In today’s music world pianist Javier Perianes has become, at the age of 40, the most renowned Spanish performer. His agenda runs naturally through the best stages and international festivals, where he performs in recitals as well as in concerts and tours with the most renowned orchestras and conductors. In recognition of such a successful career, he is Artist of the Year 2019 of the International Classical Music Awards (ICMA). We publish an interview made by Justo Romero for our Spanish Jury member Scherzo.
When more than two decades ago you were still a young and promising pianist, you denied harbouring the dream of becoming an acclaimed and recognized pianist. Now that the ‘no dream’ has come true, and so many things and successes have happened in your well-established concert career, do you still think the same way?
Yes, I maintain my answer of that time. My aim is to enjoy the music, each and every one of the projects that I have the opportunity to face, plus my family and my environment. Of course, many things have happened in all these years, but I believe I haven’t lost neither the curiosity nor the passion for what I have the good fortune to do.
What has been the most positive and what has been the most negative?
I wouldn’t put it so categorically, most positive or negative. Obviously, having a calendar with many commitments means having less time for other things. Undoubtedly, the most positive thing is to have had the opportunity to meet and work with extraordinary musicians with whom I have shared unforgettable musical experiences.
Your career has been atypical in many ways. It was not based on prizes or competitions, except for the Jaén Competition, which you won very early, in 2001. You soon gave up that risky path to success (or failure). How could you develop your career without prizes from competitions?
I remember those years of the Jaén Competition, also the Vianna da Mota in Lisbon. They were in some way a great way to put into operation an extensive repertoire. In my particular case I would say that everything has been happening in a natural way, one thing has led to the next, and this until today.
Indeed! You won the National Music Prize of Spain, the Conservatory of Huelva has been named after you and you are Artist of the Year of the ICMA… What a career!
I am really grateful to the jury of the International Classical Music Awards for the award Artist of the Year 2019. It will be a very special ceremony on 10 May in Lucerne, because I will be able to share it with an artist whom I deeply admire, the great Nelson Freire, who receives the Lifetime Achievement Award. And curiously one of the winners 2019 is my friend and colleague Tabea Zimmermann who was Artist of the Year 2017. So, I can only be delighted and honoured with this distinction. It will be very emotional to return to the KKL in Lucerne for the award ceremony.
You recently came back from the United States, where you made a concert tour with the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra, with Mozart’s Concerto No. 27. I think this is the first time that you have collaborated with this famous orchestral ensemble…
That’s right, it was our first collaboration and it has been an extraordinary experience. A group of musicians of the highest level, making chamber music and listening with attention to every detail, reacting immediately to any change in the articulation, dynamic or agogic is a true musical delight. I have enjoyed very much the five concerts of the tour, although I confess that the last one, at New York’s Carnegie Hall, had that magical component of a stage with a legendary history.
After that tour you performed Beethoven’s five piano concerts together with the London Philharmonic and Juanjo Mena in Spain and at the Royal Festival Hall in London. Was that more an artistic or a technical challenge?
Without a doubt, the great challenge was artistic: to travel from the first Beethoven with that indelible Mozartian as well as Haydnian imprint, and to reach the plenitude of the Emperor, passing through the heroic drama of the Third Concerto and the poetry and improvisation of the Fourth. It was a beautiful challenge, for which I could not be better accompanied, both by a top-level orchestra such as the London Philharmonic and a conductor like Juanjo Mena, with whom I have a very special relationship and great musical complicity.
It seems that there is a curious Beethovenian tradition among the best Spanish pianists: Alicia de Larrocha recorded the five concertos with Riccardo Chailly as well as the Emperor with Zubin Mehta; Eduardo del Pueyo recorded and played repeatedly the complete cycle of the 32 sonatas; Esteban Sanchez performed all the Rondos and Bagatelles, as well as the Fourth Piano Concerto… Already in your first album, released exactly 20 years ago, you included the Sonata opus 110, and then, in 2011, you returned to Beethoven’s music with a CD containing four of his sonatas…
The universal Beethoven is an almost obligatory stop for pianists on any trip, so it is always present in any great interpreter, regardless of their origin or passport. And we Spaniards are no exception. There is an extraordinary recording of the Fourth Concerto by the great Esteban Sanchez, and of course that legendary complete recording of the concertos with Riccardo Chailly and Alicia de Larrocha that you mentioned, and which is something absolutely referential, like everything that our great lady of the piano played. Beethoven is an inexhaustible composer for any performer, there is always something else to delve into, you are always discovering new details.
How has your concept of Beethoven evolved from that young and early Opus 110 to the present times?
