! It’s a beautiful piece. 

WB: You mentioned something interesting about the future of classical music: “The conception of the audience is different, the way of accessing music is changing, but I think the perception, the expectation of people will not diminish.” Why do you think that?

JP: It’s what I feel when going to concerts as a member of the audience and if I have the chance I keep trying to go to concerts as a member of the audience, of course, if someone is giving you something special, you want to continue going to concerts, because it changes your life in more than one way. We are complaining all the time that classical music is dying and that there are no audiences any more, but if you go to the Concertgebouw for a concert, they are often sold out..

WB: It’s true, but when I was waiting for you in the lobby, I saw everybody was looking on his cell phone, doing stupid games, do you think people have time to sit down and enjoy music in these days where everybody is in a hurry?

JP: It’s a different perspective, you have different needs in your life, a lot of things are changing, you can find a lot of information right away. Do we still have time to sit down, close our eyes and listen to music? I am a very positive man, I think there is still hope, I am convinced that people still want to have that spiritual concert experience.. 

WB: Maybe even then…  

JP: .. i-Tunes or Spotify, music is wonderful, I listen to it on my I-phone, but of course when you are there, and you feel the vibration coming from the performers, that’s a different experience!

WB: Absolutely, I really think it’s a blessing to sit down and enjoy beautiful music!

JP: O yes, I often think: “Now, I am here and nobody can phone me.  Thank you for this!”

WB: Do you often go to concerts yourself?

JP: Sadly, I don’t have much time, but when I have the opportunity, I go. I usually arrive one day before my concert and then I check what’s going on. 

WB: You mentioned Nelson Freire, whom I admire a lot, and what I like about him is when he plays as a soloist, he mostly stays for the second half! 

JP: Me too! Some conductors ask me: “Why are you staying? You could stay in your dressing room!”, but I don’t have a lot of opportunities to go to concerts. I was in Cincinnati some time ago and they played Dvorak 9 in the second half. I know, it’s a very famous piece, I can download any version of it, but live is a different experience.  I went both times to listen, it was a nice way to see whether they played very differently the second evening, it was very touching. 

WB: Last question: I read that you favour Yamaha pianos?

JP: That’s not completely true,  some time ago, I had some relationships with Yamaha, but I played a lot on Steinway, Fazioli pianos and with good technicians, you can have a wonderful instrument, so I don’t have any favourites. What I want to have is a well prepared instrument. Maintenance is very important, you need a good technician to prepare the instrument and give the performer what he needs. 

WB: Thank you very much and enjoy the concert tonight, I will attend!

JP: You know, I will be back in Amsterdam in October I think to play de Falla’s Noces, so you can hear it live! 

WB: Wonderful, I heard it live by Alicia and also by Nelson!

JP: O, my god.. He plays a lot of Spanish repertoire, Navarra, pieces from Iberia, Granados, I heard a cd of his and he played Navarra, it was full of rhythm, colour..

WB: He has one quality, no, he has a lot of qualities, but an important one is that he can play a big forte without sounding aggressive!

JP: Absolutely!

WB: I hope he is doing well, he broke his shoulder… Do you think it can still heal, at his age? He is 75 after all..

JP:  I hope so. I sent a message to Bosco, his friend and I wrote: “Tell maestro to recover soon, because we need him! “ We will always need him, for me he is an example with his honesty. Musicians deliver feelings, emotions and make our life easier and better! 

WB: Do you think it’s dangerous to stay away for three months from the piano  om the piano during his recovery?

JP: He can still practise, he can play with the other hand, it’s not that bad. He has been playing his entire life, so he would probably need two or three weeks to get back in shape. He has that amazing technique, it’s completely effortless .

WB: Ok, thank you once again and break a leg tonight! 


Amsterdam, 27 September 2010

Willem Boone (WB): How do you feel after last night’s concert?

Jonathan Biss (JB): Very tired, both emotionally and physically it was a huge programme (an all Beethoven programme with the sonatas op 10/1, 109, the Bagatelles opus 126 and the Appassionata, WB), that takes out everything of you . The Concertgebouw is an incredible place to play at, something one can only look forward to, so I feel satisfied and spent.

WB: Are you always capable of assessing yourself after you have played?

JB: I try not to! The beauty of a concert exists only in the moment; when it’s finished, it’s finished.. You allow things to happen, but of course there are always things that you are less happy with.

WB: Your colleague Krystian Zimerman is known to be a perfectionist and take notes after each concert about what could be improved. Would that work for you?

JB: It happens that you think about things that have happened in a concert and that could be adjusted. However, I think that the work of trying to improve is meant for the practice room!


WB: In the brochure of Riaskoff Management I read that you were looking forward to this concert a lot, why specifically to this one?

JB: It is my favourite hall. I played here many times and every time I find it miraculous that a large hall can give you a feeling of intimacy. It happened a few times that I sat in the audience and felt that the pianist was sitting next to me. Both the acoustics and the intimacy of this hall are great.

