Who or what inspired you to take up the piano and make it your career?
My family owned a piano but no one was playing it. I was somehow intrigued by it and began to pick out all kinds of cheesy radio tunes and later tried to harmonize them. The piano is a very friendly instrument if you are 5 years old and eager to make a sound, much more so than the violin which makes you practically languish for months until anything more than a scratch is heard. But more than that, I particularly remember how gloriously rewarding it felt to be able to add my own crude chords to those tunes and to literally touch the magic that is melody and accompaniment.
Who or what were the most important influences on your musical life and career?
I was very lucky to have a rich musical education from a very early age and the opportunity to study not only piano but also composition and improvisation since I was about 9 had a big influence, I feel, on the way music seemed to me. I would like to think that it enabled me to look at music also through the eyes of the composer and not only from the angle of the performer.
But I was also emotionally affected a lot by the life stories of the great composers, particularly Mozart (Amadeus had just come out as a movie and I went to see it 3 times! At the part where they sing the finale of The Abduction from the Seraglio I completely forgot I was at the movies and started applauding vigorously – I can still remember all those heads turning back at me…) and Beethoven (a dog-eared copy of a book on the lives of composers included a heart-wrenching account of the miseries of his childhood which left me devastated).
Later on, it was mostly recordings that I listened to endlessly as well as a few unforgettable concerts I was lucky enough to be taken to, that made me feel that music was an inseparable part of who I am.
What have been the greatest challenges of your career so far?
The greatest challenge for any performer is to reach the feeling that he or she was able to bring across exactly what they see and feel in the piece and that the audience has been there with them in it throughout. The second greatest challenge is to persist in this quest without being distracted or discouraged by the more mundane aspects of the music business, which are inescapable in their own way.
Which performance/recordings are you most proud of?
The performances that make me feel most satisfied are the ones where I felt as if (and I repeat, as if!) I was creating the piece as it goes along. Doesn’t happen too often, unfortunately but that’s the goal. As for recordings, I don’t really listen to my own recordings after they are finished because one’s views of pieces naturally changes with time and, of course, once a recording is done, it’s done…
Which particular works do you think you perform best?
I try to avoid seeing works I play this way, because the ones I feel closest to also tend to be ones you spend a lifetime with and never cease to study. But in recent years, I have gravitated towards Mozart, Beethoven and Schubert to a certain extent.
How do you make your repertoire choices from season to season?
I try to start with a main piece that I feel an uncontrollable urge to learn and then see what could go with it in a way that would either illuminate it in an interesting way or that would provide an intriguing contrast to it. I also try to keep a healthy mix of new and less new pieces, as much as possible.
Do you have a favourite concert venue to perform in and why?
There isn’t a single one, but of course there are some that immediately come to mind, with very special acoustics and atmosphere, such as Wigmore Hall in London, to pick a famous example. But also places like Sala di Notari in Perugia, Italy – which is not a full-time concert hall but is absolutely ravishing.
Favourite pieces to perform? Listen to?
I don’t get to listen to music nearly as much as I would like, but when I do I am always in the mood for one of the Mozart da Ponte operas, for example. But there are many others.
Who are your favourite musicians?
What is your most memorable concert experience?
As a child growing up in Israel, one of the concerts that really left a mark was a recital by Radu Lupu which felt like a transformative experience in real time. Another was the first time I heard the Brahms D Minor Piano Concerto. I actually don’t remember the circumstances at all, but I vividly recall the terrifying bang of the timpani and horns in the very beginning and the overall impression that the opening tutti made on me, as if I was being let into the darker realms of music for the very first time.
What do you consider to be the most important ideas and concepts to impart to aspiring musicians?
That what we think we are doing is often perceived very differently to outside listeners and that learning how to listen that way to yourself while you are playing is single most important thing any musician can ever strive to accomplish.
What are you working on at the moment?
More Schubert, as well as Haydn (one of the pieces is subtitled “It takes Eight to sterilize a Sow”…), some Mozart, some Ligeti…