Pollini on Pollini

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Pollini on Pollini

Post by Ralph » Sat May 06, 2006 9:24 pm

From The New York Times:

May 7, 2006
Pollini Speaks! (In His Fashion)

AN original musician who achieved universality. A perfectionist on the surface with depths of emotion below. An altogether mysterious man.

Such is Chopin in the view of the pianist Maurizio Pollini, who in a recent interview spoke expansivelyabout the composer with whom he is most closely associated. Could Mr. Pollini have been talking in some ways about himself?

"It's not for me to say this," he said, whisking the issue away.

And so goes an interview with Mr. Pollini, 64, one of the most respected and cerebral pianists of his generation. It is like the push and pull of rubato: Mr. Pollini lingers on a topic when he's interested, quickly moves on when he's not, then slows down again.

His career, on the other hand, has been a model of rhythmic constancy. He regularly presents about 40 recitals a season, spending a month and playing five concerts in the United States. He releases roughly one recording a year. The repertory, though varied, remains focused on two areas: the core piano works of Chopin, Debussy, Beethoven, Schubert and the like, and on a handful of contemporary masters like Karlheinz Stockhausen, Luciano Berio, Pierre Boulez and Luigi Nono: composers, he said, who have invented their own pianistic language and with whom he connects on an emotional level.

And year after year Mr. Pollini's playing inhabits the same extraordinary level, with crystalline textures, purity of tone, brilliant technique and an uncanny ability to let the poetry emerge unmediated by self-indulgence.

"There's a consistency in the elements because I feel a constant development," Mr. Pollini explained in his suite at an Upper East Side hotel late last month. "The experience always becomes richer. For example, the music of Chopin has been with me my entire life, since when I was a boy. My love for the music of Chopin has become greater and greater for years, perhaps because I understand better this music."

The relationship began most publicly with his victory at the Chopin International Piano Competition in Warsaw in 1960.

"This process," he said, "leads to a deeper understanding of music," and greater insight into the character of each work he plays. "Each note speaks in a more clear, convincing way to the audience," he added.

Mr. Pollini was in New York awaiting his Carnegie Hall recital Sunday afternoon, after the release of his latest Chopin album, the complete Nocturnes, on Deutsche Grammophon last month. It is his first Chopin recording since 1999. Mr. Pollini has recorded the études, préludes, scherzos, polonaises and Sonatas Nos. 1 and 2, but in recent years he has focused on Schumann and Beethoven.

Mr. Pollini is also in the midst of a yearlong series of concerts in Vienna that juxtapose old and new works. He has presented such series since 1995, including one at Carnegie Hall in 2001.

With the air of a gracious but reserved northern Italian, Mr. Pollini, who lives in Milan, spoke with ease and wit in a deep, slightly gravelly voice. He was dressed in a subtle navy herringbone jacket, dark slacks and a tie with a fashionably loose knot. The only sign of the cigarettes he is known to smoke incessantly was a slight tobacco smell in the air. In a downstairs room, a piano had been provided for him to practice. He said he was putting in about four hours a day, more or less. "Apparently it doesn't disturb too much," he said.

Interviews with Mr. Pollini used to be rare. "Years ago I did very few," he said. "Now, I do." He was asked what had changed. "They ask — I try to do what I can," he said simply. Interviews aside, Mr. Pollini seems to hover well above the hype that swirls around many classical musicians.

"The world is made like this," he said, suggesting that enthusiasm for music is the important thing.

Unprompted, he elaborated: "A pianist, for instance, has something absolutely positive, because we have the most beautiful repertoire ever written for an instrument. We have at our disposal a richness. And then we deal with an instrument that has an absolutely extraordinary possibility. There are no limits to what you can do on the piano."

Mr. Pollini was vague about his future. When asked how he foresaw his career over the next 10 or 20 years, he was almost absurdly laconic. "What one hopes is to achieve a certain result in one's playing," he said. Will the time come when he simply stops playing concerts? "Let's see. Who knows what will happen?"

But he spoke of more immediate goals. He hopes to finish recording the Beethoven sonatas and perhaps record Bach's "Well-Tempered Clavier." He wants to expand his Stockhausen repertory, he said, but he expressed less interest in the works of Gyorgy Ligeti or Olivier Messiaen. He warmed to the idea of learning works by Elliott Carter. "I will keep him in mind," he said.

"One is obliged to make choices," he added almost apologetically.

He grew animated when discussing one of his signature pieces, the complex and fiercely difficult Boulez Second Sonata. "It's a marvelous work," he said. "There's always something to discover. There is a richness of extraordinary musical moments."

Mr. Pollini has often played the piece from memory, an impressive feat, although he recently used a score for security's sake. He said he had simply set out to memorize the 60-page score at a rate of 5 pages a day before he first performed it, in 1968: "In a reasonably short time I was able to do it."

He has no visual memory, he added, but he memorizes the sound picture and instills fast passages in finger memory.

This aural memory serves Mr. Pollini well when he is not playing, too. He often listens to pieces in his head, he said, whether walking in the street or sitting at home, as a way of working on interpretations. He is an avid score reader. Right now, he is reading through the Bach cantatas, looking for what he calls their many "extraordinary moments."

He closely examines the sources of pieces he plays. Chopin, he pointed out, changed the voicing of the final chords of the Second Ballade four times.

