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Interviews with the Pianist Francesco Piemontesi and the Conductor Kirill Karabits

Thursday, 3 April 2014 , ora 9.24
Last night, on Radio Romania Music, you could listen to a live broadcast of the concert given by the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra, conducted by the Principal Conductor Kirill Karabits. The programme included The Piano Concerto No. 27 in B-flat Major by W. A. Mozart and The Symphony No. 9 in D Minor by Anton Bruckner. The soloist was the pianist Francesco Piemontesi.

We talked to the conductor and to the soloist about the programme, but this was not the only topic.

Francesco Piemontesi

Francesco Piemontesi, is this your first time playing with the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra?

No, it’s not; we played together in several concerts a few years ago. A young musician from the Great Britain was the conductor then and it was a very good collaboration, so I was really glad to receive their invitation to play this evening. I think it’s a very good orchestra, which pays a lot of attention to detail and has a great sound. Moreover, the Poole Concert Hall is very beautiful, so I really enjoy returning here.

You’re one of the most appreciated pianists of the young generation and this gave you the opportunity to play and collaborate with the greatest musicians. To which of these personalities do you feel closer in terms of musical ideal?

This is a very difficult question, perhaps impossible to answer to. As you said, I was very lucky to be able to work with personalities of the music world, especially with Cécile Ousset, Murray Perahia and Alfred Brendel. I think that I learned a lot of different things from each of them, things that I cherish and that I try to make visible in my interpretations. Maybe the way I play and the way I think of music bring me nearer to Alfred Brendel. As a matter of fact, he was a very important person in my life, not only as a teacher, but also from the human point of view. He is someone I spent a lot of time with and from whom I learned a lot, including things outside the musical area. It was an honour indeed to be able to spend so much time with him over the last 10 years.

Did this close relationship with Alfred Brendel have any influence on your choice of repertory?

I don’t think so. Not completely, anyway. There are certain composers I interpret and Alfred Brendel doesn’t, and there are creations in his repertory that can’t be found in mine. The same goes for my relationship with Murray Perahia or Cécile Ousset. When I choose certain opuses, I do it because I feel that they are great creations, part of the most valuable repertory. I want to spend my days, months, years, studying those works which always teach me something new. Let’s take for example Mozart’s last concerto, which I’m playing here, in Bournemouth. It is an opus I have played many times before and still, there is always a new angle from which to approach the score. I don’t feel this way with all music works. Sometimes I start studying a work and two days later I wonder: why have I begun to learn something like that? So, the selection criterion is this: which is the opus I want to have in my repertory for the next 20, 30 years?

This means that your plans are always long-term.

Yes, they certainly are. One of the projects I’m working on at the moment will unfold during 2015-2018. I’ll be playing, in different cities, all of Mozart’s sonatas and variations. On the other hand, I’m currently working on the complete cycle of Schubert’s sonatas – I have played almost all of them so far. Thus, my plans are made with an advance of 5-10 years, which is important, I believe, because it gives you a better perspective on what you want to do.

The opus interpreted tonight is the last piano concerto composed by Mozart. Is this something relevant to you, to your interpretation?

Maybe this time it is. I usually don’t pay much attention to this kind of things. I think that even the biggest expert on Mozart wouldn’t know about the Jenamy Concerto (known as Jeunehomme until recently) that it was composed by such a young Mozart; if asked when he believed the concerto was composed, the expert would say for sure that the work was written in the final year of the composer’s life, because it’s such a mature creation, with such a well-balanced structure. In general, I’m careful not to attach too much importance to the link between the work and the phases in the composer’s life. But in the case of the Piano Concerto No. 27 in B-flat Major I believe that being Mozart’s last piano concerto has certain relevance: it’s a work full of melancholy and nostalgia, at least in the first two movements. Charles Rosen said something very beautiful about this concerto: he believes that the message of the opus is a farewell to the world, that he feels it even more strongly than in Mozart’s Requiem. And this is how I feel about it, too. It’s such a sad work! For example, at the end of the second part, when the main theme of the piano returns in unison with the flute, you really get the feeling that Mozart takes you by the hand and carries you somewhere else. It’s a fantastic moment and I shiver whenever I play it. So, I could say that in this case the meaning is farewell to the world. It’s an incredibly moving creation.

Kirill Karabits

Mr. Karabits, you conduct the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra, an ensemble with which you have officially been collaborating for 5 years as principal conductor and for even longer as guest conductor. Which were the factors that brought together a Ukrainian chief conductor and a British ensemble?

