ICS EXKLUSIVES INTERVIEW!!!
TALK TO MARIA KLIEGEL
BY TIM JANOF
The international career of the German cellist Maria Kliegel began in 1981 when she received the "Grand Prix" at the Concours Rostropovich in Paris. He also won first prizes at the American College Competition, the First German Music Competition in Bonn, the Concours Aldo Parisot and was in the national selection for "Concerts with Young Artists". After the Rostropovich competition, international concerts and tours began: he performed in Basel and played with the National Symphony Orchestra in Washington, DC and the Orchester National de France in Paris, both conducted by Mstislav Rostropovich. He has performed at Konzerthaus Berlin, Stuttgart Liederhalle, Amsterdam Concertgebouw, Weilburger Schloökonzerte, Gidon Kremer's Lockenhaus Festival, Gubaidulina Festival in West Germany, Risor Kam in Norway, Alte Oper Frankfurt and Kultursommer Nordhessen. He has toured Europe, the United States, South America, Japan and other countries in the Far East. In addition to most of the standard concert repertoire, he has works by Sofia Gubaidulina, John Tavener, Bloch and Wilhelm Kaiser-Lindemann's "Hommage � Nelson", a piece dedicated to Nelson Mandela, as well as chamber music by Brahms, Chopin, Kodaly, Mendelssohn, Schubert and Schumann. Since 1986 he has been giving master classes at the music academy in Cologne.
TJ: You almost studied with André Navarra. What happened?
MK: I slowly realized that my teacher in Frankfurt rarely gave cello demos and I felt that something was missing in my education. He would usually accompany me on the piano which provided great musical training but didn't help with the more technically difficult pieces where seeing how something is actually done can be an advantage. When I asked people where I should study, they mentioned Navarre, who were giving master classes in Siena that summer. The idea of sitting in a square with the teacher and drinking red wine really appealed to me, so I decided to try Navarra.
Before classes began, I was invited by a wealthy Frankfurt couple, Mr. and Mrs. Dohrn, to spend the holidays at their summer home near Siena. They supported me financially during my studies and knew about my plans to go to the Navarra master class. Everything was ready to start the summer school when Katia (Ms. Dohrn) told me that she had met Janos Starker and told him about me. He said if he was that talented he should study with him. She then told me that Starker would be giving a master class in Canada the following week and that if I went she would pay for all my expenses. That night was very difficult because I was already very focused on Siena, but I finally decided to meet Starker. My teacher in Frankfurt always said to look for it when I finished in Frankfurt, but I never really thought about it as my long-term goal was to go to Moscow and study with Rostropovich.
TJ: If you went to Rostropovich, you would have had a teacher who didn't show much on the cello like your teacher in Frankfurt.
MK: I didn't know that at the time. I was only 19 years old. All he knew was that he had a lot of Rostropovich recordings and loved to play.
I still remember playing in this master class for Starker. I was scared to death as I had never played a master class before. After I finished the Dvorak concert, he sat still, lit a cigarette for what felt like an eternity, didn't look at me, but still killed me with his intense stare. I sat there nervously until she finally said "sing". I thought: "sing?" and sat in silent confusion. He repeated his request: "Sing!" I was like, "But that's a double scale. How am I supposed to sing that?" At this point, the audience squirmed in their seats as he sat quietly and looked at me. Finally I tried to sing and it sounded ridiculous. In fact, it was so ridiculous that I burst out laughing, as did the audience. What started out as an incredibly tense situation turned into a very funny situation. Finally he said, "Your singing was very shy. You play as you sing."
Then, with a wink, he technically proceeded to break up with me. I didn't mind at all as he gave me good advice, things that helped immediately what I was looking for when I decided to leave my teacher in Frankfurt. I then listened to the other lessons in class and was blown away by his incredible teaching ability. A few days later he suggested I study with him in Bloomington, but I would have to make a decision immediately because next year he would be taking a gap year and next year it would be too late. So I had another sleepless night and called my parents and told them I wanted to study with Starker. I didn't have a scholarship, but I couldn't pass up this fantastic opportunity. Two weeks later I was in Bloomington.
