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Solving an enigma
Tuesday 1 January 2002

Piotr Anderszewski in conversation with Didier van Moere.

Didier van Moere: You attract a great deal of attention but relatively little is known about you. Were your parents musicians? How did you first come into contact with music?

Piotr Anderszewski: My parents liked music, but they didn't play. They had a lot of records and it was through these that I first came into contact with music. I have no idea why I wanted to listen to music - I was so young I can't even remember. It must have just come naturally.

DVM: Did you especially like to listen to piano music?

PA: My first memory is Beethoven's 'Emperor' Concerto, an old recording with Emil Gilels and George Szell. The Beethoven Violin Concerto, too, and Mozart's Eine kleine Nachtmusik.

DVM: What made you want to take up music?

PA: I was pushed a little by my parents. I didn't particularly want to play piano, which didn't appeal to me more than any other instrument. I wanted to conduct and compose and used to enjoy writing little pieces. That's how it all started, and things took off from there. There's no doubt that the piano is a superb means of expression, but I think I could have played another instrument.

DVM: For instance?

PA: When I say 'play an instrument' that also includes conducting an orchestra. The orchestra gave me a huge amount of inspiration.

DVM: With whom did you study?

PA: With lots of different people. First of all I spent a year at the Warsaw Conservatory. Then my parents went to live abroad. We spent four years in Lyon, three in Strasbourg and then came back to Poland. So it depended on my parents' moves.

DVM: Which musical personalities made the biggest impact on you as a student?

PA: It's hard to say. I'm still too young. You have to wait a long time before you can say who had an impact on you, and why. It really is a matter of time.

DVM: But your teachers must have introduced you to new composers and works?

PA: It started in Lyon, getting to grips with technique, hand position and so on. My teacher in Strasbourg, Hélène Boschi, was a great artist and taught me to love Schumann, for example, who had meant nothing to me before. Back in Warsaw I had a teacher who was shocked by the way I played and made me start from scratch all over again! After that I went to the US and then returned to Poland. This to-ing and fro-ing was good for me in the end.

DVM: You are Polish on your father's side and Hungarian on your mother's. Do you believe in roots?

PA: Yes. I've been lucky enough to have been influenced by two very different cultures, and by France too. But I still feel the greatest attachment to Poland.

DVM: Because you lived there?

PA: Not just that. There is a whole nostalgic aspect to Poland, which makes it close to my heart. Even so, I am happier in Hungary - it suits me better. Hungarian is a musical language and music is deep-rooted in the culture.

DVM: Do you play Liszt and Bartók? I was under the impression that you play more Polish than Hungarian music.

PA: I love Bartók, who is maybe the greatest composer of the 20th century. I've hardly ever played any Liszt - who wasn't really Hungarian. In fact, he's one of the few composers I would never consider playing. I'm allergic to him, especially his pseudo-metaphysical side. At a push, I'd say I like Liszt the virtuoso better than Liszt the monk!

DVM: When you receive a standing ovation, as is frequently the case, are you still not convinced by what you have done?

PA: Sometimes, but I can also be very happy with my playing! When it comes down to it, what I feel myself is very different from what the audience feels. When you've been working away alone for years, you come to have certain expectations. The audience has expectations too, but they are not of the same kind. The message they receive is not necessarily the one you want to convey. But ultimately you are playing for them, not for yourself. I used to think that I was playing for myself, but now I think the opposite. If the public likes what you do, then you should accept things as they are - even if you are not satisfied with your performance. Musicians who say that they are playing for themselves are being hypocritical. If you really want to play for yourself you should stay at home.

DVM: What is important for you in your life apart from the piano? When you aren't playing, what do you do?

PA: This may surprise you, but eating well is very important for me. I am very particular about it. It's almost metaphysical! I can't eat just anything. And I'm passionate about architecture, but I also like doing nothing at all. I have a passive side, and sometimes I would like to spend my life doing nothing on a chaise longue, with everything I need to survive brought to me on a plate. I'm a reflective type, and I have a disdain for activity. That doesn't help me when it comes to the piano!

DVM: Your playing doesn't suggest life lounging - you must spend a great deal of time working.

PA: It depends. Obviously you need time to learn certain works, but I also spend a lot of time doing nothing. Perhaps it's another way of deepening one's understanding of music.

DVM: Would you ever give up the piano?

PA: I considered it very seriously at one point in my life. It's really a dilemma for me. Things changed a few years ago and I understood that I couldn't not make music.

DVM: Because it's your vocation?

PA: I'm not sure that's the right word. It's a fundamental need. It's in my genes.

DVM: And if you had given up the piano?

PA: I've always been tempted by architecture. But music also encompasses conducting and composition. I've been doing some composition recently.

DVM: What were you composing?

PA: Lots of incomplete fragments. I wanted to compose a mass, which I won't finish. I've written a string quartet.

DVM: And for the piano?

PA: I haven't written much for the piano. Only when I was little.

DVM: So you don't compose at all any more?

PA: Well, cadenzas for concertos. It's a very good exercise. It makes you more aware of the spirit of the work. I try to make maximum use of the concerto's material and to make the cadenza well constructed and artistic.

DVM: Have you studied composition?

PA: No, it's just something I've taken up. I have studied conducting and the harpsichord, but not composition.

DVM: If you had to leave for a desert island, what would you take with you?

PA: Nothing!

© Didier van Moere. A longer version of this article first appeared in Pianist in January 2002 - this shortened version is reproduced courtesy of the author and the magazine.
Web link: Pianist Magazine

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