This is one of the questions I often receive in Great Britain, especially now, when there are several East-European conductors here. People wonder what kind of chemistry can exist between East-Europeans and British. I think that my answer is very simple: British orchestras resemble some fantastic instruments; their technical level is very high and they reach incredible results in a short time and after a small number of rehearsals. But what they want, what they are interested in and what makes the collaboration really interesting is the depth brought by the East-Europeans. It’s as if a pianist played a very precious Steinway. Practically, you can do everything with a British orchestra. And I believe that what British musicians admire in the East-European artists is an original and individual approach to music. This is difficult to explain, because, although I was educated in Ukraine and then in Vienna from the musical point of view, I don’t belong to any system. My system consists of my personality and of the way I play, since in my opinion the most important aspect is the relationship with music itself. I believe that this is what they want in Great Britain: ideas, sometimes unusual ones, which they know how to put into effect.

Since you mentioned East-European musicians, we must say that the conductor who brought the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra to a new, higher level was a Romanian, Constantin Silvestri. He was a charming, although very strict musician, interested in promoting modern music. Tell us, please, what you request from this orchestra: maybe a special repertory, more rehearsals than accustomed?

I can assure you that Constantin Silvestri’s spirit is still alive here. Because it’s true what they say, that this orchestra reached a new level of performance due to him. Something interesting happened to me last week: I was conducting an orchestra in France and one of the musicians there, a Romanian, brought me some scores composed by Silvestri (among them, Three Pieces for Strings) and I’ll definitely use them with the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra. And to answer your question regarding my approach: sometimes I request more rehearsals, other times I bring music which is a little unusual, but the most important thing for me is the interpretation itself. Whatever the opus I conduct, I want to obtain maximum attention from the musicians and to keep their interest alive, to keep them “on the edge”, as the British say. I need this energy of the moment, of the present, with maximum focus during the interpretation. This is what matters most to me.

Tonight you are conducting opuses by Mozart -
the Piano Concerto No. 27 in B-flat Majorand by Bruckner - The Symphony No. 9 in D Minor. What links these two creations?

I believe that Mozart and Bruckner go very well together not only because they are both Austrian composers, but also because there are strong influences of Mozart’s music on Bruckner’s creations. Of course, there are also very important differences: Mozart has ease and elegance, while Bruckner has more substance and weight in terms of orchestral sound. But even from the stylistic point of view, Mozart and Bruckner go well together. The Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra hasn’t played Bruckner for many years and I would like to rekindle this tradition, of playing at least one symphony a year. I consider this very important, because the sound you can create in one of Bruckner’s works is unique. I don’t think that there is another composer who requires so much intensity in the sound of the strings, for example. That is why it’s very important for any orchestra to play Bruckner symphonies regularly.

Symphony No. 9 is a special opus for many reasons: first of all, it’s not finished. Moreover, despite his habit, the composer didn’t create several versions. However, there are numerous editions for what Bruckner wrote and also a few attempts to put the finishing touches to the fourth part. What edition did you choose and why?

We are using the version in three parts. It’s clear that the symphony is not finished and, of course, several explanations can be found as to the reason why Bruckner didn’t finish his creation. Nevertheless, I strongly believe that the symphony works very well with three movements. It has its own structure, its own architecture, given that it closes with an Adagio. This is how I prefer to conduct this symphony.

What would you say are the most difficult aspects of conducting this work?

This symphony, just like others by Bruckner, can be compared to a long meditation. Thus, one of the most important things for a conductor is to obtain a very rich orchestral sound at rehearsals and to create a special atmosphere during the concert. The symphony is long, it lasts almost one hour and you can’t just “perform” it: it’s not entertainment; it’s rather a prayer that you don’t play alone, but together with the audience that is invited to pray with you.

I’d say that “prayer” is the right word in this context, given the dedication on the first page of the symphony – Bruckner dedicated this work to God.

Yes, prayer or meditation. Because, in my opinion, prayer is a subjective act, while meditation is more open. Some people can pray, others can only think of themselves and the third category goes in-depth. That is why I believe the term “meditation” better describes this feeling.

Irina Cristina Vasilescu (broadcast during the intermezzo on 2nd April, 2014)
Translated by Mihaela Olinescu and Elena Daniela Radu
MTTLC, The University of Bucharest