"He was seeking perfection in every detail," Mr. Pollini said, fingering the different chords on the hotel coffee table. Was he the same way, Mr. Pollini was asked. "I'm not exactly like this, certainly," he answered. But he gave a clue about his attitude later, saying he did not go much to opera. "There are too many elements," he explained. "You are rarely satisfied. But if it succeeds, it is something absolutely phenomenal."

Such perfectionism is in keeping with the main criticism leveled at Mr. Pollini, that he is distant, perhaps even cold, in his performances.

Jeremy Siepmann, in "Chopin: The Reluctant Romantic," writes of Mr. Pollini: "His meticulous attention to every detail of the composer's text often results in the nearest thing to an aural photograph of the printed page. His virtuosity is untainted by any sense of ego, indeed there are many musicians who find his playing cold and impersonal."

When read the passage and asked for a response, Mr. Pollini listened intently. "It's not my —," he began, then continued: "One can only think what music should give to a listener. Certainly a strong emotion." Then he deflected the discussion from himself and toward Chopin.

"Chopin is an innately seductive composer," he said. "But there is an incredible depth to Chopin, and this depth should come, finally, from a performance of him." He called the composer completely personal and original. "But what was extraordinary is, he was able to achieve universality," he added. "It is amazing that music so completely personal is able to conquer everybody."

Mr. Pollini's admiration for other piano masters like Arthur Rubinstein, Vladimir Ashkenazy, Artur Schnabel and Rudolf Serkin is well known. When asked to name those of the younger generation he admires, he said, "There are many," then dropped the name Evgeny Kissin. "He seems to me extremely gifted," Mr. Pollini said, while acknowledging that he had not heard much of Mr. Kissin live. Perhaps his reticence is not surprising. Many of the young lions emerging now — like Lang Lang, Yundi Li and Fazil Say — have little in common with Mr. Pollini's more reserved, objective style.

The son of an intellectual family, Mr. Pollini shows a range of interests that extend far beyond music. The day after his arrival in New York, he dropped by the Frick Collection. He said he was also excited about seeing the Museum of Modern Art renovation for the first time. He has been reading Maupassant and Sophocles' "Antigone," one of his favorites of the ancient Greek tragedies. Perhaps James Joyce's "Ulysses" would be next, he said, although he had not yet decided whether to read it in English or Italian. He said he has read all of Shakespeare in both languages.

Once an eager chess player, Mr. Pollini said he plays less now. "I've lost some interest," he said.

Like most Italian cultural figures, Mr. Pollini is a man of the left. The recent hairbreadth defeat of the Italian premier, Silvio Berlusconi, who headed a center-right coalition, delighted him. "It is the beginning of the process of liberation," he said.

As the conversation trailed on, Mr. Pollini's answers grew briefer, and it was clear the interview was reaching a conclusion. He said he was off to lunch with his friend Renzo Piano, the architect, who was going to show him his new renovation of the Morgan Library and Museum.

Mr. Pollini parried one more question on his legacy and what he hoped people would say about it in years to come.

Who knows if they will even talk about him, he scoffed. Anyway, he said, "I'm not answering."

"Only two things are infinite, the universe and human stupidity, and I'm not sure about the former."

Albert Einstein

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Post by jbuck919 » Sun May 07, 2006 12:08 am

Chopin is one of the most mysterious figures in music. A case could be made that he was the only fully worthy interpreter of his own works there has ever been, and that everybody since him has only been taking a good guess. He left the debut of some works to other composers, notably Liszt, but we have to think of Liszt in this case as not the egotistic perfect virtuoso but as the intense connoisseur who would have died before misrepresenting a single note of Chopin, whom he personally loved and admired as among other things a great pianist.

There's nothing remarkable about it. All one has to do is hit the right keys at the right time and the instrument plays itself.
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Post by einstein63 » Sun May 07, 2006 12:20 am

:D I prefere Chopin by Arturo Benedetti Michelangeli...

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Post by Lance » Sun May 07, 2006 12:42 am

This was one of the most interesting interviews I've read of Pollini. I have never been one of his greatest fans, even from the beginning when EMI released the Chopin Piano Concerto #1 with the Philharmonia Orchestra/Kletzki. It was good playing as I recall and I thought Pollini might be in the big "lights," as is said, which happened, but not for everyone. I, too, find him to be a somewhat impersonal and "cold" pianist, the same kind of icyness of personality that concluded the interview. He's an impeccable keyboard technician that expresses his "heart" easily; I thought his Schumann very dry and un-Romantic. His Davidbündlertänze on DGG 471.369, for example, is a disc I played twice and haven't played since. I was expecting so much more. His Chopin doesn't convince me in the manner of an Artur Rubinstein or Ivan Moravec. He possesses a fine singing tone (he always uses the absolute finest instruments, like Michelangeli). For me, his music-making seems to be more positive in Stockhausen and other moderns, most of which I do not listen to very often. (How much emotion is involved in this music as compared to composers from the Romantic period?) While he speaks of the soul in music, he doesn't convey it, at least to my ears. But then, who are we, being so critical of a recognized world-class pianist? Some of us "follow," others do not - and therein likes the success of an artist, either adored by his public or not - or, perhaps, he falls somewhere in between.
Lance G. Hill

When she started to play, Mr. Steinway came down and personally
rubbed his name off the piano. [Speaking about pianist &*$#@+#]



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