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An Interview with Burkard Schliessmann on KUCI’s Classical Impacts with Isabella Cao

10 April 2024 Featured Interviews Music Interviews


ISABELLA CAO: You’re listening to KUCI 88.9 FM in Irvine. Today, we have a very special guest. We’re here today with a world-renowned pianist, Burkard Schliessmann, German pianist who has been receiving glowing accolades everywhere for his concert performances and recordings, for his virtuosity, and also for his individual and highly-considered interpretations of the great music from the late Baroque, and Romantic eras particularly. His album [discussed] today will be Robert Schumann: Fantasies Live and Encores’ featuring Bach, Chopin, Mendelssohn and Schumann. This was released November 17, 2023, and please check out his album!  I just wanted to start off with one of the challenges or if any, that you faced in making this album?

BURKARD SCHLIESSMANN: Yes! It was really a very special moment. When last year in March—March 6, in the concert hall of Fazioli in Sacile, Italy when I selected a very, very special instrument, F278, and spontaneously, this instrument reached my heart and soul because it enabled the interpretation of works from all epochs. One really had the impression that the instrument itself had spawned a new form for epoch, possessed of extraordinary breadth, a lot of colors, and flexibility, clarity, transparency, and even presence and yet warmth, and this culminating in nearly a purity this singular.

So, what was the spontaneous idea of capturing the sound in a recording? All those present—Paolo and Luca Fazioli, Dieter and Sylvia Fischer—these both are the owners of piano Fischer and the representatives in Europe from Fazioli, and Chopin sees a chief technician* from Fazioli in Sacile, Italy, were thrilled by this idea. So, spontaneously, Elena Turrin, the PR Manager from Fazioli, succeeded in organizing three dates in April last year where I presented in the concert hall of Fazioli in the presence of invited guests, a program of a really wide range which was recorded live by the excellent sound engineer and technician Matteo Costa. The repertoire presented in ‘Live and Encores’ consists of works that I really had studied since my earliest youth and performed in numerous concerts all over the world. It is something personal and therefore authentic, which is why I chose this program.

ISABELLA CAO: Wow, that’s so amazing. So I guess you already answered my [next] question,  what was the inspiration behind the album, so that’s really awesome to hear and it’s just really amazing. And just always so challenging to just figure out the right sound you want for a specific album, and just like for anything in general.

And I also wanted to ask, why did you choose these specific pieces—especially, so like, you had your Bach repertoire for the Partita No. 2, and you also had the Chromatic Fantasia, and also Mendelssohn, you chose the Variation sérieuses. Are there any reasons that you wanted to record these specific pieces?

BURKARD SCHLIESSMANN: Yes, because these pieces are really, let me say, a mirror of my personality and of my way to the essence to music itself. And these pieces, as I already pointed out, are a special way of myself. And as already mentioned and pointed out in many other interviews all over the world,I play Bach more than other composer. Also, I played the complete organ works at the age of 21 (and this by memory).

As a child and youngster, I had been taught by one of the last master students of the legendary Helmut Waldscher and I completely had been affected by this style of insight into Bach, and the internal structures of music and structures all over. This method of regarding the independent coherence of all the voices gave me a special comprehension of Bach and his philosophy. Lastly, one really can say that I have been growing up with Bach even to this day. Bach really cannot be seen, understood and interpreted from an isolated point. No, Bach has to be explored as a part of something complete, unique of a universe as an aspect of human realism.

And repertoire—therefore, I chose these—Mendelssohn, Schumann and Chopin, all these composers really had learned from Bach and had been inspired of his way to compose, and of structures. And these other composers, Mendelssohn and Schumann and Chopin on this album, are really in deepest connection to Bach and his philosophy.

And the way, because I played live for this edition, is it’s quite an obsession to me to communicate at this moment at this time with the audience. I don’t only play for them, it’s something I want to give back to them. And I feel each listener in the audience is listening to me—and how he’s listening to me, and I feel its warmness, for example, and I give it back to the complete audience. I feel really, the intensity of hearing, of listening. This is like electricity and this, I give back to the audience and this is very stimulating to me. Yes, inspiration —

CAO: Wow, that’s amazing.

