English profiles




Utrecht, 28 September 2022

Willem Boone (WB): How is it going with the competition, did you have any pleasant surprises?

Frederic Chiu (FC): Oh, so many! With this competition in particular, there are always repertoire surprises, because Liszt wrote so much.

WB: Can you mention one of these discoveries?

FC: The Gretchen from Faust, I knew that he had written this and now I have heard it four times. To hear it by four different artists is like looking at it from four different perspectives. 

WB: It’s a very long piece, isn’t it?

FC: Yes, it’s a long and complex piece. Very beautiful and Wagnerian: you can see where Wagner stole from Liszt! All the good ideas (laughs)

WB: How would you rate the overall level of this competition, is it very high?

FC: Yes, it is! This competition always brings out people who work really hard and who play extremely difficult music. That’s the only way you can prepare the repertoire and because they are these kind of people, they usually produce amazing results. They may not be the most popular types of players or the most famous of their age, but they are definitely the hardest working. That comes through when you meet them, they are so focused and concentrated on piano playing.

WB: What do you think of the idea to include Schubert in the competition?

FC: I personally love it, I talked to Rob many times about the projects I am working on, like Beethoven and Liszt. I recorded Beethoven symphonies and also a lot of Schubert/Liszt transcriptions. I programmed it a lot in different concerts. Schubert was the other wonderful surprise, to hear Schwanengesang played by fourdifferent pianists, it’s great. 

WB: What is your relationship with Liszt, do you play his music a lot?

FC: I recorded Schwanengesang 20 years ago, it was a life-changing moment to work on that repertoire at the time. I have gone through some very difficult periods in my life that coincided with a kind of coming out of one shell. It’s a wonderful group of songs that  became a legitimate song cycle. It was not intended as a unified set by Schubert, but it  became that. Liszt’s transcription was a remarkable work of completion.

WB: Do you play a lot of Liszt?

FC: I often play Liszt, a specific part of it. I don’t like everything that Liszt wrote; I would say much of it is not in my style. It is a style that I would not even imagine to be playing, but then there are places in the repertoire where I feel very much at home. Schwanengesang is an example: I don’t understand why people don’t play this music more. It is technically and musically challenging, but it is something that I have played a lot. I even made a kind of music theatre version of it where I work with an actor. He reads the poetry that is associated with the music and we alternate poetry and transcription.  We do it in different languages, i.e. the actor recites in different languages. If you are Japanese, for example, and you love hearing Schwanengesang in the original version but you don’t speak German, of course you can read the Japanese translations beforehand and then memorize them, so you kind of know what they are saying when you listen to the German. You can listen to the amazing way that Schubert put the words to music, but it is an intellectual exercise. 

WB: And you played the piano transcription?

FC: There was no singer, but the melody was in the transcription. It’s like de-constructed Schubert Lieder where you experience the words first, then the music, the meaning of the words. And it is in your native language, I have not yet done this in Japan, which I would like to do. It is perhaps one of the places where they are most respectful to this kind of music. So we’ll hopefully find an actor in Japan and find a good translation of the German, so the Japanese will feel it in their heart.

WB: In how many languages did you do this?

FC: In English, French, German, Estonian, four languages in six countries so far. I would love to do it in Japanese and in Chinese. That’s my background and that would be a great connection. 

WB: There are some very famous pianists like Ashkenazy, Sokolov and Schiff who don’t want to play Liszt, could you understand why this is?

FC: I don’t know, did they say that?

WB: They said it in interviews, I remember Ashkenazy made one recording that is fantastic, but he said he didn’t like it, Schiff never played it and I think it’s the same for Sokolov.

FC: I never heard that, I should read their interviews.

WB: If you play the devil’s advocate, could you understand them?

FC: I think I could, there is a theatricality in this music that I can see would not fit with certain personalities, I don’t see it in on a musical level or as far as the sophistication is concerned. 

WB: People sometimes say his music is empty….

FC: I don’t think it’s empty, but it is a certain kind of emotion that is very public, even in the solitary moments of his music, it’s gift-wrapped solitude versus Chopin whose solitude is actually himself and you’d rather not listen almost! Of course he is writing music to be listened to, but it is almost written for himself versus Liszt who is always conscious of the receiver.

