Pianist Ruth Laredo
A Conversation with Bruce Duffie
|Ruth Meckler Laredo was
born on November 20, 1937 in Detroit,
Michigan. Following early piano studies with her mother, she continued
her training with Rudolf Serkin at the Curtis Institute of Music in
Philadelphia. Laredo graduated in 1960 with a Bachelor of Music degree.
The same year she married Bolivian violinist Jaime Laredo. [The couple
was divorced in 1974.] During the next several years both musicians
made numerous joint appearances throughout the world. In 1962 Ruth
Laredo made her debut in New York with the American Symphony Orchestra
conducted by Leopold Stokowski. Since then she has played all over the
United States with many orchestras including the National Symphony,
Boston Symphony, Cleveland Orchestra and the Indianapolis Symphony. She
has also played in many foreign countries, giving tours in Japan,
Holland, and Germany, among others. Ruth Laredo has been a regular
participant at the Marlboro Festival in Vermont, collaborating with
numerous colleagues in virtually all major chamber works involving the
Laredo has been particularly identified with the music of Sergei
Rachmaninoff and Alexander Scriabin. She has recorded the complete solo
piano works of Rachmaninoff for Columbia/CBS/Sony. As a result of these
recordings, she was commissioned by C. F. Peters to edit an edition of
the twenty four Rachmaninoff Preludes. She has also earned a reputation
as a specialist in Scriabin, having recorded all ten of his sonatas
(for Connoisseur Society) along with other smaller works, and including
this music frequently on her recital programs. In addition, Ms. Laredo
has made recordings of works by Ravel, Debussy, Barber, Chopin,
Beethoven, Tchaikovsky and many other composers.
Laredo won several awards throughout her career including a Grammy
nomination, and was chosen as one of five pianists to perform at
Carnegie Hall for its 90th anniversary celebration.
Laredo died on May 25, 2005.
Ruth Laredo was in Chicago in June of 1993 for a concert with the Grant
Park Orchestra, the outdoor summer festival on the lakefront. We
met for the interview in her hotel room, and the first thing I noticed
was an electronic keyboard, so that is where we began our chat . . . .
You have an electronic keyboard in your room, and
my first reaction was that it might not be the same kind of touch as a
grand piano. You said that you were very pleased with
it, so tell me about using the electronic keyboard.
What I have in my hotel room
today is something made by Yamaha called the Clavinova. One
of the many wonderful features of this little instrument is that it
replicates the feel and sound of a piano as close as I’ve ever
heard in any instrument that isn’t actually a piano. I think the
technology has enormously improved in the past year or so; even the
Yamaha people say so. One of the nicest things about it is that
if anyone complains about hearing the piano next door, I
just plug in my little earphones and it’s completely silent. You
can also make it sound like a harpsichord or
an organ, or any number of other instruments, but I’m really not
interested in anything but the piano.
BD: If you
changed it to the
harpsichord sound, could you also change it to the harpsichord touch?
RL: I’ll try
it; I don’t really know. I didn’t
even experiment with it, but it’s really a remarkable little
piece of equipment. Plus it’s small, and you never have to have
tuned. I’ve used it quite a few times because a
pianist in a hotel room without a piano is really an unhappy
creature! [Both laugh] This is something that’s just come
attention, actually, within the last year, and I’m really very happy
that I can make use of such a little gadget.
BD: I would
think that in big cities and even
in smaller cities, you can probably arrange to get one of these from a
RL: Yes, much more
easily than if you ask
somebody to allow a piano in the hotel room. Every
hotel automatically assumes that you mean a nine-foot grand and that
it will make an enormous amount of noise, and all the other guests will
be horrified. This is small. It doesn’t take up very much
space; it’s like a little desk, and it doesn’t make a sound if
you don’t need it to.
BD: Would you
be happy with, say, a five-foot
Steinway, rather than a nine-foot Steinway to practice?
