Interview with Richard Egarr


>>From the Library of
Congress in Washington DC. [silence]>>ANNE MCLEAN: Good evening. We are delighted tonight to
have the chance to both present and talk with Richard Egarr. Welcome.>>RICHARD EGARR: Thank
you, nice to be here. Good to see you all, thank you. [applause]>>ANNE MCLEAN: Richard is
tremendously admired as many of you already know,
for a career that takes in virtuosic keyboard performances,
harpsichord, organ, forte piano, modern piano, plus being the music
director of the superb Academy of Ancient Music since 2006.>>RICHARD EGARR: Yeah.>>ANNE MCLEAN: And he regularly
conducts major international ensembles like the Concertgebouw,
Australia Chamber Orchestra, Handel and Haydn Society,
fits in a few orchestra … Sorry, fits in a few
opera appearances at Glyndebourne and so on. So definitely a star and
really kind of a constellation. I mean … And in this world …>>RICHARD EGARR: That’s
why I look so tired.>>ANNE MCLEAN: So I saw
that on your Facebook page that you describe yourself
as a total music addict.>>RICHARD EGARR: Yeah, I
think I always have been, ever since I can remember. Neither of my parents are musicians. My father’s always loved
music, but he would listen to Perry Como and Rosemary Clooney. So I literally was brought
up listening to those and Michael Holiday, all the
great crooners from the 50’s. I mean, even … We didn’t even have
any Sinatra records, that was a bit too hardcore. So I was a little bit more … I mean, I, as long as I can
remember, apparently I would sit in front of the radiogram and
draw notes when I was sort of 2, because remember the old
Columbia label has the two note. And I would just sit there
drawing notes and listening to Michael Holiday and Perry
Como and Rosemary Clooney. And I discovered, you probably
don’t know Cliff Richard, do you? Yes, well, I mean I discovered
Cliff Richard when I was 3 or 4, so I was a little bit more
progressive than my parents were. And I’m still a great
fan of Cliff Richard’s. So I mean all the music
I grew up listening to was very sort of easy listening. But what was interesting, I
mean they’re all great singers. And I think that was very, that
really struck a chord with me and I sort of, basically
after I started school, demanded to learn the piano. And I think my parents
must’ve thought I came from the planet Orc or something. Because, I say, there was no
music in the family as such. So it was just something in me
that was very, very present. So I started having piano lessons
and joined the York Minstrel Choir when I was, we moved
to York when I was 8. 7-8. It would be 8, but my
father worked on the railways, he was in charge of the payroll for
the eastern district or something like that, so we moved to a big
railway city, which York is. And my piano teacher in a
little village outside York that we lived in, I
had the lessons … I was in school in the village
for a year and I had lessons with this wonderful teacher
who suggested that I should go and audition for York
Minstrel Choir. Having never sung a note in
anger, particularly, and I got in. And that’s the first time I really
sort of was exposed to, if you like, classical music I’ve been
playing stuff on the piano, but that was kind of
when my gears shifted to towards, really towards … But there was never a question
of doing anything else, really.>>ANNE MCLEAN: And you said that
you performed 9 services a week, but didn’t repeat anything
in a year.>>RICHARD EGARR: No, within the
calendar year we would sing a different anthem at every service. And that’s amazing, if you have a
sort of musical spark, to process and take part in that much music per
week was absolutely extraordinary. Just by taking part with all
that music and everything from Palestrina Tallis to
Stravinsky, we would do bits of the Stravinsky mass
occasionally in the service. And the latest English
church music written by Herbert Howells in the 70s. So, it was just incredible,
incredible training, it’s a really, really special training, that
whole cathedral choiristership and I’m incredibly grateful, ’cause
it provided an incredible foundation for my musical ears, you know? I understood how harmony worked
by the time I was 10 or 11, just because I was involved with it
and it was around me all the time. So it seemed perfectly
natural to me. It was a fantastic way to start.>>ANNE MCLEAN: A very
sophisticated education, we have the, is it
the Temple Church? In London? The round one from when …>>RICHARD EGARR: Mm-hmm.>>ANNE MCLEAN: And we
had their boy choir …>>RICHARD EGARR: Yeah, yeah.>>ANNE MCLEAN: With
the men’s choir here. And it was amazing how these young
guys were so, so very sophisticated in their grasp of the music. They did [inaudible],
actually, that piece by him.>>RICHARD EGARR: Right, mm-hmm. No, I mean it’s interesting, you’re
just thrown into it at the deep end. You go and then you just
start and you do it. Yes, it’s a fabulous training. It’s a very, very old tradition,
it’s hundreds of years old.>>ANNE MCLEAN: After I was going
to ask you, you always read in bios and learn about what they did. What is an organ scholar? At Cambridge, you were …>>RICHARD EGARR: So every,