I am very grateful for Starker's offer, because I would never have dared to ask him at the time. After the master class I realized how little I knew about playing the cello. I felt like the cello is Mount Everest and that I would never reach the top. But I felt like if I followed him I could. This is how my path to the conscious interpretation of the cello began.
TJ: Did he mainly focus on technical issues with you or did he also talk about musical ideas?
MK: He discussed both, although at first he certainly focused on the tech to get every detail right. He taught me how to hold the bow, how to use my forearm, how to use my body weight and balance with the instrument, how to make different types of changes, etc. When I have to play alto, I do that when I play piano If I have to play, I'll do something else. He spent a lot of time giving me the tools to later express my musical ideas.
He showed me how to practice and how to make little exercises out of difficult passages not only in studies but also in the mainstream literature which is his fantastic left hand exercise book.An organized way of playing strings., is about. The key to his method is found in the last three torn pages at the end of the book, which describe the geography of the arm. You have to know these three sides by heart and form your own combinations from them. If you don't know cello geography, it's like speaking a language without knowing its alphabet; You can only get so far in your communication skills.
TJ: Why do you think Starker focuses on technical issues rather than musical ideas?
MK: There are several reasons for that. Starker believes it's important to develop the right technique at a young age. If you don't build your muscles properly at first, you'll lose yourself later and your execution will become more and more shaky. If you follow Starker's advice, you'll be able to play anything later, and you can customize the "rules" however you like.
He understands that if you can't play the cello well, you can't get a job as a professional cellist. His goal is to teach cello technique so you can do anything in the music profession, whether you play in an orchestra, play chamber music, or play solo. He does everything to prepare his students for the highly competitive music market.
He also seeks to free his students from technical limitations so they can express their musical ideas without bad technique getting in the way. No matter how brilliant you are as a musician inside, no one will notice if you don't play your instrument well. In fact, he does his students a great favor, both technically and musically, by focusing on technical subjects.
He also understands that he has a strong personality and does not want to dominate his students musically. He plays so convincingly when he shows that you don't even think to question him; Everything he does feels so good. He prefers his students to make their own decisions and find their own path. Also, he believes that the musical side will resolve itself later on after the distractions of learning the technique have subsided.
TJ: Isn't the exchange of musical ideas also an important part of the learning process?
MK: Yes, but musical ideas are very individual and each student brings their own art that is already known or has yet to be discovered. A teacher can help you awaken what is already within you or help you refine your playing, but it is not the teacher's job to mold you in his own image. Ultimately, the things you discover for yourself are more meaningful than what you are told.
TJ: Still, I can't help but wonder if it's the teacher's responsibility to try and stop a student from playing in a way that's just plain bad, no matter how much they want to honor a student's ideas . I ask this because there was a student in his master class who played with extreme rhythmic distortions. Should a teacher allow a student to play like this without saying anything?
MK: If that student were mine, I would have a serious conversation with him. I asked him to tell me what he wanted to achieve musically and we discussed how he plays and what we needed to change to achieve that goal.
TJ: Starker often talks about "late" and "early" turns. Who are you?
MK: The type of switch you use depends on whether you want to listen or not, which has to do with the type of expression you're trying to convey. A "delayed circuit" is performed when you start the circuit along with the arcing switch and slide your finger terminated; "New bow, new finger" is the general rule. This creates an audible glide that can vary in duration and intensity depending on what you want to make musically. This type of offset needs to be used with great care and may be more appropriate in romantic music than in baroque or classical music.
TJ: The night shift looks dangerous!
MK: It's dangerous in the hands of people with bad taste. This type of change can easily be overdone, although some people see this type of change as the only way to express it. Everyone has a different sense of what is expressive.
An "early change", on the other hand, can be almost completely hidden. This is done before the bow change with the finger that played the note before the change; "old bow, old finger" is the general rule. You also have to light the bow to hide it. This type of change is used to move from one place to another on the fretboard as cleanly as possible, whether it's a semitone step or a large interval.
These are extremely important concepts to keep in mind as we frequently change some notes. The type of twists we use must be dictated by the music, so we have to choose our twists very carefully. Of course, everyone feels the music differently and chooses different turns for different situations, but part of our learning is developing good taste as well as physical fitness and technical ability.
