An in­ter­view with Víkingur Ólaf­s­son

BBC Music Magazine - - Recording Of The Month Reviews -

How do you make Bach sound so fresh?

I think Bach is al­ways the fu­ture. He has this in­cred­i­ble abil­ity to adapt to dif­fer­ent gen­er­a­tions; he be­comes a mir­ror for them, and for ev­ery in­di­vid­ual as well. When you open a Bach score the struc­tures are so mirac­u­lously de­tailed and, on the other hand, so min­i­mal – you don’t get any in­struc­tions how to make sense of it from a per­for­mance per­spec­tive. You have to find your own way with Bach for it to be suc­cess­ful. If we don’t make Bach sound fresh we are do­ing some­thing wrong.

Some of the tran­scrip­tions are rev­e­la­tory…

The Or­gan Sonata is in­ter­est­ing. I must ad­mit that I did not know it, and I thought it was in­cred­i­ble. I was about to make my own tran­scrip­tion when I found Stradal’s and I had to in­clude it, but how to ap­proach it? Did I want it to sound like an or­gan on the pi­ano? Or did I want it to be its own piece? It takes on new qual­i­ties on the pi­ano, but I try to cap­ture some of the acous­ti­cal el­e­ments of a cathe­dral through tex­ture and half or quar­ter pedal. What would Bach make of a mod­ern pi­ano?

I think he would be de­lighted with the pos­si­bil­i­ties. Of course, it’s a guess­ing game, but he was im­mensely in­ter­ested in de­vel­op­ments of in­stru­ments. He was al­ways look­ing to ex­pand pos­si­bil­i­ties in any­thing he did – in mu­si­cal struc­tures, or the way he wrote for dif­fer­ent in­stru­ments. I have a feel­ing if he had en­coun­tered the mod­ern grand pi­ano in all its mag­nif­i­cent beauty, he would be very en­thu­si­as­tic. He might write dif­fer­ently; who knows?

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