WB: It’s not that big, is it?

JB: 2000 seats for a recital is big! Beethoven would have never imagined something like this..

WB: Your colleague Maurizio Pollini has said several times that the Amsterdam audience was one of the best in the world, but what makes it so good?

JB: They are cultured and they know what they are listening to.

WB: How can you feel that as a musician?

JB: That’s something I cannot put in words. They are very open, there is no sense they are not willing to listen to other ideas. You feel the music is in their blood stream.

WB: I guess people may have asked you the next question many times; how did you end up playing the piano when both of your parents are string players?

JB: That’s a good question! My older brother played the piano therefore I wanted to play the piano as well. I am happy my parents were string players, it made things easier. There was a healthy separation; my parents were not my teachers and that created an independance.

WB: Were they able to help you?

JB: Absolutely. I am lucky, as they let me develop my own career. However, they have been incredibly supportive since they know what the life of an artist is like. They are a great resource.

WB: I have a DVD at home of Daniel Barenboim teaching Beethoven masterclasses, in which you play the last movement of opus 109. After this session, someone in the audience asked Barenboim whether there was a difference between being a pianist and a string player/singer. He answered that it was “hard to become one with the instrument” as it is “such a monster”. How can you become one with a piano indeed?

JB: It’s very difficult, the piano often feels like a machine. It is maybe the least natural instrument. Dynamically speaking nothing can equal it, but you sacrifice a lot in the directness of the music making. However, all pianists try to create a singing sound on a piano, whereas it is maybe not its tendency. Singing is the essence of music. When I am wrestling with a passage, I sing it away from the instrument, after that I can go back and work on the piano.

WB: That’s very interesting what you are saying! I remember Cherkassky said he couldn’t be a teacher, not even for a minute, but once, when someone said he was struggling with a passage, he advised the pianist to “first sing it” , which I think is great advice...

WB: Of course, I’d like to ask you a few questions about Beethoven. On your blog you wrote: “I am trying to come to terms with the most affirming, yet unfathomable music I know to exist”. Yet you played an all Beethoven programme last night, why was that?

JB: That is the reason I cannot stay away from it! His music is so human, you hear the struggle, the idealism and the beauty. It is beyond imagination, you never come to a point where you know him.

WB: What about Mozart? Do you have the feeling you know him or his music?

JB: It’s different. I don’t think he was interested in imagination. His music deals with the way he sees it, whereas Beethoven sees the world as he wishes it to be. With Beethoven, there is a great deal of idealism and utopia. If you take opus 109, you can speak of a pure, advanced vision. I hope there is nothing negative about saying his music is unfathomable.

WB: You also wrote on your blog about setting up recital programmes and mentioned all Beethoven- or Mozart programmes as opposed to programmes with “confrontation” , during which you played more than one composer. You mentioned “stilistic evenness” as one of the risks of the former programmes. Would you say that Beethoven is most “stilistic evenness proof”?

JB: The language evolved so much, if you look at the recital I played last night, from opus 10/1 to the Bagatelles of opus 126! You almost wouldn’t recognize Beethoven as the same composer, but the concerns are the same in both works. In the slow movement of the Sonata opus 10/1, he was already questioning the universe.

WB: That’s true, I often have the feeling that his 32 piano sonatas are very different and yet they form a coherent cycle in their diversity!

JB: There is indeed an unbelievable variety of tools. It really is a miracle.

WB: You said that Beethoven “took so much space in your head that he leaves you little room for anything else”. Does that make you the opposite of a colleague like Sokolov who says he loves the piece he plays most?

JB: It happens to me as well. Beethoven and Mozart are opposites, usually I feel closer to one than to the other. It depends on the one I play. Schubert and Schumann can make me feel the same way, but Beethoven is the biggest in sheer terms of personality.

WB: I once read a review in which the critic wrote that Beethoven had “no particular style” or much less than Mozart or Chopin. Do you agree and if so, is that maybe why you called him “unfathomable”?

JB: He has less of a fixed style, he was involved in so much all of the time. Beethoven was less interested in style than Chopin. However, Beethoven’s music has a searching quality and a forcefullness that are unique in their own rights.

WB: Is that searching quality one of your aims as well?

JB: My aim is searching for what is beyond what I can do. He is doing the same. I cannot understand him even when I am a mortal. His belief in the power of music was unshakable.

WB: May I confront you to a few opinions colleagues of yours have expressed about Beethoven: first Daniel Barenboim who said that “Beethoven is (still) constantly contemporary”?

JB: Absolutely! He went so far in terms of language; it’s still something to reckon with and so unrelated to anything else because of the questions he asked in his music.

WB: Which questions do you mean?

JB: About humanity, life and death, human feelings. Yes, music like his will always be contemporary.

