Contrast among cultures
In my upbringing I was influenced by many different cultures, particularly those of Germany, Russia and Uzbekistan. Of course, it is hard to describe in words exactly what a “culture” is. Let me give some examples of elements I have found particularly important:
In Uzbekistan: the rhythms of traditional folk music (5/8, 7/8); the omnipresence of singing; an immense variety of colors, scents and impressions.
In Russia: the rhythm and phrasing of the Russian tongue have a great influence on meter and phrasing in music. Even the language’s tendency to describe and evoke things indirectly is also a sort of precision, based on images rather than on concepts. Russian poetry, the landscapes and light in the northern regions, the Russians’ passionate tendency toward excess, the folk songs and venerable teaching traditions.
In Germany, the language’s striking rhythm has an evident influence on musical expression. I would also mention the German language’s precision, the systematic structure of thought and language, and a widespread tendency toward introspection.
I believe that someone who has lived in several cultures can achieve a more profound self-awareness. A perspective from outside, from another culture’s point of view, results in a different view of oneself. At the same time, coming from abroad, you become more sensitive and adaptive as you attempt to grow into that new culture. In terms of musical interpretation it implies that you can rely on a broader foundation of experience to form your artistic personality. You become more open to the challenge of acculturating yourself to the widest variety of composers and musical styles.
Conveying music to the audience
Russian repertoire viewed afresh
I would like to help audiences see that it is worth the effort to acquire a better knowledge of Russian music with all its sophistication and elegance. I hope to awaken their curiosity, thereby encouraging them to get to know many other works in the repertoire.
Many people still think that Russian music is soaked in pathos and lost in melody. Some music-lovers might be willing to succumb, on occasion, to the charms of striking “warhorses” of Russian repertoire such as the Tchaikovsky I and Rach II piano concertos – but they would never deign to count them as great works of art. In the West, a substantial number of Russian composers are admittedly known by name, but few of their works.
I would like present the great extent of valuable, relatively unknown works by Russian composers still waiting to be discovered. Whenever the members of an audience already know a composer, I’m convinced they will want to get to know other works of the same pen. Beyond all clichés, Russian music – both known and unknown – is an immense treasure-trove of elaborately conceived structures, polyphonies, polyrhythms, unsuspected humor, profound poetry and colorful images.
A new approach to German repertoire
As far as German repertoire is concerned, my goal is to feature the widest possible range of sonorities and expressive potential in each rendition. I also want to pay conscious attention to detail and clearly bring out the structure with an elegant touch and lively polyphony.
An inquisitive approach to contemporary repertoire
I also plan to maintain an intense focus on contemporary music. Concert audiences respond to my natural curiosity, which inspires them in turn. My firm conviction, at any rate, is that any sophisticated modern music can reach a wider audience as long as it has been designed to be ‘heard’ with interest. In other words, I believe that many people are capable of embarking on musical adventures that take them beyond run-of-the-mill repertoire, beyond popular music for the masses and also beyond the sort of avant-garde ‘art’ that is merely academic.
Rapport with the audience
My relation with the audience is very intimate since what I am seeking to achieve, in the end, is to move their hearts. For this to happen I must open myself up as well. And I am likewise thoroughly grateful for the portion of their time that they are devoting to me. Therefore my utmost goal is for them to take something special back home with them, something they can remember.
My view of interpretation
Objectivity and subjectivity
In my view, the dividing line between objectivity and subjectivity is relatively clear when we are interpreting music. The objective framework is faithfulness to the text: the music as written, and the way we should fittingly render the composer’s style and intention. We can find out more about style and intention by studying the composer’s letters, writings and quoted statements, the historical instruments of his time and his entire output. To become well-acquainted with that objective framework is what I see as my mission. One should not venture beyond its borders. However, within that framework, interpretation remains purely subjective: the performer is free, the pianist’s soul can speak in tandem with the composer’s soul. A rendition is successful if it is inspired.
A rendition is inspired if it gives the impression that the work is emerging in the moment for the first time before our eyes, making us feel that the performer and the listener live “inside” the work. This ensures that the listener, for one, can intermittently forget the fact that there, on stage, someone of flesh and bone is pressing down a couple of thousand times on the keys of a piano made of metal and wood.
Technique and faithfulness to the work
In my view, in order to respect the composer’s intentions we must employ an elaborate and, above all, flexible technique. I don’t believe that there is such a thing as a universal technique applicable to every composer. Each composer has his own world of expression that I want to explore; each one of those worlds demands a different technique.
Legato in Chopin, for instance, is different from legato in Beethoven. The instruments at Beethoven’s disposal had a more salient tone and articulation than later ones. Thus in Beethoven we should articulate more clearly: each note should have its own presence. The instruments used by Chopin, however, had a more supple tone and articulation: the main emphasis was not on articulation, but on flexible expression.
I find it particularly important to consciously apply a great variety of sonorities.
Sonorities, in all their multitude, are born in the pianist’s inmost fantasy: I start by imagining different timbres, then adjust touch and pedal to what I’ve heard in my inner ear.
Overall sonority can be affected at any moment by a series of minimal attack delays. This is useful, for instance, when we are attempting to imitate orchestra instruments on the piano, since each instrument has its own different kind of attack.
In varying room acoustics we can influence the overall sound by correctly adjusting tempo. In an auditorium with considerable reverb, the sound needs more time to ‘grow’ than in a room with dry acoustics. To achieve the best sound in each situation I tend to play markedly slower in venues with rich reverberation than in relatively ‘dry’ rooms..
Technique and imagination
In my view, musicianship and technique form an indivisible unity.
Musicianship is based on technique. If you want to realize a musical idea, you obviously need technique to achieve it. But even the feel of playing with technically well-prepared hands can influence the kind of musical thoughts you create.
However, technique is likewise based on musicianship. The inner ear, for instance, is usually regarded as a trait pertaining to musicianship, but it is absolutely indispensable if you want to achieve technical skills such as dexterity. If you can hear music articulated rapidly and precisely in your inner ear before playing, you can also make it become a reality.
Rationality and emotion
Neither can we separate rationality from the emotions in music. Music addresses the human being as a whole, and rationality can also be a source of aesthetic pleasure. Feelings, in art, are not unrestrained. We address them through rational means.
The proportion between rationality and emotion admittedly differs from work to work, and elaborately varies from one period of history to the next. It would be mistaken to assume, for instance, that rationality is less important in Romanticism than in Classicism. Romantic works express emotions in a more unfiltered way: therefore the performer needs to structure them even more rationally to ensure that the music does not lose its intensity. Romantic pieces would otherwise sound too feeble, merely like one beautiful passage after another.