An interview with Víkingur Ólafsson
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?