WB: Again Daniel Barenboim, who said”Out of chaos, Beethoven created a new order”.

JB: The chaos was of his own making! I wouldn’t use the word “chaos”, but he certainly created a universe. Beethoven wasn’t interested in creating anything neat, yet his music was very complete and fullfilled. Probably I am saying the same thing as Barenboim in other words now...

WB: Vladimir Ashkenazy said that Beethoven “had such an incredible warm heart”.

JB: O, yes! His opus 109 is so human, even if the ideas are sometimes lofty.

WB: When I asked Menahem Pressler what he liked most about Beethoven he answered: “Everything, there is no composer like he who can express everything from the most noble until the most vulgar”

JB: That’s true! Beethoven is not above the earthiness of everything. If you take the Archduke Trio, it has one of the most philosophical slow movements, it really transports. The last movement almost makes fun of you for believing it..

WB: I liked what Barenboim said in the masterclass about your performance of the variations of opus 109 about recollection versus remembering.

JB: I was very touched by what he said and he was right about this. In the end the variations have a past and in the beginning they only have a future. He really clarified something for me.

WB: Would you consider to immerse yourself even more in Beethoven’s universe and study all of his sonatas?

JB: One day I will, definitely. I played 17 sofar and by the time I play 24 of them, I will plan to play all of them.

WB: Have you tackled the Hammerklavier Sonata already?

JB: That’s for next year for when I have planned a 4-month sabbatical leave.

WB: If you are speaking of Beethoven being unfathomable, that sonata may be one of the most difficult to interpret!

JB: It’s supposed to be daunty, but it doesn’t scare me. I relish that sort of challenges.

WB: I’d like to bring up another composer that is very close to your heart: Schumann. You said he was “love at first sight” and that “nobody expresses loneliness more beautifully”. Could you give an example of this?

JB (His look when I mention the name Schumann is quite telling!): The end of Dichterliebe is unbelievable, it’s the ultimate expression of loneliness. Or the Davidsbüundlertänze when the theme of the Ländler comes back. It’s the thought of someone who feels completely alone. I could give many other examples. Schumann didn’t write for the audience, he wants only one person to be changed by his music, probably his wife Clara. The intimacy of his music is even more important than with Schubert. With Schumann, you have the feeling you are listening in on a private conversation.

WB: I can understand quite well how you feel about Schumann. I feel the same way, I even have the feeling (although this may sound very arrogant) I could have written his music...

JB: He was a meeting point between the universal and the personal. You feel you know him, but never in a navel gazing way. Maybe he expressed his feelings more intensely than others.His voice is unique and powerful.

WB: Yet Schumann is not hugely popular, why is that?

JB: His music isn’t popular in the same way as that of other great composers. People are generally uneasy about romantic feelings. It is difficult to immerse in his world, as he goes so far. To go with him means the risk of losing control. There is a danger to feel so deeply! Schumann suffers a lot from comparisons, nobody looks to Schumann on his own merits. It’s a big shame, since his music has such vivid imagination.

WB: Tom Deacon, the artistic director of the project Pianists of the XXth century once told me “Schumann doesn’t sell”, what do you think of this?

JB: It depends on the numbers.. The idea that a few thousand people love something passionately is enough for me. I notice that people are truly moved when I play his music and that happens a lot. I refuse to measure things.

WB: Isn’t Schumann’s music even more chaotic than Beethoven’s and therefore terribly difficult to interpret?

JB: Yes, again Schumann was not interested in order, just like Beethoven. He didn’t feel order, but he was most interested in life, in things that are contradictory or difficult to fathom. There is a basic difference between his music and Mendelssohn’s, another great composer who did express order in his compositions. He was someone who valued symmetry.

WB: With whom do you have more in common: Florestan or Eusebius? Your colleague Eliso Virsaladze said you shouldn’t have more in common with one than with the other, as otherwise you wouldn’t be able to play him well?

JB: You can’t separate them, one makes the other possible. Eusebius is necessary because of Florestan. Florestan can also break your heart and Eusebius can also be powerful!

WB: You quoted Schumann on your blog: “Music is the language that permits one to converse with the Beyond”. Is that your aim too?

JB: Yes, it is. Music expresses feelings that are not equal to words. When you play music, you feel connected to something larger, be it God or the “Beyond”.

WB: Doesn’t that sound slightly arrogant: “I am conversing with the Beyond”?

JB: No, it’s not arrogant. All of us want to converse with something bigger,music creates that kind of awareness. It helps me to ask the questions.

WB: Which questions?

JB: The big ones: what are we here for? How do we relate to one another?

WB: Which piece by Schumann do you like the best?

JB: It’s very difficult to answer. I started to take back the Fantasy, so it would be the Fantasy if you ask me now. But I love everything by Schumann, even the late works, e.g the Gesänge der Frühe or the Violin Concerto.