SCHLIESSMANN: —in opposite to, let me say, to recording in studio, yes. And this album really represents an aspect of life.

CAO: Yeah, that’s really wonderful, and you have so much wisdom, I can definitely tell! And I had a question about Bach in general—so do you have, like, any favorite compositions of his or do you like all of his pieces?

SCHLIESSMANN: Comprehension of all the works of Bach, but especially the Chromatic Fantasie and Fugue. It’s a very visionary work all over from Bach’s compositions, because that looks far beyond its age in terms of its formal design, its structure and its character, and its inherent musical language. Even today, it continues to point the way forward, it’s very progressive.

CAO: Yes! Yeah, I see in a lot of social media, they always use classical music and lots of Bach behind it. So I’d definitely say, yes, it has a huge impact. And I wanted to ask more of your creative process.

So could you tell me what your creative process—and how much you practice every day? Like, what is that like?

SCHLIESSMANN: Yes. Let me say, when I go up in the morning, I’m already inspired. I’ve already—my inspiration—how the day will go on, and it’s really a planned time. And I start up warming up at the piano, concert grand, and let me say even when I have to study at major work in romantic or in a classical way, I start the day really with Bach. And let me say, with a Partita or Prelude and Fugue from the Well-Tempered Clavier and so on. And I start with Bach each day. And then I will play some Etudes from Chopin,

SCHLIESSMANN: and this will take, let me say, two hours. And after this, I started, I begin to study with my other works and compositions.

CAO: Mm. Wow, that’s amazing. Do you think it’s really important for a pianist to warm up before they play or just go into the pieces?

SCHLIESSMANN: Yes, yes, absolutely. Yeah. And each day I start anew, let me say, and I confess to this, because each day is a new challenge

CAO: Yeah, yeah.

SCHLIESSMANN: for the background of music and the essence to music itself, and therefore you have to warm up. Absolutely, no question.

Yeah, exactly, yeah. Also, I wanted to ask, was there ever a time that you wanted to quit and if so, what did you do to keep going?

SCHLIESSMANN: Yes! And do you mean, what, what I do besides music and more than music or also concentrated to music itself?

CAO: You can talk about both, yeah.

SCHLIESSMANN: Yes, okay! (Laughs) Mm, I have much inspiration and planning for new repertoire and new recordings, of course. I will do the 3 Sonatas from Chopin, for example, in the next future in the Teldex Studios in Berlin. And further, now in March 15, a new project will be released worldwide. It’s called Schumann Fantasies—it’s a 3-CD project also released on Dolby Atmos. And in this recording on 3 other CDs, we have—beginning is called Fantasies—all major fantasies from Schumann beginning with the Kreisleriana, the Fantasie in C Major, and the Fantasiestücke Op. 12, and then the Arabesque. And then on the other side, the Nachtstücke night pieces, the Fantasies Op. 111, and then the Gesänge der Frühe. So it’s a very, very big range from early works up to the end, the latest works. And I confess that I have studied these works all over my life, and it’s very interesting because on this project called Schumann Fantasies, I again present the Schumann Fantasy in C major, which I already recorded live in March last year. And this recording for Schumann Fantasies, I recorded in 6 days in the Teldex Studios in Berlin. And there, it’s a studio recording—and the interpretation of the Schumann Fantasie in C major, back to the live audience with Fazioli—it’s really the deepest opposite of all. Because here you really can learn how complex interpretation can be.

And this is the point I wanted to discuss with you and go into discussion, that when I play a work like this today and I play it tomorrow in a complete other situation on the other instrument in another hall, and another audience, and so on, it really is completely different.

CAO: Yeah, that’s totally right, and I totally agree how everything starts from a new surface —

SCHLIESSMANN: Absolutely.

