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Carnegie Hall Exclusive: Q and A with Fortepianist Kristian Bezuidenhout

Last week, we spoke with British tenor Mark Padmore as his Carnegie Hall performance with fortepianist Kristian Bezuidenhout approaches. Today, we post our conversation with Kristian.

Carnegie Hall: What is your first memory of Carnegie Hall?

Kristian Bezuidenhout: At the time of my first concert at Carnegie—a solo recital at Weill Recital Hall in 2001—I walked into a Tower Records around 56th and 5th and asked for directions to the Hall (I'd never even been before). Unfortunately, in my naïveté, I made the mistake of using the "how do I get to Carnegie Hall" phrase. The sales assistant told me to practice.

CH: What makes performing at Carnegie Hall special for you?

KB: Carnegie Hall is just one of those mythical places where both tradition and innovation continue to live on. I am always so struck by how much a building like this can take on a personality of its own (one thinks of the Musikverein in Vienna or the Concertgebouw in Amsterdam in the same way). As a young performer, one is awe-struck by the legions of wonderful artists who have walked these stages and it continues to remain a tremendous honor to share in that privilege.

CH: How did you choose the Schumann focus for your new album and concert program?

KB: The first opportunity I had to work with Mark Padmore was a Winterreise we did together in Savannah, Georgia, in 2007. We both decided that it would be wonderful to explore more lied repertoire with historic pianos. That was closely followed by an offer from Harmonia Mundi USA to record a Schumann program based around Dichterliebe and Liederkreis, Op. 24. For me—playing as much Mozart and Beethoven as I do—the chance to explore Schumann's sound world on a piano of the time and with a singer of Mark's caliber was simply irresistible.

CH: What does the fortepiano offer for the player and listener that the grand piano does not?

KB:The fortepiano, whether it be a Viennese piano from the time of Mozart, or a Parisian Erard from Chopin's day, gives the player vivid information about the repertoire in question. The piano we have chosen, a copy of an 1835 Conrad Graf made by Rodney Regier, is a 'machine' that speaks the language of early 19th-century rhetoric with a much less pronounced accent than the pianos of our time. The rapid decay of the sound—produced by slender leather-covered hammers—results in greater transparency, allowing not only the singer's voice to emerge with greater ease and naturalness but the player to experiment with long, almost impressionistic pedaling effects. In addition, a non-uniform striking point means that the registers have markedly different attributes, from the grumbling tones of the bass, to the plumy voice of the tenor region, to the lithe and harp-like sounds of the extreme upper treble—a fact that was relished by players and builders alike. These pianos also entice the player to explore previously uncharted territories of pianissimo playing (especially with the use of the moderator pedal, in which a layer of felt is placed between the hammers and the strings).

CH: What is the most fruitful aspect of the singer-pianist collaborative relationship?

KB:As a keyboard player, it is sometimes easy to get lost in the abstract world of the notes, especially the added pressure of that elusive note-perfect performance. Singers like Mark Padmore, on the other hand, bring such a deep concern for and appreciation of the text with them, that is has a deeply freeing effect. With greater awareness of textual issues—both on the surface level, where words are colored in a special way, to the larger-scale narrative level—the pianist is allowed to explore ever-greater effects and shadings. Especially with the marvelous Graf fortepiano that we are using for our concert on the October 27, one will notice that there are a whole host of extra colors that the piano offers. More than that though, the elusive union of text and music that one finds in German lied should act as a constant source of inspiration for the performance of abstract instrumental music.

CH: What is one thing your audience may not know about you?

KB: I love to mix the perfect cocktail (gin of course). Living in London, I've recently become very taken by the extraordinary bar at the Connaught Hotel. Truly a place where mixing the perfect drink has become an art form.

CH: What's on your iPod?

KB: At the moment ... Bach motets performed by Trinity Baroque and Julian Podger; Mozart's Idomeneo in a performance by René Jacobs and the Freiburg Baroque Orchestra; Huelgas Ensemble singing the Richafort Requiem (ca. 1532); and Purcell songs with Carolyn Sampson.

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