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Pianos and Pianists - Consultant Editor Ates Orga

The Pianist Speaks:

Lazar Berman

'In this age everyone is involved in doing copies of copies. Unfortunately copies can be both good and bad. The ideal pianist is one who does not copy. If what he does then stimulates discussion, so much the better. A performance should make people think. My approach is not intellectual, not only in music, but in life as well. Today everything is so technical, so mechanical, that the heart has gone. For this reason one has to pay even more attention to how one records. Technical perfection has become everything. If there is a wrong note, you have to record it again. Now obviously there should be a high standard of performance but, after all, one can't be so technical in a live performance. There are mistakes then whether you like it or not. That's why I concentrate so much on the emotional aspect when making a record. I prefer to record something even ten times, but always with emotional involvement. I am not interested in performing once or twice with hardly any mistakes if it means a lessening of emotional commitment. When I was young, years ago [Berman, a Moscow student of Goldenweiser, was born in Leningrad in 1930], the emotional aspect dominated my playing so much that it wasn't good. The ideal is to balance your emotions and the control you have over those emotions. One must not get carried away, but one, too, must not be cold or detached.

'I agree with Horowitz that one cannot judge pianists from records. You have to hear a pianist "live" before you can understand the records. Horowitz last year [1976] made me a good allegory. If you go and see a view, he said, and then buy a postcard, the postcard will give you happy memories of that experience. But if you buy the postcard first there'll be no impression. When I visited Horowitz it was very late after a concert, one o'clock in the morning, and I was very tired. Horowitz, however, asked me to play something. I wouldn't, saying that it would be much better to listen to [my] recording of the Liszt Concertos with Giulini [CD Deutsche Grammophon Galleria 415 839-2]. After we'd listened I got the impression that Horowitz liked the playing, and he said so. But the next day when we spoke on the phone Horowitz said, "but I still haven't heard you, I must hear you live".

'In preparing a piece I will repeat it continuously, all the time polishing it and trying out new ideas. I have two ways of approaching a work. If I play it already, I try to forget all previous ideas about it and I try to forget the interpretations of other pianists. With a piece I have never heard before, I prefer to hear someone else play it first. It is still difficult to maintain originality in performances. Sometimes when I am playing I have a story in my mind, and this helps. I use my imagination a lot in Liszt's arrangement of Schubert's Erlkonig [CD Arkadia 922, concert performance from Bergamo, May 21st 1971]. I differentiate between the characters, between Father and Son. I change the tempo, too; in the original Schubert doesn't. For me, however, each of the characters has a different tempo: the King, for instance, is slower than the rest. To be very self-critical helps as well. Then there's the structure of a piece of music, of course, and how we communicate it. Take the [Beethoven] Appassionata. Here you must be aware of its direction even before you start. I base the whole of the first movement on one tempo, and to this end count two bars beforehand so I establish a pulse in my mind. Each movement must have its proper tempo. In this particular sonata there is so much emotional content that if the tempo was to get out of control the music would just disintegrate… It's all a question again of not getting carried away.'
- From an interview Copyright © Ates Orga 1977, Records & Recording June 1977

Murray Perahia speaks >>