I learned what type of move to use by watching Starker play and imitating him as I wasn't sure which type to use and when. After a while I figured out when to apply the different layers and when to combine them.
TJ: Imitation is an important part of the learning process.
MK: Yes, that is very important. Part of what makes Starker a great teacher is that he shows a lot. There are times when an explanation is appropriate and others when it is necessary to show the student exactly what to do. The student may need to see and hear something being played and then try to imitate it. It depends on the student and the situation.
TJ: In an interview a few years ago, you were quoted as saying that you found Starker's playstyle "cold." did you really say that
MK: No. The person who interviewed me completely distorted what I said and apparently projected his own opinion onto me. I told him that a lot of people think he plays cold and some even think he's a cold man, but I didn't agree at all.
When you see Starker on stage, he's not trying to be a showman or artist. He plays in a way that draws attention to the piece rather than himself. If you listen carefully, you'll find that he's actually doing a lot of subtle things with the music. The way he phrases and creates a variety of colors is wonderful, but he doesn't always play in the larger spaces, so I prefer to hear him on the smaller stages. He really is a musician-musician.
I studied with him for two years and was close friends with his daughter Gwen, so I spent a lot of time with him and his family. I got to know him very well and he is a very warm person. He is very compassionate towards young people and is happy to help them regardless of their level, whether they are highly talented or less talented.
He always told us, "If you're less talented, you're no less valuable as a person than someone more talented, so don't kill yourself if you find out you're less talented." I often hear that Streicher gets depressed because they are fifth on the second violin, which I find very sad. If you spend your life comparing yourself to others and blaming yourself for not being the best in the world, you will lead a miserable life. Of course, it's natural to set high goals, but don't consider yourself an inferior human being if you don't achieve them.
TJ: You used the words "pressure" and "squeeze" a number of times in your Bloomington Masterclass. These words are rarely heard in Starker Land.
MK: I knew I was walking on thin ice when I said those forbidden words in Bloomington. In Bloomington you have to learn to play without pressure. Starker tries to avoid the concept of pressure because if you press too hard you lose flexibility and cannot make fine adjustments to tone or intonation and you risk injury.
However, this approach has its limitations. You will severely limit your dynamics and color palette if you don't let yourself be pushed. Also, you can't really sustain a tone unless you apply pressure. If you play music like ProkofievConcert Symphony, or pieces by other Russian composers, you should play them with very long sustained lines. They cannot express the deep suffering of the Russian soul without clinging to every agonizing note. You have to use every millimeter of your bow to the maximum so that the musical tension is not lost. The key is to release physical tension as soon as possible after the music no longer requires it to avoid injury.
I studied with Starker twenty-seven years ago. A lot has happened in that time and since I've been in Bloomington I've developed my own ideas. Now I feel free to play exactly how I want and don't worry if I play differently than he taught me. I think the greatest gift I can give him is that he plays the way I want, even though I'm very different from him. I also know that without his wonderful training I probably wouldn't have been able to play the way I did today, so we should both be happy with the result.
TJ: Coming back to the tension issue, do you think you need to play with some physical tension to be musically interesting?
MK: Absolutely. I only allow myself to relax when the music allows it. You get a wonderful feeling when you can finally relax after a phase of musical intensity.
TJ: When did you finally get the chance to study with Rostropovich?
MK: In 1977 I attended a four-week master class in Basel. There were about forty participants and all who applied were accepted. Everyone had a chance to play the master class at least once, although more advanced players played through it multiple times. The first two weeks focused on master classes. The next two weeks were devoted to the ten best musicians selected to give concerts with the Basel Orchestra conducted by Rostropovich.
During the master classes, two pianos stood on the stage. He played the piano parts by heart and discussed musical rather than technical ideas. He rarely played the cello in master classes, not wanting the students to imitate him. His guiding principle was "Create your own fantasy".
TJ: What do you think about him not manifesting on the cello? Isn't that a bit extreme?
