• Nathaniel Whitten

Five questions to Peter Orth


How did you choose the repertoire on this latest recording? While it may seem that everything has been recorded in the classical canon, I’ve found there still is room for new interpretations. Oddly, the piano music of Johannes Brahms has by no means been exhausted. There was a gap in the recorded Brahms repertoire at Challenge Records, and these particular pieces are very old friends of mine. They have been with me for most of my life and I am very close to them. You moved to Germany in 1992. What do you find there that’s conducive to music making vs. other places you’ve lived or visited. Living and breathing in an atmosphere where Art, with a capital A, may have a different or deeper connotation than in another country is, for this transplanted American, a tangible positive of living in Germany. The architecture alone is a staggering inspiration. In my experience with American music teaching, the great masters were very much handled with a certain distant reverence - when in actuality they need to be approached naturally. Coming to a country where the composers lived and worked removes these pedestals in favor of understanding their lives in the context of their surroundings. Also, after many years of concertizing in the U.S., my move to Germany forced me to confront my strengths and weaknesses as a player because I arrived here without an infrastructure. No one knew me — or even wanted to know me! Starting anew proved to be very healthy for me as a pianist, though I had to persevere over many long years to arrive where I find myself today. I could go so far to say I finally became a musician in Germany. Being married to a String quartet — my husband is the violist of the Auryn Quartet — has proven to be the most ideal musical education of all. Playing countless concerts with the Auryn meant I had to articulate what I think in a way that would be understandable to four other players. At one point during a particularly meaningful performance of a Beethoven Quartet by the Auryns, I asked the primarius Matthias Lingenfelder how he is able to make a certain Adagio sound so natural. He answered that after all was said and done, it was just a song. At that moment, all my baggage surrounding playing great music fell off my shoulders. You recently concluded a Professorship tenure at the Hochschule for Musik in Detmold. Has the experience of teaching impacted the way you approach a work now? As an American in Germany, the process of having to communicate in a language not my own forced me to pair down to the essential points - whether it be how to use the hands, or what is necessary to understand and project in a musical phrase. If I learned anything from teaching, it was that rules about playing correctly or in the “proper style” are all nonsense. You must start with your own relationship to the music. Without that you have nothing. So while teaching hasn’t changed what I’ve always felt important in what goes into a performance of music, it definitely crystallized many thoughts. What do you consider your greatest asset and liability as a performer? How do you use both to your advantage? To be able to assess how one comes across as a performer is a little like trying to taste your own tongue. We might have inklings about how strongly we come across, or not, but I believe all you can do is be as honest as possible and do your knitting, (as one of my revered teachers, Adele Marcus, used to say). Having been in the same room to hear the likes of Callas, Baker, Bernstein, Celibidache, Horowitz, Rubinstein, Serkin, to mention only a few, showed me viscerally what kind of fire is involved in making a musical statement. Perhaps having been witness to a time now gone, arguably the last of the great performing generation, has informed in my ethos a kind of measuring stick against which to measure myself and be responsible to. Whether I can live up to any of it is not for me to say. But you cannot imitate, you can only be what you are. You just try to share your relationship with the music with the public. If you are lucky, it ends up meaning something to someone. You live a life of the spirit, as well as of the mind. How does your Buddhistpractice influence your playing, or vice versa? Shakespeare, Plato, and Buddha all said that to know oneself was of the highest importance in life. Walking on a stage to play takes nerves and confidence, and above all, self-knowledge. As performers, we can be our greatest ally or our greatest enemy. The understanding of that fact changes and evolves with the years. My greatest revelations as a performer or a listener are during moments that take me out of myself. I have learned that there is no recipe to create this magic. All we can do is create the optimal circumstances for music to occur. We can’t invite the wind, but we can open the window. It seems to me that is what meditation is about.

#PeterOrth