WB: Who are your favourite Schumann pianists?

JB: I grew up with Cortot, whom I still value a lot. He would definitely be my first choice. I also like the poetry of Murray Perahia in his early CBS recordings.

WB: Do you believe that one can get to “know” the personality of a composer through his music?

JB: Schubert and Schumann are the only composers I feel I understand through their music.

WB: Suppose you were allowed to ask Schumann one question, what would it be?

JB: The answer is so corny that I almost don’t want to say it.. I wouldn’t ask him a question, but I just want to say him that everything will be ok.. I find it unbearable to feel how much he suffered...

WB: On your blog you wrote “In order to play a piece, I must love it”. May I conclude from that that you don’t like Chopin since I haven’t heard you play his music?

JB: I do and I love him! I worship his music, especially the late pieces like the Barcarolle and the Polonaise-Fantaisie. Maybe I haven’t played his music in Amsterdam...

WB: What is your relationship to his music?

JB: He was one of the first composers I loved. His music is so well written for the instrument, it is a physical pleasure to play. He allows you to use the body in a natural way and never works against you. And he offers an incredible combination of purity of line and depth.

WB: You don’t play a lot of purely virtuosic music, like Rachmaninov, Tschaikofsky or Liszt. I hope you are not offended when I say this, but are you too “civilized” a pianist to play this kind of music?

JB: I used to play quite a bit of it... As to Rachmaninov’s Second Concerto, I didn’t feel there was enough to practise it, although I like to listen to it. I like what Schnabel said: “I play music that is greater than any performance of it ever could be”. With a piece like Beethoven’s Fourth Concerto, I have the feeling that there is more.

WB: What do you mean?

JB: With Beethoven, I feel there is always another level or layer to penetrate, Rachmaninov doesn’t ask the same questions, but what the latter achieved was very honest and pure.

WB: Piano is a very virtuosic instrument, does not every pianist have a “hidden wish” to release the animal inside and show his claws?

JB: You need your claws and guts for Beethoven and Brahms aswell, but I feel that you are at the service of something. Maybe I am embarrassed to show only my claws..

WB: You studied with Leon Fleisher, who had high praise for you when I interviewed him a few years ago. How was he as a teacher?

JB: Great! Some artists are either eloquent musicians or eloquent speakers, he was both. He didn’t play much in the lessons, but I certainly got another level of understanding. He is the greatest musical person I have encountered.

WB: What is the most important you learnt from him?

JB: He has tremendous integrity and never faked a feeling. He taught me to never take the easy road and not shy away from difficulties. His sound is extraordinary; it is shining, pure, penetrating, I still have it in my ears. I admire the intuition with which he can shape a line or place a note. He has one of the most amazing musical intuitions, there is something deep inside him he knows.

WB: Did he transmit that to you?

JB: Yes, he transmitted the importance of listening to your own intuition, it’s very primal.

WB: I know you are good friends with the Dutch violonist Liza Ferstman. She said in an interview that the two of you participated in a performance of Brahms’s Second Piano Quartet during her last festival in Delft (the Netherlands). She also said that both of you had unhappy memories of previous performances of this piece, how did it go this time?

JB: It was a very happy experience, there was a lot of mutual sympathy.

WB: It is such a shame that she hasn’t the career she deserves, do you have any idea why she isn’t more famous?

JB: It’s difficult to explain, I think she is living a very fulfilling life, but I agree with you that she is an artist and that she has something to say. There are not that many musicians who are so open. We want to protect ourselves on the one hand and allow ourselves to be open on the other hand, she does that.

WB: My last question is about what I read in the leaflet of the Meesterpianisten Series, that you know a lot about tennis and love to eat icecream. How do you feel when people write such rather trivial things about you?

JB: It is a bit of an adjustment, I felt for a long time that there was nothing about me that was worth knowing about and at my core I still feel that. I am still careful, but people have curiosity. It’s my life, but I don’t think it harms me when people know about me that I love tennis and icecream. It doesn’t make it difficult to come to my concerts.. I try not to be fanatic about protecting myself!

(When I tell Jonathan Biss at the end of the interview that I love watching tennis matches too and that we maybe should schedule another talk about tennis he answers:” I could go on for a very long time about tennis!”.)

Amsterdam, 5 November 2016

Willem Boone (WB): I’d like to start with a quote by Gustav Mahler who once said:”The most important thing is not in the notes”, do you agree with him?

Joseph Moog (JM): This goes more for certain composers, e.g. Haydn, Mozart and Scarlatti. They knew how to play their music with very few indications. Some music is overloaded with indications, including Mahler’s own. With such music, it is difficult to make it all happen and to grab the intentions of a composer.

WB: If the importance is not in the notes, where is it?

JM: You’ll never be able to put everything there. Most importantly,  you should try to express an emotional context.

WB: Can musicality be taught?