RL: I don’t
know. I don’t need a five-foot
Steinway, I just need an eighty-eight key keyboard when I’m
practicing. I have plenty of time on a large piano wherever else
I go. It doesn’t matter.
BD: Have you
experimented with adjusting the
touch or anything else on this gadget?
can! There are
three different levels of sound — bright,
mellow or soft.
the sound rather than the touch.
I’m asking about the feel of the keys, the response to your fingers.
RL: Oh, I
just like it! It feels like a
piano. It feels like a good piano to me. It’s very even;
good that it feels like a good
just a piano.
RL: No, it
feels like a good piano! I
enjoyed it, practicing today, really.
BD: When you
are traveling all over the world, I
assume you don’t take your piano with you.
BD: So you
have to get used to each
piano. How long does it take you to adjust to each new piano that
you have on the various stages?
RL: As fast
BD: Are you
talking two minutes, or two hours?
RL: Just a
couple of minutes; never two hours, no. You can really spot what
goes on very quickly. You
usually don’t have that much time on a piano before a concert unless
you’re very, very lucky. But what good does it do if you have
more time? You just dislike it more, if it’s not a good
[Both laugh] So I just learned how to get used to whatever
there is, and just go with it and do my best.
most of the pianos you encounter good pianos, or not good pianos?
RL: It varies
from one city to another.
It’s very hard to anticipate what you will find. One really
doesn’t know, and everybody’s taste in pianos is different.
I know what I like, and sometimes I find one!
BD: Can you
describe what you like, or is it
just that you know it when you feel it?
RL: I know it
when I feel it. I don’t think
it’s possible to really explain it in words. A certain kind of
sound is part of what I like and a certain touch is what I like, but I
don’t know how to describe those things.
BD: So you
couldn’t tell the technician to do
this or do that?
RL: No, I
don’t like to talk to technicians.
They ought to know what I want without describing it, and they
usually do. There’s a marvelous technician who was at the Chicago
Musical College this morning, Mr. Fujiwara, and he knows exactly what I
want. He fixed both of the pianos for the master class this
morning, and I didn’t have to say a word. It was just beautiful.
BD: I wonder
how much is he
adjusting to you, and how much are you adjusting to each piano?
doesn’t have to adjust to me. What’s
good is what I like, that’s all. It’s clear, isn’t it!
RL: I’m not
interested in the technology of
it. Mr. Fujiwara knows what’s good, and I like
what pianos he has fixed for me here in Chicago year after year.
teaching some master classes. Should young pianists coming along
about the technique of adjusting and maintaining the instrument itself?
RL: If they
want to be piano tuners as well
BD: I mean
shouldn’t they know about fiddling
with it, or know what is right or wrong more than just the
interpretation of Chopin and Rachmaninoff?
RL: I suppose
so. Sure, it’s good to
know as much as you can, but I don’t really enjoy having to know
those things. I have taken courses at various times on the inside
of pianos, and it just leaves me cold. I have to know other
things much more important
to me, and I think that people who are piano technicians ought to
know their trade just as I know mine. I don’t really want to
know theirs; it doesn’t appeal to me.
BD: So it’s
sort of like driving a car — you
don’t have to tinker with the engine to drive a car well.
RL: I’m not
mechanically-minded, and I’m sure
there are a lot of people who know plenty about car mechanics.
Piano technicians really need to know those
things, and we should be able to depend upon them. [See my Interview with Franz Mohr,
Chief Concert Technician with Steinway & Sons, 1968-1992.]
But of course
there are other pianists who like to tinker around with pianos. I
don’t; I like to play them.
BD: You said
there are other things that you
have to know. What do you have to know to be a pianist?
couldn’t tell you on the radio! [Both laugh]
then, what kind of suggestions do you have
for the younger pianists coming along now? As you are doing the
master classes, what kinds of things do you put in their ear?
a musician is a lifelong process, and you never really
learn enough no matter how long you live or how well you play.
