Paul Lewis interviewed by Shirley Apthorp – part 2

Lewis talks a lot about passion, about mental imbalance and neurosis. It’s the music, he says, that keeps him sane through the pressures that life as a concert pianist brings.

“You have to be crazy about the music itself, otherwise there’s no point in doing it,” he says. “What I like the most about this life is not the travelling. I like being in some places, but I don’t like getting there. It’s not the being away from home, it’s not being away from my family. It’s the music. You have to be crazy about the music, because any other reason isn’t good enough.

“You have to think yourself lucky to live a life where you can spend your time with the music, and actually try to convey it to people.”

Lewis worries a lot about his ability to communicate the things that he sees in his scores to his listeners.

“I’d never program something in a recital that I wasn’t really crazy about. And obviously if you’re passionate about it, you love it for certain reasons, and those are the things that you want to convey. If something totally different comes across, it’s hard to take, sometimes.”

Lewis tells the story of a time when he performed Schubert’s final sonata, the B flat D960.

“The slow movement is one of Schubert’s darker moments. At the end, when it turns from C sharp minor to C sharp major, you get this light, but it’s tinged – it’s beyond pain, but you still feel the pain there. And that’s how I feel about it. That depth and darkness has to come across.”

Lewis and his wife’s first baby had been born not long before.

“And someone said, ‘Oh, that was just lovely! I bet you play that slow movement as a lullaby to help your baby sleep!’ And I just thought, ‘NO! If that’s what came across, what am I doing?!’ It’s something you can easily become paranoid about, though in fact the listener was probably just enjoying it in her own way, and who am I to impose anything different?”

Although he can speculate about why an audience might react in a range of ways, Lewis does bring hopes to the concert platform. There are some Beethoven sonatas, he admits, that he finds so funny that he feels he’s failed unless he raises a laugh from his public.

But his program for Australia is, if he thinks about it, entirely without jokes.

“There’s no humour in this program. There’s just about every single other emotion. The B minor Adagio is one of Mozart’s blackest pieces ever – it really plumbs the depths. Out of that comes the Schumann Fantasy – I wanted this explosion of passion to come out of the extremely dark first 10 minutes. And then Beethoven’s Waldstein sonata – the French call it ‘The Dawn’, and it’s just like watching the sun rise. Especially the last movement. You have this wonderful theme, which starts absolutely pianissimo, and gradually the theme gets closer and closer, until it just blazes in front of you. It’s that sense that is most overwhelming for me. I want to try to convey what I love about the music, and whatever that journey entails, if anybody wants to come along, that’s great.”

If you’re in Canberra, be sure not to miss the second last concert of Paul’s tour – tomorrow night, 7pm at Llewellyn Hall.


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Welcome to Musica Viva’s International Concert Season blog. Here you can follow and read more about our wonderful touring artists.

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