Who or what inspired you to pursue a career in music and who or what have been the most important influences on your musical life and career?
My mother is a great amateur pianist, and every evening, after we were sent to bed, she would play the piano and we would fall asleep listening to Mendelssohn and Schumann. Very quickly I became fascinated by this strange wooden box that could produce such amazing sounds and tell stories without the use of a single word. That’s why my parents sent me to a local teacher. From the beginning I was pretty fond of piano playing, but I wasn’t yet considering making a living from it …but that’s before I stumbled on Brahms’ 2nd Piano Concerto. I was eleven then, and I clearly remember listening to it for the first time. My parents owned a fair collection of CDs, and among them was Krystian Zimerman’s version of Brahms 2. This discovery changed my life forever. I never imagined that humankind was capable of such beauty, and I couldn’t sleep for nights after it. Brahms opened the cosmos for me. After it, it was clear that my life would be dedicated to serving music.
What have been the greatest challenges of your career so far?
The most challenging moment was the gap between studies and the “real” professional life. I never felt inclined to teach, and living from concerts was difficult at the beginning. Fortunately, the state I am from in Switzerland gave me a three-year scholarship and that allowed me to pursue my goals without having to worry too much.
Which performances/recordings are you most proud of?
I am proud of my new Liszt album, featuring his late works. When I started learning this repertoire, I felt a bit reluctant about it and even wondered if it was a good idea to record it, because one has to admit, the music he wrote in his last period is strange and sometimes difficult to seize. But after spending months with it, it gently took form in my ears, took every spare bit of space in my heart, and I grew to love it more than anything. I started feeling very close to the pains of an old soul, ready for his last journey. The music of Liszt’s last years is visionary and spell-binding, but his contemporaries didn’t appreciate it, and he died with the bitter feeling of not having had his true value recognised. That’s why I’m willing to do everything in my power to ensure that this music gets the admiration it deserves.
Which particular works do you think you perform best?
I am a Lisztian from head to toe, and when playing his music, I feel like I am speaking my mother tongue. Among his works, I feel a very particular connexion to his Sonata.
What do you do off stage that provides inspiration on stage?
Having grown up in the Swiss Alps and residing there again now, I spend a lot of time hiking in the surrounding mountains. It somehow makes me feel better to connect to nature and spend time in its forests and scree slopes. Whatever you grow to think you are, you are small in comparison to the forces in action there, and no one judges you. It is a very comforting feeling, that I try to take with me on stage.
How do you make your repertoire choices from season to season?
I am very intuitive and spontaneous regarding repertoire, an inner voice tells me what is right to play and when. Once I have decided, I try to offer the same programme to as many places as possible, as playing a work many times is really important, in my view, for its maturation.
As pianists we are lucky to have an enormous range of works and periods to choose from, but I rather tend to select a few composers that I get very intimate with, rather than playing a lot from every period. For a few years, transcribing music and writing paraphrases became very important for me, and I am always particularly happy to play them on stage. I feel like I bring something new to the audience by doing this (for example, my paraphrase on the Verklärte Nacht by Schönberg)
Do you have a favourite concert venue to perform in and why?
I LOVE the concert hall of the Liszt Zentrum in Raiding. It is built beside his birthplace, and therefore is a pilgrimage spot for a Lisztian like me! One has to imagine that Raiding is a very small village of a few houses, just like it was in the 19th century. So the big 600 seat hall sitting in Liszt’s garden is like a miracle. Not only am I fond of the geographical location, but the hall sounds like gold. It is made entirely of wood, and its acoustics are very warm. This is the hall I chose to record my recent Liszt album.
What do you feel needs to be done to grow classical music’s audiences?
In an ideal world, I would dream of seeing more young people in the audience. There are a lot of people who listen to piano and to artists like Niels Frahm or Yann Tiersen, and they would probably actually like classical music if it wasn’t named as such. The music they listen to is like the neighbour next door to “our” music, and if we could build a bridge, they might embark with us on Chopin’s Nocturnes, Brahms’ Waltzes, and maybe then to more complicated music. I sometimes wonder too if our halls aren’t a bit intimidating. Maybe moving the music to places where “normal” people feel at ease would be something to to try too…
What is your most memorable concert experience?
One of the only recitals I gave since the European lockdown took place in Monte-Carlo, at the Printemps des Arts festival. In Monaco the theatres didn’t shut down, and I was lucky to have a lot of people in the audience. Being the release concert of my Liszt album, I played his late works for other living beings for the first time there. After months of being alone with his hypnotic music and totally engrossed in it, it was like a miracle to eventually share it with others. The audience was very silent, and waited until the very last piece to release an applause. It almost felt like I was saying a mass!
As a musician, what is your definition of success?
What is most important for me is to be faithful to my artistic and human values, and not to allow myself any compromise. If external success comes, it is only a bonus, but not a goal to pursue. As Carl G. Jung said “the most important things happen inside, and not outside.”
What do you consider to be the most important ideas and concepts to impart to aspiring musicians?
Be true to yourself and serve the music.
What is your most treasured possession?
A bottle of Littlemill 1988, bottled by Berry’s and Sons.
What is your present state of mind?
I am curious to see what the cultural world will look like after the coronavirus crisis. I do hope there will be fewer big egocentric stars and more authentic and humble musicians on the stage. This is just wishful thinking!
The Swiss pianist, Beatrice Berrut, started the piano aged 9, first at the Conservatoire de Lausanne with Pierre Goy, and chamber music with Pierre Amoyal, before being accepted to study at the Neuhaus Foundation in Zürich under renowned pianist Esther Yellin. She then graduated from the Hochschule für Musik “Hanns Eisler” in Berlin, where she studied with Galina Iwanzowa. She was awarded an Artist Diploma in John O’Conor’s class at the Royal Irish Academy of Music in Dublin. From fall 2011 she pursued her studies at Indiana University in Menahem Pressler’s class. The winner of the « Société des Arts Competition » in Geneva, she was the Swiss laureate at the Eurovision Contest for young classical musicians, going on to represent Switzerland at the European Contest in Berlin. She also won Bach special award at Wiesbaden International Piano Competition.
Described by the international press as « a revelation, an exceptional pianist », whose « transcendent playing revels in multiple layers of genius and beauty », Beatrice Berrut is considered one of the most talented artists of her generation. Described as « a wonderfully talented and musical pianist, with impressive seriousness, commitment and sensitivity» by Gidon Kremer, she is no stranger to the international stage. She has played numerous concerts throughout Europe and America, at prestigious venues such as Preston Bradley Hall and Bennett Gordon Hall in Chicago, Chopin Academy Hall in Warsaw, Berlin Philharmony and Konzerthaus Berlin, Wigmore Hall in London, Palais des Beaux-Arts in Brussels, Victoria Hall in Geneva, Teatro Coliseo of Buenos Aires, the Cleveland Museum of Arts…
Photo credit: Niels Ackermann