Meet the Artist……Nelson Goerner, pianist

(photo: Jean-Baptiste-Millot)

Who or what inspired you to take up the piano and pursue a career in music?

I first heard the sound of the piano in my grandmother’s house. She had taken up piano studies late in life, with real devotion. I remember looking at the scores and asking her lots of questions… Later on, my sister began to take lessons – I was fascinated. The dream of a career came much later, when I was a teenager and had had the chance to listen to some great artists in the flesh and on recordings; I naturally wanted to play like them! One of the most inspiring souvenirs from those early years are the Chopin Nocturnes, recorded by Artur Rubinstein – truly unforgettable.

Who or what have been the most important influences on your musical life and career?

First of all my teachers: Jorge Garrubba, Juan Carlos Arabian, Carmen Scalcione, Maria Tipo. Very different personalities, but all true musicians whose advice have never left me. Their aim was to make you a musician with your own voice, to help give you the means to express what you have inside you and to avoid many of the traps every young aspiring musician encounters. Something I try to do myself when I teach…

What have been the greatest challenges of your career so far?

One of the greatest challenges has been to leave my family and come to live alone in Europe when I was eighteen. It was not easy, but I grew as a person and as an artist. The second big challenge came after winning the Geneva Competition (1990). Concert engagements did not arrive immediately, and when finally things started to happen, I realised that I was only at the beginning of a lifelong process of searching inside myself and the music I play – which I consider the greatest possible challenge.

Which performance/recordings are you most proud of?

I enjoyed listening to a live recording of Brahms 2nd Concerto I played a few years ago with the NHK Symphony Orchestra at Suntory Hall, and also enjoyed some of the many performances I gave at the Chopin and His Europe Festival in Warsaw – one of my favourite festivals. But I seldom listen to my old recordings: there is actually something almost terrifying when we do so. We evolve, and to face earlier performances is not easy! On the other hand, it can sometimes be refreshing. Maybe one had less experience at that time, less knowledge and so on, but a fresh, perhaps more intuitive look at the music.

Which particular works do you think you play best?

I probably have most affinity with the Romantic repertoire: Chopin, Brahms, Liszt, Schumann…but I have never tried to be an specialist. For instance, I believe that if you play Mozart well. you will play Chopin well too, so important is the classical element in the big Polish master’s music. I don’t believe in ‘closed compartments’ in music.

How do you make your repertoire choices from season to season?

I simply choose the pieces that I really need to play in that particular moment of my life – that’s the key thing. Pieces I’ve been living with for a while until I feel I might have something to say, and that conviction – modest but strong at the same time – guides me. Apart from that, a programme must have an inner logic and contrasts, too: it sometimes takes me many months to decide.

Do you have a favourite concert venue to perform in and why?

Teatro Colon in Buenos Aires is undoubtedly one of my favourites: in this great hall, one has also the feeling of intimacy you get in a chamber hall, and the sound is so warm! I also love the big hall of the Liszt Academy in Budapest – one of the best you can dream of – and Suntory Hall in Tokyo. Both are very special venues.

Favourite pieces to perform? Listen to?

Last season I was performing Beethoven’s ‘Hammerklavier’ Sonata very often. When I play the work, there is nothing on my horizon that I could find greater, more fulfilling. The same is true of every great piece of music: for a performer, the favourite piece should be the one you are playing at that moment, as if your life depends on it.

Who are your favourite musicians?

Among pianists, the great ones from the past: Rachmaninoff, Cortot, Schnabel, Lipatti, Artur Rubinstein, Vladimir Horowitz. You can easily recognise them after hearing any of them play just one phrase: their sound was so individual, so special. And, among those from today: Radu Lupu, Grigory Sokolov, Martha Argerich, to name but a few…

What is your most memorable concert experience?

If I had to choose one, I would choose when I played Rachmaninoff’s Third Concerto at the final stage of the Geneva Competition: I managed to forget I was in a contest and evaluated by a jury. So the music started to flow, even though I was playing the piece in public for the first time. Later I happened to listen to the recording of that evening with pleasure.

What do you consider to be the most important ideas and concepts to impart to aspiring musicians?