WB: Would you say Liszt is an acquired taste?

FC: (thinks): I think Liszt is not so much a taste as it is a kind of attitude, he had so many tastes! (laughs), I think I find Liszt to my taste in some places and not to my taste at all in other places. There is a lot for everyone, but not everything is for everyone. 

WB: I spoke to your colleague Janina Fialkowska and she too said “You can’t say that you don’t like Liszt, since there are so many Liszts.” It was exactly the same as you just said.

FC: It’s amazing that Liszt was able to write all of this, not only because of the incredible quantity, but the fact that it is so diverse and that it has such wide ranging psychology, that one person could do that. Of course, he had a whole life to do it, a crazy life, but he was able to express all of that.

WB: Regarding the transcriptions of Die Winterreise and Schwanengesang, how would you approach them: as a pianist or as a singer?

FC: I approach them as what they are, which is a pianist’s understanding of a singer’s adventure, it does change things if you play as a pianist. There are things that don’t work, if you play it only as someone trying the replicate the voice, then there are thing that you miss. It has to be both and I think that’s why it works. 

WB: I attended two evenings and though there were moments of great beauty, there were also moments that I felt you lost Schubert’s delicacy and the virtuosity became predominant?

FC: In the Winterreise especially. There is a different feeling in Schwanengesang because the alternate purpose Liszt had in mind was to finish a compositional path versus transforming a finished composition. Of course, if you work with something that is already refined and done, all you can do is modify things that distort it to make it something different. When it is something unfinished, then you have a responsibility to the person who left it and a responsibility to the music itself that wants to go in a certain direction.

WB: Could you say it was already perfect the way Schubert wrote it?

FC: I would say that every song is perfect, but I would say as a cycle, it is not. And there are so many references in the Liszt transcription, the order of the pieces is already completely different and it is an almost scientifically programmed order when you look at the key structure. It looks like the key structure of a Liszt piece. It actually looks like a Liszt structure.  

WB: It was good that you could see the keyboard. There were some impossible things happening pianistically speaking. It was in Schwanengesang, I don’t remember in which song, one with a fast pace. How can you even do that?

FC: It’s crazy!

WB: And what is frustrating about it: it didn’t sound difficult! 

FC: The spirit of the song is happy or simple, but the structure behind the notes is so complicated. That is definitely an added challenge on the technical side.

WB: I was fascinated by the films on YouTube of your recordings of transcriptions of Beethoven symphonies. It was very insightful, but I was thinking: can it be that these (at least for me) work better in the slow sections than in the faster movements?

FC: Yes, there is a limit technically to what can be done; there is a moment where it becomes impossible on a pianistic level, so there has to be some kind of accommodation or compromise. For the most part, Liszt handles it in a way that it feels more like Beethoven when he gets to the bottom of the keyboard and the old keyboards had fewer notes. Some editors in modern era correct Beethoven by writing what he should have written if the keyboards had been longer, but he didn’t. I have a similar feeling with Liszt when he has to accommodate an extra voice that can’t be played with an extra hand, then he writes a figuration that allows to play these notes in a different octave, but you know that the melody continues from the top octave and goes down.

WB: Sometimes it sounds very bare on a piano…

FC: Yes, but I think it’s the pianist’s responsibility. Liszt is very helpful, because he understands: I can’t do it, so I am going to make a trick, or I am going to trick the audience: start a pattern in one place, and then skip it for a couple of beats and go back and pick it up again. It’s like a magician…

WB: What you said at the end of the slow movement of the 7th symphony was fascinating: you really showed on the piano how you can imitate the sounds of a flute or an oboe, but it means that you have to know the score incredibly well.

FC: Yes and you have to be sensitive to the tiny nuances of the piano sound, because in the end, it’s all piano with a very specific, narrow sound. That’s the magic of the instrument: if you take the time to enter into the world and you have a pianist who is sensitive, it allows you to start hearing the different nuances of the piano sound…

WB: How do you even find the sound of a flute on a piano? Where do you start?

