Enrique Bernaldo de Quirós interviewed by Enrique Bernaldo de Quirós about impressionism and other topics
Mr. Bernaldo de Quirós, thank you very much for agreeing to this interview, because, while we know that you've always shown yourself willing to attend to the media, you are nevertheless a very busy man.
I'm only too happy to attend to the specialised media and to interviewers like you, with whom one can feel on an equal footing.
Firstly, I'd like to clarify certain terms relating to this interview. It's just that you will surely be aware that there'll be some people who might see a certain parallel in our tête-à-tête with the chats which, in the 1970s or thereabouts, Mr. Glenn Gould often used to have with a particular Canadian journalist, whose name I can't seem to remember right now.
In fact, that intrepid interviewer reminds me a little of you, but I have to put your mind at rest, because any parallel with those light-harted interviews that you mention would be a mere coincidence, with all my respects to Mr. Gould, whom I have always admired.
I recall that on a previous occasion you actually confessed to me in private that Glenn Gould had been your principal pianistic influence.
Did I really say that? I don't remember... It wouldn't be altogether fair to the other great artists that I have adored and still adore listening to, such as Richter, Benedetti-Michelangeli, Gilels or the great Rubinstein, without, of course, forgetting the person who revealed to me all the secrets of this profession, my teacher and mentor, Galina Eguiazarova.
A unique and peculiar teacher, without doubt, but... Many pianists talk of the fear which that woman puts into them.
I myself, for example.
Were you afraid to go to her classes?
For the first few years, my legs wobbled. Afterwards, when I came to accept the little I knew and how much I still had to learn, I managed to develop the ability to interact in real time with what she was telling me and leave the room relatively unscathed.
So you never enjoyed the learning process and the master-disciple relationship that you had with Ms. Eguiazarova?
Oh, I enjoyed it immensely... Our last classes, in which words were hardly necessary, where everything flowed naturally in an atmosphere of profound understanding and infinite creativity, are some of my best memories.
If you had to choose just one thing that you learnt with her, it would be...
In what sense?
Sound as a means and an end in music, as a tool to express a multitude of moods and colours, sound as beauty...
Would you say that this is something that distinguishes the Russian school?
Fortunately not only the Russian school; and, indeed, piano schools have become so mixed in the last 50 years that it is not easy to establish boundaries. Even so, I don't think it's a coincidence that the great Soviet pianists -and I say "Soviet" because the flourishing of the soo-called "piano interpretation schools" in Russia took place in the period after the October Revolution- can be discerned at once by the beauty of the sound they produce. I'm thinking of poets of the piano, like Sofronitsky, Neuhaus, Feinberg, and Richter himself. Some of these famous names are heard very little outside Russia.
Do I detect a certain hint of nostalgia?
I'm not sure if "nostalgic" would be the most appropriate term, since I'm not old enough to have lived through that golden age of music. Our generation...you're more or less the same age as me, right?
Looks that way…
Our generation, as I was saying, has no alternative but to be content with the crumbs that those Titans left behind in the form of recordings. The personal and professional magnitude of that constellation of artists has been irreversibly lost forever.
And now I note that you're pretty pessimistic... I can't believe that there aren't any artists nowadays who arouse your interest. In my opinion, though times may change, personalities continue to appear, creators of their time, a time that isn't chosen but is instead lived and translated into new artistic expressions.
I think that there -much to my regret- you’ve hit the nail on the head. The age in which we have been destined to live, one that is rather dull and not in the least given to introspection and in-depth examination, is moving further and further away in both mind and spirit from a phenomenon as currently anachronistic as classical music and -it goes without saying- the conventional concert. The vain attempts to attract your average man to the concert hall, by dressing up classical music in the ridiculous guise of an audiovisual show, in which the performer of the day wears a shimmering tuxedo and sports a bizarre hairstyle, is doing no favours to music, the public, or the fraternity of performing artists. It is, in a word, a huge misunderstanding in which no-one has the slightest idea of what he's really witnessing.
I don't want to give the impression of being orthodox or conservative but I sincerely believe that good music doesn't need a shiny wrapping. Rather it needs performers with enough sensitivity to recreate and get the message through to listeners who are, in turn, disposed to receive it. If the times are not conducive to brilliant performers or a receptive public, one can only assume that this relationship will fall into disuse until the advent of a new renaissance or its complete extinction.
But what do you have to say about the areas that the new technologies are opening up? Doesn't it seem to you that the Internet is succeeding in bringing classical music, just like any other product, to consumers in the most unlikely places around the world? Indeed, the reason that has brought us together on this occasion is your first recording for the PlayClassics label, which is largely devoted to disseminating the best classical music over the Internet.
Indeed, but I must point out that we were talking about live concerts, and the album is a very different format. Paraphrasing the words of our admired Glenn Gould, who already back in the mid 1960s predicted the demise of the concert and the advent of the phonographic format, the album is the future of classical music since it allows for total freedom of relationship between itself and the listener.
It's very different to attend, say, a piano concert, having to spend money on a ticket, travel to the concert venue, go to the minimum trouble of looking properly groomed and turned out and, worst of all, exercise sufficient patience to watch an individual (sometimes of dubious pianistic repute) pressing and releasing the keys for one and a half hours. An album allows a person listen to any piece he likes, wholly or in part, as many times as he wants, performed by his favourite artist, without leaving home, in his favourite armchair, wearing the old dressing gown handed down from his grandfather and unshaven. Would you hesitate when it came to the choice?
