It was a fantastic week at this year’s Piano Festival. A week that I particularly look forward to every year, as it gives me the chance to acquaint myself with the young talent emerging from our conservatoires and from amongst the most gifted around the world. There were certainly no let downs: the standard of participating students was extremely high.
Despite the flair and innate musicality shown by all of them, there is one aspect of music-making that often disappoints me and one that our conservatoires need to address urgently; that is the inability of pianists, or other instrumentalists for that matter, toplay a real legato and to sustain. I often hear teachers or conductors demand, sometimes obsessively, that the music flows. Slow tempi are often regarded as preventing the flow of the music. How wrong! Instead of encouraging our musicians to “move along”, we should be encouraging them to learn to sustain and maintain the flow of the musical line by truly connecting one note to the other.
My philosophy is a simple one: it doesn’t matter how slow a piece is played so long as the musical line is sustained; conversely, it doesn’t matter how fast a work is being played, so long as the musical lines breathe. If one note does not connect to another, in real legato, it doesn’t matter how far you push the tempo, it will still sound slow and disjointed. If notes are sustained and relate to each other, it doesn’t matter how slow you play, the musical line will still have a flow about it and move along. Of course, there comes a time when the line is stretched too far and loses its “elasticity”. A great artist will listen carefully to how far a note can be sustained, particularly on the piano, before releasing it to introduce the next.
A real Adagio in Beethoven, for instance, cannot be hurried. We must create that wonderful sense of timelessness when everything stands still. To try to instil a sense of movement by hurrying along would be to rob the musical line of its inner strength and ability to stir the emotions to the full. Listen to the great German orchestras under legendary conductors such as Karajan and Barenboim play Lenore No. 3 and listen how the opening is beautifully sustained at the slowest of tempi, creating enormous power while producing the most majestic of phrases. More thoughts on interpretation from me to follow.