FC: You know, it’s interesting, once you start delving into it and you play something, people can say: “O, that’s the sound of a flute”, but if you actually look at the sound waves, it looks nothing like a flute, but it’s the most flute like sound you can make on the piano. If you use it exclusively to imitate the flute section that has a particular phrasing, shape of the phrase or articulation, then people start to associate that with: o yes, that’s the flute section, it’s kind of the flute part, so it must be the flute.

WB: Do you have a very clear idea of how you want to ‘play’ a clarinet or a flute?

FC: Yes, it’s even certain physical techniques that have to be respected to make certain kind of sound. And pedaling of course is the key to all of that, the control of the overtones, I would say there is some resemblance in the overtones series that you might ring for certain notes to imitate the flute sound, more in octaves and fifths versus an oboe which has the thirds and fourths. I wouldn’t be able to say: ‘This is the profile of a flute’, but I know if I play like this and do the pedal like this I can get a flute kind of overtone series versus technique like this and pedal like this for an oboe sound.

WB: That requires a lot!

FC: It’s experimenting and remembering and being open to exploring the sound. 

WB: Can you replicate that?

FC: That’s what I am trying to do, the whole job of a pianist is to find something and replicate it.  I feel when it’s not repeatable, it’s not art, it’s nature. Nature is wonderful, but it never repeats itself and you never know what to expect, because it’s not planned. When you discover it, it is beautiful. Sunsets are different every night and we love sunsets! But if it’s supposed to be art, it’s meant to be intentional. If you can’t put things in the right place, you are not telling anybody anything, you are not communicating a thing. You are just being in front of someone and they watch you be whoever you are.

WB: So you see it as something you recreate?

FC: You have to be able to recreate it in order for it to be an artistic creation.

WB: That’s a very rational way!

FC: In a desired way, if you look at the way a painter paints a sunset, it can be spontaneous, but in the end it’s presented to you, because he chose that. The same happens with composers and real time performers like we are. Even though you hear it, you remember it and then it’s gone, it’s still wanted and a sequence of wanted experiences. If I play Schwanengesang in one place, it will be completely different from the way I play it the next time, but I wanted to do that, I wanted to play Schwanengesang. And that means something and even though it’s not the same every time, it’s a desired experience.

WB: Vladimir Horowitz once said the transcriptions of the Beethoven symphonies were the best piano works ever written, do you agree?

FC: In some ways, I do. I certainly understand the significance of them. I think they are perhaps the most important works and I said this in the masterclass on the Beethoven symphonies. In the class I mentioned a couple of notations in the score that are kind of controversial points in standard orchestral repertoire. Conductors chose two different ways to perform certain appoggiatura in the slow movements. There are huge debates and changes from generation to generation about which one is correct and desired. Liszt basically said: ‘Here is how it should be played, because it is the only way to play it on the piano.’  He heard it that way in his lifetime and intended it that way. Liszt heard Beethoven performers play it that way, so that’s it. Not that another way is wrong or not beautiful, it is, and we can choose to do so. Beethoven is not here to say you can’t do it that way. But it does give us the only insights we have as to how the musicians in Beethoven’s time played, Liszt understood he had some work to do, to anchor in history. Again, I think it was his best work because there was an ulterior motive that was beyond himself. He felt he had to accomplish a purpose. When he had such a calling, he could be the most convincing person in the world. When he doesn’t have that purpose, I think he can be the most annoying person in the world (laughs).

WB: I have a few questions about Prokofiev, since you played all of his piano works, so he must be very dear to your heart?

FC: Absolutely! 

WB: It hasn’t been done so often!

FC: I don’t understand why, because I think his work is remarkable. It’s a testimony of a life that was so incredibly interesting. It was not the greatest life, not the most inspiring life, but certainly a well lived, hugely diverse one.

WB: Emil Gilels once said you can’t play Prokofiev badly, is that true?

 FC: What did he mean? I never heard that before.

WB: I read it once and was intrigued.

FC: Is he saying you are not allowed to or is it not possible to find a way to play it badly?

WB: Maybe it’s my guess that he wanted to say it has such quality that you can’t give a bad performance of his works..I think you can butcher Prokofiev though!

