Ivo Pogorelich: I receive information from great composers

Ivo Pogorelich: I receive information from great composers


norman lebrecht

September 22, 2019

From an interview with Christian Berzins in the NZZaS:


Can you define your attitude?

Yes. I am no more than a servant of the composer. I’m completely satisfied with that, because I get a lot of bonus from Beethoven or Chopin. Even if they do not live anymore, they send it to me. And I am able to reflect it.

I do not understand that.

On my new CD you will find the B-minor Sonata by Rachmaninov, I’ve been playing it for more than thirty years now. I had incredible success with it: cheers, standing ovations – everything. But personally, I was never happy with myself. There was something behind seven corners that I could not access. But I wanted to find him, complete the sonata for me! It took many years. But it was not like Beethoven, when I came to a solution. Or at least I answered to Beethoven the questions I had asked him. That’s the bonus I talked about, which I got from Beethoven. It is not something that falls from the sky. This makes my work easier and makes the composer more interesting. But I have to translate this bonus.

You do not get this information from the notes?

The score is dead and the instrument is a piece of furniture without the pianist. The text is part of a library – like papyrus. What should I do with it? I receive the information from myself. You have to interpret the text.

Well, but if the composer wrote “p” for quiet, an “ff” for very loud, or “very fast,” I should follow that prescription.

No, that’s information that I have to translate. You, Mr Berzins, can buy the sonata, the waiter there can buy it, I can buy it: but are we all capable of reading anything out of the notes? I think I am capable of finding something in it if it is Beethoven. For I am privileged to stand by its tradition: if you look back, I’m number 7 in the line to Beethoven – in the direct line! Number 5 even in the direct line of Franz Liszt! Pupils became teachers, had students – that’s all well documented, including the years. Like a certificate I carry this pedigree in front of me. Mine even goes back to Bach! At least I am number 12 in the line. But back to the questions of what role the artist plays! Why are we respected in some way?

… The composers “tell” you how to play or translate the works. Does that mean that the composer would be the best performer of his works?

Not at all! Composers should not be considered as examples of how their works must be played. There are two reasons for this: If you’re a chef in a restaurant and prepare a turbot, you’re not going to eat that fish in the evening, preferring a piece of bacon. They are fed up with this fish flavor. If you, as a composer, are in a creative process, then overwhelm yourself with emotions and thoughts. Anyone with a fixed idea takes over! And yet the question then arises as you move from one place to another, as you transfer the composition to the listeners.

It obviously needs someone like you who understands the composer.

Yes, and it takes surprise elements that a composer no longer has: but the surprises are the most important thing in the work of an interpreter. The composer allows much more in the text than to play the work in his own way. It’s me who translates everything. We musicians are respected because we invest our energy to interpret something. Maybe I play a little better than others? I do not know, but I do not overestimate my role. I am only the intermedium of Bach or Ravel.

Are there different performances for you? Or do you each strive for the same as possible?

None is repeatable! Give me the Elbphilharmonie for a month, I play the same program every night, and you will hear a different concert every night! I am not an alien, but a human! A flight and a concert are a physical act. Yesterday I had to play 50 minutes twice: 50 minutes alert, 50 minutes my body had to do something constantly.

Is the audience important to you?

I play for the listeners. I need them to listen.



  • double-sharp says:

    This is jusr the same old Rosicrurian twaddle we remember from the ‘Early Music’ crowd in the 1980s – who claimed that by long meditation upon the works of English lutenist composers of the 17th century, one could achieve insights into their compositions. Indeed,l whole undiscovered composition might emerge.

    The other side of it is ‘only I, with my privileged access to the long-dead composer, am able to offer you the authentic interpretation of their work. And all other performances are phonies and duds”.

    After all the claptrap of Rosemary Brown, does anyone still fall for this stuff? The same is true of claims made for performing Rachmaninoff on his gigantic piano, in the lakeside manor in Switzerland. Perhaps it adds a certain frisson for the player- but it does not offer access to any secret intentions of the composer. Rachmaninoff himself frequently played these works on other pianos, in other venues, in other countries.

    I am not saying that Pogorelich has invented this story out of any devious intention. I am absolutely sure he really belives in his own mind he communes with Sergei Vasilyevich. If his performances are good and credible, then all to the good. But they do not disbar alternative performances or interpretations.

    • Nick says:

      Pogorelich does not “disbar” anybody and he states that. Is he a better ARTIST than 99.9% of pianists? YES, he is. And his artistry can be equaled practically to only that of Mikhail Pletnev today. His musical ancestry is nothing but great and almost unique. And his Beethoven is as great as his Bach, Ravel or Chopin and Rachmaninoff. Anything he touches becomes gold! Any questions? May be envy on your part?

      • double-sharp says:

        Envy? What possible reason would I have to envy him? What a laughable comment.

