Interview with Rafał Blechacz published by Fono Forum May, 2012, titled,
"To become famous is not my goal in life"
Let me post the introductory part of the interview. To read the entire interview you need to purchase the magazine.
Original article on Fono Forum
Do you have a special relationship with Szymanowski and Debussy?
Both composers are very close to me. Before the Chopin Competition I played Debussy a lot, which made me sensitive to sounds and shades of Chopin. In Szymanowski, the wonderful modulations and melodies fascinated me. Dynamic contrasts and harmonies inspired by Scriabin are typical – at the beginning of the Prelude for example, we cannot tell whether it is major or minor. To me both composers manifest themselves in sharp difference between impressionism and expressionism.
You admittedly play Szymanowski of the early Expressionist period emotionally, but it seems as if you never lose yourself in the music.
Maybe it’s because I see closeness to the classical form in his first piano sonata. The first movement is a type of Allegro having first and second themes which stand in contrast to each other. The third movement is a kind of minuet, and the fourth, a fugue. Even though this is not typical like in Bach, it reveals an absolutely polyphonic thinking. All these classical aspects affect my interpretation: sound, but also with a view to dynamic contrasts.
Your personality also plays a role at the same time?
Maybe. Each artist approaches his music differently. We often identify the timbre based on the intensity and volume. However dynamic contrasts are important indeed, but not everything. To the character of each work, I try to find a specific color, then this results in articulation and pedal use.
Sometimes I want to create a silvery or golden sound, in other occasions it should be brilliant and intensive, then rather steely. In Debussy's "Pagodes" for example, it sounds silvery, feels like Chinese.
On the third page, there are a few bars where the right hand plays melodies, while the left hand contributes only two notes syncopated.
There the sound should be a little darker, softer, which makes a fine contrast to the rest.
Are you a synesthete?
Yes. In A major, for example, I see a kind of yellow, however D major is rather blue.
But sometimes I perceive completely different actual colors, which also depends on the music. And not every key has a certain color in my idea. It is more a kind of imagination.
Should the piano be sounding differently with Debussy from for example with Beethoven?
Absolutely. When I decided to record Debussy and Szymanowski, I was looking for a piano that allows me to create many shades and colors, plus it should have a large volume, strong bass and cantabile treble. I chose the one in Hamburg Laeiszhalle with which I had already played there my first recital. In addition, I spoke with the piano tuner about intonation: By pricking** the felt of the hammerheads he can make the sound softer. He was really good and could have everything prepared as I had imagined, so I could create beautiful colors even in pianissimo.
What qualities should a good Debussy player have?
I've already talked about the importance of color of sound. For example, there is an interesting part in "La soirée dans Grenade" from "Estampes", which is very typical of Debussy. The right hand plays a kind of melody, whose sound reminds me of morning dew, and the left-hand is accompaniment. My idea is that each voice has its own specific color. If the right hand plays drop, I want a silvery sound, which becomes gold at the end when the sun shines through. Of course there are a lot of virtuorities about Debussy, but it is different in nature than about Liszt. In "L'Isle Joyeuse," for example, all virtuosic parts should be veiled by silvery and golden mist.
What does this mean for the performing technique?
The articulation is of course different from Bach. For a dark sound the tension of fingers should not be so strong and their movement inert. Sometimes I press right and left pedals only by one-fifth, so the sound will be lighter.
Music journalists characterize your playing with such words as clear, transparent and noble. Is this all right or do you miss any other aspects?
It depends on the music. When I play Viennese classical music, that's all right, even partially to Chopin. But sometimes it is crucial to show the internal tension, in such pieces as Debussy's "La soirée dans Grenade". Poetry is also important in music. It depends on the character of the pieces.
In an interview with "Zeit online" you have made it clear that you do not like controversial interpretations.
This is in fact no way I would like to follow. Being controversial to me means that I cannot think of the composer, but only of my ideas, and I’m not so careful of the piece. That is a dangerous way.
On the other hand, there are stories of pianist, genius eccentrics like Glenn Gould.
A key to individual interpretation is to respect the composer's work. And even if I follow all the intentions of the composer, it is still possible to show my ideas freely in the interpretation. I think one can connect the personality of the composer and his own. There is no need of struggle between composers and artists.
What do you think of his own version, created by Vladimir Horowitz of Rachmaninov's second piano sonata?
Do you like it?
It is certainly interesting.
It is very difficult to explain what the correct way of interpretation is. I have some experience attending concerts of other artists. When they began to play, I initially thought that I would play differently. But as I listened longer, I suddenly realized that I liked their interpretation. It is strange, but if the artist has a strong personality, we accept his ideas, if perhaps not always, all of them. If it is very controversial, it is difficult to accept in my opinion, for example Glenn Gould's Mozart. But his Bach?
... His interpretation of the "Goldberg Variations" I think that's wonderful.
So do I. And of course it depends also on the moment in which an interpretation is presented. In concert, it is unrepeatable, however, if we listen to the CD, it can sometimes be difficult.
The last part of Blechacz's remark reminded me of the article about the thesis for the Master's degree he wrote on graduating from Music Academy in Bydgoszcz in 2007. The subject of the thesis was: The specificity of artistic performance in terms of competition, stage and recording, with the examples of Blechacz, Glenn Gould and Krystian Zimerman.
The beginning of Prelude by Szymanowski.