FC: Definitely, yes, by making it one-dimensional where one characteristic comes across more than the others. There are five elements in his music that are usually always present: the neoclassic, the humor, the toccata-like approach, an attempt to be impressionistic or spontaneous and unclear, and beautiful melodies. It’s a wonderful exercise to work out in Prokofiev: if you are playing more than four measures in any one of those elements, you should start looking out for the others, because it’s going to change, it’s going to start incorporating a melody or neoclassic chord structures or start incorporating some humor or some sarcasm. I think a lot of people look for that toccata-element and don’t look for much else.

WB: Which is fascinating!

FC: Yes, indeed and revolutionary and important, but if you only look for that and get rid of the humor, or the neoclassic or the romantic or impressionistic, then you are stucking it way from its essence. 

WB: I remember I heard his 2nd Piano Concerto when I was in a music shop in Paris, almost 40 years ago, I didn’t know who composed it at the time, but I thought: ‘What is this? It is so violent or aggressive’. It reminded me of war and only later on, I discovered that there are also beautiful parts in it and I really got to like it. 

FC: There is some movements that are so crazy, but even in those after a few phrases of in your face blaring of brass instruments, it all of sudden mellows out and there is a beautiful melody. Something you think you have heard before…

WB: Did you play all of the piano sonatas in a cycle?

FC: Yes, I did, it’s a huge challenge. I have done the nine sonatas in one evening, besides being a challenge it’s also an amazing journey as you can imagine. 

WB: Were you still alive after that?

FC: I have done it a few times, but I don’t know if I could do it again! 

WB: Nothing but number six, seven and eight in one evening seems an impossible task to me!

FC: It is a killer!

WB: Even Ashkenazy, who could easily do it, said he would never consider it…

FC: I didn’t do them in order, I grouped them into different characters and split six, seven and eight to each of the three sections. They tell a great story.

WB: Which one came last in the order?

FC: Eight came last. Six, seven and eight are very interesting, people call them the ‘war sonatas’ because they were written at a time that he was certainly suffering from the war.  But I have a different theory. He was also suffering from a midlife crisis, going through a separation in his marriage and his kids, he was writing his own biography, being a very meticulous biographer. He wanted to write a huge sonata in ten movements and then later he split it into sonatas number six, seven and eight. You can see it as ten movements; I think he was plotting out his life.

WB: Did he really want to write a sonata in ten movements?

FC: Yes, he wrote that, it was his war project. He was stuck in the countryside, he didn’t know what to do, it was almost like covid in our time…

WB: Ten movements are indeed all the movements of number six, seven and eight!

FC: When you look at the arch of the movements, it’s split out into three sections that represent the sections of his life, where he had his childhood, time of child prodigy, being respected and hated for the way he wrote for piano, and then the period in Europe and the USA where he tried to create a career for himself and keep up his reputation, be newer than the latest new composers, come up with intellectual discoveries. Finally, there was his return to the Soviet Union. Look at the first movements of six, seven and eight: in six, he is beating the piano, seven starts with a strange chromatic motive, almost like a tonerow and has a movement in 7/8 meter, and eight is this huge, serene melody. If you think of those as his life as opposed to everyone’s war. There is no beautiful ending to the war: if you are telling the war story, it should somewhere end with a nuclear bomb! The middle movements tell different aspects of his life, his marriage, his successes, his failures and attempts. I have done that program of six, seven and eight too, to tell that story. 

WB: Can we briefly go through the sonatas?  I write for a music magazine and I recently reviewed a cd of Alexander Melnikov, who is also recording all of the sonatas. One of the pieces was the first sonata. Can you say that he wasn’t Prokofiev yet when he wrote that particular sonata?

FC: I think he was Prokofiev in his ambition, it’s his opus 1! The opus 1 of a composer is always very delicate; it’s his calling card to the world. He was such a needy person, he needed to be accepted, respected. He was very young and probably thought: ‘This is my calling card, I have to show that I am a good student!’

WB: It vaguely reminded me of Rachmaninov?

FC: Yes, there is some kind of early Rachmaninov.

WB: I am not sure, but I thought he hated Rachmaninov?

