Jan Lisiecki, Piano’s Doogie Howser, Comes of Age With Chopin

NYT Music

What kind of piano did you use?

I didn’t get to select my piano, but I was lucky enough to be able to choose Daniel Brech, who lives in western Germany, as my piano technician. I have worked with him several times, and he and I have the same vision for how a piano should sound. We bonded when we first met in 2013, when I replaced Martha Argerich in an Orchestra Mozart concert with the late Claudio Abbado. For a solo piano recording, it’s very important what instrument you’re playing on — if it is not correct, there is very little you can do. He brought his own piano, a Steinway D, and I trusted him.

Why do you play the nocturnes faster in concert than on your new recording?

To keep an audience invested in a performance, that sort of slow tempo would be nearly impossible in a concert hall, where there are external factors, like hums or slight noises. Any small disturbance will break the spell, but in the studio I could keep that spell for much longer.

Chopin’s early nocturne, Op. 9, No. 2, is one the best known pieces of classical music, regularly used in film soundtracks. How did you approach it?

I pay careful attention to the left hand. The right hand — the melodic line — is what draws most of us to Chopin. But what makes that melody work or shine is the waltz-like left hand, which often suffers. If you forget about the structure, then you lose the logic of the piece, and then you lose the beauty.

Why do you like to close your eyes when you’re playing in concert?

After so many hours spent on the piano, I pretty much know where all the keys are. When you shut down one of your senses, you heighten the others. Generally there are no smells onstage, so I heighten my hearing and completely immerse myself in the music. In a concerto with an orchestra, I have to communicate visually, not only with the conductor, but also individually with the musicians. I know when I have to look, and I am very respectful — except for a few rare cases where I have not enjoyed working with a conductor and I played with my eyes closed the whole time.

Some of your fellow young pianists have used their fame to speak out on political issues. You seem to avoid that.


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