By Lin Kan Hsuang * Source: Global Times * [11:00 December 29 2010]
A very special musical duo visited Beijing to deliver a fascinating concert this December, the violinist Hugo Ticciati from Sweden and the pianist Michael Tsalka from Israel. Ticciati described the violin as "an extra limb," while Tsalka specializes in many keyboard instruments, including harpsichords, fortepianos, clavichords and experimental fortepianos. In light of their smashing success this month, they plan to play a recital in Beijing once again next November. I caught up with them recently to discuss music, meditation and the joys of collaboration.
What persuaded you to learn so many keyboard instruments?
I've always been fascinated by the varied music and performance practices of the Baroque and Classical periods. One aspect which fascinated me the most was the incredible variety of keyboard instruments that existed at the time: harpsichords, organs, clavichords and, during the 18th century, all types of experimental fortepianos. Most keyboardists back then could interpret in all these instruments with ease. They could also compose and improvise pieces on the spur of the moment. They did not have the concept of specialization that modern classical musicians have inherited from the conservatory system invented in the 19th century. I decided that it was possible as an interpreter of the modern piano to regain some of these skills through the study of primary sources from the Baroque and Classical periods.
What's the best part about performing with Hugo Ticciati?
Hugo is a unique violinist and a superb musician. His technique is flawless and every note he plays comes from the heart and goes to the heart. It is always a pleasure playing with him and I hope to collaborate with him for many years to come. I really enjoy that we can improvise such flourishes as trills and turns and add cadenzas on the spur of the moment when we play Bach, Mozart and Schubert. This is a skill that many modern interpreters do not possess. I think we are both quite creative while playing and both enjoy this creativity immensely.
How much do you research the background of a song before learning to play it? Will it influence your own interpretation?
Whenever it is possible, I read specialized books and articles to better understand the historical genesis and stylistic elements relating to a musical composition. This is a marvelous way of having an intellectually honest approach to the music. I must say, however, that no amount of reading will substitute the many hours of interpretative and technical study of the score. The final sound, character, articulation and ornamentation of a composition are the result of both of these processes.
Who is your favorite musician?
I admire J. S. Bach and W. A. Mozart above all others. There are at least another 20 composers who I am always delighted to perform. However, Bach and Mozart are my absolute favorite musicians. Their music remains multifaceted, fresh and surprising after more than two centuries.
How long do you practice playing the piano per day on average?
I practice the piano and early keyboards about six hours a day.
What's your next plan?
In 2011 I will be the artistic director at the Forbidden City Concert Hall (FCCH) for a series of five concerts entitled "J. S. Bach Across the Continents." Talented pianists, singers, cellists and mandolinists from Europe, the US, Israel and Latin America will participate in it and present varied solo and chamber programs. In May 2012 I will return to Beijing with Prof. Dmitry Eremin, a fantastic cellist from St. Petersburg. I have worked carefully with the FCCH to create a series presenting both known and unknown works by J. S. Bach, and I am certain the audiences will enjoy it immensely.
When and why did you decide to cooperate with Michael Tsalka? How many times have you performed together?
I started working with Michael recently, playing in Sweden, Mexico and now in Asia. As soon as we began playing together there was a spark between us both musically and intellectually. It is a wonderfully enriching experience to play with such a multifaceted keyboard player who, with his vast knowledge and expertise in early keyboards, brings to composers such as Mozart and Schubert many new and inspiring ideas. We have a series of concerts planned for the next two years in Paris, Stockholm, England, Mexico and Taiwan and we are very much looking forward to our next concerts in Beijing in November 2011.
I've heard you meditate on a regular basis. Can you discuss your interest in meditation?
For me, everything we do, be it practicing, teaching, performing, eating or sleeping, is interrelated, and it is through all these activities that we have the chance to discover more about ourselves, those around us and ultimately what we are all doing here. One of the most important lessons I have learnt through meditating is the importance of living in the present. As a musician this lesson challenges me not to practice in order to achieve certain goals, but to practice in order just to practice; it also helps me to perform not in order to get anything in return, but simply to perform, totally immersed in the music in the moment. I have a long way to go yet. On the physical side of things, which is intimately related to the spiritual, the importance of relaxation and breathing cannot be overstated for violinists, or any practicing musician for that matter. They are the two foundational pillars on which all playing is built. Together with the inner peace which flows from meditation; they help me discover more about myself and I hope to share this through my playing.
What inspired you to combine music with other forms of art?
I have always admired the beauty of the moving body and love working with dancers, everyone endeavoring to express themselves and complement one another in movement and form. Being an avid reader, I always enjoy finding relationships between literature and music and combining them in new and unusual ways.
Which song(s) do you think best represent yourself?
All sorts of music reflect different facets in my character: the stillness and purity of Bach; late Beethoven and Arvo Pärt reflect an ideal to which I aspire; the intense emotional language of Brahms embodies my passionate side; while the eclectic, powerful and multifaceted nature of modern music from Bartók to new composers feeds my slightly "wacky" character.
Copyright © Michael Tsalka 2013