FC: I think that the fact it was his opus 1, that tells me he wanted people to know: ‘I can do Rachmaninov.” The same way, his impressionistic style is a way to say to people: “I can do Debussy’ In his opus 2 pieces, he wanted to say: ‘O, I can do strange Scriabin and Debussy kind of things’.

WB: I interviewed your colleague Olli Mustonen and he told me that Prokofiev in his biography tells he went to listen to Rachmaninov playing his Second Piano Concerto in Paris and somehow he was also influenced by Rachmaninov?

FC: Prokofiev was very conscious of Rachmaninov and Stravinsky, because of his nature, he was competitive. I don’t think there was any role model for Prokofiev that he did not become jealous of eventually.

WB: Can you say that he was already iconoclastic or barbarian in the 2nd sonata where he was much more Prokofiev?

FC: He was much more of what we now understand as Prokofiev, he was more confident and even pushed that in front of people. There was a huge change in his approach.

WB: The third sonata is very short, but it has a lot of pepper and salt and it sounds like Prokofiev! It is his music in a nut shell, right?

FC: Absolutely, it’s based on note books in which he wrote down notes as a teenager. I think he was showing people: ‘Here is what I was already doing when I was ten years old, look at this!.’ I think he was much more mature as a composer, using that material, developing it and putting it out there. 

WB: The fourth sonata is the one I know least..

FC: I think both about the third and the fourth sonata, he wanted to say: ‘Look at the range I already had when I was so young’. 

WB: Is the fourth sonata entirely based on these notes?

FC: I am not sure how much is based on these notes but both three and four are subtitled ‘from old notebooks.’ 

WB: The fifth is to me a bit of an enigmatic piece..

FC: It’s the only one he wrote when he was in his middle phase and I believe it’s an attempt to sound more neoclassic than Poulenc and Stravinsky.

WB: It’s neither the style of number two nor the one of the war sonatas!

FC: It is from his intellectual period; I believe he then lived in a very uncomfortable way. He was not a natural performer. He had to and he did it reluctantly in some respects. There was this famous moment when he and Stravinsky and Diaghilev arrived together on a cruise ship, they travelled across the Atlantic by ship at that time, around 1918. One of the pictures that was taken was subtitled: ‘The Russian impressario Sergei Diaghilev, the great Russian composer Stravinsky and the great Russian pianist Sergei Prokofiev.’He was very irritated by this comment, because he wanted to be the composer, maybe not the only composer, but he definitely wanted to be compared to Stravinsky and Rachmaninov, who were famous at the time. He wanted to be famous in the same way. He had to perform and he had the pianistic level, but then he had to compete with Rachmaninov who was well known as a pianist. He resented he never had his own star at the walk of fame. The fifth sonata is a representation of the attempt to be more classical than the neoclassics. He wrote something that started off like a Mozart sonata. He rewrote it later with a bit of humility: ‘You know, let me revise something of what I did when I was acting stupid.’

WB: Would you say the sixth sonata is a sardonic piece?

FC: It is a nostalgic piece, he is recalling how famous he was when he was very young and breaking norms, setting the bar for his level in certain styles and discoveries. He was nostalgic about the power he had when he was young. He was playful and prolific. The middle movements tell different sides of that story. 

WB: The second movement is not as innocent as it sounds!

FC: No, he is looking back and thinking; you know, that was naïve, that was childish, but that was how I was…He was using his modern, mature technique to tell that story of a younger self.

WB: And would you say number seven is the most aggressive?

FC: It’s the most bitter and kind of rebelling, I think. He understood that he was not happy and that he was fighting against certain trends and also trying to meet them. He was experimenting, it’s the most complex sonata, the meter changes all the time. He uses strange 7/8 meter for the last movement, even though it’s very fast forward moving. It represents him fighting against the innovation to be something that is more straightforward.

WB: As to the Precipitato, I think it is the movement I heard the most different versions of, I also wonder what this tempo indication exactly means?

FC: I have played it in very different ways too, with different ideas. Sometimes I distort the 7/8 and make it very uncomfortable and bring it out that accent…

WB: Ashkenazy once said it’s a tank that is gaining speed, can you relate to that?

