<< -- 2 -- Bill Newman TRUE MUSICAL MEANING
Do you teach when you do not play? 'I work as principal accompanist for the main Sibelius Academy. They have four permanent players; I work with violinists, violists and cellists, and the others share the wind players and singers. It combines very well with my concert life, rather like a teacher of chamber music. But I gave up permanent teaching twenty years ago because it was so demanding and interfered with my concerts. It is like two separate areas. Today, we concentrate on the most promising players and their motivation to improve all the time in building careers for the years ahead. Twenty years ago, it was just not the same -- performers were more modest in their attitudes. I don't quite understand this, but even the most technically perfect today lack that great musical spirit when they perform.'
Are many discouraged by the harder, more ruthless, quicker demands of the present time, and can you widen their outlooks to take in parallel interests -- like the inspiration and creation of music that helps lessen burdens? 'This is not something I have involved myself with, but when I look at what Rudolf Serkin achieved at Marlboro, and how Alfred Brendel selects and trains the most promising young musicians today, then I can but admire. I respect very highly musicians like Brendel, András Schiff; and violinists Thomas Zehetmair and Mark Kaplan. Kaplan, I had the honour to appear with in Finland, Italy and Germany, some years ago. In Finland, we have less opportunity to hear fine artists. Perhaps once a year.' Basically, you have to get on with your job -- concerts, working with young musicians at the Academy, with no time to relax. 'I must confess, I have about two lessons a week; very few in any one month ... I must be able to concentrate fully on my own concerts. Ten or fifteen years ago, my Academy job maybe involved more stress. I have since become older, and my repertoire is too well known!'
With more artists to compete with than ten to fifteen years back, but how did you come to choose the piano in the first place? 'It was very funny. When I was very young, my parents bought a piano for my older brother. He was very musical, but too old to begin to perform with any eagerness. I was six years old, then, and during many evenings I discovered and learnt the notes. It was poco pocosimmo ... and it became bigger and bigger. Then my parents understood that they must organise teaching for me. This was a happy time, but good teachers were hard to find. It took over two years to find a better one. At nine years of age, teaching, in my opinion was too modest. Then, in Northern Finland I had private lessons with the German teacher, Helger Lück -- for rather too long a period. His gift was musical inspiration, instead of technique. Later, at the University of Oulu a very good man explained to me about the control of the body from the neck downwards. It was very good discipline. I had no such relative problems with sight reading, but everyone has their own talents.'
Taking new music into your repertory -- did this pose problems? 'With new music, you have to discover the correct style of each piece, but I am more traditional in my output, generally. With Mozart and Schubert, it is much easier to memorise their works, but very difficult to perform them correctly.' The nuance, rubato and so on. 'Terrible, but I think it is the same for Bach and Beethoven. And more problematic, again with the impressionists -- Debussy and Ravel, and the modernists Shostakovich and Prokofiev. Again ... learning by heart is not difficult, but to learn how to perform their music, that is totally different, and being self-critical it takes longer and longer, nowadays.'
Does your interpretation of the same music change on a daily basis? 'This is very hard to answer because I don't hear the music now the same as I did some years back, but I am not sure of your question.' So, when you look at the printed score's expression and tempo markings etc, do you then attempt to perform them in a strict fashion, or just generally observe them. There is that old saying of 'trying to discover the meaning behind the printed notes.' 'Yes! I think that is my own motto. Everyone should do this, but what is frightening is the clash between true musical meaning and my own style of playing. Sometimes for me, it is a disaster!' But it should be the fun of the exercise ... learning something new every day. 'After two years, I sometimes examine whether I have changed certain opinions.' On occasion becoming stuck with some problem, you might decide to drop that particular piece and take up something new, instead. A difficult work like Ravel's Gaspard de la nuit; but you constantly have the choice of a wide selection of repertoire. 'Exactly! But this is true of every artist. Each must find their own way, but it takes up a whole life span.' And energy as well!
Copyright © 4 March 2004
Bill Newman, Edgware UK