      • Harrumph says:

        Stop with your ridiculous rankings. Move past the childish need to say that one particular performer you happen to fetishize is “better” than “99.9%” of others, as if that has any objective meaning at all. You sound like a conservatory freshman.

    • Petros Linardos says:

      You are misrepresenting the “early music crowd” of the 1980s. The term “historically informed” captures the essence of the period performance movement, not the hype or myths about it.

      • double-sharp says:

        No, I’m not. I am more aware than you are what HIPP means, mor am I referring to it here. In the 1970s, centred on the Early Music Centre in Holland Park, London, a group of lutenists (and a few others) began a Rosicrurian revivalist group, attempting to ‘channel’ the thoughts of Elizabethen composers. A few leading lights of this extremist faction went on to proclaim the coming of the Maitreya (about ten years ago), and with as little credibility.

        It is YOU that’s promoting myths, and I ask you to stop doing so, as you are making a fool of yourself in public.

        • Petros LInardos says:

          Thank you for the information. I stand corrected for generalizing. My sources were primarily two Harnoncourt books I read in the 1980s: Music als Klangrede, Der musikalische Dialog. I also remember lots of other similar comments I’ve read or heard from the likes of Goebel, Saval, Hogwood…

          It’s my right to make a fool of myself if I choose to.

          It’s none of my business if you choose to make condescending comments, but I should let you know that I don’t appreciate them.

    • Lakeside bungalow says:

      Intriguing how you know about the “lakeside manor” while enjoying slamming this man to pieces

  • Mustafa Kandan says:

    It is remarkable that he is making a come back. I hope he is good enough.

  • Nathaniel Rosen says:

    “No more than a servant of the composer”? So he says, but this kind of arrogance always hides behind false humility.

    • Nick says:

      There is nothing arrogant about being “servant of the composer”. Pogorelich was never known for false modesty, which is a hideaway for false “artists”. Pogorelich does not hide, he does not have to.

      • Saxon Broken says:

        The composer is dead and doesn’t care anymore. He should instead try to serve the audience who have paid for his tickets.

    • Harrumph says:

      He contradicts himself immediately. First he is no more than a servant of the composer, but then he knows better than the composer how to interpret his works. Delusions of adequacy. The works he plays do not “depend” on him; they will continue to do just fine when he’s dead, buried, and forgotten.

  • Steven van Staden says:

    Certainly the gigantic ego survives. But from the start, what else did he have besides a good mechanical ability and Agerich’s misjudgment?

    • Nick says:

      Pogorelich is also a proud owner of the misjudgement of the people like you, Steven (0.001% in the world) , and a good judgement of millions throughout the world, including the great Martha Argerich!!

      • Steven van Staden says:

        You compare my judgement with that of Argerich. Hers was made when Pogorelich was young and evidently very attractive. No matter how attractive, I’ve never fancied very tall men, young or old.

    • Fliszt says:

      He had leather pants, a full head of hair, a distainful swagger, and reams of BS with which to feed to gullible journalists.

      • Novagerio says:

        Fliszt, apparently you poor thing never heard Ivo Pogorelich live, otherwise, you might have been overwhelmed by the incredible sonority, a sonotiry reminiscent of a past golden time that you will not find in most of today’s “studio-pianists” who mostly disappoint in a Live situation, cause they are trained for the microphone, and not for a 2.000 auditorium.
        And by the way, Martha knew exactly where she had put her bet back in 1980 (!!)

    • Hilary says:

      tin eared assessment from Steven van Staden.
      Surely there’s so much more than ‘good mechanical ability ‘ to his Scarlatti , Bach , Haydn and Ravel and much else ? Give K8/Scarlatti a listen. Breathtaking poetry/delicacy in the playing. It’s not Allegro (more like Largo), but who cares as it works very well on its own terms.

      I grant you , that he’s gone off the rails in more recent years though there are fleeting moments of insight, and he’s not boring.

    • Petros LInardos says:

      I don’t know how he is doing today, but I still have in my ears a distinctive, mesmerizing sound two mid-80s concerts I attended live. I couldn’t hear that sound in his recordings of the time.

      Back then his interpretations were highly controversial. He could easily be criticized for manipulating the music beyond recognition. There was something compelling about his musical energy that made me not care about the score.

  • Pianofortissimo says:


    (Play, Ivo, play, don’t…)

  • Daniel Poulin says:

    Pogorelich granted me a half-hour tv interview some 30 years ago in Toronto; he was a complex man then, not easy to follow in his thinking. Obviously, the thinking musician seems even more offbeat today.

  • christopher storey says:

    Oh dear, oh dear . The playing was always bizarre ( even if interesting ) , and now the mind appears to have joined it . Also , just which Rachmaninoff is he talking about ? B flat minor ( no2) or D minor ( no 1) . I presume there is a mispring when B minor is referred to

    • Bruce says:

      First of all, upvote for the misprint on “misprint.” 🙂

      But to address your question: in German, “B” means the key of B-flat (major or minor). The key of B (major or minor) is referred to as “H.” I don’t know why.