CAO: — and a new background, and it’s so important to just start afresh. Otherwise you don’t have, like, it’s really easy to get bored if you just think in one straight aspect. So yeah.

SCHLIESSMANN: Yes.

CAO: And then, I also wanted to ask—this is more about, like, when you’re developing your piano skills and developing yourself as a pianist—so would you say that the things that you’ve learned from like education, or like conservatory, helped the most or what you say you figuring out by yourself, or experimentation by yourself, is more crucial?

SCHLIESSMANN: Yes. In fact, I really had excellent studies with my teachers and my professors at University. But you have to find, lastly, in the end, your own personal way. And this is a way you have to build up to yourself and with yourself. And this is a way of the really light, latest art. And because if you want to be a very personal pianist, then you have to develop your own style. You don’t, or better said, you mustn’t copy any other pianists and teachers and professors and so on. And this is really your own style.

You have to develop. I really know many, many interpretations from other pianists and I confess that I, in earliest years, had been inspired from Horowitz, for example, or from Arrau and from Michelangeli and so on.

But today, I’m not influenced by them, because I’m playing as Burkard Schliessmann and this is a way I want to present to my audience.

CAO: Yeah, that’s so amazing! So everyone who wants to be a pianist, always remember that. And also I wanted to ask, What does it mean for a work to be a piece of art?—because I know right now in society where for music, there’s so much about just like, remixing and sampling. And it’s very, very different from classical music and what we used to experiment with before. So what would you define, like a piece of art, or for something to be that?

SCHLIESSMANN: Yes, already when I’m looking to the score of a piece of music I really have a deep relation to this piece and I already have an inspiration and an idea how to interpret it. And then, it has a big range of developments when I really play it on the concert grand. And then because I’m in deepest coherence to score, I have so many ideas— I can played in this way and the other way, and it depends on really, the situation I’ve been and I will be. And it’s really something which is in communication live with the audience—and this is also by the inspiration of it and I give it back to the audience.

CAO: That’s wonderful! And also I’m talking more about your albums—switching back— So are there any other plans for the next album? I know you mentioned some debuts before, but do you have any more volumes coming up or anything rolling?

SCHLIESSMANN: Yes, already as told, I will make a recording with the 3 Chopin Sonatas and also the Bach Art of Fugue, but this I will play on the organ, not on the piano concert grand.

The Art of Fugue, you keep in mind that this composition of Bach, only we have on a score and Bach only leave us this composition in a score. Therefore, it’s not necessary to discuss to play it there, or there, on this instrument, or on this instrument. It was a score for the Mizler society in Leipzig where, Bach had been a member.

And, therefore, I think when you look at score, I think the instrument, the organ, is, very perfect to make the inspiration and interpretation of this work The Art of Fugue on an album.

CAO: Well, that’s amazing. So always check out his new album and make sure to go to the performances if you can.

SCHLIESSMANN: Yes!

CAO: I just wanted to end with one more question. So is there anything else that you want to add or do you have any advice for any future musicians who are aspiring to be like you?

SCHLIESSMANN: Yes, because I’m really an excellent professor and my students are winners of major prizes really—Chopin in Warsaw, and so on. And this is also my reflection of my personal art and comprehension of music, because, also my students don’t make—or don’t copy myself; it’s a special way of my pedagogy art to present them to them something personal so they are a person and in a personal style for themselves, and not a copy of something else. And this is the way I want to give back to young people, to find their own way, and not be, let me say, a copy of other persons or artists. It’s not the way.

CAO: Yes, yes, that’s exactly and everyone should be unique and develop your own way. Otherwise, you know, it’ll be like robots.

SCHLIESSMANN: Yeah, absolutely!

CAO: Yeah. Thank you so much for everything you’ve said. It was so insightful and I learned so much. It was really a pleasure talking to you today. Thank you.

SCHLIESSMANN: Thank you very much, too! It was really a pleasure for me, thank you.