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Apr 16, 2011

Rafał Blechacz talks about music interpretation

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Interview with Rafał Blechacz, posted on Gazeta.pl Toruń, on April 16.
As a preview of his playing and discussing interpretation of music at his university soon.

Original interview (Polish)


Rafał Blechacz plays and talks about music

Interview with Rafał Blechacz, last updated 2011-04-15 17:37

The more I'm in music, the more I deal with different interpretations; I go to concerts, which makes it more difficult to say that this interpretation is better, that is worse. I cannot say so any more. Simply, it is different.


Maciej Czarnecki: On Saturday during the Toruń Festival of Science and Arts, a debate is scheduled on the art of interpretation of the piano, blending with fragments of songs by your performance.

Rafał Blechacz: On the stage there will be a piano, but also a table, behind which Fr. Prof. Andrzej Szostek and the editor Adam Rozłach of Polish Radio are seated. A year ago, after my concert in Toruń there was already a short debate, during which a few problems were signaled. This is a continuation of that discussion. This time, however, our considerations will be illustrated by music. We would like to talk, eg. about freedom of interpretation. Here Chopin’s mazurkas will be great example. Maybe I'll also play polonaises, and certainly Bach.

A year ago you said that in the interpretation, both knowledge and intuition count.

- I stand by it.


For an average listener, who tracks, eg. Chopin competition, probably it seems that the pianist is first of all sympathetic to the music.

- Knowledge of compositional style is also important, the style of the era. For example, if I intend to present a Beethoven sonata in public, then I need to know whether it comes from the early period of his works, or it is heralding the romantic style, because the late Beethoven sonatas suggest such an atmosphere. In case of Bach's music, baroque music, and as a performer I need to be aware of how to perform ornaments, trills and embellishments.

There are certain very strict rules, and ignorance of such performance-related aspects appears very blatant in performance. In romantic music, some degree of expertise is also needed, for example, about what kind of pianos were there in the times of Frederic Chopin. This allows us to get a little closer to the aesthetics of those days. Of course, to this we add the heart, intuition. Helped by these elements an individual interpretation is shaped.

We are talking about musicological knowledge, but I guess that the doctoral studies in philosophy at UMK also affect your interpretations.

- I look for inspirations in various fields. Recently I’ve played a lot of music by Debussy and looked for it in Impressionist paintings. Concerning the studies, I’m firmly focused on the philosophy of music. It started with the texts of Roman Ingarden, then the time came for the text of Prof. Stróżewski. The meeting with the professor in Kraków two years ago resulted in the text for my third album of Chopin's concertos. Then I started to expand philosophical interests to other texts, maybe not so much related to music, but overall to arts. For the history of philosophy, classical philosophers - it is all very interesting. These studies primarily rely on reading. I can do it at hotels, and on the plane and train. This is a wonderful springboard, which also supplies interpretations.

Let's talk about its limits for a while. You are sometimes tempted to go very far from the original version of the work?

- Vision of interpretation of a song changes over time. It is related not only to our maturation, but also to the fact that the same song is presented repeatedly during the artistic season in various places, in different venues for different audiences. The interpretation changes spontaneously. When I compare recordings of the first concerto shortly after the Chopin Competition with today's, I notice some changes. Maybe not radical, controversial, but still.

Also there is something like evocativeness in the way that a pianist shows his interpretation. I've been to many concerts of other artists. Sometimes they played in a way that would not really suit me, but they did it so convincingly and evocatively, that at the moment I accepted that interpretation. The stage must come with some power of interpretation, which absorbs the listener.

So an individual performance is affected by each city, hall, audience, in short - every moment?

- Of importance is, eg. room acoustics and quality of the instrument. For instance, when I play in theaters in Italy, where the acoustics are quite dry and the sound fades quickly, I must use a little faster tempo. Sometimes these are pretty big changes, which require much concentration.

Do you play better than a few years ago, or just different?

- Different. The more I'm in music, the more I deal with different interpretations; I go to concerts, which makes it more difficult to say that this interpretation is better, that is worse. I cannot say so any more. Simply, it is different. Such is the vision of interpretation, such is an attitude toward work. Sometimes we find it acceptable, sometimes not. Much depends on the attitude of the listener.

Interviewed by Maciej Czarnecki

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