A conversation with; #12 (Reel 1)
Conversation with Alexis via Simberg. This is another in a continuing series of programs each of which offers the listener a rare opportunity to hear an eminent musician informally discussing his own career and expressing his thoughts about a variety of topics related to the art of music. The regular participants in these discussions are Aaron Parsons professor of music theory at Northwestern University and program annotator for the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and George Stone program director for Zenith radio corporation's serious music station WABE FM in Chicago. We are joined today by Richard freed assistant to the director of the Eastman School of Music. The guest on today's program is the internationally known pianist Alexis vise and bear. Now here is George Stone. We have as our guest the distinguished pianist Alexis Weiss and back with me at the table are our regular
participant on Parsons and Dick fried of RWA FM group. Mr. Vyse I'm very we're delighted to have you join us. Thank you and delighted to be here. Is this your first appearance in Chicago. This is my first appearance in Chicago yes. I noticed that in one of the reviews and I might add that all the reviews spoke in glowing terms of your performance but the headline on one of them was where has he been. And that's question let's pursue that question has been asked often privately or publicly. You have not concertizing as much as I have told you. This is mostly in Europe before I came back to the states of course started my my biggest days at this place many years ago after the live into the ward in New York and then I was in the States for five years before I went to Europe. It has been said that they have taken the kind of sabbatical but this is a very difficult world to make people understand
correctly because sometimes sabbatical means absolutely ignoring the concert world and concert stage for many years which was not my guess. But they just felt first of all that I needed more personal development in Europe for my own sake of development and psychological development. Musically this tickling hand once in a while I think you have to be away from the place you have played very much in and come back to it not when there not is a different person that is simply somebody who has matured more in certain particular lines which are essential to you and you can only do it if you can really face yourself a long time without interruption. There is something wrong about the race racing I mean a concert giving which can put you in such a permanent basis of playing constantly and traveling permanently that you almost never have time enough to think reflect and restudy scores that
were maybe wonderful and maybe wonderfully understood by you at the age of 18 and 20 but that should have somebody thinking 10 years later. Is this what you were doing during these five years of. It was more it was almost 10 years of what we might refer to as a sabbatical. Yes. Also you see the early stage of the game you always have an enormous repertory that you play back and forth constantly. And then as you grow older you eliminate an enormous amount of works either because you don't feel that you have given the utmost and because you want to taken late again and they have to be seen through completely new and fresh and that can only happen if you really do not play them for a long time publicly. What do you do during this time that you are reflecting on at work. On and on and on another another round so to speak. You play it you know I usually when I think a new
school or even of the piece I have heard and therefore know by ear. I would get it away from the piano. For example I read it I learned by heart long before I ever touched the keyboard and then I go into all sorts of transitory periods in which I try to find the right fingerings the right phrasings bright colors and then the pianist of the piece is put into shape physically and then again it has to ripen before it is ready for the stage. This is another problem it has to ripen publicly. You cannot do it only at home. This is why it's always very difficult to make a choice as to where you should first perform certain words before they come to major cities or to larger or are given to a large audience and certainly even far less because you discuss these works with anyone know knew simply reflect on yourself you through your own my reflection of my own means I think it's inevitable and you can't really tell us.
Do you listen to other performances of these were years. Let us bring a new insight into how you think you know I may hear a very convincing performance of course and I'm absolutely open to it and full of admiration if it's by somebody there's somebody at my. But it doesn't in any way I think why would these these this period of reflecting has to do with the not only the overall view of the view of the overall structure of the work but that that subtle internal phrasing which was noted here and when you did the Rockman and authored concerto the other day this subtlety of phrasing this great nuance that you have the great tremendous stride toward the climax is is this the sort of thing that this is something basic in me and I think of many artists. It's not really very conscious. I just have to find a climax emotionally in the beast before I actually feel that I can perform it and then I can leave
everything around it. Towards it I don't feel the piece has any Body Rock Man Enough call this the point. And when he played and exactly and he he felt that it was not successful he said I missed the point. Yes it was to say he missed but it was never a calculated point he just felt when it should happen but I think it was really quite primitively. I felt it was not really made it into the lock and created everything else to reach that point is absolutely conscious and certainly mentally decided. This is where the physical the piano goes. But you hear it before you play it. Oh yes completely and you have or you have already decided in your overall concept of the piece. What for you is the point the decision doesn't come instantly comes maybe months later. Your first of all attracted babies for the same inexplicable reasons it detected a human being. You don't know exactly why. And then the closer you come to a thing the more you come to really possess that these are the more you know exactly how you want to go
about it. It's not an immediate decision sitting. When I goes excuse me to first of all definitely guided by your own experience and your own knowledge and culture so obviously there are certain standards that the automatically enveloped in certain research would. Sometimes you have to get away from them and come back to them. Unless you want to be stiff stereotyped before you mentioned getting away and coming back. Before and during this period of restudy in Europe you were possibly while expanding your repertory at the same time deciding to set some pieces aside and get back to them later. Yes while you're doing this do you also do what you might call some housecleaning and decide to remove some pieces permanently from your repertory that you might have found attractive that at one time. Yes I could name them because I have sometimes gone back on my decision. Well there are certain conditions when you're very
