Mischa Maisky, Tabea Zimmerman, Berliner Philharmoniker, Zubin Mehta
Total Playing Time 1:20:11
Dvorák's Cello Concerto
A conversation between Zubin Mehta and Mischa Maisky
Zubin Mehta and Mischa Maisky are sitting in the conductor's room at the Philharmonie in Berlin. Surrounding them are wood veneer, green carpeting, a blue corner sofa, and an occasional table made of glass. Not much has changed since September 1968, when Herbert von Karajan and Mstislav Rostropovich discussed their interpretation of Dvorák's Cello Concerto, which they were planning to record for Deutsche Grammophon in the Jesus-Christus-Kirche in Dahlem. Also involved were the Berliner Philharmoniker, who had moved into their new home in Hans Scharoun's yellow building only five years earlier. At that date the spectacular new Philharmonie lay on the eastern edge of the city's western sector, virtually the last cultural bastion before the no-go area between the sectors. Now that the Wall has fallen it is at the heart of a united Berlin. During the Cold War this joint concert by the artistic director of the Berliner Philharmoniker and the cellist from Baku - a friend of Prokofiev, Shostakovich, and the Soviet dissident Alexander Solzhenitsyn - was a historic occasion with political overtones, one of those symbolic encounters which, together with others like it, was to lead to Rostropovich's expulsion from the Soviet Union. For Zubin Mehta and Rostropovich's pupil Mischa Maisky, the B minor Concerto that Dvorák wrote in the United States is still music that represents a dialogue between the western and eastern worlds of culture - only the basic framework has changed.
A Bohemian in America - it was something of a sensation when Antonín Dvorák, a former viola player from the Provisional Theatre in Prague, landed in New York in September 1892. A year earlier he had been appointed professor of composition at the Prague Conservatory but had immediately obtained leave of absence for his transatlantic trip. In America he was more highly acclaimed than virtually any previous European composer. The first performance of his Ninth Symphony ("From the New World") was greeted with such a storm of applause that he was obliged to bow from his box "like a king", as he told his publisher, Fritz Simrock. In this work, the Romantic composer from Prague combined musical material from his Czech homeland with Afro-American rhythms and American melodies. His Cello Concerto was written towards the end of his highly productive stay in America: the first version was completed in 1895 and dedicated to his cellist friend Hanuš Wihan. It already smacks of the anticipatory pleasures that Dvorák felt at the prospect of returning home. It also finds him returning to a more Classical idiom. The American motifs are now little more than rudimentary in character. Structurally, the work suggests a symphonic poem drunk on melody. It opens with a large-scale and dramatically powerful Allegro, before striking a more dreamy note in the Andante and culminating in a fast and furious finale with folklike elements from Bohemia - a compositorial greeting from the New World to Dvorák's distant homeland.
"Dvorák's Cello Concerto is really a symphony," explains Zubin Mehta during a break in rehearsals. "Within the polyphonic design of the piece, the orchestra is the soloist's equal." On the basis of this observation, Maisky and Mehta have programmed the Dvorák Concerto alongside Don Quixote, Strauss's self-styled "fantastic variations on a theme of knightly character". With its complex and multilayered writing, this last-named piece is an opulent score in which Strauss pulls out all the stops with his use of tone colour, while using thematic development to tell his story in the form of a miniature symphony. Two themes are caught up in the undertow of the orchestra, one associated with Don Quixote and entrusted to the cello, the other that of his friend Sancho Panza and heard in the viola. As with the Dvorák Concerto, the transformation of these musical characters in the course of the work's ten sections, from the episode in which the hero tilts at windmills to his return home, can be properly understood only when they are embedded within the coordinates of their orchestral surroundings. The ensemble describes the (atmospheric) landscapes that are traversed. For Mehta, this involves a challenge, with the Berliner Philharmoniker and his soloists, Mischa Maisky and Tabea Zimmermann, all having to be equally interdependent. "There is nothing worse for a conductor than 'merely' to accompany," says Mehta. "In these two pieces above all, soloist and orchestra have to flow in space, they have to find their common idea there and develop it. In the emergency of a concert this means listening to one another - the orchestra to the cellist, and the cellist to the orchestra. Only then can we take off together and find a philosophical unity that can no longer be put into words - a truth that lies in the pure sound of the music." Maisky confirms this cooperation between equals: "Zubin is not an accompanist - he pulls his weight with the rest of us," he says, recalling an anecdote about Arthur Rubinstein: "A young conductor once said to him: 'Maestro, do whatever you want, the orchestra will follow you.' Rubinstein raised his eyebrows and smiled gently. The conductor could not have made a more stupid remark. A good soloist doesn't want an orchestra to follow him - it has to play at eye level with him."
