di Daniela Fantechi
[Leggi anche: Das Buch der Klänge di Hans Otte al Cafe Oto]
Ho avuto modo di conoscere Xenia in occasione del recente seminario Elektro Piano mit Xenia Pestova, Musik für Klavier, Toy Piano und Live Elektronik. In questo contesto è nata l’idea di un’intervista per il blog, che ha avuto luogo subito dopo il concerto londinese.
As pianist you are mostly focused on contemporary repertoire: could you tell us more about your musical education and how your interest in contemporary music started?
XENIA PESTOVA: I was really fortunate to have had exposure to different kinds of music from the very beginning. When I studied piano and composition as a child in Siberia, I had really progressive teachers, including composer Iliya Alexandrov, who encouraged us to be open to different art forms and musical approaches. Our class of 10-year-olds analysed paintings and books by the great masters of the past and listened to a recording of 4’33’’ by John Cage!
Later, when I did my Bachelors degree in New Zealand, I studied with the great piano pedagogue Judith Clark, who became a very special mentor and friend. She demanded that all of her students play contemporary repertoire in addition to a solid grounding in the music of the past, and encouraged us to dig and search for repertoire that was off the beaten path, not just the standard war-horses churned out by pianists.
At the same time, I was fortunate to study composition with wonderful New Zealand composers Jack Body, Ross Harris, John Psathas and electroacoustic composition with John Young. Further studies took me to England, Holland, and Canada. During this time I also developed an interest in working with technology and live electronics, collaborating on several projects at the Centre for Interdisciplinary Research in Music Media and Technology.
Which are the features and the skills that a performer of contemporary music should have?
X.P.: For me personally, my composition training has been invaluable. I remember working for hours on end in the electronic music studio in Wellington. Leaving the studio, one has an “enhanced” awareness of music, and of all sound: suddenly, everything becomes musical, the ear is used to paying great attention to every detail. Playing John Cage comes naturally after this experience. There is also a lot of freedom one gains from experience with improvisation, an interest I developed during these early student days. Working directly with and shaping sound in these ways really helps refine one’s approach to interpretation, whether it is contemporary music or baroque / classical / romantic repertoire. At the end of the day, this is what we have to work with: shape, trajectory, sound, colour…
As Director of the Department of Performance at Nottingham University you also have a teaching activity: how do you transfer your experience in the teaching? Which are the most important features you request from your students?
X.P.: I try to encourage my students to be open to different styles of music and different ways of working, which also include exposure to contemporary repertoire, technology and improvisation. I think this is really important in order to obtain a well-rounded musical education. The most difficult aspect is guiding someone to learn to work independently and search for their own truth and their own answers.
You have been working a lot also with electronics or toy pianos: for which reason have you decided to go deeper in the exploration of piano possibilities? Are you expecting to find out other ways to enrich the sounds possibilities of these instruments?
X.P.: The concert piano as we know it is a wonderful instrument, but is no longer evolving in the strict technical sense: it is frozen in time (with some exceptions, such as the Magnetic Resonator Piano!. Working with electronics, extended techniques and auxiliary keyboards are some of the ways we can extend the possibilities of what we can do and refresh the sound palette and theatrical / communicative potential. Portability of instruments such as the toy piano or the Indian harmonium (which I also sometimes play) are a further bonus, allowing the pianist to perform in venues with no piano. I think it is really important to be able to work in versatile ways – if I was strictly a “pianist” in the more traditional (and now mostly obsolete) sense, playing primarily traditional repertory, I would greatly reduce the number of career opportunities and exciting performances that I have.
How did you discover Hans Otte’s work and why have you decided to play this composition? Which performative challenge have you experienced in his music? Can you see any relationship with mainstream authors such as Stockhausen or Cage, which you have played often?
X.P.: I was introduced to this wonderful work by a former colleague, and was immediately struck by the simple beauty and honesty of Otte’s writing. This piece has no extended techniques whatsoever, everything is done on the keyboard and with pedals, but there is an extraordinary array of timbres and colours one can produce. I would say that the main challenge is listening, concentration, and not letting the ego take over: one has to make oneself completely transparent in order to play this music. There are certainly connections to Cage and Stockhausen, not least through the spiritual dimension, which we can find in their works as well.
Do you think that there could exist a relationship between the music and the place of the performance? Is the traditional form of concerts for contemporary music something that needs to be renewed?
X.P.: The whole context of performance is changing, partly through changing musical styles, partly through the role of technology in our lives. I don’t particularly approve of really traditional models of interaction between the performer and the audience, when everyone is really serious, the music is really serious and requires prior study to appreciate, there is a barrier of politesse, we play out our distinctly different parts and then go home. When I go out to experience music, I like to feel a connection with the performers: they are communicating to me, perhaps we can have a conversation, we all feel included and relaxed. This is the kind of environment that we need to cultivate.
img: Xenia Pestova © Carla Rees