QUEEN OF THE PROMS
INGRID FLITER is preparing for the latest landmark in a starry musical career — her Proms debut at London’s Royal Albert Hall on July 28. The 40-yearold, Argentinian pianist is a passionate, elegant, live-wire performer, whose playing dazzles and digs deep. Born into a Jewish family in Buenos Aires, she shares her cultural background with some of today’s greatest pianists, notably Martha Argerich and Daniel Barenboim. It was Argerich who advised Fliter to move to Europe for her studies — she trained in Germany and later at the famous piano academy at Imola in Italy. The Argentine-Jewish mix, Fliter points out, is part of a larger melting pot that makes Buenos Aires the most quasi-European city of South America. “Argentina in general is a country built by immigrants — Spanish, Italian, Jewish, German and more — people who arrived at different times in history and fed into this vibrant culture.”
Fliter’s grandparents left Eastern Europe in the late 1920s and early ’30s, escaping the rise of Nazism. Her maternal grandmother came from Vilnius in Lithuania and travelled to Buenos Aires with no idea of what the future might hold. “It was a leap of faith,” says Fliter. “Why Argentina, I don’t know. I think it was a fashion at the time, and people would have talked about it as if it were something very exotic, like the jungle. But the reality was that there was a threat to their lives, they had to make a decision — and we know the results.”
A bubbly, open-hearted and intuitive personality, she describes herself as spiritual rather than religious. “I’m always searching for answers to my spiritual questions, even if it might take all my life to find them. I feel I belong very much to Jewish culture and I love to light the Friday-night candles. It brings me back to the essence of who I am.”
Herparentswerebroughttogetherby a mutual love of Chopin — the composer closest to her own heart. His music often expressesalongingforhisnativePoland, from which he was exiled for most of his life. She has recently recorded both of his piano concertos for Linn Records. “My grandmother used to speak to me so beautifully about Poland and Lithuania, despite all the troubles she’d had. She would talk about what gentlemen the Polish men were, how they would kissthehandsof thewomen.AndwhenI startedtoplaythepianoanddevelopmy relationship with the music of Chopin, she would say proudly that it was due to my Polish blood, even though I don’t really have any!”
That made it all the more satisfying when she took part in the Chopin International Piano Competition in Warsaw in 2000. “It was so special to be performing in the final, in that famous hall where the Chopin tradition is so strong, that I forgot I was competing and just enjoyed playing and communicating with the music. Maybe that was why I did well.”
Fliter went home with the contest’s silver medal, but there was more to come. Six years later, she was aston- ished to learn she was to receive the Gilmore Award. Every four years, the US-based Gilmore Foundation chooses the prize’s pianist in absolute secrecy. It brings plenty of prestige, but also $300,000. International management and a recording contract often arrive hot on the cheque’s heels.
“It was truly life-changing,” Fliter reflects. “Above all, it gave me the freedomtobemoreselectiveaboutmywork. Before that, I felt I had to accept every opportunity I was offered. If I turned something down it might not come back. But the Gilmore gave me space, support and trust, which was exactly what I needed. Today, I aim not to play too much, but always to play my best.”
She now lives near Lake Como in Italy with her husband, the clarinettist Anton Dressler. They married recently, after being together for 18 years. “We never really planned it. We were fine as we were, but we’re happy to have taken this step. It’s wonderful to find a good person to walk with through life.”
Appearing at the Proms is a special opportunity for any soloist and Fliter is thrilled to be there. “I’ve always seen the Proms as something in which I would love to participate. It is a real feast of music.”
In her concert with the BBC Symphony Orchestra under the conductor Josep Pons, she plays one of Mozart’s best-loved piano concertos, No 23 in A major, which has an exceptionally beautiful minor-key slow movement.
“You’re transposed to a different dimension when you play this music,” she says. “It touches my heart so naturally and I think it does so for the public as well. Mozart doesn’t need too much translation or explanation. He’s just deeply human.”
Still, at the time of our interview, she had not been inside the Royal Albert Hall. “It’s massive, isn’t it?” she remarks, with mingled excitement and trepidation. It is indeed. She is in for a treat. And so are we. The Proms run from July 18 to September 13. Box office: 0845 401 5040