MK: He's different from the others, but he prefers to teach away from the cello. You are interested in music and do not want to get bogged down in mundane technical details. Maybe it was different when I was teaching in Moscow. I'm sure you know exactly what you're doing. He may prefer to keep his instrumental secrets to himself, unlike Starker, who seems much more interested in offering technical assistance. But he had great students like David Geringas and Natalia Gutman, so I bet there was a time when he shared his technical insights a lot. I also know that there can be a big difference in how someone teaches in a public master class and how someone teaches in a private class, so behind closed doors I may teach differently.
TJ: When he's not focused on sharing tech tips, what do you think he's doing?
MK: You're more interested in imposing your own musical ideas on the world and making sure the audience gets your musical message. I remember performing with him in 1981 after he won the competition; Of course I had to follow him as a director, not the other way around. Now that I have developed my own personality, he accepts my wishes as a soloist, which is a given among fellow musicians in a conductor-soloist relationship.
Of course he is a musical genius. It's amazing how much he gets out of himself and how his ideas come out differently every time. In the four-week master class in Basel, he told completely different stories for the same piece. Your imagination is endless and extremely inspiring.
His approach is completely different from Starker's. If you ask Starker how to hold the bow, he will tell you in great detail: "Bend your thumb like this" and so on. If you ask Rostropovich the same question, he will say something like: “Oh, do what you like! So he drops that track and keeps playing sample music on the piano to let his imagination run wild.
Rostropovich's approach can be very frustrating for someone with technical problems. He was not at all interested in giving technical advice. He simply foisted his vision of the work on the crowd, creating a kaleidoscope of deep emotions and feelings.
The best thing about Rostropovich's approach is that it creates a fantastic snap shot and puts players at ease. It made us feel like one big family and we all explored a song together. "What a colorful world! What fun! What joy!" And the people in the audience had the same joy as the people playing. No one was nervous so everyone was able to do their best.
Starker's classes in Bloomington have a very different atmosphere. Students are often very anxious. I don't know which one I like better, but I'm glad I learned from Starker first. Starker gave me wonderful guidelines for good cello playing, then Rostropovich taught me when to break them. It's important to get the basics down first, otherwise you could end up being a mediocre cellist with potentially great musical ideas.
Many things were forbidden in Starker's class, for example playing with badly bent joints or crushed fingers; Starker wanted to see gently curled fingers. I learned from Rostropovich that this "rigid" approach sometimes prevents the production of certain sounds and thus narrows one's expressive range. Certain sounds weren't available or even in my imagination because I was following Starker's technical rules very strictly.
Of course, in a pedagogical sense, Starker is absolutely right. But I learned from Rostropovich that there are exceptions. You have to be willing to take some risks when the music calls for it. When extreme fortissimo or extreme pianissimo is required, you need to figure out how to do it. If you shut yourself off from "rule breaking" then you are really limiting yourself and not doing the music justice. If you need to raise your thumb or straighten your fingers to get a specific note, do it! Ultimately, music should guide us, not a bunch of rules.
Rostropovich showed me it was time to wake up. As you can imagine, after four weeks with him, my world changed from black and white to sun and storm. I could scratch, detune and it encouraged me to explore my creativity. Of course, one should not overdo it and completely ignore all the rules. You just have to experiment and risk making mistakes in your search.
In my own teaching I use an approach that is a combination of Starker and Rostropovich, plus of course my own ideas. I enjoy talking to my students and actively involving them in the learning process. I often ask them to explain why they play a certain way, like I did in my master class in Bloomington.
TJ: In your master class you said, "If the music calls for a risk, take it. If not, find the easiest fingering." What does that mean?
MK: Music should come first when you play. If the song calls for you to go up the G string instead of the D string, then you should do so. If three notes need to sound exactly the same, and the only way to get that sound right is to play each note with the same finger, then so be it. But if fingering isn't an issue, choose the simplest fingering that sounds best. You don't have to make life unnecessarily difficult for yourself.
TJ: You're playing with an exceptionally long spike. Did you get that from Rostropovich?
MK: No, I've always played with a long winger. I prefer the cello to be more horizontal. I always felt more comfortable with that.
When I went to Starker for the first time, he immediately shortened my end leg. He wanted to show me how to put my weight on the cello and become aware of my body's natural balance. Every time I tried to pull the needle out a few inches, he would catch me and tell me to put it back. did that for a while.