JM: There is a lot you can’t learn, e.g. to project your sound or the ability to be spontaneous. You have to live in the moment. A lot of instinctive things are happening on stage.

WB: I have a few questions regarding your debut recital in Amsterdam on 27 September 2015. I was surprised this programme was accepted, since it included a few unknown compositions, for instance I thought it was more the kind of repertoire for the Husum festival?

JM: It was a co-production, I offered a more conservative programme, but Marco Riaskoff (the promotor who organizes the Meesterpianisten-series at the Concertgebouw in Amsterdam, WB) preferred this programme and it worked quite well. It was an exceptional situation, because these were merely works you normally don’t hear. It is great that they wanted me to play it!

WB: Can you play such a programme anywhere?

JM: No, it is especially difficult in Germany! There are some festivals with an audience that appreciates unknown repertoire, like the one in Husum you mentioned or the Klavierfestival Ruhr, but in cities like Berlin, Hamburg or München it would be difficult, since the audiences are conservative. It would even be hard to play the Tschaikofsky Sonata there. They miss some interesting repertoire.. Amsterdam was a special opportunity, especially for my debut.

WB: Can we discuss some of the pieces you played? The Beethoven Fantasy in G minor opus 77, what kind of a piece is it to you?

JM: It is a rare piece, I had seen it before, I had read about it. I recently played the Choral Fantasy and saw parallels in the opening of both works. There are quick changes that are very close to Beethoven’s improvisation skills if we may believe what Czerny said about it. It’s a very noble opening of a recital, but also a confusing one because of the unexpected wandering through several keys. It is a nice piece to open a recital with, just like Haydn’s Fantasy.

WB: Then the Tschaikofsky sonata (opus 37), I love his music (1st Piano Concerto, Violin Concerto, ballets, Piano Trio), I even love the less inspired Tschaikofsky (2nd and 3rd Piano Concertos, Fantasy for piano and orchestra), but I dislike the uninspired Tschaikofsky (Manfred Symphony and this sonata). I have always had the feeling that he wanted to write an orchestral piece but he didn’t succeed: the first movement is very long and even a pianist like Richter (who rarely ever disappointed me) can’t make it work for me. What makes it worth while for you?

JM: That’s a good association, it is indeed a very orchestral sounding sonata. The beginning consists of unusual motives you wouldn’t write for piano, but more for string players. It is difficult to make it work, since there are a lot of repetitions, just like Schumann. He went through a crisis in his personal life  (it was mainly due to his unfortunate love to his former student) and didn’t write anything for a year. This was his comeback piece. The first movement is long and bombastic, that’s why I chose to play the Beethoven Fantasy before.

WB: Are they written in the same key?

JM: That’s an interesting question, Beethoven starts in G minor and ends in B major, in between it’s not logical, there are no significant keys at all…

WB: A critic wrote about your Tschaikofsky performance: “Even Moog couldn’t avoid in these masses of sound that you missed an oboe or a horn”, what do you think of this assessment?

JM: It’s legitimate. It helps to interpret this sonata when you think like a conductor. On the other hand, it’s also tricky when you are actively playing! You have to be emotionally involved too.

WB: Is it well written?

JM: Its writing is unconventional: some of the intervals included 5ths and 6ths,which is usually the way you write for a violin. But overall it’s not one of the most difficult pieces.

WB: The same critic wrote about your performance of Hexaméron: “..but exactly in Hexaméron and Godovsky, he stumbled over his own virtuosity. It was so prominent that there was no room for the most important feature of this specific repertoire: having fun on the piano.”

JM: I take Hexaméron seriously, it is not a fun piece as far as I am concerned. There is no such thing as virtuosity for me. That word is often used in the sense of “superficial”. Virtuosity demands a lot of techniques, not only pyrotechnics. Schubert or Chopin can be virtuosic too, they manage to do different things at the same time, also in terms of pedalling and left hand writing. As I said, Hexaméron is not a fun piece, on the contrary, it’s very demonic. There is a lot of rivalry hidden in it, since it was written  by six different composers. It’s even furious and only the Chopin nocturne is an oasis.
Godovsky is more of a fun piece, the way he wrote it is very decadent. He was on the brink of the end of an era. There is a lot of sarcasm, you can somewhat feel that the war is knocking on the door. (It was written in 1910). It’s more than fireworks: the harmonic ideas are incredible and Godovsky turned them into something noble.

WB: Would you say that he did the same in his transcriptions of some of Chopin’s etudes?

JM: That was an experiment, for some of the etudes he wrote four versions and changed them into new characters.

WB: I can’t help to find them “trashy” and not as good as the originals!

JM: He admired them and didn’t mean to replace the originals! He didn’t try to surpass them, maybe he had a war worm and this was his way to deal with it. He was an autodidact and you should consider these transcriptions as collages, probably like those of Andy Warhol. They are called “studies” or “experiments” and there is no intention to surpassing the originals behind it. That’s what I find wonderful about music: there is always a secret left, pieces don’t belong to performers, you rent them!

