read1 of 7
discover
Igor Levit
People

Is everybody reading James Salter these days? Dirk Kurbjuweit of Der Spiegel, the voice of reason in politics, just shook his head in admiration as he talked about Salter*s work. Our dear friend Finn Canonica of Tages-Anzeiger Magazin can go on and on about how manly this writer is, how well he writes about women and the things that men and women to do each other and with each other. And Igor Levit wrote the other day in an email, it was rather early in the morning, I thought, to be reading a book (but then it might be different for me because I have kids and cannot even start to imagine to begin a day by sitting down and reading a passage like this: “There was a time, usually late in August, when summer struck the trees with dazzling power and they were rich with leaves but then became, suddenly one day, strangely still, as if in expectation and at that moment aware. They knew. Everything knew, the beetles, the frogs, the crows solemnly walking across the lawn. The sun was at its zenith and embraced the world, but it was ending, all that one loved was at risk.”), Igor wrote that he was going back to reading All That Is, the new novel by the soldier, the pilot, the jew who changed his name from Horowitz to Salter: An 88-year-old writer who commands the prose in a way that speaks to the souls of the rationalist, the hedonist, the cosmopolitan, the German, the Swiss, the, right, what? Where he comes from, Igor, I could tell you, but what would that matter? What he is I could tell you, but that is not why he is important to me. What I want to tell you instead is that I was struck by how he talked when we first met, a few months ago, how fast and friendly and full of excitement, I could say a bit like a puppy if that would not be a cliché. But he stayed with me, in the best possible way, he followed me, through reading and texting back and forth, he sent me messages – about what was going on in this country, what he thought about politics, what he thought about literature, television, life, at least on the borders of what he wrote I could gather that. His is a vibrant intelligence, and he is at odd with the way things are. Not only or not specifically in this country, Germany, at this moment in time. Not even mainly about this country, its past, its present, yet still, in a way that is the focus of what we discuss. This country. In a very pleasant way. Like a constant verbal drive-by shooting. Stray bullets everywhere. Igor does not like to stand in line, neither do I. He does not believe what he is told, neither do I. He will not do what people expect him to do, quite the contrary. So he made his first record for Sony Music and played Beethoven*s last five sonatas, something you just don*t do as a young pianist. I am glad he did it.

Brief ans Feuilleton (1)