Having a background in music is something that has to start very early,
and has to do with the luck of a child — what
family he is born
into, what concerts and what events he’s taken to as a very young
person, and what is available on records or in the family
itself. One of the tragedies of our life in America today
is that public school music has all but been eliminated. I
think that’s one of the most serious problems we face today. It’s
going to put a lot of people out of business, and it’s far
more serious than just business; it has to do with the cultural
life of our country. If the kids don’t hear music and
appreciate music and know something about music at a very young age,
there’s no point to all the things that we are trying to do because
it’s just going to die away. The audiences are getting older and
older, and the young kids must know something about it. I was at
a school today here in Chicago, and we had eight
hundred elementary-aged kids at a concert that I played. It’s
an outreach program that’s sponsored by the Grant Park Festival, and it
was really marvelous because the Principal of the school — Dr.
Lawson, who I feel is some kind of a missionary — feels
as strongly as
I do that we’ve got to get the kids to be interested in music right
away, as fast as possible. There were kindergarteners there at a
full-length concert, and they asked questions later. They
learn how to attend concerts when they’re small, and that’s the way
it should be! I don’t think it’s funded by the government; it’s
because this very enlightened man is interested enough to
make sure that this happens, and I’m really very thrilled by such
hopefully these eight hundred kids will
remember that nice lady who came and played piano one day?
RL: And I’ll
remember those kids, too! They have lots of things going on at
school. They make a point of having musicians and other
cultural events as much as possible. They also have a little
piano lab with several little keyboards; they’re
not even eighty-eight keys. But that’s a new project they have, and
it’s fun for the kids to put on earphones and play on their
little keyboards. And evidently their reading scores are going up
because they’ve learned how to apply themselves so diligently to the
musical problems they face. I think it’s a very beautiful idea
and I hope it lasts. I hope it spreads all over.
you’ve hit on something we could talk to
school boards about — increase the music and the
scores will go up.
there’s a connection between having
discipline in one area and another. I believe it.
BD: But doesn’t
there have to be a musical discipline all to
discipline is discipline. If you learn how
to play the piano, you apply yourself otherwise much more easily.
It has to do with living, it really does.
BD: When you
to a concert and play a piece for the first time in a year or two, do
you approach it fresh with a clean score?
RL: You never
really start over again if
it’s been in your mind before, but it takes on a new freshness because
you’re not the same person you were when you started
it. You can’t really start it again at grade one; you start
somewhere else but you have the past to draw upon. And it’s
always changing. Nothing really stays the same if you’re a
BD: So then
every concert grows and builds for you?
RL: One hopes so,
us to the question of recordings. Once you’ve made the
record, it’s embedded in plastic and it’s exactly the same every time.
time. Yes, I know.
BD: You say
that with a little trepidation.
RL: It’s just
a fact of life. Of course,
everybody who makes a record always says this. We always have to
at that time, and we listen to it and sometimes feel, “Oh, if only
we had done it this way or that way.” But there’s no help
for that; we just have to do it. I also think that there
are benefits from listening to recordings and learning from
what you’ve done, or learning from what other people have done, but
always knowing there’s another way to do it. That’s not the only
way. A lot of people listen to records and feel that
since it sounds so “perfect,” it means that it has been
sanitized. There are no obvious errors, but does that
mean the standards go up in performance? I don’t really know if
that’s so. I think it means that people learn to expect no
mistakes, and that’s an inhuman expectation. As one
recording producer once said to me, “It’s like if you leave
a wonderful take which has some note-errors in a recording, it’s like
seeing a piece of dirt on somebody’s face. You just see it every
time, and you learn to expect it every time you
listen to the record. We just have to clean everything up.”
I agree, but you also have to understand when you go
to a concert that people make mistakes; people are human, and when
you play a concert in public it should not have to be the way it
sounds on the record. But I think the expectation
is there for it to be.
BD: So the
expectation has changed?