WB: You play virtuosic rarities from the golden age of Hoffman, Godovsky, Moszkofski, Friedman, Rachmaninov, Rubinstein. Do you feel close to the end of the 19th/beginning of the 20th century?

JM: Yes, I do. It was a rich era and we have forgotten about many great composers and performers. We look at Schoenberg and Berg who moved further, Medtner and Rachmaninov were geniuses as well. Reger was on the limit of tonality, but it doesn’t mean that his music was less than the atonal pieces by Schoenberg. One of my favourites is Scriabin, his works move me the most. They are like a drug! It’s a pity he died so early. The development in hardly 30 or 40 years was amazing. I  tried to demonstrate that on my CD “Divergences” with works of Jongen, Reger and Scriabine, they were all born in 1872/73, but they couldn’t be further apart. I also like modern repertoire like Messiaen or Xenakis.

WB: You made a recording of the Moszkofski concerto, why did you chose this complement to the Grieg concerto? Is there a link between them?

JM: I did some research, I love the Moszkofski concerto and wanted to offer my own version. They knew each other and both worked with Edition Peters. Grieg wrote a letter to Peters that he had heard so much about Moszkofski and that he was worried to meet him. Moszkofski was the Wieniavsky of the piano. He wrote big pieces like symphonies and a violin concerto. He worked hard on the big forms, whereas he is only known for short pieces like Etincelles.

WB: Was he a big virtuoso?

JM: Yes, he was. He had an unusual way of playing, very elegant, like a mix of Chopin and Mendelssohn. He was Polish, like Scharwenka, his student, who wanted to be considered as a German.

WB: Are there any recordings of Moszkofski playing the piano?

JM: I don’t know, probably some piano rolls? I only know from quotes, you can see in the way he writes that he was not a “chord composer” but more a melodic writer.

WB: like Chopin?

JM: Yes, but maybe not with the same genius!

WB: Is it true that Moszkofski wrote two piano concertos, opus 3 and the one you recorded (opus 59)?

JM: Yes, that’s true, opus 3 was recently discovered. For me, there is no question as far as quality is concerned, I wouldn’t want to play opus 3.

WB: Is there a chance to perform the Moszkofski in concert or did you learn it for the recording?

JM: Good point, I never played it live but everybody was positively surprised when they heard it.  I am negotiating to play it in Warsaw. It was great to record it: the work is very strong and the orchestra was enthusiastic about this project. I wouldn’t have missed it. My motive was pure enthusiasm, not to make money. I am lucky with partners at Onyx who trust me. By the way, it’s one of the few concertos to include a harp in the 2nd and 3rd movements. When we recorded it, there was no harp on the list, since the orchestral administration only checked the instruments that were needed for the 1st movement..

WB: You also recorded the 4th Rubinstein concerto, was he a great composer? I read that he was a great pianist and thought himself a great composer?

JM: It’s a different story: Rubinstein’s 4th concerto as well as those of Rachmaninov and Tschaikofsky used to be played all the time. After the Second World War, the Rubinstein disappeared from the repertoire. The 4rth concerto was written in the same key as Rach 3rd and Rachmaninov actually played the Rubinstein. The latter is a lot more classical, whereas Rachmaninov’s concerto is rich in its writing with a lot of ornaments and cadenzas. I know that Rubinstein is not considered to be a great composer. This concerto is the best of the five he wrote, it lasts for 30 minutes, which is not too long. His problem – contrary to composers like Mozart and Chopin – is that he went on for too long. He would have been more successful had he had more sense for form and proportion. When you write music, it takes a lot of time. It’s difficult to maintain a feeling of proportion.

WB: You mentioned Scharwenka, who is also one of these “forgotten composers”!

JM: He was a fascinating personality, typical of his time: he was a composer, a conductor and a great teacher. He wrote four marvellous piano concertos of great proportions as well as solo repertoire. His brother Philip was better known for chamber music. I fell in love with his (Xaver’s, WB) Second sonata, that was written in 1871, like Tschaikofsky’s. It includes the lyrical parts that we are missing in the Tschaikofsky sonata.

WB: You recorded a CD called “Scarlatti illuminated”. Are these romantic transcriptions by Tausig and Friedman?

JM: It seemed a crazy idea that wasn’t so crazy after all. I was amazed by the amount of Bach transcriptions that you can find and thought: “What about Scarlatti? Why isn’t there a cd of transcriptions of his sonatas?” They are like jewels, miracles. I started my research on his music. There had been no significant interest for his music for over 200 years and then there were musicians like Landowska and Horowitz who played his sonatas. It was a difficult research, since I couldn’t find much, I had to go back to Tausig. He only changed a few chords and called his arrangements “adaptations for the modern concert use. Friedman made two marvellous arrangements, they are free and full of humour. Then there is the Gieseking Chaconne, an 8 minute piece. He occasionally composed and someone gave me a copy of the handwritten manuscript. It is an unusual mix of Reger, Debussy and Scarlatti. It’s the centrepiece of the CD.

