<< -- 2 -- Bill Newman SOUTH AMERICAN BELLE
'I haven't had sufficient time to study some of the younger generation artists -- like the Russian influx. Often, I question where those I do hear really come from, and what they impart.' Your own playing shows you are willing to take chances, but that you possess a number of fixed views. How pieces should sound: based on your own ideas, or imparted by various teachers to become assimilated and incorporated as the basis of your own performing interpretation. This involves the rhythms and colours, sometimes at the expense of overall accuracy -- but who cares about that? I referred to a broadening of pace to emphasize the drama during the development of Liszt's First Mephisto Waltz. 'I like Liszt, and if I included more Bach, Beethoven, Schubert and Brahms in my repertory, I could then visit Paul for further advice.'
Badura-Skoda was recently complimentary about her latest recordings: 'Your playing is even better than in your earlier ones. You are a worthy interpreter of the great Carreno. I did not know that she was such a fine composer, and I have always liked the works of Ernesto Lecuona -- beautiful in every respect ...' His ever-admiring pupil sees the importance of great advice passed on to a younger generation, directly from the teachings of the great Edwin Fischer. Although I only heard Fischer live on the one occasion when he performed Beethoven's Emperor Concerto with Furtwängler at the Royal Albert Hall in 1948, I learnt much from his disciple Ventsislav Yankoff.
Your other teacher is Phyllis Sellick. 'She has been very strict with me, but a real inspiration in every way. I now play for her at least once a year, and even where the repertoire is unfamiliar, she will always say something important and reassuring to me afterwards.' Sellick is now 93, but she has always instilled -- along with her late husband Cyril Smith -- the need for pupils never to be totally satisfied with their efforts. Has she persuaded you to punish yourself in the process? 'Yes, this whole concentration on the listening process with its concept of clarity, until everything finally falls into place, phrasing balancing up and meaning established overall. It's really the way you put everything together. Another pianist who inspired me was the Pole, Regina Smendzianka (represented on the Polska Nagrania record label). We met in Caracas and I studied some Chopin at her masterclasses. She used to punch her students during performance so that everything sounded very clear, training us to lightly touch the phrase to give it special quality. I saw her three times in all before I went to the College. Afterwards, twice more. Her speciality was shading of colours and tone production -- rare, nowadays.'
Do you advocate freedom of arm movement, controlled by the shoulders? Nothing rigid. 'Yes, as recommended by Tobias Matthay. My first teacher, by the way, was the Venezuelan Guiomar Narvaez -- not to be confused with the famous Guiomar Novaes. I used to be very disciplined, before I had my child. Now, I am beginning to be so again once more, although I am not very sporty! Yoga helps, although I am not strong enough in the forearms. I have been doing it, on and off, for about 15 years.' I remembered the veteran pianist Abbey Simon telling me about his teacher David Saperton, Leopold Godowsky's son-in-law, dying in hospital. 'I can't go now, I still have much work to do!', were his last words; then he expired. 'The musical pedigree between master and pupil is most important. If you so desire, you become what your teacher intends you to be. Phyllis Sellick always said that the essential cannot be taught.'
'Instinct is also relevant. I cannot accept colleagues telling me I should always play South American music because I was born there. Claudio Arrau, born in Chile, never performed it. Instinct has nothing to do with nationality, but Japanese players impart something about their language, and you can hear it, clearly.' Yet I hear Russian, Chinese, Italian younger generation pianists pulling musical phrases out of context to try and discover new ways of performing. 'This is very silly. They are obviously trying to make money!' Aided and abetted by BBC Radio 3 announcers and the Classical Brit Awards, it has turned into scenes of hype and euphoria from which emerge certain artists with no musical backgrounds and an immaturity in outlook. Learning and application go together. 'I see this between my own mother and my young son. On the surface, she appears kind, but underneath she is very strict.'
'When I grew up in Caracas, it was a quiet, enriching and democratic period for the country. Education was free, and at the schools and conservatoires you could see young age kids, any day of the week enjoying their lessons and playing their musical instruments all over -- very naturally, more and more. My teacher was also very strict, and we had to play Bach, Handel, Scarlatti, Czerny, and do all the exams. This is quite traditional, and every year it became more progressive.' Hasn't the system suffered in England in recent years? 'I deputized recently, and noticed that lessons had become shorter with children running about everywhere doing their ballet and swimming in between more important subjects. When you are there, you have to help, spend time also. Some play their instruments quite well and have never attended a concert. They cannot inform you what period the music belongs to -- classical, romantic, and so on, or what the music reminds them of. One was informed by her teacher that romantic music is always played in restaurants! Where do you start? I played a concert at the State school that my son goes to and they crowded into the hall. Afterwards, they remembered me, and at first I couldn't tell why until I recognized them from the audience. They gave me gifts and flowers.' Were you able to spot any talents in advance? 'Yes, I have some pretty good pupils.'
'I teach better now, with experience.' Does it interfere with your main vocation, playing the piano? 'Not at all. I have always had a very supportive family, and they came to England to help. For instance, when my son was 4 months old we did a different version of Liszt in Petticoats at the Purcell Room, featuring the pianist Amy Fay's Diaries. The first half included her meeting with Liszt, and I performed Chopin's Barcarolle and some of the Op 118 pieces of Brahms. So, this was rather a big undertaking for me after just giving birth! I also did another concert: Gypsy Ballade -- Homage to Garçia Lorca with some very good dancers and actors. The historical tie-ups with Venice and Ibéria provide sources of fascination, and these concert entertainments represented a good period where a curious audience came along to listen and watch.'
Copyright © 13 April 2005
Bill Newman, Edgware UK