FC: I don’t think he is wrong, I wouldn’t say he is wrong in anything, however, it is such an impersonal image. I don’t think Prokofiev thought of war and if he thought of a tank, it was his inner tank that was running over all the French composers. Or possibly he was thinking of his return to Russia.

WB: Should it be played in one tempo or do you have to speed up?

FC: ‘Preciptato’ doesn’t mean ‘speeding up’, I believe, it’s rather going to your destination without waiting for anybody.

WB: There is a film of Sokolov playing it in Paris, do you know it?

FC: I think I have seen it.

WB: I heard him play it live and it was fascinating: he took a very measured tempo, but he was very consequent. I heard Argerich play it live too and that was nothing short of amazing, but Sokolov was building up this huge sound, like a cathedral. It was the second time I heard Sokolov live and I was not convinced by everything, but with the Prokofiev he definitely won me over. 

FC: I have played it going forward without speeding up and then other times where the 7/8 and the accent on the off-beat is like speed bumps, you want to go forward and you keep tripping.  The French were constantly criticizing him that he was not that inventive or experimental, so it’s faltering. 

WB: Did you experiment with several tempi in the finale of number eight too?

FC: He was writing number eight to tell the story that he was living at home, so it’s the one with the least perspective. It’s about lyricism, accessibility. 

WB: It can also be very violent!

FC: Yes, when I listen to my own recording, I think: why did I play it so fast? A lot of the elegance and the privileged nature doesn’t come out as well as I would like it to come out. I think he understood that he was respected for who he was and wanted to be more than at any other time in his life. 

WB: I think the last pages of the Vivace are unplayable!

FC: I was working on it with a student and he asked for fingerings and I said: ‘I have no fingerings!’I actually have one, but it doesn’t work (laughs), it’s some of the most difficult pages I have ever played. 

WB: And in number nine he mellowed a lot…

FC: He mellows in the sense that he loses his power. I don’t think it’s ‘desired mellow’ like ‘My main life work is done’, it’s more like ‘I have to do this, I can’t do anything else.’

WB: Would you call it ‘otherworldly’?

FC: Yes, it was definitely seen from a distant perspective, he intended this to be part of six, seven and eight, but he had lived his last stage where he had his accident and when he was forced to denounce his own style. He couldn’t fight any more, it’s very salutary. Life and energy are very contained and individual. 

WB: Are there echoes of childhood?

FC: Yes, he reaches back to childhood, to grab some of that really early music for children.

WB: He started writing a tenth sonata, didn’t he?

FC: It’s very difficult to say what that would have been like. I think there would have been more complexity, he was trying to revive some intellectual energy.

WB: Do you have a favorite among the sonatas?

FC: Number eight, although it’s not my favorite to play, because it’s so captivating and digital, it’s hard to have the right mindset to approach it. In terms of thinking, the structure, the shape of the melodies are more impressive than in any of the other sonatas.

WB: The first movement is very lyrical!

FC: Yes, it’s like one long phrase, one arch from the beginning to the end.

WB: I took a look at your discography and saw you also recorded all of the Chopin Mazurkas, I find them difficult pieces, they seem evasive..

FC: That is a very good word! It’s true that they are difficult to pin down and I think it’s an element that reflects Chopin’s own view of his background. It’s not a pedagogic or research based approach to folk music, not like Bartok or Kodaly ore even Brahms. It’s an evocation of feelings that are very personal to him, when he thinks of Polish life, Poland and how he is or isn’t Polish or how he represents or doesn’t represent his country. He is using elements of different Mazurkas, shifting from this kind of Mazurka to that kind of Mazurka. No single Mazurka has one single kind of energy. Some measures go forward, some go back, some stay on the ground, other go up or down, there is no singe phrase that has one character. I think that is the challenge of these compositions: how can you reflect this light that is constantly changing. He himself had this ambivalent, evasive view of what he was talking about.

WB: I listened to your Chopin Etudes that are on YouTube, I listened to the first one and I have to tell you that I was so fascinated that I couldn’t stop, so I listened until the end. I was really impressed!

FC: O, thank you! 

WB: Someone wrote in a comment that you are ‘the world’s most underappreciated pianist’

FC: That’s very nice!