WB: I believe Granados made some arrangements of Scarlatti sonatas too, didn’t he?

JM: That’s true, but they are more an edition and I don’t find them really interesting.

WB: When you play Scarlatti, is it in these transcriptions or do you play the original versions?

JM: I mostly play the originals, but sometimes I play the arrangements as an encore, people sometimes don’t notice the difference!

WB: Not long ago, you made a recording of the Chopin Sonatas, saying “There have not been many recordings and none in the past five years to my knowledge.” How can you say that? There are probably a thousand recordings, maybe not in the past five years, but the amount of recordings of these pieces is massive!

JM: I meant the complete set, including the First Sonata!

WB: Weren’t you terrified to play them when the competition is so stiff?

JM: There have always been traditions and references, but we have to go on and they do not belong to anyone! I felt the urge, I had to do it.. I played them all in concert and spent almost ten years on them. I normally don’t listen to recordings and take the score as a reference.

WB: Do you agree with Schumann who said regarding the Second Sonata that they were four of Chopin’s most different children put together?

JM: Yes, I agree, he said: “Four of the most beautiful children he put together.”

WB: However, it is a much less balanced piece than the Third Sonata in my opinion..

JM: The Third is the most melodic of his three sonatas. The Second is terrifying and uncomfortable to listen to. Its 1st movement is a hunt, the scherzo is scary, the Marche Funêbre is torturing and the last movement is madness, desperation, not a satisfying sonata for a listener. It’s getting worse and worse..

WB: Concerning its last movement, what do you make of it? “Gespenster” as Schumann said? Or I spoke to your colleague Benjamin Grosvenor, earlier this week, who said that “Chopin probably didn’t want us to understand it”?

JM: There is nothing to be understood, it’s like a wind, madness. There is not much in the score: sotto voce, only one crescendo, one diminuendo and one forte at the end. It’s not like an etude, it’s not like fog either. It’s an impressionistic conception, an atmosphere, a colour… We are so used to the short forms with Chopin, he is nice to consume, but he was also brilliant for the big forms. The sonatas are the essence of his music, they are rough experiences, both the First and the Second sonatas are stormy pieces.

WB: Do you know about the repeat of the introduction of the first movement of the Second Sonata? The score actually indicates that you have to repeat the introduction as well. Practically nobody does this, except for Pollini in his second recording.

JM: No, I didn’t know, but I think it’s simply wrong. Maybe Pollini used an old edition? I used the Paderewski edition.

WB: What do you think of the First Sonata that is rarely played?

JM: It is a funny piece, it sounds more like Beethoven and Weber than like Chopin. It has no popular melodies, still it is fascinating for a 17-year old composer. The third movement has a few moments that announce the late Chopin, it has a bizarre rhythm with five beats in every bar. It confuses you when you listen to it.

WB: I wish I could play pieces like his 1st Scherzo, the 4rth Ballade or the 3rd sonata, is it euphoric to play these works?

JM: There is the same danger for all of us: it is very hard to find the right balance. It often happens that you rush too much, therefore you have to be very strict  in order to bring out the beauty of it. We go through all the emotions and you have to think about being the conductor, which is exhausting at times. It’s like taming tigers!

WB: What is your relationship with the Ravel G-major concerto you played last night?

JM: It’s a long story! It’s one of the first piano concertos I got to know, when I was on holiday in Bretagne. I was six years old at the time and my sister was four years old. I played a little bit. My mother brought a few famous records, Ravel’s G-major concerto by Martha Argerich, Tschaikofsky’s 1st Piano Concerto and Liszt’s Années de Pélérinage by Lazar Berman. We listened to it, I played “piano” on the table and my sister “played” the flute. The Ravel was our favourite, it’s a captivating and witty piece, yet very classical in a way. Two years later, I got the Durand score. Last night was my first public performance of it!

WB: Were you happy about the performance?

JM: It was not bad for a first time! You need a good orchestra and a great conductor. Antony Hermus (the conductor, WB) was simply brilliant. I played the Gerschwin Concerto and I can see how Gerschwin influenced Ravel in his concerto. However, Ravel created his own harmonic system.

WB: Isn’t it frustrating that it is such a short concerto, like Liszt 1st Concerto which is even shorter..?

JM: The outer movements make it so short. The development section is “missing”, it feels like playing a Mozart concerto, although it’s a different style. Ravel is very baroque in the instruments he uses and the main theme is sort of Bach like.

WB: Do you agree with Messiaen who said Ravel “spoilt”the concerto with the jazzy elements?