RL: I’m sure,
because of the recordings. It’s
changed the way people listen to others who play in public.
BD: Is there
no way to make a recording
straight through three or four times, and just take the sections which
are not perfect but they still have the sweep of the movement?
Hmm. Well, theoretically, I suppose so, but I don’t know if
that’s really what can
happen. It’s an art and a science combined.
BD: Do you
play differently when you are facing a microphone instead of an
damn right I do. Sure.
BD: How so?
RL: In public
it’s once and it’s over,
assuming there aren’t microphones hiding all over the place.
usually what happens nowadays; there’s almost no such thing as a
concert without a microphone, and I deeply dislike this practice, I
must tell you. I really, really would like for a concert to be a
concert and a recording to be a recording, because I think they’re two
different sciences or arts. But assuming there are no microphones
at a concert, it’s once in a lifetime; it’s an event with a beginning
and an end, and one is more — I don’t know — more
daring, perhaps. You just go for the moment and you do what
you feel, and if a note gets lost here and there it doesn’t matter
because the most important thing is the performance itself and the
interplay between the audience and the music and the performer.
On the other hand, a recording session is something quite
different. You have to be terribly meticulous. You’re
listening to yourself after you make the takes, and you hear
everything. Believe me, I am sure that anyone who makes a
recording is his own most severe critic. You can be as
passionate or as exciting as you can be for the microphone, but when
the wrong notes come through on the tape, you tend to want to clean
them up. So, it’s quite a process; it’s quite different.
BD: When you
want to clean up a wrong note, do
you insert the note, or do you retake the whole section?
depends on what it is.
It’s different every time. It
depends on what else is on each side of the mistake. I always
like to do complete takes of a
movement, if possible. I always try that.
made recordings over a number of
years. How has the process changed?
RL: Now we
have these digital machines, and
all the technology is so improved and grown since I used to make
recordings with large tapes on those huge, giant reels. You
Sure. [Both laugh]
they’re on little
television sets with screens and numbers and what not. I don’t
know how they do it, but it’s very quick. If you want to
hear something, they push the button and you know exactly where you
were when you stopped. It’s remarkable! It’s just wonderful!
BD: So the
process of making records has changed
RL: Yes, sure.
BD: Has the
process of making music changed at all in
RL: I hope
not. No, I don’t want it to
change. I think it’s the most wonderful thing in the world.
I don’t see why it should change.
BD: So, music
is music is music?
RL: As long
as we have what we now call the
acoustical piano! [Both laugh] To play it on, I don’t see
why it should
there ever come a time when we give concerts
with this electronic gizmo that you have here in your hotel room?
RL: I’m sure
do. I have a feeling this instrument is used in jazz or
in recordings. Pop music has all kinds of
electronic instruments which I don’t know anything about, but which I
see pictures of in magazines. This one is not as complicated as
synthesizers that we see, but it’s really quite good!
I wouldn’t turn my nose up at it. I think it’s a very lovely
little gadget, and it sounds beautiful, too.
BD: We talked
a little bit about your playing on
different pianos. Does your playing change at all if you’re in a
very small, intimate hall, or a great big barn of a hall, or even
outdoors, as you are here at Grant Park?
RL: I’m sure
it must, subtly. I was talking
about that this morning at the master class, because I think you have
to learn how to scale your playing for the amount of space
that’s between you and the audience. You have to
know when it’s necessary to really expand your playing. It’s like
being an actor; if you’re an actor on the stage, you do a
different kind of acting than if you do screen acting or television
acting. Although I’m not an actor, I know that’s what they talk
BD: And yet
you’re still playing the same notes in each location.
RL: It’s the
same notes, but the length of time it
takes to get from one note to the other changes. It has to do
articulation and projection and timing. You have to know
that if you’re playing in Grant Park, it’s going to be a little bit
longer distance between you and the people way, way, way out there in
that huge audience than if you were to play in a chamber music
hall. So you have to think about sound all the time.
