Appreciation beyond the surface

Next week, British pianist Ian Fountain returns to Israel to perform Mozart’s Piano concertos No. 25 and 14 with the Israeli Chamber Orchestra.

Fountain has been catapulted into a major career after winning the Arthur Rubinstein Master Piano Competition in 1989. He was only 19, thus becoming the youngest pianist to win the Rubinstein contest.

“I can hardly remember how it was; it was more than half of my life ago,” laughs the pianist as he speaks on the phone from his home. “I’m happy it happened, and I’m glad I’m too old now to enter music competitions.

That world was always highly competitive, but now it’s also very crowded. For example, at the Chopin competition 300 people played in the preliminary round just to be admitted into the competition itself.”

Nowadays, competitions throughout the world produce dozens of laureates and winners every year, but only a few of them launch a real career. Are competitions still as important as they once were? “I think that competitions are useful for young pianists themselves as a way of getting a performance, of a motivation to work and to give them a feeling of activity. But I think that a competition should not be an automatic ticket to the professional world. You should show that you have something more to offer – experience and stamina as well.”

Does he see any changes in the world of music? “Everything changes, and music is no different. I think that one thing that will be difficult for music is that people find it hard to concentrate because of the speeding up of everything. With computers, people have instant access to everything, and it probably creates a feeling that you quickly get bored with things. Take,a Bruckner symphony, for example. You can get an excellent orchestra and conductor, but I wonder where you will find an audience that will be able to sit quietly for 85 minutes and appreciate this fantastic, slow-moving music.”

In his Tel Aviv concerts, Fountain will be playing piano and conducting.

“I think that conducting should be a natural progression for an instrumentalist. A lot of pianists try to become conductors. It’s like a midlife crisis – you either buy a red car or start conducting,” he laughs. “For me, it’s sort of a desire to get a wider involvement in music, alongside the piano, of course. All my life when I performed with orchestras, I was fascinated by the orchestra business.

Maybe I even interfered a bit too much, which did not make me popular with conductors, but I feel it’s a very natural thing for me to do,” he says.

“In the case of Mozart concertos, this is the ideal way to perform them.

I think an orchestra performs best when its musicians have to listen rather than look. It is like playing a piano quintet, when all the players feel that they are taking part in a performance in a more active way.

Also, sometimes the conductor and the soloist have slightly different ideas about how to play the music.

Anyway, this is how these concertos were played in Mozart’s time because the profession of conductor is a later invention. So I’m very happy to both conduct and play in this concert.”

Fountain adds that he always likes performing in Israel “because I often feel a high level of appreciation for something more than just the surface of the music. When you sense that people are listening to the content of the music, it gives you a good feeling when you’re playing.”

By MAXIM REIDER
03/12/2010

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