08.04.16
4 min
Post

Liebes Feuilleton, 
ich möchte Dir einige Gedanken, die mich in den letzten Tagen permanent beschäftigen, aufschreiben. Sie drehen sich um Maxim Billers grandiosen Roman „Biografie“ und die Kritiken, die nach Erscheinen des Buches aufkamen. 
Mein Alltag ist gerade ausschließlich Beethoven, Schostakowitsch, Bach und Rzewski. Ununterbrochen. In den einzigen Pausen, die ich mir nehme, lese ich Maxim Billers neues Buch. Ständig. Und ich bin total begeistert. Sogar an Stellen, die mir weniger gefallen, finde ich Begeisterung. Woran? An dem, was einige Deiner Kollegen als „Chaos“ bezeichnen. Chaos?! Würden dieselben Kollegen beim Hören der Beethovenschen Diabellivariationen auch von Chaos sprechen? Nur weil der Autor / Komponist keine Rücksicht nimmt auf „Regeln“, auf Vorhersehbares, auf Hör- und Lesegewohnheiten?
Bei den Diabellivariationen habe ich immer schon geliebt, wie Beethoven Zutaten zusammenmischt, die nie und nimmer zusammengehören, die nie und nimmer zueinander passen, die einander teilweise bekämpfen. Kälte, Wärme, Hitze, Schnelligkeit, Langsamkeit, Erstarrung, Einsamkeit, Aggression, Humor, seliger Humor, schwarzer Humor, Wut, Sorge, Kontemplation, Erregung, Hoffnung, allergrößte Trauer, allerhöchste Transzendenz, Spott und noch vieles mehr – all das auf allerengstem Raum! Man fragt sich, ich frage mich, jedesmal von Neuem, wie kann das sein? Wie geht das? Spinnt er? Ich verstehe nichts…und dann, am Ende, wenn nach etwa 60 Minuten aus dem eigentlich so plumpen Walzer ein so erfülltes Menuett wird, dann plötzlich wird klar: ja, so muss es sein! Natürlich! So und nicht anders! Welch Geniestreich!! 
Ich möchte “Biografie” und Diabelli nicht vergleichen. Aber was wollen Deine Kollegen? Was gibt es denn Schöneres, ja Menschlicheres (!) als Unregelmäßigkeiten? Als unzählige, auf engstem Raum zusammengepferchte Eindrücke, Farben, Gedanken, Emotionen. Pures Durcheinander, natürlich!! Was denn sonst? Aber dann löst sich am Ende alles auf. Schritt für Schritt. Und dann versteht man es. Oder man versteht gar nichts. Ja, so what? Darum und nur darum geht es doch in unserem Leben. (Zumindest unter anderem…) Ganz zu schweigen davon, dass beinahe jeder Satz brillant geschrieben, ausgeformt, ausgearbeitet und formuliert ist… 
Und dann, bizarr, bei diesem Plot zu behaupten, es gäbe keine Geschichte, außer „Pornografie“ ?! Haben die Kollegen das Buch gelesen? Haben sie es wirklich gelesen? Lesen wollen? Es sind teils ergreifendste Geschichten, ja Biographien, die Maxim Biller da beschreibt, und diese Biographien helfen sich eben in Extremen, sie leiden…und dann kommen Kritiker, und behaupten, in totaler Eiseskälte, es gäbe keine Geschichte?! Angstmenschentum ist das! 
Noch einmal: Was würden die wohl bei den Diabellivariationen hören? Ich habe Diabelli zweihundertachtzig Mal gespielt und verstehe (!) es noch immer nicht. Es ist eine unendliche Geschichte, Erkundung. Und jedes Mal, wenn ich glaube, etwas entdeckt und verstanden zu haben, wirft mich das Stück an den Anfang zurück. Welch ein Glück!! 
Was würden diese Kritiker bei einigen Schostakowitsch-Werken sagen? Was bei der Hammerklaviersonate? Was bei Daniil Charms? Was bei Gogol? Was sucht man? Ruhe? Einfachheit? Sogenannte Stringenz? Werke, die man eben „versteht“ und dann weglegt? 
T.S. Elliott hat geschrieben: „We shall not cease from exploration, and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time“.
Das ist für mich die Essenz von Kunst, von Musik-Machen, von so so vielem. Auch dafür steht für mich Maxim Billers Buch. Eine wundervoll menschlichste (chaotischste…), intimste, auch in vulgärsten Momenten intimste Lebensreise und Geschichte. 
Und das totale Gegenteil drücken beinahe alle so genannten Kritiken aus, die ich darüber bisher las. Als würden sie sich das Gegenteil wünschen. 
Es ist sehr traurig. Die Armen…. 
Hochachtungsvoll,
Dein
Igor Levit

Our Task

Igor Levit about meeting a guy with a clear vision of politics, life, love – and music
10.02.16
4 min
Post