When I returned to Germany for his sabbatical, he was again at my longest end. When I returned to Starker the following year, he left me alone because he seemed to have found a good balance with my body and the instrument. I feel better for some reason.
With my own students, when everything seems to be in balance, I don't even discuss the length of the last pencil. If they sound good, feel good and look great, why change? Unnecessary changes can create problems where none existed before.
TJ: When you discussed Haydn's Concerto in D major in your master class, you discussed the piece in male and female terms. Do you use these images often?
MK: Sometimes yes, but I also use other images to convey the same concepts of strong and soft. I used the idea of male/female because I was talking to a very pretty and elegant girl who seemed to be able to relate to male/female contrast. I learned from Rostropovich the value of spontaneously inventing images.
TJ: Is there a general principle that you follow when playing Bach?
MK: I think we have to avoid being too rigid in our approach, whether we're playing baroque or modern. Baroque musicians today have done some damage in this regard. You shouldn't just be obsessed with perfecting the articulations, slurs, no vibrato, flourishes, etc.; You needFeelBach's music too. I'm not saying that you should ignore all the research, I'm just saying that there is more to the art of music making than following some of the so-called "rules". The baroque scene has scared many to sit down and act as they feel, which I think is dangerous.
There are four available manuscripts of the Bach suites, all of which contradict each other. I compared them and found that the swabs varied greatly from manuscript to manuscript. I ended up writing down four different answers and even more questions than before when I started to interpret the song. It is so difficult to find the right one because there is no autograph in Bach's own hand to serve as an official source. Each of us has no choice but to decide for ourselves.
I don't think it really mattered to the musicians if someone picked three notes and plucked the fourth or vice versa. They may have certain rules of articulation, depending on the harmony of the piece, but not fussy like some are today. They didn't argue about playing open strings, and they didn't worry about right and wrong. How can you talk about good and bad in music? Feelings can't be right and wrong, only honest and dishonest. Back then, musicians just played, loved music, and chose articulations according to their musicality. They had a lot more freedom than we do today and probably didn't have to worry about being questioned by academics or critics. It is our responsibility as musicians to play how it sounds to our liking. Playing true to ourselves is true “authenticity” to me.
TJ: Anner Bylsma explores the idea that the Magdalene manuscript is what Bach intended and tries to reproduce the slurs exactly as they were written.
MK: Anner Bylsma is always exploring new ideas and I think that's wonderful. He plays Bach very beautifully and convincingly, but I could never play like him. I remember when he came to Cologne ten years ago and played Bach; the students imitated it for years and it sounded ridiculous. They tried to emulate his game without all the research, knowledge and experience to back his game. There is a deep gulf between imitation and self-loyalty.
TJ: Don't you think that since we have so much more knowledge about baroque practices today that we have a responsibility to try to play more in that direction?
MK: We can't ignore all research, but we don't have to be enslaved by it. We play to an audience 250 years after the works were written. The music, the concert halls and the instruments have changed drastically since then, so we have to find a good mix in between. We have to present the piece to the audience in a way that makes it sound true and beautiful. It may not sound so nice to be restricted by certain rules. The audience needs to feel that the artist loves what they are doing and that they are free to do what the spirit of the moment demands.
I think it's important to at least learn what the "rules" of authentic play are. Once you understand this, you can go out on your own and find your own taste. I would warn players against doing something different just to be different, just to rebel. Some musicians do this just to get noticed, which isn't trying to find the deep truths in the piece, it's marketing. There's a delicate balance between being slave to the score and being deliberately polite in approach.
TJ: Do you have images in your head when you play Bach? Tortelier, for example, had the image of a flowing stream in mind as he played the Prelude to the G Major Suite.
MK: Sometimes yes. Imagination is a great way to set the mood for the piece and will help you find the right joints and slurs. Academics do not make this process a priority when trying to determine how a piece should be played.
TJ: Anner Bylsma doesn't like to talk about images because one person's images can be very different from another person's.
