Five questions to Peter Orth

June 5, 2020

 


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.

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