BD: How do
you divide your career now between solo
performances, orchestral concerts and chamber music?
that. [Both laugh]
BD: Some of
this, some of that, like a
that’s right. I have a
little of everything, and I like that very much.
BD: Is there
ever an over-balance of one or another,
and do you try to adjust it, or do you just take what comes?
I just take it as it comes because you
never know from one year to the next. I seem to have managed to
do some of each every year, and I like it that way.
brings its own particular pleasures?
absolutely, yes. I would be very, very
unhappy if I just played solo all the time. I love to play
chamber music, and I have such interesting colleagues who are chamber
music players in string quartets, and I love the challenge of playing
with different people all the time.
playing in front
of an orchestra a different challenge from playing behind a string
RL: It is a
leveler if you play chamber music with a string quartet. That’s
the way of keeping honest, if you’re a pianist, because if you
play with a really good string quartet, they express themselves freely
and openly and talk about everything very honestly. You
can’t be a musician and not accept the criticisms of your
colleagues; that’s why I really love and welcome the process of
chamber music. There’s no ego involved with string players, the
way I find it may have to be with other forms of music-making.
There’s not a power struggle; there’s none
of that. Everybody is in the trench together, and you
try very hard to tell the truth about each other’s playing, and I like
that very much.
BD: You don’t
get that so much with a conductor
waving a stick?
depends on the conductor, I’m sure, but
it is possible that you must relinquish some kind of power. It’s
not necessary to have a power
struggle whatsoever, but I think it may be seen as such by some.
It should be an equal partnership between an orchestra, a
conductor, and a soloist. It’s just very nice when that can
BD: Then it
becomes chamber music once again?
that’s the ideal. If you can play with
a big orchestra and make it sound like a big chamber group, then you’re
in good shape. That’s what I like.
BD: You have
several hundred years’ worth of
piano music to select from for each year’s groups of concerts.
How do you decide which ones you’ll play, which ones you’ll postpone,
and which ones you’ll say, “I don’t ever
want to play that piece”?
it be nice if you
could decide everything on your own? There are repertoire lists
that exist, and an orchestra will take a look and say, “We would like
you to play this, this, or this.” It’s not easy to just say, “I
will play X, Y or Z this year.”
BD: But you
have decided what will go on that list,
so presumably you’d be happy with anything from that selection.
for the fact that there comes up
all kinds of different circumstances such as traveling and
you’re playing the Brahms C Minor
on the west coast and then the next
day you have to go all the way to the east coast and play another big
concerto, what do you do then? You can’t look into the
future and know where you’re going to be. It would be so nice
if you could play the same piece two times in a row in two different
cities, so it’s always a toss-up and
there’s always some kind of compromise you have to make. For
example, if one city has had a certain piece one year, they
don’t want to have it again the following year. You can’t insist
upon it; you have to let them make their choice. It’s necessary.
BD: I’m looking for
more basic. How do you decide which pieces will go on your list?
RL: Gosh, I
don’t know. I have studied a number
of pieces and they’re perpetually interesting to me. Then
there are times when some orchestra will say, “We want you to play
this,” and if it’s on my list or not, I may just wish very
much to play it and never thought of doing it myself. So it’s
always something new.
that you play a piece you’ve never played before, and perhaps never
even heard before. When you get the music in
front of you, how do you decide whether you’ll say yes or no?
RL: By now, I
should think it’s not a piece
I’ve not heard before. I’ve been at it for a while, so I think I
know most of the piano concertos. But if there’s a piece that I
haven’t played in a long time and hadn’t intended to put it back on
my list for this year, the very suggestion makes me think about
it. What is the work saying? Necessity is
the mother of invention, and sometimes it’s a good idea. It
wouldn’t have been my idea, but I usually wind up doing it.
BD: Is there
no real curiosity about something that
you literally have never heard before — perhaps
something that hasn’t been
played in a hundred and fifty years?