young and you have a certain facility for an instrument there are certain things that are so physically tempting to play and perform and that and they are shallow pieces that you can get very easily of later on which doesn't mean that you to come back to them once you are going to oust established within yourself not as an artist ultimately but that you're absolutely certain about your personality that even the wink or smile doesn't really take you away from the spiritual side of music you know what they mean you can you can relax and you can't. For example I'm a great believer in transcriptions at the end of the concert rhapsodies and peace is considered by musicians and they say this with a certain irony as pieces that are too easy musical like they would first of all written in that direction and they were meant to be simply pieces that that light and amusing. There's no reason why an audience should always feel that it is the depth of messages and meanings you never see that an artist does it is a moment of pleasure plays an enormous part and
I think should give it all all he deserves. You have played here Rami enough which you are and how to record for RCA Victor. I understand that it is projected that you will be recording all four. Yes we have one officer and you have whose Would it be. Presumptuous to suggest that you are a rock on an off specialist don't you think of yourself as a specialist of any composer's music especially pursuits myself especially the piano when I think what is it. Relative coincidences with a the domain of heaven to be one of the very few composers who have written magnificently for the piano player think that any pianist who has had their first four in the way of Russian background which I have in way mistakes that he says I was born in Bulgaria and had their Russian school behind me. Although I don't believe in piano my thoughts but they believe in traditions of course and it is for a
pianist who has had this sort of schooling very tempting to play any music especially the romantic music written by some of the very great pianists who were also one of the wonderful composers like Shipman for example. You have recorded. Yes well get out of the Satanic limitless and release all the other recordings which are not generally available here. You see we are just beginning to get to know you. Yes and to our very great prophet but we're curious about the past of Alex's face and back so how do you recorded before this had ever called you before this and this you call the advances of this group of recordings with oh yes I have you got it in Europe certain records that get not many years ago a few years ago and has had its own recordings for his notes as well as in France for example which are not out in this country they have done a lot about playing and recording.
This is why there was not time for your question I suppose my past is going to end but it does so far as the kind of repertory you have previously recorded the rock modern off I think at least as far as we know in this country would be your first orchestral recording it will be my first guess what recording we called it in the mid-80s and I have an angel recording which comes out of the three ship I can share it with you and describe the chip skin that was recorded in Paris if you want to go and it comes on the Angel label which will be out this winter about 8 months before before the show opened with a group recorded only solo pieces only small pieces yes. Do you have. No I'm sorry if you have any stronger. Oh and if you think I have another recording with the Tchaikovsky piano concerto which we which hasn't been released yet with whom the student got in. Do you have any preference. Generally a that is not in terms of
specific works but just generally whether you find more satisfaction in playing concertos or solo pieces. Do you prefer having one preference is the elements a uniform on and with that is I do not prefer the current concerto to it recently. But I do prefer to be cited to playing with an unconvincing conducted for example on a can that was when I have such a different difference in interpretation it is really the marriage is absolutely impossible and it is sheet agony to me in which people are getting excited. My other problem is always the instrument the schools say. I do need it for this class piano which is not always available. Do you perform chamber music at all not publicly. I was on my own and I seem to recall of perhaps this was one of your earlier recordings that an association with the music of screen had been.
There is a video sleepily I made in America many years ago probably would give it to say the end of it it was a Columbia recording. Yes and if you were if you go on into music so yes it is very much a play to him he called it must be I mean they played enormous what was going on there seemed to be within the last three or four years a gradual discovery rediscover years here of Ennius which I think is very great because he was quite an amazing to me the only logical follower of writing me and he was definitely definitely his attempt at a party in the history of composers or do you have your own repertory plans at the moment any particular emphasis or attention. Yes that's what I'll do some recording was going to be in and certainly performed together but the the concerto as well as of some others not as much that it was as some of the Sinatras and some of the later pieces label latest pictures for example which are almost mystical and so it is totally interesting to speak and very importantly I think
the Fed a marvelous example in Hollywood of course has done some of the latest work 60 of it yes obviously. I would be interested in going back to the training that you had which is lead to your eminence now as a pianist. You were born in blog area and you mentioned a moment ago that you were brought up on the Russian school what does this represent. This represented a school that was at the time Antony Rubinstein school for example and the school that finally developed at its like Night of the game came to the States I mean the American schools are definitely influenced basically profoundly by the Russian school yes. Who did you study with in Bulgaria in bargaining with let me get on with who was of Russian descent born in Bulgaria and he had studied in Moscow before with Livingstone and not with Reuben Stanley said he was a man called. She was a very excellent pianist himself.
