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the best competition I have ever seen

Interview with Philippe Entremont, Juror of the 16th International Fryderyk Chopin Piano Competition in Warsaw. The discussion took place during the stage 3 of the auditions.

Philippe Entremont is French pianist and conductor. At the age of 16 he won the Long–Thibaut Competition, one year later he won the award in the Brussels competition sponsored by Queen Elizabeth of Belgium. He delivered concerts all over the world, his talent is appreciated in many countries. In 2010 he was invited to be a Juror in the 16th International Fryderyk Chopin Piano Competition in Warsaw.

In you opinion, how is Chopin interpreted 200 years after his birth?

First of all we don’t know how Chopin himself performed his compositions. Recordings or souvenirs don’t exist. Moreover, we have to remember that at those times pianists had instruments which differed much from those we know today. I think we have to pay particular attention to the fact that modern pianos didn’t exist at Chopin’s time. I had the opportunity to see pianos used by musicians contemporary to Chopin, they were good instruments, but they had their serious limitations.

Of course there is certain tradition describing Chopin’s performances, passed from one generation to another. This tradition is good, but it’s not perfect – it shoulders certain burden of exaggeration of Romanticism and Post-Romanticism. We shouldn’t become overcome by this exaggeration. At present, we experience exaggeration in a different sense. I always base my opinions on the same model and I always repeat the same thing: I admire Chopin interpreted by Artur Rubinstein. His interpretation of Chopin’s compositions is exquisite. However, apart from good performance, a pianist has to keep his own personality. Composer by definition puts his personality in the composition. Pianist interpreting music by famous composers always introduces something new in the performance, luckily for us, because that’s how various priceless interpretations are born.

Are there any tendencies of performance among young pianists? Or maybe such tendencies are not discernible?

Only young pianists participate in the Competition. This is the Competition’s problem, because young pianists want to make an impression on the listeners and on the Jury of course. Generally speaking they understand their role in a wrong sense. They want to draw attention by delivering the message "Look what I can do!". It is the source of certain excess and exaggeration. Of course we should attempt to impress the listener, but the Jurors shouldn’t be treated as listeners less experienced than they are in reality.

What is the most important thing for you when you listen to a concert?

For me the most important thing is to be moved by the music. Music should be not as much interesting as moving for me to a degree when I can’t sit still. And I have to say that I am tremendously prone to falling asleep. If it happens during the Competition, then it’s a bad sign. Of course I follow the situation, but perfect performance is not enough for me. What I am looking for is the quality of music.

How important is the technique?

What is technique? It is nothing more than just a basis. It’s not possible to play the piano well without expressing emotions. The pianist can’t stop at mastering the technique. At this Competition everybody perfectly mastered the technique. But there are participants who don’t go beyond this aspect of music.

How popular is the Chopin Year in France?

Chopin is popular all around the world. We can discuss Chopin from the point of view of certain countries, but the echo of this music is global. I don’t have any updated information concerning the Chopin Year in France. For me Chopin is important irrespective of a given country, the global aspect. I perform Chopin everywhere, on the whole world. I play the music in the same way in France and in any other country. I’m not a pianist of a given country. Certainly, Chopin Year is popular to a certain degree in France. French nation wait impatiently for the results of this Competition. The finalist’s concert will be broadcasted live. Moreover, at the Competition there are representatives of reputable French television channels. 

How do you feel in the role of a Juror of this Competition? Is it a difficult task? Or maybe it’s a pleasure?

Of course it is a great pleasure. Moreover, it is a very instructive experience because we can see the present state of the piano instrument worldwide. And we can see that the piano is in a good shape, all the pianists perform formidably. Asians perform very well, but they don’t achieve spectacular success, they have to work a bit more. We can clearly notice the domination of the Old Europe. Many Russians participate in the Competition, but when we take a second look we can see that they are not educated exclusively in Russia. All of them have learnt to play the piano in a European country, in Germany for example.

Living memory of Chopin does not exist in Russia?

Absolutely not. I think we understand Chopin well in France. Even very well and it is visible in this Competition, because two pianists come from France. When we take into consideration the size of the country against global scale, then two pianists seems to be quite a lot. It is good information.

We can say that Chopin’s spirit exists in Europe, in France, Poland, Germany…

Yes, I strongly believe that Chopin was first of all French and Polish pianist.

How do you assess the level of this year’s Competition?

This year pianists represent outstandingly high level of performance. It is the best competition I have ever seen. It’s remarkable.

Thank you for the conversation.

Warsaw Philharmonic, October 18, 2010. The interview conducted by Karina Szafran, Chopin Year 2010 Celebrations Office.

Philippe Entremont, phot. NIFC

Philippe Entremont, phot. NIFC