  • Esther Cavett says:

    His career is in free-fall. In Sicily this year, I saw posters for him playing Rach 2 with the Turkish Youth Orchestra at small venues.

  • Nijinsky says:

    Although I find it tiring to try to respond to this:

    Composing music that’s music, certainly in these times when it’s something different than being a short order cook for fish and producing something in that short of time for consumption: it’s more like tending to a garden. And entirely different than making a meal that if left there is going to rot, music remains with one’s thoughts and notes and sketched and what’s already written down or made up in the mind. You can move away from it rather than turning to bacon (I’m also vegetarian). If you allow it to speak for itself, you won’t tire of it either. Going away and doing something else like cooking a meal allows the music the freedom to do what it does undisturbed, and I’ve found that I might hear it, the same as something on the “outside,” as it’s taken a new turn, something it wouldn’t have done if I was bent on conjuring it up with my conscious mind and owning it as my own. And you’ll learn something about the mind itself, and how amazing it is when it’s free. And then playing it yourself can be a new adventure in discovering what happens by itself and what the mind really is, beyond what you can consciously control.

    You can integrate these things. It’s not just push button from fish to bacon.

  • Walter says:

    Poor deluded guy, he needs to re-evaluate his meds! Once a phenomenal pianist, now just a shell of his former self.

  • Ludwig's Van says:

    Pogorelich has always been a dillusional snob. He is now a fusion of the emperor’s new clothes and Norma Desmond.

  • The View from America says:

    IP might have spent this past weekend at the Area 51 gatherings in the Nevada desert.

  • Edgar Self says:

    Strange man, strange pianist right from the tart at the 1980 Chopin conclave in Warsaw, where his ive recordings had many wrong notes and a Chopin E-flat Nocturne Op. 55 in the school of late Cortot, the final chords forte, not soft or even mf. I thought, a dangerous pianist, with ideas. What happened is as sad as Van Cliburn’s later career, perhaps for some of the same reasons.

  • Pogo the great says:

    great artist, great intellectual, wonderful pianist !

  • Piano Fan says:

    Whatever Pogorelich was when he wowed Martha Argerich and much of the piano world in the early-1980s, he’s a mere shadow of that today. His latest, lackluster, preening recording for Sony of Beethoven and Rachmaninoff only proves it. I’ve never heard a duller performance of the revised 1931 edition of Rachmaninoff’s Second Sonata.

    • Harrumph says:

      Martha has a track record of showing somewhat less than astute judgment in other (male) musicians. Almost as if her criteria are extramusical.

      • lana poet says:

        And what is your track record of judging?
        You remind me of the biblical characters who wanted to stone an adulteress…so many dead people talking here…

  • Edgar Self says:

    Third try posting this. Lovro Pogorelic, Ivo’s half-brother, seems quite sensible, works in Zagreb as pianist-conductor, and says their father was his first teacher. A musical family.

    Ivo’s last recital here a dozen years ago included Chopin’s third sonata so slow that both o us nearly fell asleep in the Largo. The other four times I’ve heard him, twice with orchestra, were better: PRKFV, Chopin second concerto for Croatian Day, “Ilsamey”, Op. 111, “Fuer Elise” twice on the same program — the audience laughed the second time and startled him.

    The last two times he looked uncomfortable on stage, as though he wished he were somewhere else, and bowed reluctantly with a Charles Laughton smirk.

    I agree with Hillary on his Bach, Scarlatti, Haydn, and Mozart. His Bourrees in the second English Suite are more in the zone than even Landowska’s, which doesn’t happen often.

    • Rudy says:

      I do not know why it seems that Ivo and Lovro do not even talk to each other. I read an interview with Lovro (Monde de la Musique) where he rejected to mention anything about Ivo…
      And, of course, Ivo has NEVER asked what does he think of Lovro.
      I did not know they were “half brothers” and I think that Ivo has
      not seen his family for MANY years.
      Something must have happened….
      I heard that his father went to Moscow so Ivo would not be on his own being so young…but I wonder for how long he stayed with him.
      There is no mention or even a photo of Ivo with any relative at all…
      Very odd indeed….

    • Rudy says:

      I think that Ivo had a strong co-dependent relation with one person: Alice Kezeradze. When she died, he went into a terrible depression and his performances were not so good anymore.
      Sometimes he achieves excellent levels (Rach Moments Musicaux, in Paris) that are worth listening …

  • lana poet says:

    This was another child(ish/like) interview. Where is the spiritual maturity in both the interviewers and some of the people that comment? Perfection and the road to it are simple and humble, but my oh my, it’s so hard for so many…