the whole collegiate system in Cambridge, is it
the same at Harvard? I don’t know what, I don’t
know how it works over here. But Cambridge University is
made up of different colleges. So probably the most famous is
King’s, King’s College Cambridge, and then you have Saint John’s,
and most colleges have a chapel. And therefore, a choir
and an organ scholar, either an organist choir master or such it happens
at King’s and John’s. Steven Cleary is the organist and
choir master so he plays the organ. But most of the time he conducts
a choir and has, as his assistant, or assistants, one or two organ
scholars and it’s usually staggered. The course is 3 years, so there
will be an organ scholar in year 1 and then year 3, so it’s a
sort of overlapping cycle. Some colleges don’t
have a music director, and the organ scholar is appointed to run the whole music
here in the chapel. I was at Claire College,
which is next door to King’s, it was much better, by the way. No. And we had a music
director, call Tim Brown. When I went, I had a senior organ
scholar who is in the 3rd year and I played the organ
for the services, sometimes I conducted
if Tim was away. Either the senior organ scholar or
I would conduct the choir, so it’s, again, it was just another step on that whole musical
ladder in training. And the great thing about Cambridge
particularly, it happens at Oxnard as well, but I think
more so at Cambridge, that the student music making
was an exceptionally high level. The instrumental standard
at Cambridge, not just the music scholars,
but people studying the sciences or whatever, the instrumental
level was incredibly high and people were just
trying things and putting on concerts all over the place. So you could guarantee
anywhere in Cambridge on any given day there’d be 4, 5, 6 different concerts
put on by students. Usually at a pretty high level. So it was a fantastic place to
flex your muscles and try things. So by the time I was in my
2nd year I started putting on baroque concerts. Because a certain … I’m sure you all remember
the last time I was here, I came with a certain Andrew Manze. My great, violinist colleague. He came to Claire in my 2nd year and he wasn’t interested
in baroque music at all. We were playing piano
trios together with Fauré and Beethoven and whatever. And I said, “Well, we can work,”
’cause I had already started playing with another colleague in my
1st year, playing harpsichord. And I said, “Play some
baroque violin,” he said, “I’m not interested. Not interested. I’m not interested in that.” So I just put his name on a poster
playing Brandenburg 4 and told him to go get a baroque bow from
the music faculty, which he did and he dropped it in the
middle of the last movement because he wasn’t quite
used to it yet. But then he got the bug as well,
and the rest is history, so. But that was the kind of place
it was, it was very possible just to try stuff and put concerts on, especially if you were the organ
scholar and had sort of control over the chapel, you could
just book it and put things on. It was really fantastic. Fantastic time.>>ANNE MCLEAN: I saw a comment
he said that he described you as a very bendy artist, that’s
B E N D Y, because you talked about the malleability
and flexibility of lines. In your performances you
work toward this and so on.>>RICHARD EGARR: I think
that’s something I’ve come more and more to believe in, I mean. The 20th century sort of started
by verticalizing everything. Stravinsky started that. You know, you think
of the Rite of Spring, everything suddenly having been
that way for hundreds of years, music started being concerned much
more with rigidity and verticality. And that reflects itself
in all sorts of things to do with performance. The more I read and the more I think
about music and music of the past and performance practice,
the more clear to me it is that that is something that
is absolutely a modern idea, a modern concept, of
rigidity and stiffness. We were looking at all
these wonderful manuscripts and things today and you just have to compare a beautiful
old manuscript, or even an old edition,
to a modern edition. And there’s just no,
there’s no comparison. The old ones are so beautiful
and they contain so much gesture and direction, and just the
way things are written out. Certainly, in manuscript
sources, that’s true. And as a player of the harpsichord,
which is, and I always say this, this is not just for you, it is the
most unmusical thing on the planet. It does nothing. It is the ultimate machine that goes
“ping” if you’re a Monty Python fan. That is literally all it does. You have no control
over its dynamic. You have a little control
over the attack of the note. Particularly if you’re
playing with quill plectra, which are a little
bit more flexible, mostly these days people
use plastic. They claim it’s more durable. That’s a debatable point,
but plastic is, of course, it’s a manmade substance. If you can imagine a bit
of the spine of a feather, there is much more animal
flexibility in that. Although it’s very little,
