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Volume 14 - Issue 1 - September 2008

Piano • •

Piano • • •ANDRELAPLANTEINTERVIEWED BYPAM MARGLES"Don't let things becomepale, "Andre Laplantewas saying to a studentduring a masterclass hewas giving at the TorontoSummer Music Academy.FEATUREplus!Andre Laplante in concert at Glenn GouldStudio, October 2007He was encouraging her to find more colours in the Schubert sonatathey were working on. She played the passage again. He smiled andsaid, "That sounds like the fire alarms in Paris." The young womanat the piano laughed, and the whole class joined in.They were sitting side by side at two concert grands in a hugeroom in the lower depths of the Edward Johnson Building at theUniversity of Toronto's Faculty of Music, where Laplante had beenteaching during the past week. I had a chance to talk with him duringa lunch break, after which he continued through the afternoonand right into the evening.Laplante has been involved with the Toronto Summer Music Festivaland Academy since artistic director Agnes Grossmann started itthree years ago. Right from the beginning it offered an ambitiousseries of public concerts and a fully staged opera, along with extensivemasterclasses. Now, three years later, the festival has clearlybecome much more than a welcome annual summer event. In fact, ithas proved to be one of the musical highlights of the year in Toronto.Running from mid-July until mid-August, this year's programincluded an evening of Baroque opera arias with Suzie Leblanc andDaniel Taylor, the debut performance of legendary eighty-four-yearoldpianist Menahem Pressler's new chamber ensemble, and, to capthings off, a spirited and polished production of Strauss's operaAriadne auf Naxos, staged by Titus Hollweg and conducted byGrossmann.But none of these overshadowed the opening gala recital by Laplante,which set the tone for the whole festival. It took place, appropriatelyenough, at the elegant Carlu, where, in its original incarnationas the Eaton Auditorium, Glenn Gould discovered his favouritepiano and made some of his most important recordings.Since winning the silver medal at the Tchaikovsky Competition in1978, Laplante has gained a strong following around the world. Heis a regular visitor to Toronto from his home in Montreal. He taughtat the Royal Conservatory' s Glenn Gould School for a number ofyears, and performs here frequently.We started by talking about his next visit to Toronto to perform inthe Piano Plus gala on September 9, again in the Carlu. He was oneof the original members of Piano Plus - along with Janina Fialkowska,Angela Cheng, Marc-Andre Hamelin, Angela Hewitt, and JonKimura Parker - when it started out in 1993 as Piano Six.Why does this organization remain important to you?When smaller communities do not have the opportunity to go toclassical music concerts, it's up to us to go to them. What is alsonice is that we put on concerts at primary schools. The kids all getinto the school gym, where there could be just a small upright piano.We play a little bit, then we improvise with the kids and explainwhat the music is about.I remember when I was growing up in Rimouski times wheresome musicians would come to my school. Those were big events.They created a lot of interest in music for many people. In my peregrinationsthrough Quebec and all over the world I meet people Iwent to school with, and they still remember those concerts.Was there much music in yourearly years there?There was less television thannowadays, so people had morefree time at night. Quite a fewpeople in our neighborhood playedinstruments as amateurs. So theywould get together and make music- not necessarily classical.They would play the accordionand the piano and the violin, andsing. It was a bit improvised, andcertainly not professional, but itwas fun . It was all about howpeople could express themselveswith music.We did not have many concertsper se, especially classical con-Laplante teaches a rnasterclass at the2008 Toronto Summer Music Academycerts. But every once in a whilethe Community Concerts organization would put on a concert and itwould be very interesting. When I was six, we moved to Montreal,so I was exposed to many other things from then on.Did your parents play?My morn played enough piano to have an interest in music, and shewas talented. I had a great uncle who played the violin quite well. Iremember hearing him doing some Quebec folk songs. Someonewould accompany him on the piano and find the harmonies.Are you concerned that young pianistsdon't get enough opportunitiesto play for pleasure like that?I'm really worried that youngerpeople have this idea of beingperfect playing machines. Thereare so many talented pianists todaythat there is pressure on them toproduce something that is technically"perfect". But this comes atthe price of imagination and character.Often they can be doing somethingvery well in terms of techniqueand phrasing, but the characteris not strong enough. It's likean actor who has great technique,but what he is doing is not neces­Laplante and Toronto Summer Music sarily very interesting if he is notAcademy & Festival artistic totally in the character he is p1aydirectorAgnes Grossmann ing .Technique should be used for expression and not just to play accurately. There's often a confusion here. It's always possible to show avery talented student how to play the instrument. You can be verytechnological in learning the motions involved in phrasing well andproducing a really good sound, knowing that if you lift your wrist at acertain point then it's going to change the sound. This is how welearn to play an instrument, and it's very important.But the problem is to learn to associate the physical gestures withthe character of the piece. The reflexes involved in playing have tobe directly associated with making music, which means playing inthe character of the music.How can you teach that?You cannot separate the pianistic issues from the musical issues.You have to teach both at the same time. Sometimes this is beingtaught well, but sometimes not. It's more difficult to learn this way,I'll admit, but otherwise you become just another very efficient pianistwho can play the instrument very well-but imagination is anotherthing. Maybe you start to compensate for not being in the characterenough by looking up at the sky. You can look very inspired. Butthat doesn't mean your playing is.8 WWW. THEWHOLENOTE.COM S EPTEMBER 1 - O CTOBER 7 2008

