interview by Fabrizio Ulivieri
This time EUROPEAN INSTITUTE MUSIC interviews Eduards Grieznis an internationally acclaimed Latvian artist who lives and works in England, fascinated by the idea of coming to Florence, living in this city of dreams and holding concerts in Florentine and Italian theatres.
1. How important is Beauty in your performances and compositions?
I often think and say to myself that I have to be true and spiritually honest towards Beauty... When I perform or compose, I stay completely faithful to its extraordinary power and try to give my most fullest attention to it, full emotional spectrum and most sincerest thoughts, expressed through language of music. In words of Fr. Chopin: 'Bach is an astronomer, discovering the most marvellous stars. Beethoven challenges the universe. I only try to express the soul and the heart of man. ''
2. Do you believe that Beauty is therapeutic?
Not only believe in it… That’s exactly what I teach to my students and many have come to me saying how very therapeutic it has been for them to learn music, for some, how life-changing has the influence been! Isn’t that remarkable??
In my opinion, its therapeutic secret is that during the actual practice (not only the final performance stage), our ears and mind united in one magical music making / improving, creates the most finest, most calming, relaxing and indeed therapeutic circumstances there could be!
3. What does it mean to be a composer in the XXI century?
I think that is a very wise question.. Having studied music and composition for quite a bit, still hasn’t helped myself to answer to this question. The problem or obstacle is, in my opinion, that there is an unwritten law going around saying that XXI century music is supposed to be something we have never ever heard before or that it has to include elements never used before such as sounds of dishes, cutlery, human voice to a very extreme level (screams, shouts), plastic bags, in another words – the element of pitch has lost its meaning in nowadays.
Now, when the word of freedom has reached its highest peak, it has become harder, in my opinion, to say what exact rules should be followed when composing XXI century music. It seems to me that ‘the stranger, the better!’ motto is taking greatest impact on this, yet I am not entirely sure this is a motto for such delicate form of art as music…
I personally trust that those great values of earlier centuries, starting from the great Bach generation and finishing with Liszt, their ideology, their detailed and practically proven methods of composing are the most honourable one’s, and I will dare to say – the only one’s when it comes to composing new music, be it whichever century. This has been my motto when composing. Through the period of creating music, I try to ‘let myself go’ to another universe, improvise, allow myself to be transformed, but, I will also keep in mind the great structure and melody formulas so well created by previously mentioned and more composers in past. I do, however, appreciate many our day composers music such as E. Rautavaara, a composer from my own country P. Vasks, minimalist music and spiritual greatness of Messiaen's music.
4. You are described as an innovative musician and composer. How important is innovation in your job?
This question can be partly answered by my previous comments on ‘What does it mean to be a composer in the XXI century?’ subject. In brief, I do believe that one needs to be innovative, when composing, however, the level of inventiveness has to be balanced out or shall we say, ‘rounded up’ by the rules of composing from earlier centuries.
My strong belief is that everyone’s composition will be innovative in its way, because there is no other similar work out there, even if the change is a very slight one. Because I strongly trust that everyone’s musical creation comes from the depth of his or her soul, it can never be repeated, for we all have our own souls, our own life backgrounds, emotional scales and the list goes on and on... Lets take the great ‘revolutionary’ L. Van Beethoven as an example. He is known for having very innovative and different approaches to composing. But at the same time he is still following the rules of structure, balance, colours, effects, the only thing that is very ‘innovative’ indeed, is his own soul, having gone through a very tough childhood and even adulthood, which has mirrored back in his work.
5. I remember that a famous cyclist in an interview said that he was thinking of philosophy while performing…what do you think during your performances?
Most certainly the interviewer in question must have meant Bach. He was and still is one of the greatest musical philosophers there are! Look at those remarkable fugues, ensemble works and orchestrations of his! They all generate great amount of highest level of philosophy! This is exactly what I am thinking, when performing his work in particular…
When playing someone else’s music, thoughts vary. I remember performing Shostakovich’s prelude and fugue in d minor, the last one. I also remember reading literature about it. And the fusion of actual music, which is somewhat dark yet gloriously noble, and literature details from history had created a clear story-line in my head, when I perform the piece. In the opening I think of all the terrible pain of war, lost families, their closest one’s, the human tragedy, which also resembles at the beginning of fugue, which is kind of quiet and inner, but in my opinion its this great level of sorrow. I also think of noble colours when octaves would come in both in Prelude and Fugue, which are quite many, and in my opinion particularly meant by Shostakovich himself to make the illusion of noble and grand gestures. These, I think, identify the belief that not all is lost and that we should learn from these mistakes in order to avoid such tragedy in future.
On the other hand, when I performed Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition, I could not stop thinking of the actual visit to a museum, and tried to animate the frozen pictures, whilst having a clear sense of the full meaning behind the pictures, which, as we know, not all is so jolly and sparkling.. The piece, after all, was dedicated to a dead friend of Mussorgsky.
