Taste is a negative thing. Genius affirms and always affirms.

Franz Liszt

Classical music's healing power

25 June 2019

Interview with piano artist and Bartók World Competition – Piano 2019 juror Andrei Korobeinikov. Born in Moscow, the 33-year-old artist, winner of several world competitions is not only respecting tradition and the composer’s intention, but also believes music makes you a better person; therefore music belongs to all.

You said during our talk before the interview that the piano is such a many-sided, potent instrument, that you almost feel like a magician when you play it.

The piano is an admirable instrument, has been developing technically for several musician generations, and has a continuously enriching repertoire. It differs from other instruments, and even from the orchestra, as it unites two factors: on one hand, most of the time only one person plays it, so an individual performance is born, while on the other hand, a piece of orchestra-like music is performed by it. When I play Beethoven’s 'Hammerklavier' for example, I experience how man talks with God and the universe. The pianist has the whole world in his hands, literally. Pianists, who were also composers, shaped the history of piano technique the most; they created their own style. Each composers’ hands play differently, resulting in different impressions. This is the reason why we pianists are as related to our instrument as to living humans. We get to know them, and we play them differently when we first meet than three hours later. As if we resonated with the instrument, the impression of which is like a living organism or like a hypersensitive instrument. Many live details, the variation of the hands and keys angle result in a different sound. That is why my teacher once said that my hands should be free and active, since the sound is born in my head; my hands merely transmit it. The art of the most celebrated pianists proves this clearly.

 

 

 

How much does this 'live sound' speak about the past? The piano technique keeps changing.

Yes, it does, what’s more is that even the piano manufacturers change a lot nowadays. More and more of these newly produced pianos appear in concert halls. These are, as I would say, sportier than the old ones. Their sound is more powerful, penetrating, and harder, but perhaps less subtle or refined. The best example for the latter is the Bechstein models made until the Second World War, when the American Airforce bombed the Berlin factory. According to certain views and rumours, the reason for the air force to destroy the factory was that the rival Steinway could become monopolistic, which is what actually happened after the World War. The Bechstein piano was made for small and medium-sized halls; beautiful shades can be brought forward. Pianos produced in the last ten years are much more 'ordinary', and offer less diversity. I do hope this tendency stops and even reverses itself.

 

Listening to your thoughts, my impression is that you don’t like big concert halls.

It is not precisely so. I do perform in big concert halls, but playing strong and loud is not so difficult. If the piano is good and interesting, you can make a lot of good sounds with it. There is a lot of audience demand for robust and penetrating sound. Refinement and subtlety – these are scarcer in life; we don’t encounter them that often in other areas either. It is the same with pianos and interpretations, there is a need for the balance in both. We live in the days of an athletic type of technique. Perhaps this is so because there are numerous international competitions and the competitors perform many loud pieces, and they appear less interested in the soft, subtle techniques. Chopin and Beethoven do require the fortissimo, but also subtle playing. Yamaha bought the Bösendorfer piano manufacturer. When I asked in Vienna whether the unique Bösendorfer sound would be kept, I was told that it was not likely, as Yamaha is interested in conquering the Chinese market, where the approximately one million pianists are more interested in the more ordinary, so-called general pianos. I don’t oppose the Chinese style, but the know-how is here with us in Europe and America. Traditions cannot be disregarded in music or especially in music.

 

 

Andrei Korobeinikov, juror of Bartók World Competition - Composition 2018, 25 of November 2018.
Photo: Liszt Academy / László Mudra 

 

Are traditions important to you?

Yes. It is not compulsory to keep all the traditions, but it is necessary to know them. Otherwise, we do not understand literature, nor those people who were brought up with these traditions. Knowing traditions is a part of education. I am often told that I go against traditions when I play, but it is not true. I aspire to face the author directly, to understand him. When I learn a new piece, I never listen to how others play it. I study the composer’s intention; I don’t care how others have played it in the past 200 years. The composer dictates to me. My duty is to convey the composer’s will to the audience. The cleaner the approach towards a piece, the better. It is crucial to understand what the essence of a tradition is, and what has just been added to it over the decades, or centuries. Of course, it is also important to understand why a piece was played in a certain way. For example, why and how was Bach played in the Baroque. On the other side, every time I play Bach, I always consider that I play for a contemporary audience. Shakespeare is also not acted in it’s medieval, Old English version; the greatness is when it can address the present audience. As if I was the composer’s ambassador or guide. I cannot remain merely an illustrator.

 

What do you think of the future of the piano as a fundamental instrument in the middle of the trending electric sound?

It hurts to see how an increasing number of people buy electronic instruments and do not understand the wonder and the need for the wooden instrument. The need for the abovementioned 'live sound' is disappearing. However, it seems to me that even this trend can be reversed. Today’s world is so technique centred. You can pick a moderate musician, do the recording that can later be edited and improved to be better than the original was. However, meanwhile, you lose the artistic value. At the same time, you can notice that people buy fewer records, or if they do, they do it at concerts as gifts with autographs. They prefer to go to a concert to be part of the live music experience. Fifteen years ago many people preferred studio recordings over live performances. Today this has changed. The experience of personal performance can mean renewal.

 

 

Andrei Korobeinikov, juror of Bartók World Competition - Composition 2018, 25 of November 2018.

Photo: Liszt Academy / László Mudra 

 

How much can all this apply to classical music attracting an ageing audience?

It was mainly in Germany that I experienced the audience consisting mainly of pensioners. They are the ones who buy the expensive tickets. Attending concerts is also trending in higher classes of society. When I played Schumann’s Fantasie in D major , it crossed my mind that this is a young, love piece, and perhaps that audience of Musikverein would prefer to listen to a calmer piece. In Russia the age of the audience is mixed. Although the problem there is that young people come, but because of performers’ cold, so-called academic approach, they listen but find it foreign and don’t come again. During one of my train travels, my neighbour was a 21-year-old Russian coder. He told me he listens to pop music and that he is not interested in classical music. I invited him to come to my concert the next day. I got him and his girlfriend two tickets, and he kept saying how he couldn’t promise they would come. I played Brahms, Piano Concerto No. 2, and I thought it would be a good introduction to the world of classical music for them. I spoke to him afterwards, and I saw his surprised and enthusiastic look. That is why I believe in live performance, in the power of personal presence. If we do it well, we manage to attract the unconvinced. The classical works can also bring renewal for those not competent in music – as if I were a doctor who cures. Those who experience this miracle will come to another concert for sure. For this not to be the privilege of only those who come to a concert by chance, but to be a pastime for a large number of people, society should help establish the tradition. They should embrace the case of classical music so that it can accompany the lives of many. This is not the exclusive club of a few, but life itself, just as in literature or theatre. The state’s supportive approach is of crucial importance. Classical music helps you live, even if many people don’t understand it as well as professional musicians do. It is not by chance that children are taught the piano even today, regardless whether they will live off it or not, since their motoric movements improve, understanding symbolics make the brain more wrinkled, and they become smarter. Music makes us a better person; it softens our hearts and pierces to the bottom of our soul. Pianists are lucky, because the offer is so rich, that whatever we pick we can play a masterpiece.

 

Júlia Torda