and it’s very subtle. So it really is the machine that
goes “ping” and all you have to … All I can do to try
and make you believe that it’s producing music is, the two things I have are
how long I play a note, and where I play that note in time. If I were to play a series of
16th notes the same length, absolutely metronomically divided,
it’s completely mechanical. So the only way to make a
shape is to bend rhythmically and how you hold the notes down. So those are the only two things
you have to make the harpsichord into a musical instrument,
so it’s a big challenge. So, flexibility is a necessity
for playing the harpsichord and not making it sound like
the most irritating thing ever.>>ANNE MCLEAN: Spontaneity
too, you talk a lot about that, and I got a kick out of your comment
that you, reading that you wanted to bring back romantic excess.>>RICHARD EGARR: Well, we
have these labels for music. You know, you say that
music is romantic, you talk about romantic music, which I guess to most people
would mean something starting around the 1820s, whatever. People describe Schubert a
little bit as the first romantic. Quite frankly I think these labels
are really poisonous, because to me, Monteverdi, and Bach, and Handel,
and Castello are just as romantic as Rachmaninoff and Tchaikovsky. And in fact, it’s more direct. The earlier the music, certainly in 1790s actually is a more
direct correlation to how we, as human beings, express
ourselves with our emotions. I mean, the thing about
Rachmaninoff and Tchaikovsky, you’ll have a slow movement
which lasts for 15 or 20 minutes, and that’s really all it
does for 15 or 20 minutes. Now, I’m sure you’ve been,
you’ve driven on a motor way and somebody’s cut you up. You’ve probably been driving along
listening to some nice Tchaikovsky or Rachmaninoff on the radio and
then somebody will cut you up and you just, you get very annoyed. So our emotions change
very, very quickly. And baroque music does that, it’s very much a mirror
of our emotions … So that’s why, I mean I love
baroque music, in a way, the most, because it’s … I find it very human in it’s …>>ANNE MCLEAN: So
that’s something else about the further back you
go the dirtier it gets?>>RICHARD EGARR: Yes. Yes.>>ANNE MCLEAN: Can
you explain this a bit?>>RICHARD EGARR: Yeah,
again, there’s a perception that we gained romantic excess. And you go back to baroque music
and it’s slightly squeaky clean, and classical music is
a little bit dirtier, and romantic music is a little bit
more romantic, and then suddenly, it all goes wrong with
Mahler and Schönberg and then we start again
with neoclassicism. But actually, historically
speaking, if you look at and listen to old recordings, or look at
old sources for violin fingerings for instance, the idea that
Porter meant of “sliding around”, is an early 20th century excess,
and it didn’t happen before that. Is absolutely the wrong way around. In fact, vibrato comes in and
becomes a sort of normal thing in the 20th century, but if you
think about portamento there, the idea of sliding
around on a violin or which comes from vocal art. If you look at fingerings
going backwards, there is more portamento going
backwards in history than less. So for instance if you look at, take
a great romantic piece of music, Mendelssohn’s violin concerto. That was premiered by Ferdinand
David and we have both, the great Joseph Joachim, who was
Brahms’ violinist who knew David, is 10 years younger than Ferdinand
David and also played the Brahms … the Mendelssohnic concerto
very successfully. If you compare the fingerings
of both of those two violinists, the older violinist, Ferdinand
David, has more portamento in it than the next generation,
Joseph Joachim. And it’s the same if
you start looking at piano recordings,
which we have … Of course we have recordings
of people like Paderewski, but actually the earliest
recordings we have are piano rolls and have a guess at when
the earliest pianist to be recorded on piano
roll was born. Have a guess. Sir?>>AUDIENCE: 1805.>>RICHARD EGARR: That’s a very,
very wild guess, but actually 1824. I wish there would be some
from 1805, I really do, ’cause that would be fascinating. Carl Reinecke was born in 1824, which was 3 years before
Beethoven died, and he left a lot of piano rolls. He was in the middle of recording
a whole set of Mozart sonatas. He was very much known for
his Mozart performances. And he left some pretty wild
and wacky recordings of Mozart. And again, if you take
someone like Carl Reinecke, and the next generation,
Leschetitzky, who was Schnabel’s teacher, who
was born 6 years later in 1830. They both made piano
rolls of Mozart’s big, great fantasy in C minor. The one that starts
with the octaves. Pianist theater these days would not
dare to break any of those octaves. Your teacher would send you out of
the room if you break any of those. [inaudible] break those octaves,
you have to find fingerings and contortions which will
make it absolutely together, and you must play it
rigidly in tempo. You compare the two recordings of,
the piano rolls of both Leschetitzky and Reinecke, out of the 7,