My driver, a black man of about 25 years, picks me up from the hotel and greets me with a super loud “Hi brother, how are ya?”
“Good. And you?”
“I’m fine, thanks! I’m always fine, I’m always good, I’m fighting for a better world, daily, ya know? We all need to fight, and we need to feel good about it, that’s our task!”
A few minutes later, driving to Kalamazoo, we are deep into a wonderful conversation on intellectualism in politics, on presidents (“Obama is the best president we’ve ever had!”), on the media (“Sure, Fox News is crazy, but hey, I like MSNBC, but I would like MSNBC even more if they wouldn’t try to act like Fox News. Sometimes I think, we’re all surrounded by crazy people. Why can’t they all just THINK before they act?! Why not?!”)
“You know, my family and I, we came from Ethiopia to the United States, we lived in Virginia. But I didn’t like it. You know why? Too white, too republican (big laugh), too happy, too unpolitical. Not enough trouble! (big laugh). Luckily my friend called me from Ann Arbor, asked me if I’d like to move here, so I did. And it’s great! I love it! We all fight. We all do ! And each day we fight more, and each day we love the United States more. These nazis, Cruz, Trump, they’ll never take over our country. We won’t let them. It’s our land. It belongs to all of us! Bernie Sanders, he is my man. I love him. But I wouldn’t elect him. It’s sad, but the country isn’t ready yet. I support Hillary. Yes, I do. We all do. Sure, Bernie is closer to my heart, but the country isn’t ready yet. But he did so much for us already. So much! He’s our voice. Our media calls him “Socialist Trump”. They’re nuts!!!! Populist? He’s a populist? He’s a good man! He cares for us, he cares for culture, he cares for young people, and they call him Socialist Trump??? That’s insane! He’s like the only guy who speaks about culture. Yeah brother, I love culture, I love music. I think music helps us fighting. Detroit is like so so close from here. Hip Hop, Eminem, they’re fighters. But here, today I was listening to Schubert. You know Schubert? Listen to this! (He switches on the radio, puts a CD inside, Schubert E flat major Mass.) Listen to this great stuff! Ah, yeah, ah … these harmonies! That drive! He must have been in trouble, man! You can tell! Such amazing stuff! I’ve been listening to this all day long! Trump is a nazi, Cruz is a nazi, maybe even more dangerous than Trump. We shouldn’t underestimate these guys. Never! Look, you see these places over here? (He points to the left and to the right side.) So many crazy people live here. They’re crazy about their guns. Guns, everywhere guns. They’re insane. And churches everywhere. Baptist churches, all kind of churches. But sure, yeah, more guns than churches! (big laugh) They trust guys like Trump and Cruz. And you know why? Cause they hate us. They hate blacks, they hate Mexicans, they hate gays, they hate progressives, they hate culture. It’s pure hate. And it’s fear. They’re afraid of us. That’s why they hate us. Where are you from? Germany? Europe is a mess these days, right? I read it in the news. Everywhere crazy people. France, England, Poland, crazy stuff, man … Germany too? Oh shit. But is the young generation fighting? They should fight! You guys must fight! It’s your country! It’s a problem to say “my country”? Why? You should care for your country and for your people. Always! Hey, you know, I think the key is: love. I love all people. Even people, who hate me, I love them. If they’d kill someone I love, I’d still love them. I’d never hate them. Never! That’s why they’ll always loose. I think I drove too far, wait. No, just one block. I want you to be safe and to be on time. That’s important! Hey, good luck with your concert brother! You play Schubert? Wow! He’s my guy!! (big laugh) Give them hell!”
He dropped me at my hotel and drove away. Three hours later I performed Bach, Beethoven, Schubert and Prokofiev at the hall down the street.

The School of Music (14)

Igor Levit about the beauty of Bach
11.11.13
2 min
Post

Darf man das? Werke verfremden? Übertragen? Johann Sebastian Bach komponierte 18 Choräle für die Orgel in seinen letzten Lebensjahren. Die schönsten Werke sind das, rein und – wie Beethoven einmal sagte – direkt von Herzen zu Herzen gehend. Wie erklärt es sich, dass es so viele sogenannter Transkriptionen für Klavier gibt? Werke aller Arten, Opernarien, Lieder, Sinfonien, Choräle, Chorwerke, Kammermusikwerke – unzählige, die bearbeitet, frei arrangiert oder wortgenau transkribiert wurden für Klavier (solo). Dabei gibt es ja unendlich viel wundervolles Klavierrepertoire. Nun, man will diese Werke spielen. So einfach ist das. Nichts ist eindringlicher als das unmittelbare Erlebnis. So kamen immer wieder Pianisten dazu, ihre Liebe, ihre Zuneigung einem Werk gegenüber darin auszudrücken, indem sie das jeweilige Werk für das Klavier zu transkribieren. Schon Bach selbst hat viele Werke bearbeitet, Mozart auch, Beethoven auch. Franz Liszt war derjenige, der die sogenannte Klavierparaphrase dann in den Konzertkanon mit einer solch enormen Kraft und Fantasie hinauskatapultierte wie kaum ein anderer vor ihm. Aus dieser Tradition entstanden die bedeutendsten Bearbeitungen “fremder” Werke , so von Sergei Rachmaninoff, Ferruccio Busoni, Egon Petri, Vladimir Horowitz und dem großen Wilhelm Kempff (und unzähligen anderen bedeutenden Pianisten, die alle aufzuzählen einfach unmöglich erscheint…). Das hier ist die mir Liebste. Und Heiligste.

