Interview with Lambert Orkis – part 2
When we speak, Orkis has just returned from a trip to Trinidad, where he was astonished to find a former student conducting the national steel orchestra according to principals he had drummed into him during his studies.
“Read the first page. Do some research. Find out about the composer, try to find the context in which the piece was written. It will give you some insight that you don’t necessarily get from the little dots on the page.”
Orkis, who is also a founding member of the Smithsonian Institution’s Castle Trio, has had plenty of opportunity to play early keyboards, gaining rare insight into the speed and nature of evolution in classical and early romantic fortepianos; he has even recorded three different performances of Beethoven’s “Appassionata” sonata using different Viennese piano designs to demonstrate the changes that were taking place at the time.
“By Mozart’s time, keyboards were changing rapidly every ten years, almost like today’s computers, and you can see the process,” explains Orkis. “They were constantly coming up with something new; there was something in the wind.”
He admits to a process of what he calls “cross-fertilisation”, in which the way he plays early keyboards informs the way he approaches earlier repertoire on today’s pianos, and vice versa.
At the same time, he says, it is neither possible nor desirable to turn back the clock.
“They lived different lives. They had different kinds of distractions. Often they were just worried about whether they’d be alive the next day – apparently the ‘bon voyage’ party originated because one in six vessels crossing the ocean wouldn’t make it.
“We live today. What’s our purpose? What are we doing?”
Does Orkis have an answer for himself?
“I’m less and less prescriptive,” he replies tranquilly. “I’ve got to get something out of it and my audiences have to get something out of it.”
In terms of his time at Musica Viva’s 2013 Festival, that means enjoying the work with his colleagues and communicating something to the public.
“When you’re doing chamber music, there’s a lot going on,” he says. “I see it as an intimate conversation with several partners. The more people involved, the more complex the conversation becomes. There is always a certain seat-of-the-pants freshness to chamber music in a Festival context; I’m looking forward to meeting new people and playing with them!”
© Shirley Apthorp 2012