8 octaves at the beginning. I think Leschetitzky
breaks 5 of them. Reinecke breaks all but 1 of them. And he was known as a very
conservative performer of music. So the more I look
into this stuff … There’s a fantastic book
if you’re interested by Neal Peres Da Costa who’s
a great friend of mine, he’s in Australia at Sydney. He’s done lots of research
into this. The book is called “Off the
Record” and he looks at all … Very, very dispassionately takes all
this, these bits of information … So again, the trend
going backwards is for more color, for
more expressivity. If we listen to that today, teachers
would just walk out of the room. Who’s right? It’s an interesting question.>>ANNE MCLEAN: And
what about rubato? We were talking a little
bit about this earlier too. And especially since it’s not
really notated in these early scores like the ones we were looking at. How do you develop your
sense of when to do these?>>RICHARD EGARR: It’s
by looking at the music and just sort of trying …>>ANNE MCLEAN: Instinct.>>RICHARD EGARR: Well, it’s
instinct, but it’s also … The thing about rubato is
it is, again if you … Taking an example of earlier
recordings, it’s very deliberate, very very deliberate use
of structural rubato. And the thing that is, that
people generally mean these days by “rubato” is usually getting
slower, or playing late. If you listen to pianists
“doing rubato” in Chopin, everything is wobbling
all over the place, but they’re playing hands together. If you take Chopin knocked onto
something with a very expressive, sort of cantabile right hand. The rubato of a modern player is the
hands are very much linked together, and they will do a
little bit of backwards, usually backwards rather
than forwards. But if you listen,
again, to old pianists, and they do much more what
both Chopin and Mozart describe as “keeping the left hand …” Usually, the phrase is,
“playing in strict tempo”, whereas the right hand
goes around the left hand. Now, again, if you read Neal’s
book, what a 17th, 18th, and 19th century musician
meant by “playing in strict tempo” is not what
we mean as post-Stravinskyian, post-modern musicians as
playing in strict tempo, which means basically metronomic. So it’s a fascinating area of
study, and I think this kind of thing is coming
much more into the area of performance practice these days. Which is great. The more I read and try and find
out about this stuff, the more … in a way, the more permission it
seems to give me to be expressive, and to push the boundaries
of expressivity. Because, again, I don’t find
Monteverdi any less passionate or expressive than Rachmaninoff. It’s just a different style of
music and there are different ways of creating that expressivity.>>ANNE MCLEAN: So we have this
quintessentially English program that maybe you could talk
a little bit about some of the pieces on the program …>>RICHARD EGARR: Yeah.>>ANNE MCLEAN: And the
Fitzwilliam Virginal Book. How that came into being.>>RICHARD EGARR: It’s very big. It was collected by Tregian and
it’s a massive, massive compendium of very, very many composers. A substantial amount of
William Byrd, who’s perhaps one of the great, great keyboard
players and composers of the 16th and early 17th century. Lots of Doctor John Bull, which is, I don’t know whether you
know John Bull’s music, it’s a little bit strange. I’m not sure if I’m a great
fan of Doctor John Bull, but everybody in the 16th and
17th century seemed to be, and he has an incredibly
difficult music in the Fitzwilliam Virginal Book. One of the sad things about today, I’ve just been seeing all
these wonderful first-editions and manuscripts that you
have here and I’ve been like a schoolboy in
a candy shop today. It’s been absolutely wonderful. There is still not
available a decent edition of the Fitzwilliam Virginal Book,
though the one that was published at the turn of the 20th century,
the 1902, 1903, is full of errors and there’s been nothing since. You cannot buy a facsimile,
there’s no facsimile online. So please, if anybody can do
anything about that, I’d be very, very grateful, ’cause
it contains some of the most incredible
music from that period.>>ANNE MCLEAN: Would this music
have been for small gatherings at the court or just
private invitation?>>RICHARD EGARR: The
different things, I mean, they’re different types
of music in the book. There are sets of variations
on pop tunes, there are fantasies,
there are organ pieces. There’s a whole variety, it’s a
real compendium of what was going on with the keyboard at that time and not particularly designed
for any one instrument. That’s another thing that
people try and figure out which pieces were
played on which. Now there are obviously some
of the pieces which are sacred in nature are more at home on an
organ, but it doesn’t mean to say that you can’t play them on
a harpsichord or a spinet or any other instrument
that was around at the time. And that’s true, really,
throughout the 18th century as well. People were playing, Mozart was
still playing the harpsichord. Beethoven started playing, his
first job was as a harpsichordist. So, the harpsichord was gasping
