Next week Behzod Abduraimov returns to work with the ECO (Cadogan Hall, 22 May), performing works by Beethoven and Mozart. We caught up with Behzod to find out a little more…
What is special about the works you’re playing in the concert?
Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No.1 marks the beginning of his maturity as a composer. There is still a hint of Haydn-like playfulness, in the third movement especially, but in the first movement we can already hear the grandness of his orchestration – it’s a statement. He played the piano himself at the premiere himself in 1795 and it was important for him to show off with this piece, so it is very virtuosic, but it is also serious and lyrical. The second movement is very deep and we can hear the foundations of his masterful writing of melody. The piece has become standard repertoire because it’s great music and audiences everywhere love it, which is why I wanted to play it with the English Chamber Orchestra.
I have a long history with the Beethoven – the first time I played it in public I was nine years old. I didn’t play it for a long time after that, but over the last few years I’ve brought it back into my repertoire, bringing a different perspective and understanding of music. I last played the Mozart Rondo 20 years ago, at my first ever public performance, which was with the National Symphony Orchestra of Uzbekistan when I was eight. These pieces are very special to me, and to pair them together will be memorable for me.
How has your approach to music changed since you first performed these works as a child?
I’ve changed dramatically – the only thing in common with my eight-year-old self is that I still love music, although even more now. I loved music then, but I can’t say that you couldn’t get me away from the piano – I liked to do other things as well.
I remember the feeling of being on stage at that age, playing for people, bowing and getting flowers. I wasn’t nervous, though, maybe because I didn’t realise my responsibility. I took it all easily and just went on stage to show people what I’d prepared. As you get older you realise the responsibility and the seriousness of music. It’s been a long journey of hard work, educating myself with the help of fantastic teachers. The most important thing I’ve learnt is how to read scores and understand the style and all the details, not only in Beethoven and Mozart, but also in everything I play. I’m careful to be honest and to get as close as I can to the ideas and indications of the composers.
In music we want to give to the audience emotions – it’s not just about who plays faster and louder. Literature helps me with this all the time. As a child I used to read a lot of Russian literature, and watch Soviet Union cartoons, which are long stories, almost like movies, based on fairy tales by Pushkin or Brothers Grimm. This developed my imagination, which is the most important thing in music. Every sound I make on the piano is an emotion. I want to bring that emotion to the listener – it’s not sound for the sake of sound. It should touch them. I visualise when I play – sometimes abstract things, sometimes concrete – so having a rich imagination is very important.
What is it like playing with the English Chamber Orchestra?
The last time I played with the English Chamber Orchestra was in 2014 with my mentor Stanislav Ioudenitch, in the Mozart Concerto for Two Pianos in E flat major. The players are very attentive, curious and careful, and give back so much energy. It’s a pleasure and honour to play with them. It feels like being part of one body, rather than that they are the orchestra and I am the soloist. On stage it’s so important to be one organic unit and that’s how I feel with the group. They play as one, while all being fantastic individual musicians. This will be my first time directing from the piano, which is something I’ve wanted to do for a long time.
How do you feel about the future of classical music?
I don’t worry about classical music, but I worry about the education of classical music. Classical music has been around for a long time and always will be, because of these geniuses – Mozart, Beethoven and Rachmaninov and the rest. This is one of the best things that human beings can do. It isn’t related to politics and is understandable by anybody, whatever religion, nationality or race. But I worry that children and young students should be more curious and better educated. Those who play instruments and study music should feel privileged that they can touch something priceless and special, rather than that it’s just something else they have to work on.
A couple of years ago I played a recital in the US, with a very serious programme of Beethoven, Schubert and Prokofiev. There were many young children in the audience and it was a long concert, but I was amazed that they were all excited and came up afterwards to ask me to sign their programmes and take selfies. I could see the excitement in their eyes and it made me so happy, because I had engaged them in the music – that gave me a great sense of fulfilment. Parents should bring children to performances more, because live music enlightens and touches them.
How do you feel about performing in London?
London is where my career started, where I first played on a major stage with an international orchestra, so it has a special place in my heart.