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Interview with Mischa and Lili Maisky

Wednesday, 7 July 2010 , ora 11.39

I had the privilege of attending a recital performed by the famous violoncellist, Mischa Maisky, and his daughter, pianist Lili Maisky, within the Dresden Festival. On May 24th 2010, on Semperoper stage, the two performed a programme made exclusively of Russian works - miniatures by Glinka, Rimski Korsakov, Rubinstein, Tchaikovsky, Rachmaninov, but also the Sonata op. 40 by Dmitri Shostakovich.

Obviously, the programme was chosen in accordance with the theme of the Dresden Festival - Russia. However, for those who do not know any biographic aspects related to Mischa Maisky who, in 1970, was imprisoned by communists for political reasons, this is a painful subject matter, therefore the first question came naturally.

What is the real Russia, Russia being the theme of the Dresden Festival in 2010, the country that sent you to prison because for political reasons or the country of Tchaikovsky, Rachmaninov, composers you performed during the recital held in Dresden on May 24th 2010?

Mischa: It is a difficult question. Since I am a musician, the Russian music is very dear to my heart, actually, the French or any other music, just as the Russian music, they are all dear to my heart. But when I play Rachmaninov, Tchaikovsky or Shostakovich, I feel completely absorbed by this music. So, indeed, here lies the real Russia, the Russian heart and soul that resonates from this music.

What is your favourite repertoire? You have recorded a lot of Russian music, but you also play Bach very often…

Mischa: Yes, of course. You see, to me, my favourite opus is the one I play within the next recital; when I play Shostakovich, he clearly is my favourite composer, but when I play Bach, I simply cannot imagine a greater music than this one. When I play Rachmaninov, I feel the same thing, but it's the same in the case of Brahms, Schubert and Dvorak. You cannot compare them, all this music, every work, is unique in its own way.

It is the first time I have listened to you play alongside your daughter. This is a question for both of you: how does it feel to play as a family, from the father's point of view and from the child's point of view?

Mischa: This is, nonetheless, a dream come true to me. I had been dreaming of this long before Lili was born.

Can we speak of the father's authority?

Mischa: It is about the authority of music. Both of us only try the best we can to share with our audience the joy, the love and the beauty of music. It is very simple…

Lili: I do not think that authority has too much to do with music…

I only thought that in a traditional family, the father portrays the authoritarian character…

Lili: In music, though, it makes no difference if we are father, daughter or brother. It is simply music. This type of relationship does not matter in a performance.

So, how does it feel to play with your father?

Lili: It is the same, a dream come true, nothing seems more natural; I play together with other musicians, but when I play with my father it is like returning to my origins.

As a young musician, is having such father, bearing a name like Maisky, important to you? Is it harder or easier?

Lili: As many other things in life, this fact has got both positive and negative aspects. I believe I am fortunate to have been born as my father's daughter. This fact has given me the opportunity to play alongside many other great artists. On the other hand, though, by bearing this name, people expect of me to reach a certain level, and every one has the right to their own opinion…

So, in fact it is not that easy?

Lili: He is my father, if he had been a plumber or a farmer, I would not have loved him less.

When will you play together again?

Mischa: We will perform at the Festival of Martha Argerich of Lugano, then in Spain, Japan, Italy and Croatia.

Would you accept if you were invited to perform together in Romania?

Lili: Of course.

Mischa: I believe I have not yet answered an e-mail that proposed me a recital in Bucharest.

Lili: I would like to come to Romania.

Mischa: Romania is a very special place.

Why do you say that?

Mischa: Oh, it is very special. In fact, each place is special in its own way. But still, there is something about Romania, and I think you know better what it is. I have got a few Romanian friends, musicians, whom I admire very much. One of my favourite recital partners, ever since we were in university, is Radu Lupu. My son, Lili's brother, called me from Vienna a few days ago, soon after Radu Lupu's recital, and he had been so impressed that he had no words to describe me that recital.

Lili: I know many young Romanian musicians; one of them is Mihaela Ursuleasa. However, we have never played together.

Mischa: Indeed, she is absolutely marvellous. Your tradition is great.

Have you ever performed one of Enescu's works?

Mischa: Unfortunately I haven't. But you know, last night I had a dream - it was in fact a nightmare - in which I had to learn Enescu's No. 3 Sonata for violin and piano in only two days. I woke up completely in sweat - it was in fact last night, mind my words. I was asked to perform one of Enescu's works for violoncello and orchestra - Symphonie Concertante. I had to perform it during the Enescu Festival, but I did not manage to learn it, so David Geringas performed it eventually.

However, do you still plan to learn an opus by Enescu?

Mischa: I hope so, because he was a great composer, a difficult one, but life is pretty much the same.

Lili: He was a very difficult composer. I tried to read the scores for piano from Sonata no. 3 for piano and violin, but no sooner had I started reading than I realized how hard it was.

You have a lot of concerts. Every two or three days you play elsewhere. What motivates you to lead such a tiresome life?