Many years have passed and I would say that as in any other composer, not only in Beethoven, the passing of time and your own life and music experience provoke an evolution in the concept of the work, both at a sound level and in its structural awareness. A sonata as complex and as dense and deep as Opus 110 goes through many phases in all these years. It is very interesting to see where you come from, to see the musical and personal evolution during all this time. I hope that in another twenty years I will be able to repeat this answer: that would mean that one continues to seek and progress in Beethoven’s universe.
There is a very widespread video in which you play Beethoven’s Sonata opus 110 for Daniel Barenboim, and he, between praise and praise, gives you endless indications and recommendations. Has Barenboim’s well-known Beethoven influenced your vision?
How can a young performer not be influenced by the indications and recommendations of a piano legend and a reference in Beethoven such as Daniel Barenboim, who is probably one of the most relevant musicians in history! His vision and that of many other great pianists always bring new aspects and encourage you to continue digging in the music. But for Beethoven, there are a lot of other leading pianists you can learn from, Emil Gilels, Edwin Fischer, Claudio Arrau, Arthur Schnabel, Wilhelm Kempff, Richard Goode, Alicia de Larrocha, Grigory Sokolov and a very long etcetera…
Which pianists do you admire? Or if you don’t want to be so precise, what kind of pianists do you admire?
I don’t think we have the space or time in this interview to list each and every one of the artists and more specifically pianists I admire. I am truly fascinated by Daniel Barenboim, Grigory Sokolov, Maria Joao Pires, Arkadi Volodos, Leif Ove Andsnes, Radu Lupu, Andras Schiff, Richard Goode. And by many pianists of the past such as Rubinstein, Lipatti, Gilels, Richter, De Larrocha, Sofronitzki, Orozco and many others. Each one, with its own particularities, identity, repertoire, sound and trajectory, is a first level artist who makes and made of music an extraordinary art.
A singular characteristic of your repertoire is versatility. However, the absence of contemporary music is striking, except works such as Gubaidulina’s Chacona, Manuel Castillo’s Sonatina or Sanchez-Verdu’s Estudio Pulsación. Do you think that contemporary music has nothing to offer for a pianist?
Well, in March I premiered the last work by the great Joan Guinjoan, who has just left us. I was fortunate enough to meet him a few years ago and from that moment on he expressed his interest in dedicating a work for piano to me. We set it up for a recital at the Palau de la Musica Catalana and he was very excited to be able to listen to it, and I had the idea of premiering it precisely in Barcelona in the presence of the Maestro. Sadly, he died, although I am sure that, wherever he is, he listened to it. In these weeks I am also in conversations with a fascinating Peruvian composer, Jimmy Lopez. I know his music for orchestra and some works for piano. Conductors such as David Afkham, Salonen, Mäkelä or Andrew Davis, who conducted his opera Bel Canto dedicated to Renée Fleming in Chicago, have relied on his talent, and I hope I can make something of it as soon as possible. With all this I think I have answered your question!
Like any great Spanish pianist, the piano music of your country plays a central role in your career. Falla, Albeniz, Mompou, Granados, Nebra… You have already recorded de Falla’s keyboard work and some of Granados’s, it can be assumed that sooner or later, a complete Iberia and another of Goyescas will be available on CD… On the other hand, the total absence of Turina, Andalusian like you, is striking…
Spanish music has and will always have a special presence in my repertoire. In fact, in my next tour of recitals in Europe (Lisbon, Madrid, Barcelona, Frankfurt, Istanbul, Paris, London, among other cities) Manuel de Falla will be part of the program, along with composers as appreciated by him as Chopin and Debussy. In addition, in the recording that I will make next year with the violist Tabea Zimmermann, there will also be an outstanding presence of Spanish composers, along with other Latin American composers. As for a future recording of Iberia or Goyescas, time will tell. For now, I prefer to focus on present and more immediate projects.
After the exceptional reception of your last album with the first book of Preludes by Debussy and Estampes, what are your next recording projects? Will the expected recording of the second book of Preludes by Debussy arrive one day?
The programme of recordings that I have fixed and inexorably closed is going in a different direction. Curiously, after Debussy, the next project with Harmonia Mundi will also be dedicated to French music, specifically Maurice Ravel. It is the Concerto en Sol together with the Orchestre de Paris and Josep Pons, in an album that will also include both piano and orchestra versions of Le tombeau de Couperin and Alborada del gracioso. We put Ravel face to face as pianist and orchestrator. It’s a project that is very exciting both for Josep Pons and myself. Then there will be an album with Chopin with his second and third sonatas. Of course, I always have in mind the possibility of including more projects with Spanish music.
Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert, Mendelssohn-Bartholdy are recurrent composers in your already immense repertoire. However, there are significant absences, such as Bach or Schumann…
It’s curious, but with Schumann I have had a good relationship. In fact, my debut with orchestra was with his Concerto. I have also played many times the Quintet with piano and some works for solo piano, but it is true that in recent years he has not been so prominent in my concert programs. With Bach there is an extraordinary bond from my time as a student, in which I had the chance to work on it a lot, but it is true that I haven’t programmed it regularly in concert. The same thing happens to me with so many other composers that I would love to delve into in the future.
Nor have you cherished the Russian repertoire, although Scriabin’s pianism seems ideal for you, as you demonstrated years ago, when you performed his Piano Concerto. Will you immerse yourself in the music of Prokofiev, Shostakovich and so many other great Russians?
It is true that some years ago, both Scriabin’s Piano Concerto and Rachmaninov’s Second were very present in my repertoire with orchestra for several seasons. It was a circumstantial issue in a very specific period of my career, in which, as I mentioned earlier, I have been more linked to other composers. But I assure you that in the future I will return to the great Russian composers. It’s fascinating music!
Your already mentioned Debussy album has been considered by some critics as one of the best ever Debussy recordings, they have even compared it with versions as referential as those by Benedetti Michelangeli, Arrau, Zimmerman or Gieseking. What’s the secret?
Debussy has been a close composer to me and very present in my repertoire since I was very young. His work has always produced an enormous fascination and his absolutely revolutionary and decisive role in the history of music and piano is unquestionable. I would say that in Debussy we find that unique mixture of the weightless and the precise, of the misty and the articulate. His innovating contribution to the treatment of melody and harmony and even musical form is essential.
Another fundamental composer in your repertoire is Chopin, of whom you said that a recording with his piano sonatas is planned. Do you avoid the mannerism that so damaged his image and his work? One of your international successes was precisely a volume dedicated to the music of Chopin and Debussy in which you established subtle parallels. Do you agree to consider his delicate pianism, full of colours and registers, as pre-impressionist?
We could say without doubt that Debussy professed a public admiration for the figure of Chopin and for his contribution to the piano. In that recording dedicated to Chopin and Debussy I remember with much affection the process of selection of works together with the musicologists Yvan Nommick and Luis Gago. In many cases the links were about atmospheres or character…, in others they were of rhythmic or formal nature. In any case, I would say that in the last Chopin we already find certain harmonic turns that can foreshadow what was to come. In Chopin there are so many possibilities to get closer to his music, so many great pianists with very different visions have contributed so much to the music of the Polish genius….I try to play his music neither with too much distance nor with too much sugar. In the end, it’s all about finding the ideal balance.
Another essential chapter in your career, although not so well known, is your dedication to chamber music. You frequently collaborate with the violist Tabea Zimmermann, with whom you give concerts all over the world, with the Quiroga Quartet, or with the aforementioned Jean-Guihen Queyras…
It is a real pleasure to be able to make music with such artists. With the Quiroga Quartet I have a relationship of enormous friendship and mutual admiration. We have worked a lot together and I really enjoy making music with them. Next year we have a very special tour in Germany, Switzerland and Holland. With Tabea Zimmermann the relationship is much more recent, but since our first collaboration we have not stopped looking for opportunities to continue making music together. In fact, next season we have a very intense tour in the United States and some dates in Europe, in addition to the project of recording a CD with works by Spanish and Latin American composers. Recording Debussy’s cello sonata with Jean-Guihen Queyras was a very enriching experience. It is very easy to make music with artists of this calibre and at the same time of this personal value.
You also collaborate or have collaborated with conductors such as Barenboim, Dudamel, Dutoit, Jurowski, Maazel, Mehta, Temirkanov… That is to say, you have had the opportunity to work with the greatest maestros of your time. With whom have you felt more comfortable? And less…?
I am fortunate to have enjoyed working with each and every one of the names you mention and with many more. From each one of them I take with me lessons and experiences that I keep with great affection.
Accompanied by these conductors you already played with almost all the great orchestras, Chicago Symphony, Concertgebouw, Vienna Philharmonic, Boston Symphony, Cleveland, Los Angeles Philharmonic, New York, all of London, Gewandhaus in Leipzig, St. Petersburg Philharmonic… Do you still have a dream to fulfil?
I have always been a person who has enjoyed reality and the present without too many dreams. If a few years ago I had been told that I was going to have the opportunity to work with all these orchestras I would not have believed it. Everything has happened in the most natural way possible and I hope and wish that it continues to be so.