WB: It is really impressive: poetic, I hadn’t the feeling that I was listening to very virtuosic music and they are among the most difficult pieces ever written for the piano..

FC: They are a real challenge for me. That shows the results of my own personal evolution, because I learned a lot of it when I was very young. I played them as exercises and it took me many years of being away from them to then come back to it as music by Chopin. I had revelations of them when I was living in Paris and started seeing him as a person versus a catalog of piano works. I started seeing him more for his personal statement of expressions. And then I went back to the Etudes and the technique was still there to play the notes, but I heard it as music. It was completely different.

WB: I have a few questions about memory, I wrote a chapter in a book about this subject with interesting comments of famous colleagues. They spoke about different types of memory: muscle memory, visual memory. The latter includes both hand positions on the piano and visualization of the score. Alicia de Larrocha said: ‘Relying on the memory of fingers is dangerous’, do you agree?

FC: I think only relying on any one particular form of memory is dangerous! I think you need a safety net of many different levels and strengths. There are times where I am playing and I see that my structural memory is faulty, I cannot remember what to play, so I blank my mind and I let the fingers play it. That’s relying completely on muscle memory and trusting it, it seems when I get past the tricky passages that I go back to thinking and go back to feeling and listening. Sometimes I have to shut everything off and let the body do what it knows how to do.

WB: Claudio Arrau said: “I have four kinds of memory: muscle, photographic, sound and analytic. I use analytic memory last after the work has gone into my body, my muscles, my ears, my vision.”

FC: That’s very interesting, I would say emotional memory is something I use as well. It’s analytical in the sense of how things are related intellectually.

WB: And what is the emotional memory?

FC: After this emotion, what emotions does it lead to? If you feel defeated, when do you think: ah, I start fighting again? And when you had victory, when do you start doubting again? 

WB: Is it true when you are lost and you know the structure well that you can find your way out?

FC: Yes, that happens more often than you think. If you make the wrong turn, you can’t start again and make the right turn. That’s a different skill.

WB: Another quote, from Alfred Brendel: “I have a good aural and kinesthetic memory, but my memory isn’t visual at all. I don’t see the score as I play.”

FC: I don’t see the score either.

WB: And a quote, from Arthur Rubinstein: “My memory is mostly photographic, inherited from my father. When I play, I turn pages in my mind, I even see the coffee stains. My knowledge of the architecture of a work, how it’s built, helps too.”

FC: That’s very interesting, that shows as pianists we use whatever we have in hand, whatever is going to help us, we remember it. Some people have special gifts: I don’t have photographic memory nor perfect pitch nor perfect muscle memory. I have a combination of things that works for me. 

WB: When you study a score, do you have to memorize it or does it go more or less automatically?

FC: No, I do work for memory, because I don’t have photographic memory. I create structures in my head that are emotional, chromatic and I try to fit everything in to that. I don’t feel I have a particular special gift, but I have a special package that works together. I explore all the aspects of that and make it constantly work together.

WB: My last question: what are your next projects?

FC: I have a very special Prokofiev project: I produced a ballet that is called ‘Romeo and Juliet The Choice” It’s the entire ballet performed by a ballet troupe. The music is all played on the piano in the original Prokofiev draft score for piano. The ballet dancers dance on the same stage as the pianist, so it’s integrated in the scenario and there are lots of interactive elements with the audience. In particular the audience votes for the ending they want to see. The original ending that Prokofiev imagined, was happy, where they stay alive. They ran away and the families kept fighting, because they blame each other for them running away. Only years later, he wrote the ending we all know which is the traditional Shakespeare ending where they kill themselves and the family comes together in mourning. This choice of ending can only happen in the piano version as Prokofiev did not orchestrate his original happy ending.  

WB: And where will you do this?

FC: I have done this a few times already, so I am looking for more performance opportunities. I think it’s a way for ballet to become much more democratic and populist instead of being on a stage that’s distant and far from the audience. That way, it’s coming to people.

WB: Did you actually play a lot in the Netherlands?

FC: Yes, but not that much, the last time was when I was living in Paris and that is fifteen years ago. We just figured out that this is my seventh trip to Utrecht to be involved with the Liszt Competition. I feel it’s a great project to be involved in.