MK: Right. But I think that as a teacher dealing with different levels of musical ability, it's important to cultivate a student's imagination, which is why I sometimes ask a student to articulate their imagination. Whatever it is, the audience won't know, but the use of imagery can give a piece a global focus, a unifying concept. You might not agree with the concept, but it's fine as long as you feel it's honest. The song isn't about what's right and what's wrong.
I play works by living composers and sometimes I ask them if I can change a few things, maybe a dynamic or articulation here and there. They almost always tell me, "If it sounds better, do it." But do these changes always have to be documented in the score? I don't think so, because a composer can talk to several performers and they all have different ideas about the piece, and that's the way it should be. A publisher would go insane trying to update a score every time an artist comes up with a new idea. Of course there are exceptions, like Sofia Gubaidulina, who has made many editions of her compositions because she constantly works with musicians who give her suggestions that she wants to document. I think a composer has to trust that the musicians will play the piece with integrity, both in the score and in their own musical instincts, even if they change a thing or two. Why should this give and take stop with a composition just because the composer is dead? Of course, this requires the individual responsibility of each artist.
TJ: That was common in the early 20th century, Kreisler, for example, wasn't above changing the dynamic when the spirit moved him.
MK: Exactly, although I fear that this approach to making music - spontaneity, creativity, independence - is often abused and exaggerated. On the other hand, many young musicians do not dare to defy the rules of "marketing" and imitate the musicians on the "most successful" recordings without thinking or questioning. They are afraid of making mistakes and perhaps offending a judge's sensitivity in a competition.
TJ: Since there is a wide range of ideas about how Bach should be played, do you think it's appropriate to ask about Bach at competitions?
MK: That's exactly why he shouldn't be excluded from competitions. Even if it is extremely difficult to compare a performance in the Baroque style with a performance in the 20th century, you can still try to determine whether the musician really identifies with the piece and make sure that it is fundamentally musical and instrumental mastery demonstrated.
TJ: Record companies are really struggling in the classical music market. With classic CD sales accounting for less than 3% of the total market, record labels seem to be making safer bets like Yo-Yo Ma, the latest prodigy, or historical recordings. His label Naxos seems to have found a new focus; They sell 15 million CDs a year.
MK: I'm very fortunate to record for Naxos, which sells cheap CDs; They demand that you move. People don't mind paying $6 for a CD; if they don't like it, there's no great loss. If a CD is between $15 and $20, people should stop and decide if they really want it.
The big labels focus their energies on selling stars, which means they spend a lot of money just to record them, plus they throw celebrity parties and all that. As a result, CD prices have gotten so high that only classical fans ready to buy them. The classic CD market has suffered greatly because the industry cannot afford this unless it sells to a large audience.
Naxos was founded ten years ago by Klaus Heymann. He came up with the innovative idea of focusing on selling music, not stars, without much advertising. Initially, the CDs didn't even mention the artist, but eventually the names began to appear, first on the back, then on the front. The idea is that people buy the CDs because they want to hear a bit of Beethoven before deciding on a particular artist. This strategy worked very well; Naxos is now the number two brand in the classical world. In fact, a very well known brand tried to buy Naxos because Naxos wiped out their sales. This concept made me the world's best-selling cellist on CD in just a few years. Now people are starting to buy my CDs for what I play, not the old expensive marketing. The music and the composer come first!
TJ: You once said of much of the contemporary cello repertoire, “Often the music is soulless. When a composer approaches you with one of his works, what do you look for when deciding whether to perform it?
MK: The piece has to be written in such a way that the cello still sounds like a cello. I don't like those pieces where I can only play reduced quarter tones. There can be heartfelt and ugly moments expressing pain, struggle or other human feelings, but there must also be beauty. The music by Alfred Schnittke and Sofia Gubaidulina expresses this wonderfully. If the soul of the cello is not discernible, I refuse to play it, no matter how great its concept or how deep the underlying philosophy. I'm not going to gamble just to earn some cash or dedication. The music has to touch my soul or I won't touch it. Ultimately, music is not a question of technology, rules or any abstract mathematical concepts. It's about communication and deepening understanding of human beings. Why make music if it doesn't touch the soul? And this can be done by both amateurs and professionals. Music lovers can save the world that is beginning to be ruled by computers and machines.
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