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Beethovenfest

Boris Berezovsky: 'Beethoven is as powerful as the sun'

The celebrated Russian piano virtuoso speaks with DW about Beethoven's "nuclear energy" and explains why he returned to his homeland.

During the 2016 Beethovenfest in Bonn, the much-celebrated pianist Boris Berezovsky appeared twice, performing Sergei Rachmaninov's Third Piano Concerto on one evening and giving a solo recital on the other - for which he kept the program a secret up to the last minute.

DW: You changed the lineup for your Bonn recital on short notice and amused the audience by announcing that rather than the "strange piece by Stravinsky," you'd rather play an "equally strange piece by Bartók." So the lineup was Beethoven, Chopin, Scarlatti, Liszt - and Bartók. What's the common denominator? 

Boris Berezovsky: Variety. I love variety. I don't like programs devoted to a single composer. I think they bore the listeners. My program was a mix of various epochs and styles and of works by completely different composers. I think our civilization has reached a point where we can get away with that.  

How would you describe your relationship to Beethoven?

It may sound like a cliché, but it's true: Beethoven creates music out of nothingness. I personally like his unbelievable nuclear energy. He is as powerful as the sun.

For many, you embody the Russian piano tradition. What is the significance of this to you?

Difficult to put into words, but I'll try: The Russian piano tradition is the desire to embrace the whole world.

You once said, "If I were to play the same work by Chopin three times, the audience would hear three different kinds of music." Is that a credit to you, or to Chopin? 

It's a credit to the many voices in his music. If you construct a phrase differently, the music will sound different, even though you're playing the same notes.  

After living in western Europe for over two decades, you and your family moved back to Moscow two years ago. Why?

Currently there are three cities in Europe worth living in: London, Berlin and Moscow. As far as the arts scene is concerned, I'd even rank Moscow first. And for me, the great advantage is that I'm at home in Moscow, understand the language, the culture and the people far better. Living where you were born is a luxury that not everyone has.  

Boris Berezovsky with the Ural Philharmonic Orchestra and conductor Dmitri Liss at the Beethovenfest (Barbara Frommann/Beethovenfest)

In tandem with the Ural Philharmonic Orchestra and conductor Dmitri Liss at the Beethovenfest

You use minimal body language when you play. Sometimes it seems like you're hardly moving at all. Did you train yourself to do that?

No, it comes naturally. Others play with a lot of gestures, which is just as natural for them. 

At your concert in Bonn with the Ural Philharmonic Orchestra, the piano was positioned right in the middle of the orchestra - very unusual. Some audience members even complained that they couldn't see your hands.  

With all due respect, it's about the music, not about looking at hands! Seriously, to me, a piano concerto, particularly Rachmaninov's Third, is like a piece of chamber music. And for that, I have to see and hear my partners well.

On the subject of Rachmaninov's Third, can you think of a piece of music that would be more Russian?

Yes, it is extremely Russian. Some call Rachmaninov a Romantic - yet his music is a mix of Russian church bells and orthodox song. But even more Russian is the folk music buried deep within. It's the same pre-Christian, heathen tradition that Rimsky-Korsakov and Stravinsky drew on. You could call it "Music of the Earth." (Editor's note: "Music of the Earth" is also the name of a festival founded last year by Boris Berezovsky in Moscow.)

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