6. You are defined as a challenging artist and teacher. Is there any limit in your challenge?
Throughout years of full time studies both in the UK and back home in Latvia, where the study routine is quite rigid, I have been challenged by others and challenged myself very often. Quite frankly, the environment of many such arts institutions all around world are only active because of the drive of competition between students and their challenges.
Now, when I have happily finished my Masters studies, I can look back and regret nothing. I was particularly pleased to have won the Recital Prize in 2011 back in years of studies at Manchester... By achieving first prize I had achieved personal challenge – to participate and luckily win a high calibre competition with high level of adjudicators at the panel.
However, I have noticed some ‘scars’ because of this great drive of competition within... I think that’s my present limit – instead of competing I am trying to enjoy myself and the art of music to the fullest, and very thankful to the universe for the ability to share this beauty with others by offering lessons and seeing them progress.
7. Is talent all you need to be a good performer?
You know the saying out there: ‘Its ONLY 1% of talent, and 99% hard work’ that makes one great. I strongly believe in that.
I also strongly trust in the power of music genetics taken after parents... Sometimes it is so easy to teach pupils from musical backgrounds, as they simply naturally and even not knowingly appreciate everything said in no time.
However there are situations when pupils with no musical background whatsoever achieve higher than others... And I think that’s because of the 99% work they put in!
8. What is the best quality for being a good music teacher?
You see, during my teaching I still learn much myself. Your pupils, no matter which level, can be of great influence to teachers themselves. Many of them remind me how great is music, many remind how much more patient I should be when tutoring the very beginners, although for me it might have seemed patient teaching.
If I need to break it down to a few points as to what exactly is the best quality for being a good music teacher, it has become obvious to me that not only my pupils will inspire me back, they will also make me be on top ‘of the game’ by holding constant practice of my own, by keeping on top of news on music around the world, by learning their repertoire in order to be able to give the best advice, and most of all – the result of satisfied and well achievers makes a teacher feel so worthy and happy, that it can not be described in words. The youngest ones can be the most inspiring ones. I remember this cute little one... She was only 4, and was starting her very first lessons in piano. Now one needs to understand that at this age it is crucial to give a good lesson, or else that can be their first and last lesson ever. So even having had much experience in teaching such young one's, I think teacher will still feel a bit nervous every now and again. Long story short, the lesson ended so unexpectedly for both of us, that I could not believe it! Her focus was spectacular, her intelligence for her age – even more incredible, and most of all – we both enjoyed ourselves fully and truly! And here comes the best part… After having parted with her, I remember her coming back in a matter of minutes, and saying: ‘I’m here for more!!’ Now isn’t that cute??? This is exactly what makes it so much fun and fulfilling!
On top of that, meeting ever new people of any age is also so great!
9. Reading the testimonials on your website (http://eduardsgrieznis.com/) you appear as a versatile personality, is this good for a musician or should a musician be more rigorous?
I think it really depends on person. If a musician likes and most importantly – feels mostly comfortable in one particular musical style or setting, they should definitely choose only their area of comfort. I, personally, do indeed like to 'taste' different styles and settings of musical world. After all, the more versatile a musician and personality, the more versatile – thus, more dedicated - will be a music teacher!
10. As a musician you have worldwide experience, do you think that being born in Latvia offered you more chances than if you had been born in Italy?
I have heard that Italy is quite proud and well-known for their own great school of virtuoso pianists and artists. Also, I am aware that Latvian music system, so much based on the legendary Russian school, is also very valuable and offered me many concert opportunities throughout my time at home.
Having been in the UK for more than five years now, has made me realize that even UK has a lot to offer.
So I guess my answer to this is that it is hard to say, what would have been 'if'... I am very pleased where I have come now, for the path I have had back home in Latvia and the UK, and also had had the chance to taste the great life of Italian culture by participating in a 'Giuseppe Terracciano 4th International Contest' back in 2007. I must say since that first visit to Italy I've been 'drugged' by the glorious beauty and culture of your country, and wish to come back soon!
11. Have you ever been to Florence?
I have indeed, quite a few years ago actually. It was a memorable journey, for sure... In fact, I basically fell in love with the city and its all shape of arts!
12. Would you like to come to Florence to perform? Have you ever considered the option of living in Florence and why?
I would be mostly delighted and extremely excited to come and make music at this fabulous place! And yes, I have indeed considered staying in Florence for life. After visiting it a few years ago, I remember this feeling of it being my second home, even if I wasn’t there for more than a day... Also there was something in the air that one cannot explain... Or was it the great taste of wine...?
In order to conclude, I would just like to mention this remarkable quote of J. S. Bach: ‘It’s easy to play any musical instrument: all you have to do is touch the right key at the right time and the instrument will play itself.’