Exactly. And I was completely free, being an
amateur in the field — it was the feeling of
a child playing, playing with his blocks and
building a castle.
Sometimes being in a rut can be mistaken for
being in a groove. We can get to a point where
we need to push ‘reset.’ The opportunity — for
those who fortunate enough to have it — to take
some time off and recharge can be a blessing.
I wonder now if you’re able to return to music
you’ve encountered before with a fresh ear?
That’s my hope, yes, with much more oxygen!
And this is why I take these sabbaticals. I find
the routine of concerts, all the adjustments you
have to make, adapting yourself, to the piano,
the acoustics, et cetera—you have to perform
that evening: whether you feel well or
you don’t, whether you want to play
Schumann or you don’t, you’ve committed to something and you have to
do it. I find myself incredibly lucky to
be doing this, but doing it for many
years, I think one has to be careful not
to let it become a routine. Routine is
the enemy of art, really! And that’s the
last thing I want.
I would have to imagine that your relationship with composers—living and
dead—changes over time. Are there
certain composers and works you find
yourself returning to?
I always return to Mozart— especially
the piano concertos. He’s the only
composer I return to with greater and
greater joy, a joy that is completely
without bottom. It’s hard to even understand
why. It has something to do with all the layers
his music conveys. There’s some higher intel-
ligence behind the whole thing. One keeps
pumping into another relation one has not
seen before, whether it’s a rhythmic relation, a
harmonic relation, a formal relation. And of-
ten it all feels so — I don’t want to say simple,
but effortless and obvious. And you start
thinking to yourself: ‘I could write this, as
well,’ but then when you actually start to play
Mozart and study Mozart you see how incred-
ibly actually complex it is, and how incredibly
sophisticated the whole thing is. With Mozart,
the feelings he conveys are rarely extreme. It’s
very often a mixture: sadness in Mozart has
optimism and optimism has sadness. It’s never
black and white, and this gives the music a
freedom; I think his music adapts itself to you.
That’s why I think I never tire of him. There is
always an opening into Mozart. It’s so incred-
ibly well written. Mozart just makes sense,
and there are so few things that make sense in
this life, you know?
I know that you are also a champion of [Leoš]
Janáček. What speaks to you from his music?
There is a raw quality in Janáček that speaks
to me, a very pure and raw expression of
the Slavic soul, something I never came across
in Poland, though it is also a Slavic country.
But Poland was always looking toward the
West, toward France especially; it’s a very
Latin country, Poland, in that way. But
Janáček for some reason is completely raw:
there is no decoration, no pretense to be
Western, civilized, formally concise — just
an incredibly direct and pure expression of
the Slavic soul.
Let’s end with Schumann. I know you’re a
Schumann man, as well.
We’ve spoken about Mozart, Janáček and
now Schumann and I have to say these are my
three favorite composers, those closest
to my heart.
I do my homework.
[Laughs.] But all three have something
in common. When speaking of Schumann,
I think again there is a directness, a lack
of filter, if you understand what I mean
— someone who puts his heart directly
onto the paper and into the notes. If you
take somebody like Brahms or even
Beethoven, someone who worked on his
scores, making sure they are perfect, that
every note and nuance is where it should
be — especially Brahms, who threw away
most of his compositions. . . yet with
Schumann you have this impression: ‘I
feel this, and I put it straight on the paper.’
Even if it’s not perfect, even if it’s awkwardly
formatted — which it sometimes is! As an
interpreter I think Schumann demands
so much from the player, because his music
is less balanced, and, it’s a bit of a
sin to say this, but it’s very often less
well written. Somehow you have to
get above this and get straight to the
soul of this man, which he reveals
with such generosity. I think the
generosity of Schumann is what touches
me most. It’s like the soul of a child
who just hands you absolutely
everything, and there is no hiding,
it’s frightfully sincere! And you know
how it is in art: sincerity is something
very dangerous. Even if we talk of art,
art could come from artificiality, ja?
And showing something that is not
necessarily true, and there are very few
composers who I think actually show
themselves truly, really, and I think
Schumann is such a composer. It’s a
very dangerous thing to do, and we all
know how he finished.
And we can hear that in post-illness Schumann.
We do hear that obsessive soul; he’s
not hiding his obsessions, like, say, Chopin,
who was extremely intelligent, but
very restrained with what he was going
to show and not show, with what he
was going to write and not write — just
writing for piano because that was what
he did best. And Schumann would
never do this! Schumann would just
explore all musical and instrumental forms,
even knowing that he was not excelling
in everything. That what I love about
Schumann, this generosity.
YOU KNOW HOW
IT IS IN ART:
VERY DANGEROUS. . . .
THERE ARE VERY
FEW COMPOSERS WHO I
THINK ACTUALLY SHOW
THEMSELVES TRULY, AND
I THINK SCHUMANN IS
SUCH A COMPOSER.