Mischa Maisky has already recorded Dvorák's Cello Concerto for Deutsche Grammophon - with Leonard Bernstein. "He was an unpredictable conductor," Maisky recalls, "and I mean that in the best sense of the word. We played the Dvorák five times in Tel Aviv - and each concert was different. Once, during the final movement, Bernstein suddenly had the idea that the rhythm should sound like a pulse. So he seized his wrist with his free hand and tried to find his pulse but couldn't, so that the tempo ended up all over the place." Zubin Mehta could be described as the complete opposite of the "unpredictable" Bernstein, a musician who rehearses obsessively with a pedantic concern for detail. "For a soloist, there is no better conductor," says Maisky. And for Mehta, too, his encounter with the cellist means making music with a perfectionist: "Mischa's Dvorák has a sound all of its own. Starting out from the music, he plays the piece in such a tremendously logical way. When he played his part to me for the first time, I was full of enthusiasm for his incredible ability to project the sound, but also for the translucency of his playing, which sounds so sensible and thought-through without giving the impression of being artificial." In spite of this, Maisky's interpretation may strike listeners already familiar with the work as somewhat unusual: "In the course of time an infinite number of errors have found their way into the Dvorák Concerto," the cellist explains. "The process of distortion began even during the first performance, when a cadenza was simply grafted on to the piece. It's terrible! Dvorák thought so too. I've read a letter of his to his Czech publisher in which he expresses his fury at the changes. Even so, some 'improvisations' have escaped into the traditional performing practice. I think that I am now restoring the concerto to its origins - out of respect for Dvorák. The only liberty that I allow myself is that of the spirit as opposed to the letter - but this works wonderfully well within the straitjacket of the specified tempi and notes."
The "emergency of the concert" cannot be reconstructed in any recording studio in the world. Both Mehta and Maisky have largely made their careers as recording artists and have made their most important recordings in the studio. A live recording like the present one represents a musical adventure for them both. "Live recordings are good," says Mehta, "especially because we no longer have as much time in the studio as we used to. We can no longer play eight bars here and eight bars there and then somehow stick them together - fortunately, one has to say. With recordings in the concert hall we are also dealing with the physical presence of the audience. Anyone listening to a CD can hear this tension at home. It's the rush that makes these recordings so distinctive - the rush of adrenalin." Maisky has already made a number of live recordings with Martha Argerich: "I noticed when making them that with the best will in the world it's impossible to produce a concert atmosphere in the studio. I think the perfect solution is to record concerts live and then splice them together: then we have the perfection of the studio and the atmosphere of the hall."
