Monday, 11 April 2011

Piano Legends: Krystian Zimmerman BBC Radio interview summary

Introduction Krystian Zimmermann won the Chopin International Competition in 1975, one of the youngest winners of all time - he was in his teens. In general, he very few public recitals and interviews, which makes this BBC interview given in 2008 particularly valuable. The interview was conducted in Basel, Switzerland by Tom Stoppard for BBC Radio 3's Music Matter's programme.

Part 1. - Inside knowledge
Krystian Zimmerman describes how he acquired such an inside knowledge of the piano. Before his career as a concert pianist, he earned extra money as a piano technician wiring strings. During the communist regime in Poland, spare parts, such as those for a Steinway piano were very expensive, and thus he  had to improvise and create spare parts. His developed knowledge of the workings of the piano, its acoustics, and the physics of piano manufacture, and the effect these have on its sound characteristics no doubt influence his recording process. He likens the piano to a human being - knows when the instrument is sick and how to fix it. In fact, he has 6 different pianos - which he uses to play different composers works on (i.e. Ravel, Brahms, etc). And he spends a fortune on transporting his own piano for his recitals, in fact,his custom made piano was seized by customs at JFK airport and destroyed as it was deemed a security threat containing a glue which is used in terrorist bombs.  

What Beethoven could really hear! If Beethoven couldn't hear particular frequencies, in his 9th symphony why, did he compose using such high notes? Krystian says it's by listening through bone transfer: 
vibrations were picked up through wooden sticks that Beethoven would lean against the soundboard and bite against them; with this bone transmision he was hearing different things. [There are even audio bone headphones that are inspired by Beethoven's hearing apparatus.]

Recording vs live Storytelling 

 Like many great artists and composers, Krystian is a perfectionist and  not happy with his own recordings (particularly solo), approves them under stress of the recording company, etc. He believes if you allow a record to be released, you should be convinced that this is a unique artistic output which no one else has done before and that it is enriching for the market, [and above all,] it should be convincing.

At the time of the interview in 2008, his last solo recording was 1990. He dislikes the digital recording process as the sound quality is too perfect, it so clearly transmits the sounds that you don't hear the music anymore. What does he mean? There's a general hum [of the audience ] you have in the concert hall that you can't recreate in a recording. Subsequently, he
prefers his live piano concerto recordings because of the live audience, as there's an ambience (sound); (which is) not a dead perfect silence in a studio. 
He states music is not sound [alone just in a recording], [it is]  organised emotions in time, [a] story you tell using sound. 

Part 2 To listen to the big picture, get driving
Krystian records every concert he plays. It's a great feedback mechanism to listen to yourself to find out
what you did, if you'd do it differently for the next performance. He prefers to listen to music in the car; particularly generally to the flow of the music. In fact,  he drives around the house (likes to do it late at night and when there's less traffic) so that the the conscious brain is occupied with driving and the road whereas then music goes right where it needs to go. The car noise covers the (musical) details so he can actually hear the bigger picture or the story. 

Continual Pianistic development: On analysis and music as artistic recreation
Krystian is inspiring because he still has a love and curiousity for music, and rediscovers links and influences amongst compositions and composers in many ways. For enjoyment, he listens and plays a lot of pieces he will never play in a concert. He analyses these pieces further and in an example would understand the influences of Rossini's  influence on French music on Alkan and Satie.

Concert artistry - audience collaboration
The concert according to Zimmerman is an interpretation is made together with the audience. He has
precise ideas of what he wants to do, with 3 sets of fingering a piece which he varies according to the
acoustics, and the power he uses in various concert halls. The final thing or product of which art is made in the concert hall.

Part 3 - Globalisation Stifens musical creativity! 

Globalisation of interpretation = Standardisation lessens creativity and originality
Beethoven, Opus 110, scared of this piece due to the expectations of the previous recordings in the listening psyche, and has a tremendous respect of this piece. Globalisation means everything sounds the same as (the speed of transfer of culture promotes a homogenity) and he sites the difference before mass communications in the French school; or even amongst Russian composers from Scriabin, Rachmaninov.

Part 4: The art of "no technique"

"You have fingers you put them on a keyboard - there is no technique" he once told a student. By this he means there is no technique because you play by giving meaning to every note. Each musical note is like a word in a phrase, which must make sense. Krystian Zimmermann  names several influences which include his personal collaborations with pianists Arrau, Richter, Rubinstein.

In order to teach - you need to be able to articulate the problem by verbalising a solution
Krystian's political views meant that he stopped giving concerts in the USA, he explained that he
needs to have a positive attitude towards the people he would play for. 

Let's Bow Out of this blog with a performance from Maestro Zimmerman. With over 2 million hits
on youtube - here's Chopin's Ballade #1 performed in 1987 and directed by Emmy award
winning Humphrey Burton, CBE.

Other pages that refer to these inteviews

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