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By Patricia Boccadoro

PARIS, 3 DECEMBER 2014 — After passing under the magnificent crystal chandeliers in the lobby of the luxurious Bristol Hotel to join the French garden bar, where soberly dressed clientele in muted greys and pastels sipped English tea and pastries, the striking figure of Ivo Pogorelich in a pink/vermillion crisp cotton shirt, sitting with Mia, his small white dog on his knee, was instantly recognizable.

Looking sun-tanned and fit, the Croatian pianist was in Paris prior to his forthcoming concerts in the French capital. This fascinating and controversial pianist was back in the French capital to talk about the Schumann Piano Concerto which he would play at the Cité de la Musique this autumn. A first question was to ask him what had prompted this choice of programme.

"There are certain pieces of piano literature, which for both their beauty and inspiration, take a central role in our culture", Pogorelich told me. "Such is the case of the Schumann concerto, a revolutionary score which has influenced many composers. Schumann discovered a new degree of intimacy and freedom in combining the piano with the orchestra, making them dialogue, but at the same time bringing in contrasting elements to make an exciting and wonderful piece of music".

"It offers so much to the musician", he continued, "warming up one’s heart, and so for me, it’s very special; I love it."

"However", he added, "I see myself as the servant of the composer. In the eyes of the public, I’m the artist, but I play neither for them nor for myself, but rather for the heritage of the composer which is the finest thing a musician can do. My playing has more to do with addressing the inspiration of these exceptional beings, and so the audience, myself included, is merely invited to join in."

I then queried whether the fact he did not play specifically for the pleasure and happiness of his audience is the reason why he gave no encore at his previous concert in Paris on December 12th, at the Theatre des Champs Elysées, his first appearance there in 18 years. The answer was short, and swift in coming.

"Certain programmes are so well rounded that they do not tolerate an encore for fear of breaking the whole", he stated. "Such was the case with the combination of Chopin and Liszt last December which had been formed around a certain concept. In my view, it would have been an unnecessary appendix to the evening and completely superfluous."

To the unspoken remark that the audience left disappointed, wanting to hear more, he did add that in other programmes where the composition led more towards something which stood in contrast to the pieces played, then an encore could be envisaged.

Son of a Croatian bass player, Ivo Pogorelich, who was born in Belgrade in 1958, began playing the piano at 7 years of age At the age of 12, he went to study in Moscow with Aliza Kezeradze, whom he married in 1980. Ironically, he attracted public attention when he was eliminated from the Chopin Competition in Warsaw in the same year after the second round, arousing the wrath of jury member Martha Argerich, who resigned, but his career took off after an acclaimed recital at Carnegie Hall. Recitals and recordings followed for this unique, highly individual, non-conformist musician until the death of Kezeradze when his appearances on the international scene became scarce. He added, moreover, that he took "a sabbatical year" to perfect his art, and to concentrate on a foundation for young students, a foundation which aims at helping them in a practical way. Shying away from the question of teaching himself, (he has, nonetheless, recently been giving master-classes), he helped youngsters to obtain musical instruments and paved the way for them to enter conservatoires and academies, one of his main concerns being the musical education of the younger generation. But he himself made no recordings whatever for nearly 20 years. His response as to why was somewhat oblique.

"I have always admired Claudio Abbado who was not only a great conductor, but knew how to accompany soloists", he said. "He was my ideal, because he could be touched by and respond to the musicality of a soloist. For in order to record a concerto, for example, one has to be lucky enough to find a partnership with a conductor who is capable of participating in and following the soloist’s idea and concept. So I hesitate to record with an orchestra unless the conductor fully comprehends what I want to express. Most conductors today are only interested in presenting symphonies in their own way; the art of accompanying is less appreciated today and there isn’t enough contact between the artists who make the recordings. An idea isn’t enough; everyone is too busy to find the time to work together."

"Of course it is important to make recordings", the pianist continued, "but they must be good ones that last. A famous soloist, a famous conductor and an equally well-known orchestra cannot simply be mixed up together as if one was following a recipe. It’s all a question of luck."

Finally, he commented on his pleasure in playing for a French audience, whose interest until recently was concentrated on the visual arts, on paintings and sculptures, on dance and on opera. He was particularly pleased, too, by the growing number of young people at his concerts, whose interest in music, he discovered, was not superficial.

"Youngsters live in an aquarium of information and it’s difficult to fool them", he commented, "but they have found the way to my concerts, and it pleases me because most of them are younger than my career is. And I do like to turn sheets of music that are two centuries old into something that is seen as being very up to the minute, even revolutionary. I need  to remain faithful to a certain repertoire."

Nevertheless, he doesn’t exclude performing works of living composers, but living in Lugano, Switzerland, he seldom has the opportunity to go to concerts himself, and is simply not aware of current trends. But perhaps what thist romantic pianist prefers is to listen to a score played many times before and spend time to unfold each small mystery in the score, listening yet again to the secrets hidden within the music so that each time it is played, it enchants him as well as his audience.

Based in Paris, Patricia Boccadoro is a senior editor and member of the editorial board of Culturekiosque. She last wrote on the exhibition Nude Men: From 1800 to the Present Day.   

In December 2014, Ivo Pogerlich tours Asia with a recital programme of works by Liszt, Schumann, Stravinsky and Brahms.

Shanghai (5 Dec), Beijing (7 Dec.), Hong Kong (9 Dec), Guangzhou (11 Dec), Tokyo (14 Dec).

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