The School of Music (13)

Igor Levit about the genius of Carlos Kleiber
04.11.13
1 min
Post

Der Größte. Die Art und Weise seines Musizierens suchen bis heute ihresgleichen. Er, der so selektiv vorging, nicht alles dirigierte, was auf seinem Pult landete. Aber was er berührte, das wurde zu mehr als nur zu Gold. Bis heute existiert kaum ein Dokument seines Schaffens, welches nicht den Status des Einmaligen genießt. Und wenn nicht unangreifbar in Fragen der Interpretation, so doch absolut unstrittig im Bezug auf die totale Kompromisslosigkeit eines Musikers vor allem sich selbst gegenüber. Um jeden Ton, jede Phrase und jeden Moment wird gerungen. Wer das nicht glaubt, nun ja, der sollte einfach nur die ersten fünf Sekunden dieser großartigen Dokumentation erleben. Eine Explosion, und Wagners Tristan sticht mitten ins Herz. Carlos Kleiber, 2004 leider zu früh verstorben.

On 20 July 1942, Time magazine led with a story on ‘Fireman Shostakovich’. ‘Amid bombs bursting in Leningrad he heard the chords of victory,’ the caption on the cover said, under a picture based on a Soviet propaganda photo taken on the roof of the Leningrad Conservatoire in September 1941. Shostakovich’s Seventh Symphony, dedicated to the besieged city of Leningrad, had received its American premiere on 19 July 1942, played by the NBC Symphony Orchestra under Arturo Toscanini. On 22 June, the first anniversary of the Nazi invasion of the Soviet Union, it was broadcast live by the BBC: the London Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Henry Wood raced through the score, finishing four minutes earlier than the scheduled time, to the studio manager’s dismay.

The School of Music (8)

Igor Levit about the dead, sad and beautiful world of Dmitry Shostakovich
04.10.13
1 min
Post

Shostakovich*s probably most famous work. The 7th symphony. The Leningrad requiem. His beloved city, his beloved home town was suffering the most horrible blockade. People were dying of hunger, millions. Shostakovich himself was forced to be evacuated. During that period he wrote that magnificent piece. Perhaps the most famous (and most horrifying part) is the mid par to the first movement. Percussions, unstoppable, powerful, again and again the same theme. Each time nearer, each time louder, more and more frightening. But what is it? The German army? Isn*t it too easy? Isn*t it much more? Goose bumps each time I hear what happens after the idyll in the beginning and how this idyll comes back in the end, dead, sad, hopeless? Do listen to the whole symphony!

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d-ZEoNTtRB8

The School of Music (5)

27.09.13
2 min
Post

Are politics allowed? Should musician be political? I have been present at some heavy discussions on the topic.

To be clear: Musicians who think that politics are absolutely unimportant for an artist (a famous one once told me: “If you are interested in political realism, quit music and go into politics!”) are naive, not very intelligent and somehow … Well, you can judge for yourself.

As a matter of fact, musical influence on politics (and vice versa) has always been quite important. Here we have a song, performed by the wonderful folklorist John Greenway, “Dreadful Memories”. Just read the lyrics. Try to understand what it meant for the people who wrote every single one of these words.

This is realism for so many. Even in 2013! Is it naive to think about it? Is it naive to follow up on these problems? It is naive to ignore them, no?

Dreadful memories, how they linger,

How they ever flood my soul.

How the workers and their children

Died from hunger and from cold.

Hungry fathers, wearied mothers,

Living in those dreadful shacks,

Little children cold and hungry

With no clothing on their backs.

Dreadful gun thugs and stool pigeons

Always flock around our door.

What’s the crime that they committed?

Nothing. Only that we’re poor.

Oh, those memories, how they haunt me

Make me want to organize

Makes me want to help the workers

Make them open up their eyes.

When I think of all the heartaches

And all the things that we’ve been through,

Then I wonder how much longer

And what a working man can do.

Really, friends, it doesn’t matter

Whether you are black or white.

The only way you’ll ever change things

Is to fight and fight and fight.

We will have to join the union,

They will help you find a way

How to get a better living

And for your work get better pay.

Brief ans Feuilleton (1)

08.04.16
4 min

Our Task

Igor Levit about meeting a guy with a clear vision of politics, life, love – and music
10.02.16
4 min

The School of Music (14)

Igor Levit about the beauty of Bach
11.11.13
2 min

The School of Music (13)

Igor Levit about the genius of Carlos Kleiber
04.11.13
1 min

The School of Music (8)

Igor Levit about the dead, sad and beautiful world of Dmitry Shostakovich
04.10.13
1 min

The School of Music (5)

27.09.13
2 min