Who or what inspired you to take up the piano and pursue a career in music ?
Actually as my both parents are pianists, it was quite natural for me to start playing the piano, when I was about 5 or 6 years old. And I began practicing with them, before meeting my first teachers. So I never really thought about taking up another instrument. One element that made me, as a very young boy, feel immediately very interested in extending and developing my instrumental practice is that I listened a lot to recordings from great pianists of the 20th century that we had in our family record collection at home : in these first years, I discovered a lot of repertoire with CDs by Richter, Gilels, Michelangeli, Sofronitsky, Horowitz, Pollini and so on, and this was a very powerful inspiration for me and made me even more passionate about this instrument.
Who or what have been the most important influences on your musical life and career?
So I guess I already began to answer the question: the CDs that I listened to in my early years – and that still accompany me – are certainly very important. Then also live concerts. It often happens that I want to learn a new piece after hearing it played during a recital, as a kind of revelation. Among the pianists that I had the chance to hear live these last years and who’ve made a strong impression on me: Pollini, Pogorelich, Volodos, of course Sokolov and Kissin.
Then all my different teachers. I had the opportunity to work with musicians from both the so-called “French school” and the “Russian school”, and I think that my way of playing reflects this combination of influences.
But I also find inspiration in my work from many other things, including literature, poetry, cinema, painting, I am convinced that a piano player must not only be obsessed with the instrument but also be interested in the arts and other areas of human creation which nourish the way you meditate a musical work, and the sensibility which you invest in it.
Which performance/recordings are you most proud of ?
The next one! I am joking – but more seriously, it almost never happens that a musician is 100% satisfied after a concert, by which I mean satisfied in absolutely every aspect. That would be the end of any artistic process! Self-criticism is very important, and there are always interpretative and instrumental dimensions that you need to improve, to develop and go deeper. Personally, I always try to think, after each concert, which details I am still not satisfied with, in order to play differently and better for the next concert, so that this working musical process never stops, my mind is always taken by the question: how could I go further, deeper and so on….
Which particular works do you think you play best ?
I think that I have a very close relationship to Chopin (I almost always have works by Chopin in my concert programmes), as well as Russian music (to which I dedicated my first CD) and of course French music, especially Debussy. I also have a strong passion for German repertoire, above all Beethoven and Brahms.
How do you make your repertoire choices from season to season ?
In my case, it is a question of impulse and musical desire. As I said, I often have the idea of learning a new work after hearing it played by a pianist that I admire on stage, or after listening to a CD. For example, I recently found an extraordinary live recording from the 1990’s of Pogorelich playing Rachmaninov’s 2nd Sonata and I decided to put this piece in my programmes for next year.
Then I also think in a more global way, in order to have stylistic variety in my repertoire, because at my age it is still important to practice different types of music: for example, this year I learned new pieces by Mozart (Sonatas and Concertos), as well as pieces by Debussy, Ravel and Messiaen, and of course works from the Romantic repertoire – Brahms, Chopin. As my mother often says, the repertoire is like a menu, you should always have starters, main courses and deserts…!
Do you have a favourite concert venue to perform in and why ?
I’ve already had the chance to play in some beautiful concert halls, including Die Glocke Hall in Bremen, the Tonhalle Zürich, and the Salle Gaveau in Paris, which I find particularly pleasant for recitals. Generally speaking, I prefer venues with a generous acoustic, where you can have a long, well-projected sound which you can sculpt, rather than a dry acoustic where the sound is short and has no space.
Who are your favourite musicians ?
Among the living pianists: Pollini is a great model, also Pogorelich, Volodos, and Pletnev, I also have a lot of admiration for Daniil Trifonov, because he is more or less my age and I’ve heard him several times live. Among the pianists from the past: Richter first of all, Sofronitsky, Michelangeli, Gilels, Horowitz…
But I can also find inspiration from other musicians, especially conductors from the 20th century. I often listen to Furtwangler’s recordings, especially the live ones made during the war, of Beethoven, Brahms, and Bruckner symphonies, which are absolutely fantastic. Also Otto Klemperer in Mahler for example, Bruno Walter, and so on.
What is your most memorable concert experience ?
At the beginning of this year, I had a quite special experience, that was really new for me. I was called by my German manager to replace at last minute Christian Zacharias in Mozart’s C Minor Concerto. Luckily, I had already played it, but that was 2 years ago, and I had to take the plane to Chemnitz (Germany) the morning after, so I spent the night on the electric piano, with headphones, practicing Mozart, and then I went to Chemnitz and played it twice with conductor Leopold Hager in a big venue, with more than a thousand people. That was a quite a memorable experience – hard, but in the end very beautiful.
As a musician, what is your definition of success ?
Of course there is an “exterior” definition of success, which means playing around the world in the biggest concert halls with the most famous orchestras, conductors and so on. And after all, what is more important for a musician than being able to perform in the best conditions, in beautiful venues, with perfect instruments, great colleagues and enthusiastic audiences ?
But I think there is also – or rather there should be – an “internal” definition of “success” which is down to your own personal efforts. This means having a strong conviction concerning the interpretation you want to achieve in the works you are playing and finding the instrumental as well as musical solutions, working hard in order the effectively realize it. This also means never being too self-satisfied but always knowing what you want to hear from yourself, exactly what kind of sound you want to produce and then finding the practical and artistic means to achieve it.
What do you consider to be the most important ideas and concepts to impart to aspiring musicians ?
First of all, passion, because if you’re not really passionate about what you are doing, it will never work: you need to have a very strong inner desire for music, for producing music yourself, discovering the repertoire, playing on stage and with others, and it is this passion that will also help to find the permanent motivation in the everyday work. And this passion, I think, comes a lot from listening, from the early age, and then listening not only to the works that you are currently practicing, but also to the great masterpieces from the chamber music repertoire, symphonies, operas and so on.
Then I would say inspiration and freedom. Because at the end of the day, when you have learned the score, when you have a precise knowledge of the style and the composer’s indications, it is the singularity of your own interpretation that matters, and that will make the difference on stage – your capacity to re-create the piece, to invest it with your own musical feelings, ideas, decisions and spirit. And for that you need a certain amount of thinking, sensibility, and audacity.
Then of course, a young musician who is starting out should know that apart from the live performances, there is also the everyday work of practicing, which is after all the fundamental process of a musician, and that requires a lot of discipline in order to achieve the best quality of playing. Possessing that instrumental mastery will permit you to realize the interpretation you are looking for, to search the sound you aspire to.
What is your idea of perfect happiness ?
Happiness is when you are yourself involved, in your everyday life, in a creative process about which you are really passionate. Happiness is taking part in creation. So in this sense, it is not so much an ideal state of being, some transcendental paradise that we should look for in the future, but rather an affection that is implied in concrete activities, here and now: it is a feeling that is always “in progress”, that you are following and developing during the creative process (that can be art, science, love, politics…the four types of “truth” as defined by the French philosopher Alain Badiou) you are taking part in.
Jean-Paul Gasparian gives his Artist Diploma final recital at the Royal College of Music on 10 June 2018
(photo: Jean-Baptiste Millot)