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15 Questions to Freddy Kempf

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Hi! How are you? Where are you?
I am at home, in London, – in my wife’s “office” as we have a good friend of ours staying in my room! I am feeling heart-broken and depressed because I have just spent the whole afternoon practising Chopin’s 2nd piano concerto – it is such a wonderful feeling! I also feel great as I went to the gym today and ran my usual 3km in record time – 9 mins. in fact... well just kidding but one day I’ll get it down to 9 minutes... Some day...


What’s on your schedule right now?
On my schedule? Well tomorrow I fly to Sweden to do Chopin 2nd with a really great conductor friend of mine. I’m really looking forward to it as we always seem to make such good music together as well as having such fun. He sent me an SMS today saying, “Hi Freddy. When you arrive? Dinner? Weather is rubbish orchestra is great”

I return on Friday before leaving for Russia for 1 month. I have a lovely month of concerts there – doing Schubert Fantasy in F minor in Zhukovsky (where they built the MiGs); then I go to Siberia for the first time to celebrate Novosibirsks Jubilee doing both the Emperor as well as the Bruch Double Concerto for 2 pianos. Maybe the most fun concert will be a Schubertiade in the new concert hall in Moscow, the Dom Muziki where I’ll play the Trout.


You seemed to feel entirely “at home” on stage during your concert in The Hague – is performing live the best thing about being a musician for you? How does it compare to the studio situation?
For me music is the stage. I find it so wonderful and so exciting. I know that there are many different types of great musicians. I would never neccessarily claim to be one of them! My aim is simply to touch someone in the audience and give them as intense as an emotional experience as I can. I feel that it is now only through music, because of the constraints and pressures of normal life, where we can experience these “fantastic” emotions – the feeling of love that Robert (Schumann) had for Clara: the feeling of desperation that Schubert must have felt towards the end of his life... These composers documented their feelings in their writing and for me it is a dream to try to communicate this emotion on the stage to the audience.

I have to say that this makes the studio very difficult for me. I most of all feel very embarassed in the studio. I feel that nobody is listening so I feel I’m not playing to anybody. However I have my record-producer but it is still hard to play for just one person. I am also a very lazy person so I try to make sure that my producer doesn’t compliment me much because as soon as he says he’s happy, even if I am not, I’m not always energetic enough to insist that we try again to make it better.


While we’re at it: You’re still recording exclusively for BIS. What are they offer you what other (and bigger) companies can not?
I suppose the greatest thing about BIS is their dedication to making a great record. They are always pioneers in audio technology and it’s very exciting, even if it’s frustrating, to be using a strange looking box marked Sony Serial no. 000000000002 because 000000000001’s blue light won’t switch on.


One gets the feeling that concerts are again taking over from records as “the place” where Classical Music is “happening”. Do you think this could actually be a good thing?
Well, for me, seeing as I love concerts so much I’m very happy for this. However records are also exremely important too. I think that every industry has a “boom” period and everything goes in cycles. I am sure when the next exciting format comes along the record industry will boom and when people start getting too spoilt with concerts then we might see a different pattern, who knows?


On a more general level: What constitutes a good live performance in your opinion? What’s your approach to performing on stage?
I think that for any performer the live concert is always either a risk or a struggle. We either aim for perfection or we aim for some sort of physical or emotional peak. The hardest thing is to overcome our fears and our human-ness, in the sense that we are not unfailing robots, and try to play either what we see in our brain or what we hear in our ears. So I feel a good live perfomance is simply the one where everything seems to work so that the performer feels both relaxed, happy and inspired.

I suppose my own approach is simply to be prepared and as calm as possible. I’m usually really excited to play in which case the only thing I can do is try to go to bed not too late the night before. I always take a look at the hall from behind the stage about 5 minutes before showtime which I suppose is becoming a habit now. Once I’m performing I simply try all the time to produce something both touching and exciting – and try really very hard.


While performing Grieg’s Piano Concert, I had the impression that you had a deep connection with the romantic side of the piece, but refrained from allowing any feeling to become self-indulgent and linger for too long. Would you agree? And: Is this just a question of interpretation regarding this particular piece or a personal quality of your playing?
I don’t really know the answer to this one. I feel that I am a very romantic person and I always feel I’m often indulging too much! I always try to analize the structure of a piece of music first and try to work out what would logically work in concert. However once I’ve done that I just try to imagine what the composer was really trying to express. I mean the notes on the page are just a very rough representation or estimate of what the composer really wanted. I’m sure that Chopin would have felt a very different “fortissimo” to say Prokofiev when they both played the piano. I’m also sure that someone like Paganini would have a very different idea of the speed meant by Presto than someone like, say, Brahms.


