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Maurizio Pollini at 70

Maurizio Pollini's 70th birthday is today.

Every generation has a figurehead who is a reference. For me, for us, this is Pollini. An artist who represents modernism and progress in his artistic field. In their times, this might have been Hans von Bülow or Gustav Mahler (the conductor not the composer), the Busch Quartet, Arturo Toscanini...

I first heard Pollini in concert as early as 1976 when he played Schubert's last three Sonatas. I was 15 at the time and discovered the piano repertory via Pollini's regular visits in Paris.

In all these concerts, Pollini's displayed the same common characteristics:

- Every note which is heard has a meaning and is part of a greater whole that Pollini makes you aware of,
- When you hear him play Bach or Mozart, you can hear where Beethoven will go, late Beethoven leads to Schumann, Chopin leads to Debussy or Boulez, ..., No one else has ever made us aware of the influences composers have had from one to the others,
- No sentimentality and posturing yet his playing and his phrasing are pronfondly poetic and expressive.

I have unique memories of revelations in concert. He once played Webern Opus 27 Variations in between Stockhausen Klavierstücke and the Brahms Opus 116 Pieces. The uniqueness of Webern's sparse colors was a striking contrast to the orchestral piano writing of both Brahms and Stockhausen. Suddenly Webern's modernism was made so obvious.

On another occasion, I heard him play Beethoven's Hammerklavier Sonata. This was the first time I had ever heard this complex work. Yet, it felt so logical and so coherent that I bought the score the following day believing it to be fully playable. There is no need to mention I quickly realized how wrong I was and how much work and art there had been to make this titanic work sound so approachable.

One should be grateful for his recorded legacy although his artistry can really be appreciated in concerts. On many occasions, he appears tense in the beginning of his concerts, probably going on stage is still not natural. But once he starts relaxing, tempi usually settle down and miracles can take place.

70 is a young age and we can expect to hear him again on many occasions. For younger generations, do hear what many of us believe to be the most important pianist of our time. For mine, no encouragement is needed.

Antoine Leboyer



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