How long were you with. Again if I stayed until the age of 13 until it will get here then I will get it towards the end of the war today. And then you went to. Then I went to Turkey Israel Egypt South Africa and came to the States with this concert I was in it was the studio's concertizing in both Israel and South Africa. Then where did you continue the studies after in New York and I came in to the Judea and studied all this about of deeply appreciated. How long were you at the Juilliard School. About a year and then I was lucky to be in the living tree and this song started me off. And you you did that during the year when you say did you get a I was a junior. And of course I took a general composition and history of music. And you returned to the year. You know I played in you know just on certain concerts in France
in England but I remained in New York for five years. I only went back to you know five years later I have been in 37 since it would be interested to know Mr. Vice and what happens to a young artist after winning a major competition. So I choose the moment with a lot of just what what is the effect. Now suddenly is there the immediate effect isn't in any effective personal joy of course. Immediately afterwards you are surrounded by a tremendous amount of problems. It was not my case but an accident actually but I think too many others go into tremendous financial problems before they reach the stage of earning their living. This is one of the greatest problems of this career and it has no media I mean there is no secretive way of getting to know how to earn your living you just have to go through certain things that are completely impersonal. Very rarely at the stake as winning a competition which is absolutely
hazardous affair always especially for very gifted people who if they have a very strong personality come up against different opinions of a very violent nature because they are judged in a more critical way than if they were very good students. Basically I should say that somebody who is highly gifted has great improbability of winning a contest and if he's lucky enough to have into jewelry artists not only musicians but artist. You absolutely feel a sort of animal laws that they have an animal again in front of them in preparation with all the faults and all the things that he has to learn by himself. All this personal advice and then they may help him up but otherwise he may not win the goddess I think when you get one that isn't always a sort of miracle that happens or doesn't. So the only interest of the competition is a financial one because it means that an artist that has been trying hard to
please with an orchestra will give it to saddle someone into that having to pay a thousand dollars to give it is fine they were given the opportunity. Also all under a certain system of elimination which means that he stands out among a hundred to 200 people and certain newspapers speak about him before the God before the concert which proves that he has he has a publicity which he would have never gotten otherwise and I think the competition is only a technical has it taken a good relation but not at the stick. These are all things on the plus side on the negatives. Yes it is the epistemic responsibility because he finds himself with demands that he's not usually prepared for because obviously competition brings you. Engagements and engagements are more usually that then very young. This can fill in with problems and things that he has performed. Even if he has played an enormous amount he has not played in public thing and he
finds himself in a very difficult situation for example if you do play New York if you win and they think of Ed. maybe with two or three major orchestras usually the same concerto to the same to conject thing and then you suddenly find yourself with three saddles on your hands and other cities do not invite you unless you have already played there to settle at least one of the big major cities I think this still exists as a problem that is if this discrepancy between the possibilities of the obvious and the possibilities that exist materially. What work did you first perform after winning the 11th trip. I played in New York with George 70 for the money that I gave recently that will let you down through the country no problem. You were called upon from other orchestras to perform Yes music was inviting them to Cleveland and also won the Philadelphia U.S. competition which allowed me to play with the settlement in the Philadelphia Orchestra
and with different works with different works. How extensive was your repertory at that time. More than it is today. As with many things I have limited in that if it were me less of things because I think once you start being promising you have to be more competent and certainly more dispensable. Well now any time you perform you are bringing with you this reputation which you must defend. Yes I think anyone would have to. All the repertory we've mentioned so far about an off screen didn't show power has been noted. We didn't mention bottles and BB probably wanted to others but all of this is very well established music. Have you found any and they were written in very recent contemporary music of sufficient interest to you to take it in the repertory if you will not a multi thread then back to Stravinsky for me even if that puts me in a slightly old
fashioned category but I have a justification for it. This school I spoke of pianistic school as a book of makes especially thought in sound. Development of the instrument I mean of your own patch whatever one calls the touch of the instrumentation and the weight of the hand of the keyboard and so many things that are automatically eliminated by the contemporary music writers who write only because you live for the instrument. And I haven't been really tempted to play it myself which doesn't mean that I dislike you there being very much an admirer with an enormous amount of contemporary works which fascinate me mentally just as if they were a fantastic jigsaw puzzle or a great Cheney's mechanic. But they have not been seduced by the pieces of it to the point of trying to perform them myself you haven't commissioned any new music.