JM: That’s the salt and the soup! Messiaen was a genius and at the same time a very strict person. He could be stubborn, inventive and also tough. The Ravel G-major concerto is a stand alone piece, maybe the most brilliant French concerto. Rachmaninov’s Paganini Rhapsody is a comparable piece. By the way, I agree with you that it could have been longer..

WB: Do you listen to a lot of recordings?

JM: I do or maybe I did. Cziffra was among the “younger” ones I listened to. He was misunderstood, a very noble person who had a tragic life. He had a demonic talent and an inner fire. He was not a showman, but people accused him of being cold..

WB: I grew up with his records of the complete Hungarian Rhapsodies by Liszt (the 2nd version). However exciting they were, there was something predictable about the way he speeded up in the climaxes.

JM: They are so loved, but only few get them right. I also love the golden tone of Friedman, his sense of freedom within certain frames..

WB: I know you also admire Hofman, but sometimes I find his playing ruthless, especially in the 1st and 4th Chopin ballades..

JM: They didn’t have any urtext, now it’s all about urtext.. We can have doubts now about the way Cortot or Horowitz played Mozart, but it was a different time. They had a certain wildness, they wanted to show what they were capable of. There were no opportunities to do retakes. Their way of playing has been lost a bit nowadays, it’s not good! We don’t sing as much, maybe we think too much now!

WB: I remember that Arrau said about Godovsky, another pianist from the past, in the book “Conversations with Arrau”: “He was a fabulous technician, but a boring pianist who hardly ever played beyond mezzo forte”

JM: Godovsky as a pianist was a story in itself. He was an autodidact, which was specific of his approach of music. He was nervous and unable to play in public, therefore he only played in salons. He had a fragile way of playing the piano and a light touch. Arrau was very different: he had a sonorous baritone-like way of playing so I can imagine that he didn’t like Godovsky. I have sympathy for Arrau as a person, he was more of an operatic performer. Bruno Leonardo Gelber has a similar concept of piano playing.

WB: What do you think of Paderewski?

JM: He was a brilliant PR-man and a talented musician, but he was a “Salonlöwe” as they call it in German (salon lion). He was very aware of how to present himself.

WB: I heard piano rolls of Paderewski and thought his playing was very sentimental!

JM: Yes, I don’t believe what he did, it was kind of calculated, not genuine sentiment.

WB: Which pianist(s) you’d travel very far for?

JM: So many people! Simon Barere for example, he was maybe not so tasteful, but incredible, he changed my life. Gelber, especially in Brahms, Rubinstein who was unforgettable in Chopin, I love Weissenberg, who was also talented as a composer. He had very special moments, sometimes brutal when he could go wild, but at the same time he was skilful and well trained. He composed a sonata “en état de jazz”and more, even under false names,  such as Sigi Weisenberg (with one s) or mr Nobody. Maybe today he would have dared much more. There was something very modern in his playing that reminds me of the Strawinsky/Dali era.
Cyprien Katsaris is another pianist I admire, he is a bit like I imagine Mozart would have been like . He is small, full of skill, a certain irony, a demonic ability, it’s a bit lost nowadays.. If you hear his Bach transcriptions, you think the devil is in the room! He is also a very tasteful Mozart player, one of the last of a lost generation.  There is something brilliant in his sound, like with Heifetz or Kagan. I used to love Volodos but I haven’t heard him for a while. He plays the same programme for two years, I wish he’d be more adventurous. I liked his Mompou disc though.

WB: It is often said that there are no great pianists any more who are immediately recognizable, not like in the golden age. I think things are not that bad, what do you think?

JM: It’s very simple, they have to die and become legends  There are two fenomena: fist, there are more pianists than ever, there is an inflation, second, the pianos have changed. They are more balanced than before, they are not as individual any more. You need to have a great technician to work on it. I have a favourite technician in Germany, I work with him to support my personal sound. In the end it’s my job to create “the voice”.
People are hesitant, since everything is being observed today. You can find a lot on YouTube. This can block creativity, the pianists of the past lived in a different time, there was no globalization.

WB: I listened to your transcriptions on YouTube and I really liked the one for the left hand.

JM: Thank you, it’s a funny story. I admire the jazz pianist Art Tatum and listened to a lot of his recordings. I loved his version of Cherokee. I couldn’t let go and was fascinated by it. I decided to improvise and wrote a cycle of etudes. Art Tatum was almost blind and I thought I needed a limitation too, that’s why I wrote number four for the left hand! It was very inspiring and very easy to write. It was creative processing to get rid of this idea that was haunting me, it was like a meditation, maybe the way Godovsky processed Chopin.. My managers wanted it to be on YouTube.

WB: I really liked it!

JM: Thank you, that’s nice to hear. It’s difficult to play pieces for one hand and for two hands in one concert. It’s an interesting feeling for the brain: it’s weird but possible!