Mischa: It is very simple: music itself, the great music, then come the audience and the connection between the audience and a composer through me. This is an incredible feeling. When the audience is so enthusiastic, like today in Dresden, it is a privilege to be able to share with so many people everything you know about, what you are aware of and what you love about such great music.

Don't you ever get tired? Do you ever go on vacations?

Lili: He is Superman.

Mischa: Of course I am very tired when I think of the situation itself, but when I play, I instantly forget about it.

I think it is important that everyone has their own rules in life. What are yours?

Mischa: I think it is very important to be honest and do what you feel. For example, there is a whole discussion about how to play Bach so that you may recreate the authentic, whatever that means. It is a long and important discussion. However, I believe in authenticity very much, and what I mean by that is the authenticity of emotions, of the music that comes from your heart. This is how I see authenticity. And it is important that whatever you do, you do it with love.

How has the world of music changed since your debut so far?

Mischa: It depends how you look at it. There is continuity, because great music is the same…

I was thinking from the point of view of the young performers, like Lili, that the level is very high… Marketing and public relations are also very important.

Mischa: Yes, seen from the perspective of the music industry, things have changed very much. Now, it depends what you mean by 'level', because, indeed, from the point of view of the performance technique, the level is very high. There are so many instrumentalists that play very well. On the other hand, when speaking of personality in music, which I see as the most important thing, this is less and less present. In the past, each performer had a very clear individuality. Nowadays, this is seen very seldom.

Lili: If we think of the past generations, there are no more people like those…

Mischa: Let us take, for example, the concerto for violin by Mendelssohn, performed by different violinists. It is amazing how different were past performances: Kreisler, Heifetz, Oistrakh, Menuhin, and Milstein. Nowadays, we have countless violinists and some of them perform wonderfully, but in a way they all sound the same.

Can you name a good young artist in the sense we have just mentioned? Would you recommend Lang Lang and Vadim Repind, with whom you appear on your latest CD?

Mischa: Yes, certainly, but there are a good many others: two violinists who I often work together with: Janine Jansen and Julian Rachlin. We play together pretty often and, in my opinion, they are two extraordinary musicians. But there may be others too, that I may not be familiar with at the moment.

What does a young artist need to reach, for example, the artistic level that Mischa Maisky possesses right now? Are talent and hard work enough, or do we need more than that?

Lili: It is very complicated - it is a combination of such different factors: talent is objective, but every musician needs to invest a lot of time in his work. For me, it was highly important that I had the opportunity to play chamber music alongside several great artists, who I learnt a great deal from. We needn't utter a word, only play. And appear alongside my father also contributed enormously, maybe the most, to my evolution. I will perform with Ivry Gitlis for the first time, which is a great honour for me and I can hardly wait to benefit from his experience.

In every presentation of yours, a sentence always appears 'He was the only one to have studied together with Mstislav Rostropovich and Gregor Piatigorsky'. Have you got any disciples to continue your art?

Mischa: I do hope so. You know, after the concert, young cellists come and ask me: 'Do you teach?' and I answer them: 'I just have.' I do not teach in the traditional sense of the word. I sometimes take part in master classes and, among those who believe themselves to be my disciples, I mention Han Na Chang. She was 13 years old when I met her and we spent an entire summer studying together. She was the one who, when she was eleven years old, won the Rostropovich contest. Han Na Chang thought I was her teacher, and that may be true, although I think it is something more psychological. When I met her for the first time, I started believing in reincarnation. She was only a child, but when she played the cello, she would be completely transformed, it was something totally amazing. I still haven't learnt enough to be able to teach others. I may try it after twenty or thirty years.

You are wearing a piece of jewellery around your neck. Does that have anything to do with faith? Manfred Honeck confessed to me that faith was the most important in life for him. What is the most important thing in life for you?

Mischa: It depends what you mean by life. In my professional life, the most important thing is music. Anything else comes on the second place. As for my personal life, my family, my children are most important. But what I am wearing is something very old…

Lili: I think it is more of a superstition linked to this jewellery…

Mischa: It is nothing but an old piece of jewellery the Indian Rajahs used to wear on their turbans.

Lili: It has got nine precious stones that bring fortune…

Mischa: I wear no ties and this piece of jewellery replaces them.

What kind of music do you listen to during your leisure time?

Mischa: What is leisure time? I try to listen to a lot of music as much as possible, usually classical one, but not only, and a little bit of jazz. I think Bernstein said there were only two types of music…

Good and bad!

Mischa: Precisely!

Lili: I actually do not listen to too much classical music, I have several works I am really obsessed with, but on the other hand I listen to more jazz and tango. I like tango and Piazzolla, but also blues and even the contemporary music is good sometimes.

And now the end. A short message to the Romanian audience.

Mischa: I was always glad every time I had the opportunity and the pleasure to visit Romania and I hope to come again soon, together with my daughter.
Cristina Comandașu