Share this story
Close X
Switch to Desktop Site

PIANIST Pogorelich

Ivo Pogorelich clearly revels in his precocious fame, senses the dangers, and is a lot more mature than he sometimes lets on. His sudden stardom at the age of 22 as a pianist of dazzling new interpretations has already brought him the freedom to do exactly what he wants. And what he wants now is to limit his engagements to 50 a year, expand his repertoire and his genre of music, continue introducing classical music to young people who have been teethed on rock-and-roll -- and possibly learn Latin and Greek.

All this poured out in fluent English in an interview in Pogorelich's native Zagreb the day after his return from his recent American debut tour.

About these ads

Ivo Pogorelich achieved a modest renown among cognoscenti when he won Italian and Canadian competitions in 1978 and 1980, respectively. He achieved something close to notoreity when he lost the Chopin competition in Warsaw last October to a North Korean who was being promoted by the Soviet and Eastern European judges. Martha Agrerich, a British pianist, quit the Warsaw jury in protest. The equally furious Polish hosts -- who at the height of the country's euphoria about the new Solidarity trade union were hardly in a mood to be pushed around by the Russians -- ignored the official winner and lionized Pogorelich. The young Yugoslav was launched, made his first recording for DG (Deutsche Grammophon) -- it was Chopin, of course -- and had debuts in Amsterdam, Zurich, London, West Germany, and the United States. During his summer respite at home in Yugoslavia. Pogorelich is playing to sold-out halls in the Dubrovnik Festival. He is also starting in some new musical directions, and helping his Soviet Georgian wife resume her own concert career after a decade's intermission after the birth of her son in a previous marriage.

The Yugoslav are lapping it all up. "I'm no teen-ager," raved a Belgrade woman who was traveling to Dubrovnik especially to hear Pogorelich, "but I have his picture up on my door. He has everything: genius, good looks, personality. He's the first star Yugoslavia had ever had."

According to the mounting press clips about him, Pogorelich's personality includes rock-star insouciance toward traditional concert-hall tie-and-tails decorum -- and toward traditional concert-hall tempos. But Pogorelich shrugs off the former charge at least as a figment of the news media's imagination. "Someone invented that I played in leather jeans," he said. "I never did." At the Caramoor open-air festival near New York the weather was cold and rainy, and the audience sat in raincoats. I had no choice. My tails were silk. So i had to play in a leather jacket." And no, he doesn't dye his hair different colors.

"But it's not important. People want to create an image of a classical pianist with a rock image, which is not true. But it doesn't matter what the publicity is before a concert. The most important thing is that people come and what they take from the concert," he says. In Pogorelich's case the people who come include a striking number of Beatler and Rolling Stones fans who identify with the young pianist in Yugoslavia, Poland, and the US alike.

Pogorelich showed sufficient talent when he started piano at the age of 7 for his musician father to send the boy to Moscow to study by the age of 11. There he received the thorough grounding the Moscow Conservatory is famous for, doing five years of ensemble work and accompaniment as well as developing the solo literature. In the process he learned, as he describes it, "normal piano playing." And then, in 1976, he met Alice Kezeradze, his final conservatory professor and future wife. This was the turning point. "For the first time in my life I started to work, really to work hard, because I was very motivated."

He won his first competition in Italy in 1978. Then, after a year out because of illness, he got back in shape again for the Montreal competition. And this time, he says, "a certain harmony, a certain balance, came." Pogorelich became confident of his own interpretations of pieces he had played for a long time: Beethoven's Sonata Op. 111, Ravel's "Gaspard de la Nuit," Schumann's "Etudes Symphoniques." "These are very deer," Pogorelich notes.

The whirlwind of 1980 followed. "I can't believe what I did last year. I graduated from the conservatory. I won the Montreal competition. After that I had no rest. I went to Poland. I married my wife. I came to Yugoslavia. All these things. Now there is less pressure on me. Now there is more pleasure."

About these ads

Pogorelich's pleasure will shortly include a second record album of his dear Beethoven, Ravel, Schumann, and Scriabin. He doesn't mind playing in a studio and doesn't require the stimulation of a live audience. "I said once, after the first half hour the voice of the sound engineer becomes an audience of 3,000 people. You play for somebody even in a studio. Certainly the atmosphere is cool. Its a big difference, and records need a kind of perfection which is difficult in a live performance. . . . This doesn't mean a record for me is a kind of chemistry, to add something, to make different versions. No. This record [the Chopin] I recorded is one session and a half, a very short time." He makes few cuts in recording, and he is pleased to have received letters from listenners saying that it sounds like a live performance.

After almost a decade in Moscow mixing with student friends from all over the world, Pogorelich feels cosmopolitan. But he is still very much a Yugoslav. "One never loses one's nationality. I love my country. I played three recitals in Zagreb in the big hall here with 8,000 people. I played in Belgrade in the big Congress Center. I introduced classical music in a recital there. I played two evenings for 9,000 people. The house was sold out two times. It was a great experience."

Is Pogorelich still studying with his wife?

"We are still working together. It's kind of continuous. I would say that many of the big musicians, they lose that kind of communication. I don't know why. It used to be different 50 years ago. Musicians would meet and play together. . . . Mme. Argerich came to us before Christmas with the daughter, and we spent a wonderful week. They would sit and play. Martha would play for my wife, and they would communicate. It was marvelous. Solo musicians seldom have a chance to communicate. A dancer is always seen by a choreographer. But musicians seldom play for each other."

Pogorelich regards the 20th century as an age calling for interpreters rather than composers.

"You can't compare the 20th century to the 19th century in creating art," he says. "In this century there were no many star intepreters: Anna Pavlova, Nijinsky, Rachmaninoff as a pianist. . . . It's very important how you play. . . . what to put in, what to create, what to do with a well-known piece of music. . . . I believe many people follow a bad tradition. . . ."

What is next for Pogorelich?

He will make his debuts in Spain, Monte Carlo, and Japan later this year. Then he and his wife will give recitals and concerts in the US next season, presenting the Bartok Sonata for Two Pianos in the version with percussion (and later in Europe in the version with orchestra). At some point he will go back to Poland for a thank-you tour (which he notes will have to be very well prepared indeed, since expectations are so high). He will continue to reserve time for Yugoslav performances. And sometime in the future he and his wife would like to organize a master class in piano.

Pogorelich is intent on pacing himself, however. His ideal is to do no more than two recital and two concerto programs a season. ("I don't want to be a box from which [you can push a button and] take what you want.") He has no single favorite composer but would next like to expand his concert repertoire to the 24 Shostakovich preludes. Hindemith, and some Bach polyphonic music. But he wants to master these at his own speed and not under the gun of performance deadlines.

He would also like to get into chamber music and to work out Rachmaninoff songs with operatic soprano Lilana Molnar-Talajic.

And the ultimate question, perhaps: How does a young man who has matured so early artistically and achieved such acclaim continue to develop and grow?

"One must keep working and really not pay attention to that incredible success. What is now happening is a kind of superstar publicity. I just learned this afternoon from Germany that about 20,000 Chopin records have already been sold since the release one month ago. All these things are really frightening. . . . One really has to be carefl with all this, and always to keep working on new programs."

On the nonmusical side, Pogorelich hopes at some points to perfect his English (he figures it would take at least three months of living in London), learn French (six months in France), and catch up on the general education he had to forfeit in order to concentrate on piano. In particular, he would like to tutor in Latin and Greek, which any "person who pretends to be educated and cultured" should have, he says.

Follow Stories Like This
Get the Monitor stories you care about delivered to your inbox.