RL: Oh I’m
curious as can be, but I’m also human and
I can’t play everything. I have a very large repertoire, and I
been learning pieces ever since I began to play. There comes
a time when you feel like you’d like to play something you’ve known for
a while and not have to keep playing something so new. I do play
new things often — constantly — but
you cannot expect people to learn
new things all the time. It’s just not a good idea. It’s
really good to play something that you know. It’s hard for you to
understand that, having never been a
concert pianist before, but trust me, it’s true. [Both laugh]
BD: I assume
you try to balance the repertoire wherever possible.
BD: So if
you’re setting up a solo recital, you have, presumably, almost complete
what you’re going to put on it.
that’s true. I think the
days of having anybody suggest what one plays on a recital, if they
existed before, they’re gone now. I like to make up my
own recital programs from my own feeling of what I need to play, and
what I feel works well with other works.
BD: Does that
change from moment to moment and
season to season?
RL: Yes, of
course it does.
BD: Do you
also play any new works, premieres and such?
RL: There are
some pieces being written for me
right now, and I certainly hope to be doing the premieres of these two
piano concertos. There’s one by a woman named Michelle Ekizian,
who has gotten a grant. I don’t think it’s a good idea to talk
about it before it’s finished, but she’s at work on it. Then
young man in New York who’s promised me a piano concerto. I
seen it yet, but I look forward to it very much.
BD: Do you
have any suggestions for someone who
wants to write music for the keyboard these days?
surprised] Not even just write it?
RL: No, I
wouldn’t say that. It’s very
hard to be a composer now. I don’t know how to give anybody
advice on how to be a composer, I really
don’t. It’s a terribly difficult thing to do, assuming
that they’re good. It’s very hard to get premieres.
Orchestra budgets are getting cut all the time; we’re trying very
hard just to keep going. It’s a hard time for the
arts, and if somebody is gifted enough to write something, good
for them! I hope they have much success, but I don’t know how
they get grants for supporting themselves.
It’s just a different time than it used to be when there were Ford
Foundation grants for young composers.
there’s Meet the Composer, and that’s about
RL: I guess
advice do you have for audiences of
today and tomorrow?
RL: Come to
the concerts! [Both laugh] That’s all. I hope they
keep coming! In New York, where I live, there
are some very interesting new concepts. I don’t think they’re
that radical at all, but there are a number of
concerts at the Metropolitan Museum, at the Grace Rainey Rogers
Auditorium, where I have been asked specifically to speak about the
music and to speak about the composer for the sake of younger people
or audiences who are not as confident about their ability to enjoy the
music. I began this five seasons ago, and I am happy to tell
you that my series at the Met — originally called “Concerts With
Commentary” and now under the heading “Speaking of Music” — have
sold out. We have stage seats; we have standing room only.
People like to hear about the music and they like to hear the
musician speak. It’s not a lecture and it’s nothing terribly
formal, but I do a lot of research to learn as
much as I can about whatever I’m going to be playing.
BD: Is it
more than just living program notes?
RL: I think
so. Program notes, by definition, are not alive. It’s
something quite different when you have a performer actually
speaking to an audience. It’s not just information; it’s a lot
more than that. It’s just like playing the piano — there’s
more than just the notes. You have a rapport with the
audience, and the response really shows that people are hungry
for some personal connection with the music. They could read
the program notes, I suppose, but we don’t have any at the Met.
We don’t give any. So I think that is an indication of what
the concerts of the future are leaning towards. This is much more
common now than it ever used to be. When I used to go to
concerts as a child, if the performer even announced what his encore
was, we would be so excited! I remember when Jascha Heifetz told
us what he was going to play as an encore and I was so thrilled!
The voice of the performer is now being heard in the land. It’s
much more common, and audiences seem to expect it and want it.
BD: Does it
surprise them that you’re a human being
and not an automaton?