Maisky and Mehta met for the first time in Jerusalem in 1972. The cellist had arrived in Israel as a Russian refugee at a time when Mehta was conducting the Jerusalem Symphony Orchestra. "It was mad," Maisky recalls their first encounter, "because Zubin's assistant translated his words from English into Hebrew, and my sister translated the Hebrew into Russian for me. But in spite of this, we got on splendidly from the word go." Maisky had previously spent eighteen months in a Moscow prison because his sister had fled the country and the authorities were afraid that he would do the same: "And so I had to shovel cement and promote Communism - without success, as we now know. A friend then transferred me to a psychiatric clinic, as that was the only way I could avoid military service." Mehta had not heard this story before and probed deeper: "Couldn't Rostropovich have helped you? After all, he was your teacher." "I was arrested in the summer of 1970," Maisky explained. "Rostropovich had just provided shelter for Solzhenitsyn and as a result was banned from appearing in public and from travelling. And so his hands were tied." When Maisky tells his story, he does so without becoming over-emotional, but in the firm belief that part of his own past will be audible in the music: "My teacher Gregor Piatigorsky explained to me that one should always come to music on the basis of one's own experience. He never said: 'Play this in this or that way.' He rarely explained technical matters but told me stories of his life in order to help me understand the music." And so Maisky's past is a memory that has changed his playing. "I think that no matter what course it takes, life influences your interpretation. Even if it sounds schizophrenic, I've had the best possible training for a musician: I've got to know people, my tormentors, my friends - and myself."
Mischa Maisky and Zubin Mehta recorded Dvorák's Cello Concerto 107 years after the work's composition in the United States, 34 years after Karajan and Rostropovich performed it in Berlin and 13 years after the fall of the Berlin Wall and the end of the Cold War. As such, their recording may be thought of as checking historical coordinates through the agency of the music.
Mischa Maisky - A Biographical Timeline
"His playing combines poetry and exquisite delicacy with great temperament and brilliant technique." Mstislav Rostropovich
Born 10 January in Riga, Latvia
Begins first music lessons in Riga, where he attends the Children's Music School and Conservatory
Enters the Leningrad Conservatory
His début with the Leningrad Philharmonic this year earns him the nickname "Rostropovich of the Future"
Prizewinner at the International Tchaikovsky Competition in Moscow; begins studies with Rostropovich at the Moscow Conservatory while pursuing a concert career throughout the former Soviet Union
Imprisoned in a labour camp near Gorky for 18 months; following his release he emigrates from the USSR
Settles in Israel; having won the 1973 Gaspar Cassadó International Cello Competition in Florence, makes his début at New York's Carnegie Hall with the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra under William Steinberg; after the concert an anonymous admirer gives him an 18th-century Montagnana cello on which he still performs today
Studies with the legendary Gregor Piatigorsky, thus becoming the only cellist to have studied with both Piatigorsky and Rostropovich; this year appears as soloist with the Philadelphia Orchestra and Israel Philharmonic
Beginning of his international career, with regular concerts throughout the United States, Europe, Australia, and the Far East, especially in Japan
London concerto début with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra
London recital début with pianist Radu Lupu
First recording for Deutsche Grammophon: Brahms's Double Concerto with Gidon Kremer and the Wiener Philharmoniker under Leonard Bernstein
Signs his first exclusive contract with Deutsche Grammophon; two important CD Bach releases this year: the Cello (Gamba) Sonatas with Martha Argerich and Maisky's first recording of the Six Solo Suites
Released on Deutsche Grammophon: Haydn Concertos with the Chamber Orchestra of Europe and the Schumann Concerto with Bernstein and the Wiener Philharmoniker
CD releases include recordings of Dvořák's Cello Concerto and Bloch's Schelomo with Leonard Bernstein and the Israel Philharmonic (Record Academy Prize, Tokyo), and of Elgar's Cello Concerto and Tchaikovsky's Rococo Variations with Giuseppe Sinopoli and the Philharmonia, as well as Meditation, a collection of short Romantic pieces with pianist Pavel Gililov