A question in the same vein: Experimental Pop artist Björk once remarked that allowing your personal emotions to take over while performing was “selfish”. Would you agree? How do you balance the fine line between the composer’s intentions and making a piece come alive by adding a personal component?
I think it’s a very tough question to answer. I’ve spoken with a few friends of mine who are actors and they all said that even though you are “pretending” to feel something you still convey a feeling that’s true to yourself. I think that yes I do try to show the composer’s emotions but I tend to do it by finding my own true emotions that are fairly similar to what the composer wanted.


Are there any artists out there – be they Classical or “Popular” – that you feel close to in a musical sense? I’m asking this, because you seem to open to collaborations (such as with your trio)...
I think there are really so many people I feel close to. I really enjoyed working with Maestro Jarvi – we never had to discuss anything – we never decided a tempo or  a rallentando – it was all done instinctively and I felt we both agreed on things inside too. Because I’m a pianist I have the luxury of being able to give a full performance all by myself. I don’t need anybody to accompany me. Because of this when I do have the privilege to play with people I always try to find out what they want to say – to try to become part of their interpretation. I can’t remember ever having played with someone where I’d felt that I really didn’t agree with anything they were doing!


What’s your view on the classical music scene at present? Is there a crisis?
I think that in some countries the government, because of their own personal education, may not realize how important the Arts are. In that case they may not be putting enough stress in promoting the Arts. However in other countries the government has seen how important it is and are doing a big effort to make sure as many people as possible can enjoy it. I think classical music in many places is doing far better than it has done before.


Do you feel that Crossover Projects are “part of the solution or part of the problem”? Or to put it differently: Should the worlds of Classical and Experimental Music remain seperated from each other or open up?
Again I think that there are too many sides to this to give a clear decisive answer. I feel that if someone is playing a classical instrument like the ‘cello or the flute they are only doing “crossover” stuff if they’re not playing the normal classical repertoire. I think one of the great helps to classical music is where people do play the core repertoire but manage to reach people that don’t normally listen to it.


Unlike many other artists, you don’t have an “official Webpage” (albeit a good one at IMG Artists). Lack of time or don’t you believe in the power of the Internet?
I do believe in the internet – I really do! It is probably down to time – I don’t want to have a website which isn’t perfect so I’ve been putting it off. I will get onto it right away – as soon as I finish this interview in fact!


True or false: People need to be educated about classical music, before they can really appreciate it.
Can’t answer! Some people may be able to appreciate Mahler 5 on first listening, others won’t understand it at all. I think that like anything – wine, food, football, partners – we learn by experience. We can love something straight away but usually we appreciate more the more we learn.


You are given the position of artistic director of a concert hall. What would be on your program for this season?
A whole season? OK September 7th... Well that’s a tough question. I am a bit of a crazy dreaming idealist. If you ask me this question there’d be so many things to consider. If the hall was a business then I’d be trying to make a very healthy profit with it! However if it was non-profit then I suppose I’d want to reach a massive audience in which case it would be very large... I think I’d love variety and to try to show a city that all music is music and it is all to be enjoyed more than anything else. I also like to think that many people like many different types of music. So there could be mixed genres in 1 concert maybe. I’d certainly include ballet. I’ll have to think about this one!


What did Neeme Järvi whisper into your ear after the The Hague performance?
I really can’t remember. It couldn’t have been anything rude or I would have! And I’m sure that if I do remember then I won’t tell anybody as it would still be “our” secret.


Disography:
BEETHOVEN, Piano Sonata 8, 14, 23 (BIS)
BEETHOVEN, Piano Sonatas 30, 31, 32 (BIS)
Freddy Kempf plays Chopin (BIS)
CHOPIN, Complete Etudes (BIS)
LISZT, Transcendental Studies (BIS)               
Freddy Kempf plays Prokofiev (BIS)
Freddy Kempf plays Rachmaninov (BIS)     
Freddy Kempf plays Schumann (BIS)             

Homepage:
Inofficial Freddy Kempf Homepage
Freddy Kempf at IMG artists


Picture by Eric Richmond

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