RL: I don’t
know if it should, but for some reason
it gives them another dimension, and it makes it more comfortable
for them to go to a concert.
BD: Is this
going to help be the bridge for the
performer to the MTV generation that may or may not come to
concerts very often?
heavens, I don’t know! I don’t know about the MTV kids. As
long as people
come to concerts, we need ‘em. We want ‘em. It’s
important. I don’t know who goes to concerts anymore, but
somebody’s going to them. We’ve got a lot of
people in New York, and lots of other places, too.
Sure. We have a great concert-going public
here in Chicago.
RL: Oh, I
know that! What an extraordinary city
you have here. I love it!
Is it a little easier if you rehearse
for two days, and then play three or four concerts of the same piece?
RL: I would
say so. It’s always better to
do it more than once. We’re only going to do it once here in
Chicago, but sure, it’s
nice to have more than one crack at it.
BD: Do you
ever get it right?
RL: Parts of
it. There are moments when you feel and you think that’s the way
I want it. It
doesn’t last very long.
Hopefully, there are lots of those moments.
BD: May we
delve a little bit into
Rachmaninoff? You’ve made a special study of his
RL: I love to
talk about him!
BD: What is
it about Rachmaninoff that grabs you?
RL: Everybody loves
Rachmaninoff who loves
melody, passion and romance. Those are the obvious externals
of his music. His music was not expected to last; that’s what it
said in Grove’s Dictionary
many years ago, but it has lasted, and
it’s more popular now than it’s ever been. [See my Interview with Stanley
Sadie, Editor of The New Grove
Dictionary of Music and Musicians.] Those few
concertos and certain pieces of his are played constantly! Had I
not embarked upon the process of
doing the complete piano solo works on recording, I would not have
known that there is such a wealth of music that he has left us!
There is so much music by Rachmaninoff besides the famous C Sharp Minor
Prelude, the Second Piano
Concerto, the Third
Piano Concerto and the Rhapsody.
There’s so much more than
that. He really was an extraordinary musician! There are
ten CDs that have just come out on
RCA, The Complete Recorded Works of
Rachmaninoff, including a lot of works that he played of other
composers, plus, of course,
some of his own music. There are all the sonatas that he played
Kreisler; there’s the piece that he plays with a gypsy
named Nadezhda Plevitskaya and it’s really cool. It’s
wonderful! I just love those records, and it gives some hint
of his depth as a musician. He did everything.
BD: Do you
learn as much or
more from his recordings as you do from his notes on the page?
RL: I think
both. I think it’s one and the
same. To hear him play is really an education, and it’s very
interesting because there is more than one version of several
pieces on these recordings. You hear him play the same thing
twice or three times.
RL: Yes, and
that’s what’s really interesting
because he doesn’t play it the same way! It’s always super-human;
everything he does is spectacular and unlike anyone else, but he
varies it and he creates something new each time. When he plays
something like the Chopin Funeral
March Sonata, the B Flat
Minor, he does not observe the markings that
Chopin wrote. He, being a composer, puts his own special stamp on
the music, and that’s very interesting!
that, then, encourage you to put your stamp on
RL: If I can,
yes. That doesn’t mean that I
don’t want to follow what he put on the paper. He left a
blueprint besides the notes. The dynamic markings or
may be on the page gives you some hint as to what he might have wanted,
but it’s a blueprint at best.
BD: You have
to decide how fast to take his allegro.
Oh, sure. Nobody can tell you that.
BD: I assume
this changes, maybe even minute to
RL: Oh, it
BD: Have you
played all of his works for piano?
RL: Yes, I
have, and right this very week the recordings that I made are due to
again on CD for the 50th Anniversary of Rachmaninoff’s death.
It’s 1993 and he died in 1943, so they’ve just put out a special
edition of all of the Romantic and other works of
Rachmaninoff on five CDs.
BD: I assume
you’re proud of those recordings.