First appearance at the Proms in London; released on CD this year: Beethoven Cello Sonatas op.5 with Martha Argerich and Adagio, an anthology of Romantic pieces, with the Orchestre de Paris under Semyon Bychkov
Gives a recital with Martha Argerich, one of his most important musical partners, at the Salzburg Festival; releases include Beethoven's Cello Sonatas opp.69 & 102 with Argerich
Issued on CD this year: the two Shostakovich Cello Concertos with Michael Tilson Thomas and the London Symphony Orchestra
Returns to Moscow for the first time after a 23-year absence to give a concert and to record works by Prokofiev and Miaskovsky for Deutsche Grammophon with Mikhail Pletnev and the Russian National Orchestra; CD release this year: a coupling of Vivaldi and Boccherini concertos with the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra (Echo Award 1996)
Appears at the Salzburg Festival with pianist Daria Hovora; their Schubert CD collaboration Songs Without Words is released this year
CD releases include a Tchaikovsky disc with the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra and Songs Without Words by Brahms (with Pavel Gililov)
In May appears together with Martha Argerich and Gidon Kremer in Tokyo performing piano trios by Shostakovich and Tchaikovsky (recorded live by DG and released in 1999, Echo Award 2000); CD releases: Cellissimo with pianist Daria Hovora, a collection of shorter pieces spanning the centuries from Bach to Bloch; and a Saint-Saëns selection with the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra and Daria Hovora (Echo Award 1999)
CD releases: a French collection entitled Aprčs un ręve (with Daria Hovora), the Brahms Sonatas (with Pavel Gililov), and his second recording of the Bach Suites, which receives wide critical acclaim
Dedicates the year mostly to Johann Sebastian Bach, beginning with a "Bach Marathon" on 2 January in Zurich, where he plays all of Bach's works for cello (the Solo Suites and Sonatas with harpsichord) in three concerts on a single day, and giving over 100 Bach concerts in Japan, Korea, Hong Kong, China, Australia, North and South America, and most European countries during the course of the year; Maisky's CD releases this year: a Schumann disc, including the Cello Concerto with the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra and chamber works with Martha Argerich
A recording of Maisky and Argerich Live in Japan (sonatas by Chopin, Franck, and Debussy) is released this year
Japan tour in June; recitals with Martha Argerich at Carnegie Hall and Kennedy Center; trio recital with Martha Argerich and Gidon Kremer at Carnegie Hall; duo recital with Sergio Tiempo at the Salzburg Festival; summer appearances at Saratoga in Beethoven's Triple Concerto with Argerich, violinist Ida Haendel, Charles Dutoit, and the Philadelphia Orchestra, as well as a Schumann/Shostakovich trio recital there with Argerich and violinist Vadim Repin; CD release of Mendelssohn's Cello Sonatas with pianist Sergio Tiempo; recordings in Berlin of the Brahms G minor Piano Quartet with Argerich, Kremer, and Bashmet in March, and the Dvorák Cello Concerto and Strauss's Don Quixote with Zubin Mehta and the Berliner Philharmoniker in December
Appearances include concerts and recitals at the festivals of Verbier, Dubrovnik, and Torroella, as well as throughout western and eastern Europe; a tour of the Far East (Dvorák Concerto) followed by a European tour; for DG: live recording in Brussels with Argerich of cello sonatas by Prokofiev and Shostakovich and Stravinsky's Suite italienne
Concerts with the Latvian National Symphony Orchestra in Riga and on tour in Spain and Germany; appearances in Rome with Chung and the Orchestra di Santa Cecilia, in London with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, in Lisbon with the Gulbenkian Orchestra, in Paris with the Orchestre Philharmonique de Radio France, and in Baltimore and Washington DC with the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra; extensive performances of the Dvorák Concerto, including a tour with the Czech Philharmonic; on tour in Japan with the Prague Radio Orchestra; recitals and chamber music appearances in Europe, the USA, Korea, Japan, and at the Verbier, Schleswig-Holstein, and Salzburg festivals; CD releases: Dvorák and Strauss, with Mehta and the Berliner Philharmoniker, and chamber music by Brahms and Schumann, with Argerich, Kremer, and Bashmet
Cello Concerto In B Minor, Op.104 - 3. Finale (Allegro moderato)