[Music! Sounds of Santa Barbara] Interview with Ingrid Fliter
By Brett Leigh Dicks, Music! Santa Barbara
Born in Buenos Aires, Ingrid Fliter began her piano studies in Argentina with Elizabeth Westerkamp. The burgeoning pianist made her first public appearance at age 11 and her concerto debut at the Teatro Colon at 16. In 1992 she moved to Europe where she continued her studies at the Freiburg Musikhochschule with Vitaly Margulis, before heading to Rome to work with Carlo Bruno and Franco Scala and Boris Petrushansky at the Academy "Incontri col Maestro" in Imola. The turning point in her career came in 2006 when she was awarded the Gilmore Artist Award. The prestigious award is presented to exceptional pianists who, regardless of age or nationality, possess a profound musicianship and charisma and sustain a career as a major international concert artist. Fliter has certainly done that. She has established a reputation as one of the pre-eminent interpreters of Chopin, with her two all-Chopin recordings released through EMI Classics being a stirring testament to that. This month she furthers that claim still when she joins Nir Kabaretti and the Santa Barbara Symphony on October 18th and 19th for two performances of Chopin Piano Concerto No. 2 at the Granada Theatre.
I was perusing your coming schedule and you have quite a whirlwind itinerary lined up for the coming months. Is it difficult fleeting from one city to the next, from one orchestra to another, and from composer to composer?
That was exactly the same question I was just asking myself. I just received my schedule from January on and I was asking myself how I felt about that because I'm really going all over the place. I am changing cities, pianos, conductors, repertoires, and all the consequences that brings is not easy. I have to say you have to have a very strong will and passion towards what you do in order to keep a rhythm. I think there is a moment for everything in life and this moment for me is to somehow take advantage of these wonderful opportunities.
How does that play out on stage?
The moment you go on stage and you play for the people you have to be in top condition. You have to give the best of yourself for the sake of the music. That's your role and mission. You become a translator and medium through whom the music goes to the people. So you have to be in good condition for that and sometimes it's difficult, but your education and preparation and experience allows you to overcome the difficulties.
You schedule is very diverse. What draws you to particular performances? What was it about this opportunity with the Santa Barbara Symphony that resonated with you?
I have played in Santa Barbara and I love the place and I love working with the people and atmosphere. It is a wonderful place to work in ideal situations and I was invited by the Santa Barbara Symphony to play a concerto I love the most, which is the Chopin Piano Concerto No. 2, so for me that's pure joy. I am really looking forward to this because it will all be a good balance between working and enjoying.
Your most recent recorded releases have focused on Chopin, who of course also features in the Santa Barbara performance. What is it about Chopin's works that keeps you coming back to it?
I recorded two Chopin Concerts with the Scottish Chamber Orchestra. That was a fantastic challenge for me because the quintessence of the piano is in these works. In Chopin there is nowhere to hide, you are completely naked in front of everyone. He is one of the most difficult composers to play because it demands absolutely everything of you--a good sense of touch, lyricism, balance between romanticism and classicism. It is very difficult technically as well. But most importantly he is a composer that touches your heart and that is what I feel when I play Chopin. The people recognize the music as if it was theirs--it is music that speaks to them directly. I love that.
Your coming schedule features works from a number of different composers. Contemporary musicians go out on the road and play the same songs night after night, but your tour goes from one complicated piece to another. How challenging is it to keep jumping from one piece to another?
It's like being an actor who's interrupting character in the moment. When you go on stage you become the piece itself. I'm not Ingrid Fliter anymore, I am the story that's being told in the piece. In order for me to make a performance believable to the public I have to be hand in hand with the composer and it is challenging, but it is all a question of will. Just like the composer had this need and will to write the music down, I also have to get into that mental state. The beauty of this job is that it allows you to be so many different characters. There is a freshness to that. Even if you do play the same piece of music every night like you mentioned I think because you know the piece so well there is a freedom there to explore. So there is a freshness there too.
What initially drew you to the piano?
There was a piano at home. My father used to play some Chopin by ear so I got related to this instrument in a natural easy way, like a joke or a game. My mother asked if I wanted to have some lessons and know a bit more about the piano and I agreed because I thought it would be fun. It started this way and little by little I discovered I enjoyed practicing. This is very weird because at 10 or 12 you just want to play with your friends and have fun, but I was happy at home practicing. Nobody pushed me so in a way it became a very natural choice.
You moved from Argentina to Europe in your late teens. What was that transition like?
It was fundamental I must say because I always knew that I must go somewhere else to develop as a musician and as a person. When you are alone in the world you have to overcome so many things by yourself and that reinforces your beliefs and needs and thoughts. Leaving was not easy, but that is exactly what I found. Until I was 17, my parents took care of everything and then one day I was alone in the middle of Germany and not even speaking the language. It was not easy, but it helped me discover my strengths and this is very important for a concert artist. You have to be strong.
But it must have also been an incredible experience to finally be in Europe where the music you played all your life was inspired and created...
The main reason I immigrated to Europe was I felt I had to go to the genres of where all this began. The atmosphere I felt there was so very inspiring. You don't only learn from your teachers, but you also learn from the people you relate to. I found friends who were very cultured and passionate about Lieder for example and I discovered the beauty and importance of the German Lieder, like Schumann and Schubert for the piano. The ambiance in which you move and the influences which you get in such an atmosphere like Germany, or more lately in Italy where I live now, really enhances your possibilities and push you to discover more and more.
What was it like to finally then come and perform in the United States?
I am always amazed at the level of the orchestra. For example when you go to the first rehearsal in the United States they are absolutely ready. It feels like they have already played the music a hundred times and they're so professional that they already know what to do. What impresses me the most about the United States is the level of preparation all the orchestras have.