RL: Oh, I’m
very happy that I did them! Yes, I
BD: But there
is no desire to make a new set?
RL: Why would
I want to do that?
BD: It seems
like every performer wants to record
everything twelve times.
me! [Both laugh] No, once is enough for those.
BD: And yet
you’re happy to play them again in
RL: Oh yes,
of course, but it’s too much of an
ordeal to go through the recording process again.
BD: Is there
any other composer that you have become
so identified with — perhaps Scriabin?
RL: I always
find Scriabin extremely intriguing
and wonderful, and I keep playing Scriabin as much as I can.
There’s an enormous amount of music that he’s written that has still
recorded. I did a lot of recordings of Scriabin — the
complete Sonatas and a bunch
of Etudes and Preludes,
but there’s still much more. Do you know that he wrote
several volumes of Mazurkas?
BD: No, but I
always enjoy the ones by
RL: He was
very intrigued with Chopin
as a young man. He did lots of early mazurkas, and there
are late ones, too. There’s lots and lots
of music that we don’t know!
BD: So is all
that part of your future recording projects?
RL: I don’t
know. We’ll see.
BD: Do you
like the life of a
suppose; it’s the only life I know. It’s always
interesting. You don’t have office hours, but you sure do work
BD: Do you
ever feel that you’re a slave to your
Absolutely. Yes, I am. Like any
dancer would say, they have to do their work or else they can’t
live. It’s a two-edged sword. It’s very important to
keep working, yet you can’t get away from it.
mentioning names, are you optimistic
about the future of pianism in this country and in the world?
RL: Yes, I
think so. I’ve heard some very
outstanding and wonderful young players, and I think that as long as
there are human beings and pianos, there are going to be great artists
around, there really are. The great ones have died, and in the
recent past, Mr. Horszowski, who was one of my teachers, died at the
age of officially a hundred, but I’ve heard people say that he
was really a hundred and seven! [Note: Mieczysław Horszowski
lived from June 23, 1892 to May 22, 1993, a month shy of 101
years!] But with his death goes the end of an era.
Mr. Serkin and Horowitz and Arrau are all gone now, and we have new
ones. We have Kissin and other ones who are marvelous.
BD: Are they
ready to take the places of the old
RL: I don’t
think anybody ever takes Rudolph
Serkin’s place or Horowitz’s place. It doesn’t happen.
BD: But I
mean are we getting new artists who continue that high level of work.
always a chosen one.
There’s always someone who has something very special to say, and I
think that there are inevitably those very special human beings
somewhere in the world. There are very few of them, but we find
them somehow... or they find us!
BD: One last
question. Is being a performer fun?
Sometimes. It’s more complicated than just
fun. It’s very hard work, but it’s fun when you give a good
concert and people like it. I really enjoyed myself today at that
school. I loved those kids and they seemed to enjoy what I
did. That’s a good feeling.
BD: Thank you
for all the concerts and all the
records, and thank you for speaking with me
you, Bruce. It was nice to meet
=== === === === ===
-- -- -- -- --
=== === === ===
=== === ===
© 1993 Bruce Duffie
This interview was recorded in Chicago on June 21,
1993. Portions (along with recordings)
were used on WNIB the following year, and again in 1997. This
made and posted on this
website in 2011.
To see a full list (with links) of interviews which have been
transcribed and posted on this website, click here.
broadcaster Bruce Duffie was with WNIB, Classical 97 in Chicago
from 1975 until its final moment as a classical station in February of
2001. His interviews have also appeared in various magazines and
journals since 1980, and he now continues his broadcast series on WNUR-FM,
as well as on Contemporary Classical Internet Radio.
You are invited to visit his website
for more information about his work, including selected transcripts of
other interviews, plus a full list of his guests. He would also
to call your attention to the photos and information about his
grandfather, who was a pioneer in the automotive field more than a
century ago. You may also send him E-Mail
with comments, questions and suggestions.