As a preamble to his upcoming performance in Vancouver, Patrick May, President of The Vancouver Chopin Society, “chatted” with Byron Schenkman via the internet about his connection with Vancouver, as well as his approach to music and music-making.
Q. The August 1st concert won’t be your Vancouver debut. Please tell us a bit about your connection with Early Music Vancouver, and some of the memorable performances you’ve done here.
A I’m grateful for many years of connection with Early Music Vancouver! My first performance for EMV was over 25 years ago, a French Baroque trio program with flutist Janet See and viol player Margriet Tindemans. More recently I’ve done duo recitals for the Vancouver Bach Festival with Ingrid Matthews, Michael Unterman, and Monica Huggett. The last two of those performances were on the Broadwood piano which I will be playing on August 1.
Q. You are presenting a varied program in your upcoming recital. What are your thoughts in programme planning, specifically, in planning your programme for your Vancouver recital?
A. When I’m planning a programme I try to balance what makes sense intellectually with what will create a meaningful experience for the listeners at an emotional level. This program is built around the idea of Chopin as a central figure in 19th-century romanticism at a time when concert repertoire as we know it was just beginning to be established. The Schumanns and Johannes Brahms played major roles in the development of that repertoire. I looked for themes and even motives that carried from one piece to another, for example similarities I hear between the nocturnes by Chopin and Szymanowska, or the tension between D-flat Major and F Major in the middle of the C-sharp Minor Chopin Prelude which comes back in the coda of the Clara Schumann Nocturne.
Q. A big part of your musical life is in collaborative work with fellow musicians. Do you think playing chamber music and solo playing inform each other?
A. Yes! I love playing chamber music most of all because I believe in music as a means for connection among people. It’s about connection between the players, and between the players and listeners, and (if one wants to get metaphysical about it) even between the players and listeners of today and those of the past eras when the music was first composed and performed.
Q. You are equally comfortable with playing on the piano, harpsichord, and fortepiano. What, if any, are some of the adjustments you have to make in going from one type of keyboard instrument to another?
A. I like to think of my performances as collaborations with whatever instrument/s I’m playing. I play differently depending on what instrument I’m playing. One of the great things about live performance is that it is never the same twice. Factors that can influence a performance include the acoustics of the room, the energy of the player/s in that moment, and the energy of the audience. As a keyboard player, the instrument is one of the biggest factors and I really appreciate that. Often the instrument inspires me to hear things in the music that I might not have heard before. Some of the pieces on my August 1 programme I have performed recently on an 1875 Streicher, an 1883 Knabe, a replica of an 1830s-style Graf, and a contemporary Steinway piano. Each has its own special qualities that influence the way we hear music. I look forward to discovering what the Broadwood will have to say about this repertoire!
Q. Is teaching a part of your life? Is there a lot of interest amongst young music students in playing period instruments?
A. I don’t do a lot of teaching but I do enjoy coaching and working with emerging professionals. One of my favorite projects this year was a performance of Clara Schumann’s chamber music with graduate students in the historical performance institute of the Indiana University Jacobs School of Music. This year is the 200th anniversary of Clara Schumann’s birth and I enjoyed commemorating that by working with some brilliant young musicians to perform that beautiful 19th-century repertoire on period instruments.
Q. I look at the EMV concert calendar, and am always amazed at the variety of music they present. What do you think are some of the reasons behind the “boom” in historically informed performances in the last several decades, in both recordings and live performances?
A. There’s so much wonderful music from past centuries and from other cultures — and I think we have to constantly find new ways of making that music come alive and be meaningful in our own time and place. One way to do that is to go back to the sources and revisit what we can learn about the instruments and playing styles of the time — what made the music new and fresh in its own time — and then adapt that to what will make it feel new and fresh in our time.
We thank Byron Schenkman for taking the time to chat with us. Needless to say, I am looking forward to this concert with great anticipation.
Schenkman’s recital of music by Chopin, Maria Szymanowska, Robert and Clara Schumann, and Brahms will take place on Thursday, August 1st, at 1:00 p.m., at downtown’s beautiful Christ Church Cathedral.
Do join us, and enjoy the artistry and virtuosity of this remarkable musician and artist.