No I haven't commissioned any and there's you but I am always open to any new music sent to me for example besides the things are hearing concerts I go to any concerts and if I make a point of it is that it's not always the case of many colleagues of mine who don't. I'm always interested I think one can not. Also I put myself in the category of young performance I still do a little self and I feel we have no right to ignore the music that's written today because composers depend entirely on young interpreters because obviously we have the modern preparation to understand the way accent in modern studies that allows us to be able to apply them on an instrument. There is a terrible divorce between the older generation pianists and ourselves in this direction. There has been a major development in understanding reading and certainly physical performing of modern lives which people and artists to and he said he is older than we are have problems in interpreting or even understanding. This is never happened before in history.
They sort of they are going to almost vertical development in technique of writing and playing. So I think we owe every single composer the studies of these works and once in a while you may discover a world that is majorly important and you have to either perform it will at least give it to somebody who can. One theory of the repertory which we have not only between the bark in the 20th century. Hark is the classical one which is you. Connection with Mozart and Beethoven in very letters it was very close I believe very much Mills at the end of it all going to be awful not to mention the Sonata was of course certainly and especially not at Scala he hadn't. Have you read and I did not mention one of my Definitely closest and favorite composers which is Brahms in those fields and you do seem lonely and personally interested in guns. You do both of Brahms. Yes very unsure.
When you're touring with workers yes they're absolutely every you know the problem is that there are certain pieces I need to pay personally very often and the drums are part of it. How much of the year do you give to your touring. Not as little as possible but my touring is very limited. At least it is absolutely counterbalanced by as much time for resting and working I do not believe I believe in a very great career but not you know every day playing career which I think is only negative at least to me to be completely disastrous because I think the minute you lose the absolute. Attraction to this sort of magic that goes with the concert magnetism is killed and the audience feels it. Even the most unprepared audience would feel it. Actually if you think that an audience cannot really
understand and that is because obviously they have not. Mathematically studied music as much as he has. They can only have an intuitive feeling about music and their temperament is as important as yours I mean if you don't like and others you will never like even if all the critics in the world sees an obvious and you shouldn't even try. Because after all it's your own personality and some people like certain colors. I think the only thing that can make a major bridge between their incapacity to understand that if you notice and you wish to make yourself understood is your magnetism and that is a very dangerous thing you can do seated at any moment you can lose it when you are personally unhappy. You can lose it when you are physically emotionally and you can certainly lose it if repetitious notes of certain programs become sort of a domestic habit. How I'm recording now. There is such a vast difference between the atmosphere
of a hall with audience and the comparatively cold and a much different feeling. When you go to a recording studio or to an empty hall and they see your basically of course your question is absolutely logical and you're right I do not think there should be such a difference that is you can separate performers into different races. Those that play for the others and those that play for themselves. Both categories and names. Just as I have done acknowledge my role because it's not absolutely true. Nobody plays for everybody else and nobody plays exclusively for himself but there are certain that is that there are definitely extroverts and they need visually the human content then to feel this electricity between an audience and themselves and others absent introverts even if they have a magnetism to give out everything they feel. Those people can play as profoundly and as.
Intensely in a private studios make anything in front of 5000 people. Because basically they don't care. They're so involved in the music and they're involved maybe a sentimental little things simply concentrated that you shouldn't make that much difference and I think if they have enough professional knowledge of their instrument and their career in there if they're absolutely certain as to how they want to perform a piece instead of speculating on how it will come out I think they can produce this almost at any time if they're physically fit for it. That means if they're not tired look no listen and then they can definitely to produce the same sound the same intensity on record as they can on the concert stage and again I must mention heart of this is a definite example of this. You mentioned earlier having brought up more of this is my mouth you do attend many concerts that you do enjoy I was really like was it also records cancer what what pianists do
especially admire. I was in one of the great back money of that matters I think it was. He started a lot of the greatest pianists that seem so famous all of it still Rubinstein certainly I think still in more recent years when he said asking that he's a great pianist. I could mention certain it will be fully. But again I'm not a pianists pianists in the sense of the piano as an instrument. I must say without trying to be pretentious at all his. Maybe it was just a matter of liking like it has never been a problem to me. So I cannot be strictly fascinated by the instrument played they said with the marvelously well. So if I mention these it's not because they're great at least in the instrumental sense I think they're great musicians and great oddities to me but finally the only thing interesting about it is that it should be that he's got to see what he does.
- A conversation with
- Episode Number
- #12 (Reel 1)
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- University of Maryland (College Park, Maryland)
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Identifier: 69-12-12 (National Association of Educational Broadcasters)
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- APA: A conversation with; #12 (Reel 1). Boston, MA: University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Retrieved from http://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip-500-wp9t5w7f