I think it's a somewhat misanthropic approach, in addition to the fact that you're contradicting yourself... Are you an advocate of the live concert or a supporter of the album?
Despite the fact that I sometimes argue with myself about this topic, without obviously getting to any firm conclusion, in reality there is no contradiction in what I was saying. Concerts and albums are two different experiences, for performers and listeners alike. In the former case, it is the performing artist who is the protagonist but, an album in his grasp, it is the listener who is in command. Both approaches are valid and are not mutually exclusive, though, as I say, I'm increasingly sensitive to Mr. Gould's words.
This brings us to the ideal moment to talk about your latest venture into the album, with Book 1 of Debussy's Preludes. I have to confess that the choice of repertoire took me somewhat aback. Without any intention of typecasting you, I had put you more on the side of the German classicists and romantics and, in any event, on the side of the Russians of the first half of the 20th century.
Your words surprise me, bearing in mind that this is not the first time that we've had the pleasure of exchanging views. I've always considered myself a versatile artist and ready to seek new forms of expression through a wide range of styles and aesthetics. My Russian-Sanish origin goes hand-in-hand with my training, which was of an eminently classical bent. We cannot ignore the fact that the man who taught Ms. Eguiazarova (whom we've already talked about) was the mythical Alexander Goldenweiser, who was firmly rooted in the Liszt school and, thus, in the direct legacy of Beethoven.
Despite what things may seem at first sight, Debussy is not very far removed from the purest classicism. His unyielding attention to detail in terms of articulation, phrasing, tempi and dynamics may bring to mind many of Beethoven's scores. What largely distinguishes the music of the French composer is, talking pictorially, the palette of colours that he uses. Here one finds shades of reds, blues or greys often difficult to describe or perceive completely. Things are almost never stated directly but are instead suggested, hinted at with nudges, winks, furtive glances...
After my last album, The Triumph of the Sonata, dedicated to Beethoven and Brahms, in which I had to act as a consummate architect of extremely complex structures, I decided, in my eagerness to explore, as I was saying, to take a 180-degree turn and submerge myself in the world of the prelude, the miniature, musical pointillism. In addition -I'll be frank with you- I haven't heard a single version of the preludes, except perhaps that by Benedetti-Michelangeli, which has left me completely satisfied. All the recordings, without exception, contain inaccuracies and deviations from the urtext, which are unpardonable for the great pianists that have tackled the cycle.
This somewhat lax attitude to interpretation of Debussy's music -and often that of Ravel- responds to the erroneous concept of freedom which is attributed to musical impressionism as an extension of painting. In reality, neither of the two has anything arbitrary or chaotic, and "impressionist freedom" is millimetrically calculated by artists possessing an astoundingly demanding technique.
Your words allow one to glimpse a very firm attitude and astonishing conviction in your conception of and approach to impressionist pianism and Debussy's preludes in particular. Is yours a reference version?
Yes, without the shadow of a doubt -forgive my effrontery. This version brings together twelve years of searching and in-depth work, and I am extremely satisfied with the result, as well as with the sound of the recording which, in my view, is on a par with the level of the performance throughout.
Enrique Bernaldo de Quirós
To Laura, my inspiration.
Voici venir les temps où vibrant sur sa tige
Chaque fleur s'évapore ainsi qu'un encensoir ;
Les sons et les parfums tournent dans l'air du soir ;
Valse mélancolique et langoureux vertige!
Enrique Bernaldo de Quirós, piano.
Heir to a great Russian pianistic tradition via his teacher and mentor, Galina Eguiazarova (who studied directly under A. Goldenweiser, father of the modern Russian piano school), Quirós is one of the most accomplished and best internationally known pianists of his generation. His versatility and deep erudition have allowed him to take on successfully all the styles thanks to his vast repertoire.
His brilliant list of achievements includes over forty prizes won in international piano competitions. The prestigious 2007 Cidade do Porto and 2012 UNISA (Pretoria, South Africa) prizes rank him in the select group of Spanish pianists to win awards in events held under the auspices of the Geneva based World Federation of International Music Competitions.
Quirós has been widely hailed as an exceptional performer of Spanish music, a field in which he has received invaluable tutoring and advice from Alicia de Larrocha, Antón García Abril, Albert Attenelle and Joaquín Achúcarro.
Born in 1981 in Moscow, where he began his musical studies at the age of five, he gave his first public performance when he was eleven at the Tchaikovsky Conservatory Chamber Music Hall. However, he received the bulk of his training in Madrid, at the Royal Conservatory of Music and the Reina Sofía School of Music, where he received various honorary diplomas at the hands of H.M. Queen Sofía.
Performing commitments routinely take him to Germany, Russia, Italy, Portugal, Switzerland, Serbia, North Africa, South Africa and the Near East, as well as to leading Spanish venues. In June 2008, he made his debut appearance at the Great Hall of Moscow's Tchaikovsky Conservatory, one of the world's landmark concert venues, a performance that was met by resounding acclaim from the public and critics alike.
As a soloist, he has played under the baton of conductors of the calibre of Tamás Vásáry, Salvador Brotons, José Ramón Encinar, Stuart Stratford, José Luis Gómez Ríos, Guerássim Voronkóv, Ovidiu Balan and Joji Hattori.
He currently holds the post of Professor at the Balearic Isles Senior Music Conservatory.