Pianist de la Salle makes Aspen debut
July 30, 2009
ASPEN – In keeping with what seems to be a modest nature, Lise de la Salle doesn’t want to stir up controversy, and the thought of naming names makes her physically shudder. But she has heard it time and again – young pianists who seem more determined to stamp their music with their own personal flair, rather than getting deep into what the composer was trying to convey. Rather than make a judgment about it, de la Salle keeps it at this: “It makes me sad.”
De la Salle is young – 21 years, with almost all of those devoted to the piano. But she doesn’t bring youthful impetuousness to the music or the instrument. In her approach to the compositions, de la Salle demonstrates patience and a desire to look as deeply as possible into the score and the composer’s notes.
“There is a real research, to try to really understand what the composer says,” said de la Salle, who makes her Aspen debut Friday, performing with conductor James Conlon and the Aspen Chamber Symphony. “I invest myself to be involved with the music. Mozart and Haydn and Bach, you don’t have so much information. So you have a lot of freedom. But that freedom can be dangerous. You have to use it in a good way. For me, it’s a little frightening, because we don’t have recordings from the composers. We have to read the music carefully.”
On the other hand, de la Salle doesn’t believe that every interpretation of a piece of music should mimic what has come before. There is room for uniqueness in a performance. As she says, “Almost every great piece for the piano has been recorded by all the great players. For example, if I play Beethoven Three or Chopin Two, I don’t want to copy them. A copy is not so good as the original.”
So what is there that a musician can contribute that fully honors the composer’s intentions, but leaves room for a singular take on the piece? For de la Salle, there are two elements: a focus on emotion, and an interplay with the audience. Both involve letting technique take a backseat to the moment and the setting in which the music is being made.
“With a lot of musicians, I have a feeling what’s most important is technique, to not play a wrong note in a concert,” she said. “That’s not the most important thing for me. It’s art, not science, and you can’t have it fixed very precise. I try to give people emotions and feelings, to try to touch them.”
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De la Salle’s emphasis on what the composer put down on paper has not made her oblivious to the fact that often, what attracts listeners is the person playing the music. She sees concerts as a three-way interplay between the composer, herself and the crowd.
“People are here, and here for me,” she said. “When I see a full house for a recital, I feel I have to bring to 500, a thousand people, the feelings, emotions they are looking for. We are all together on a musical trip. I don’t want it to be me on stage and the audience on the other side. I want it to be communal with the music and the audience.”
In tonight’s concert, de la Salle is featured on Prokofiev’s Piano Concerto No. 1 in D-flat major, a lesser-known work that has been in her repertoire for five years, and that she recorded three years ago. What she wants to share with the audience is the piece’s rhythm and intensity.
“It’s a short piece,” de la Salle said. “It’s intense from the beginning to the last note. Prokofiev was very young when he composed it, so you can feel it like a piece from a young composer. It requires a lot of energy. And there is rhythm. You have to be very focused on the rhythmic aspect. And what interests me is, you can find every aspect of late Prokofiev, every bit of his music, in it.”
De la Salle was born in the north of France, but moved soon after to Paris, where she has continued to make her home. But geography seems to play a bit part in her upbringing, as her life centered around the piano. The musical history in her family goes back six generations – her grandmother’s grandmother was an acquaintance of Tchaikovsky – and the inclination toward music did not skip over de la Salle. She was absorbed in the CDs the family would play, in the singing of her mother, who was a soprano in a prominent Paris choir.
“I always heard music, and it was quite natural for me to have fun at the piano at the age of 4,” said de la Salle, who took lessons from her stepfather from the time she was 10 till she was 18. “From the very beginning, I knew music was my life. You know when you’re asked as a little child, people say, ‘What do you want to be?’ And I said I want to be a pianist. Always. I never imagined doing something different. It was always so clear for me.”
But de la Salle, who made her debut at 9, with Radio France, has found it important to allow more than just piano into her life. Her grandfather owned a major gallery for decades, and she acquired a deep interest in visual arts, from the French Impressionists to Kandinsky and Mondrian. She is well-versed in rock ‘n’ roll and jazz – or at least, the old-school versions of both, with a taste for the Rolling Stones and Beatles, Count Basie and Louis Armstrong. She has a boyfriend, a filmmaker.
Soon, a new door will open for de la Salle. A soloist her entire career, she has never played chamber music. That is about to change; at two festivals she will appear at next summer, in Germany and Switzerland, artists are required to play recitals, orchestral music and in chamber settings.
Also just ahead is a recording of an all-Chopin program to be made in September with the German orchestra, Staatskapelle Dresden and its director, Fabio Luisi. It is to be a live recording, which to de la Salle, has a very certain meaning.
“But real live,” she said, explaining that many CDs promoted as live recordings feature some studio work where the original performance did not live up to standards. “Meaning we’re recording the concert and nothing else.”