An Interview with Maxim Vengerov
We speak the day after Maxim Vengerov’s 40th birthday, which he celebrated in Geneva by giving a recital in which the Yehudi Menhuin String Academy joined him for an encore.
“It feels as if the middle part of my life has begun,” says Vengerov, who is the father of two daughters under the age of three. Concert tours, he admits, are also a way to catch up on sleep lost at home.
Though he has been to Australia to perform with orchestras in Sydney, Melbourne, and Brisbane, this will be his first tour for Musica Viva, and his first recital tour of Australia.
“Recitals are something special, because of this direct communication with the audience through music,” he says.
“In general, fewer and fewer people are going to recitals, but I’m giving a lot of recitals this season. You have to decide what you stand for. I’m a passionate recitalist, and I try to put together programmes that are full of variety. The idea is to give the audience a full spectrum of emotions.”
Does this mean that he strives for maximum emotional expression when he plays?
“No. I strive for quality of information. That is the most important thing for a musician. Because sound is like a finger-print of your body. Sound is a picture of your soul, of what is inside. Your genetic code. The information and the knowledge you’ve acquired during your life, all the things you’ve gone through – your love and passion, your experiences. The sound cannot lie. You can be technically perfect, but if something is missing for your life, then you might not understand why, but this music will not touch us.”
Two Paganini works will conclude a programme that is as high on virtuosic fireworks as it is on sentiment. Paganini’s music, once a synonym for unplayability, is today tossed off by thousands of wunderkinder around the world.
“Technical progress should and will happen,” Vengerov says. “This is a natural development. But we should never cut ourselves off from the source, from the tradition, from our predecessors. Today we have many people who can play Paganini technically well and in tune. But is it staggering? There are still only a few people who can deliver great music that is above all technical detail. There is an incredible energy in the music, and it is very challenging to perform.”
Technical excellence, though in Vengerov’s view indispensable, will always be of secondary importance.
“What is a perfect performer? For me personally it’s the person who lets the music speak for itself through the musician’s body, so that it goes directly to the hearts and minds of the listeners. Then people will open themselves up to the emotions. And that’s when the biochemical process starts. And possibly also the healing. In ancient Greece, music was prescribed by doctors as a form of medicine.”
In honour of his 40th birthday, Vengerov has given up his mobile phone.
“Fifteen years ago, when I had to memorise a telephone number, I would just hear it as a composition in my head, and then I would know it. Today I don’t even know my own numbers. Memory suffers, because life requires us to think less, to make less effort for greater results. As an artist, these are the qualities that I have to really fight for.
“Today everything has changed. Everybody likes to multi-task. We fly on aeroplanes, we listen to music on the way, we do business, there is music in the background, we take the elevator and again music is there.
“Shostakovich said, rightly, that great music deserves to be listened to with special attention. I think it also deserves to be separated from any visual effects. In other words the mission of the greatest music is to stimulate our hearing.
“We like to say that we are what we eat. We like organic vegetables and we know that we need to eat well. It’s the same thing with music. We have to be selective, and make educated choices.
“This is why we make music. It’s a form of exile from the rush.”
Interview by Shirley Apthorp, photos by Keith Saunders
Maxim Vengerov performs in Adelaide, Brisbane, Melbourne, Perth and Sydney from 28 November – 10 December. Tickets go on Sale 1 October 2015. For more information, please visit: www.musicaviva.com.au/vengerov