Where can a student look for that inspiration?It takes a long time for young musicians to understand that in theend everything that you learn has something to do with self-confidence.It's about being our own musician, with our own personality.The greatest musicians you can name-Horowitz, Richter, Rostropovich,Kempff-are all very different types of musicians, but each ofthem has a very strong personality and a very strong voice to saywhat they have to say.What about what the composer has written?Form and architecture have to be understood, of course. But that'sabout five percent of the game. Ninety-five percent of the game is inthe realm of emotion and character. That is what brings life to themusic.Of course you have to do the intellectual work to understand howit's built, and to know how to place things physically. You need tospend a lot of time looking at how a piece goes from a to b and b toc-the thigh-bone connects to the knee-bone kind of thing. But whileyou are doing this you have to ask how you express the character ofthe music.Then how do you balance your own personal expression of thecharacter with the composer's own voice?In many ways. First of all, you enrich yourself by encountering a lotof ideas and listening to performers, not necessarily pianists.I go to the theatre a lot myself, and there I see the same expressionof character. It's within another realm, the realm of acting, butit is exactly the same thing .Musicians are nothing but actors-we have to be in the characterof what we are trying to express. I have friends who are painters. Igo to their studios sometimes and they show me what they are doing,and explain it to me.Do you see similarities with your own work?Of course. They talk about rhythm and colour. Every art goes to thesame place-to balance and expression, whether it is with colours orwith notes. Notes have colours, you know. Everything is related.Do you think it is important for musicians to know about the art andtheatre from artistic periods of the past?Yes, if you know about that it only enriches your imagination. Ifyou want to play a Bach partita or suite well, you have to know thatit's all based on traditional Baroque dance rhythms. You have tounderstand those traditions and to see something of what they callthe zeitgeist of the period.I teach a bit at the Conservatory in Montreal, and I'm very happythat the new director, Raffi Armenian, wants to offer a course on arthistory. A lot of students who play Debussy don't even know whatImpressionism is . If you give them a course in art history they cancompare the painting and the music of Debussy's time.This is not only to stuff something into their heads-it's so thatwhen they hear the music and see the paintings they can feel whatpeople were up to and what they wanted to express. That's what it'sall about, you know . That's why we talk about developing our indi ­viduality. That individuality has to be based on knowledge of wherethe music comes from and how one era influences another, howLiszt, for instance, influenced Schoenberg.Should they learn about the instruments from other periods?It's important to know about the instruments of the time, and realize,for instance, that they were playing the Bach Preludes and Fugueson the harpsichord. That makes you realize how they created linesby feeling the harmony.On the modern piano, we can actually play enormous pieces byLiszt that are very orchestral in character. The Bach Preludes andFugues can be orchestral in character, but they represent anotherspirit, and come from another time. You have to adapt to all thisknowledge.How do you respond to those who claim that Bach should only beplayed on the harpsichord?If you want to play on period instruments, I think it's fine. ButBach is timeless, and if you play it with the rules of the art, withGREAT CHAMBER MUSIC DOWNTOWNtorontdartsbo u ncilM •rrn· s 1eng, ~bO,:tyol1MC 11 yoTTorontowww. music-toronto. corn.PA ONTARIO ARTS COUNCILM CONSEJLDESARTS DEL'ONTARIO l+I ~:~~:~:n ::~~;i:;eatJane Mallett TheatreSt. Lf1.Wfi El'KE CENTRE ~, Arns416-366-7723 • 1-800-708-6754order online at www.stlc.comS EPTEM BER 1 - O CTOBER 7 2008 WWW. TH EWHOLENOTE.COM 9

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