For an aspiring musician, the essential thing is to remain true to oneself. It is increasingly difficult to achieve; the striving to make a career can easily push a young musician to be swallowed up by the concept of ‘profile’ and marketing. And that can be dangerous: it may stop the development of a true personality. One needs lots of patience, to think of the long term, and believe in what one has to say.

You are on the jury of the Chopin Competition and performing at the opening concert. What are you looking forward to about your time in Poland?

The prestige of the Chopin Competition will naturally attract fascinating young artists and I am of course eager to discover them. It is so inspiring to hear so much talent, with their fresh ideas, and to guess their projection in the future.  I hope I will accomplish my duty as a juror – it’s a very tough one. We are all subjective and respond more easily to someone who has a picture of a particular piece that is somehow close to yours. I will try not to fall into that trap!

What do you enjoy doing most?

I could not imagine myself doing something different! I just wish I have the inner strength to serve music the best I can for many more years to come. And never to stop developing…

The grand finale of the 17th International Chopin Competition takes place in Warsaw from 18-20 October. Further information here

Nelson Goerner’s new disc of complete Chopin Preludes is released in December 2015 (Alpha Classics) and his Beethoven Hammerklavier Sonata & 6 Bagatelles Op.126 will be released in March 2016 (Alpha Classics)

Nelson Goerner has performed with many of the major orchestras including the Philharmonia Orchestra under Claus Peter Flor, the Deutsche Symphonie Orchestra of Berlin under Andrew Davis, the London Philharmonic Orchestra under Emmanuel Krivine, the Hallé Orchestra under Mark Elder, the Suisse Romande with Neemi Jarvi and Raphael Fruhbeck de Burgos, the Orchestra of the 18th Century with Frans Bruggen, the Deutsche Kammerphilharmonie with Ivor Bolton, and the NHK Symphony Orchestra of Tokyo under Fabio Luisi.

His festival appearances include the Salzburg Festival, La Roque d’Anthéron, La Grange de Meslay, Edinburgh, Schleswig-Holstein and Verbier, as well as the BBC Proms.

In the 2013-14 season, Nelson Goerner was the subject of the Artist Portrait series at the Wigmore Hall in London, where he gave four recitals exploring such diverse repertoire as Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, Brahms, Schumann, Chopin, Debussy and Bartok.

A keen chamber musician, Nelson Goerner has collaborated with artists such as Martha Argerich (in repertoire for two pianos), Janine Jansen, Steven Isserlis and Gary Hoffman.

Nelson Goerner has a strong connection with the Mozarteum Argentino in Buenos Aires, and a student scholarship has since led to many performances. Mr Goerner also enjoys a long association with the Chopin Institute in Warsaw, where he is a member of the artistic advisory committee. With the Institute, he recently explored the interpretation of Chopin on contemporary pianos by Pleyel and Erard dating from 1848 and 1849. These performances were recorded for the Chopin Institute’s own label, with the recording of the Ballades and Nocturnes winning a Diapason d’Or.

Mr Goerner is very active in the recording studio and his discography includes recordings of Chopin, Rachmaninov, Liszt and Busoni, and a DVD of repertoire by Beethoven and Chopin in a live performance from the Verbier Festival. His Chopin recording on the Wigmore Hall Live label was instrumental Choice of the Month in BBC Music Magazine, and his recording of Debussy for the Outhere/ZigZag Territoires label was awarded the Diapason d’Or of the Year 2013. Nelson Goerner’s most recent recording of repertoire by Schumann was BBC Music Magazine’s Recording of the Month in March 2015. His next recording project will feature repertoire by Beethoven.

Born in San Pedro, Argentina, in 1969, Nelson Goerner has established himself as one of the foremost pianists of his generation. After studying in Argentina with Jorge Garrubba, Juan Carlos Arabian and Carmen Scalcione, he was awarded First Prize in the Franz Liszt Competition in Buenos Aires in 1986. This led to a scholarship to work with Maria Tipo at the Geneva Conservatoire, and in 1990 Nelson Goerner won the First Prize at the Geneva Competition.

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