for breath still at the end of the 18th century,
but it was still around. So it was still very much and … A good little fact to know is
even Beethoven’s Moonlight sonata, when it was first published,
was for piano or harpsichord. Now can you imagine the
Moonlight sonata on harpsichord? It would sound revolting. But, yet, it was still a market. It was still a market to sell
to people, to old fuddy duddies who still had a harpsichord at home, and perhaps wanted
to play the music. So, lots of different keyboards were
around still in the 18th century.>>ANNE MCLEAN: So
the term, “virginal”, is that a variety of
plucked instruments?>>RICHARD EGARR: It’s
basically a … To be precise, it’s
the English version of what was known in
Belgium as a musilar. It’s sort of like a double briefcase
sized long, oblong instrument which is plucked more
or less in the middle. And it’s a little bit like now, ’cause you drive on
the right, don’t you? Well, we drive on the left. I don’t really know this, well we
drive on the right side, actually, but never mind, won’t get into that. But we have the same thing
with the virginals from Belgium and from England, they
just had the keyboards on slightly different
sides of the middle. But it’s a very particular
kind of quite tubular sound. It’s very pleasant
for about 5 minutes. But then it’s a little,
I find it a little, it just sort of does one
thing, and the sound shape of the note decays quite, even
more than the harpsichord. It’s a little sort of drier and more
tubular than the harpsichord even. And the action is not as
reliable as a harpsichord because of the nature
of where the … It’s being plucked more in the
middle and that causes all sorts of trouble with regulation. There are many, many sources
from the time, the late 16th and 17th century, that say
that the action was really bad and it made it sound like
little pigs grunting. So I think the virginals, it
was certainly an instrument which people had, but I think the
professionals would probably be playing on a … On some kind of harpsichord. It’s a very attractive sound. But not for too long.>>ANNE MCLEAN: You know I heard
this Sweelinck toccata you’re going to be doing on a big
organ in Holland and it was just mind
blowing, really. But how did he get to be an
honorary Englishman in this volume?>>RICHARD EGARR: I
find, I don’t know, there’s something about Sweelinck. I mean I’ve lived in Amsterdam
for 27 years coming on now and the Dutch are very, are there
any Dutch people here today? The Dutch are very,
very interesting people and they quite rightly
regard Sweelinck as a great Dutch master, as he was. But they tend to play him in a
terribly, terribly sort of somber, sober, strict, sort
of Calvinist way. And I don’t think that’s
the music at all. It’s an incredible, and
partly my take on it as well, but when you figure
out where he worked. He worked at the Old
Church in Amsterdam. Have you ever been to
Amsterdam, any of you? Do you know what happens
around the Old Church? It’s a rather red colored area. And it always has been,
for centuries. It is the most colorful
area of Amsterdam, and that is where Sweelinck
worked, and not, as you might think, playing for church services. His basic job was to play at
the Old Church at lunch time between about 12 and 2 when businessmen did
business in the church. And what he was employed to do was to play basically variations
on pop tunes. So the sort of idea of him being
this very sober musician is not … And then the music is spectacularly
colorful in the same way that the Byrd fantasy I’m
going to play, the toccata, they’re actually, they’re
sort of … I hadn’t realized that there was, I sort of felt this cosmic
connection between the two of them. But when I put these two
pieces in the program, I felt there was something then it
just suddenly struck me that one of the themes is used
in both pieces. I’ll say that again later
in the hall, but it’s … So there is definitely some
kind of cosmic connection. And it was just sort of a
chance to give Sweelinck a bit of an outing ’cause he’s a
really fabulous composer. It’s absolutely first rate music.>>ANNE MCLEAN: And this Fantasia
Chromatica is virtuosic to me.>>RICHARD EGARR: Oh yeah. It’s virtuosic in lots of ways.>>ANNE MCLEAN: Yeah.>>RICHARD EGARR: It’s virtuosic in
the sense of the composition itself.>>ANNE MCLEAN: The
composition, exactly.>>RICHARD EGARR: It’s on a
level with Frescobaldi and Byrd and what he does with the
material is spectacular. And it’s very, very, very colorful. And I’ll say a little bit more about
that when we’re on stage as well.>>ANNE MCLEAN: Yeah, we’re … I was amazed looking the score. There are so many constant
entries of the tune …>>RICHARD EGARR: Yeah.>>ANNE MCLEAN: And so many
counter subjects, it’s all … Regarding the Morali, I found this
thing that talks about fantasy. “When a musician taketh the point
as its pleasure, and resteth and turneth it as he list.” We just got about a nice thing. Is there, how much freedom
in there for these is there?>>RICHARD EGARR: In the fantasies?>>ANNE MCLEAN: For a player?>>RICHARD EGARR: If you take
certainly the great Byrd fantasy I’m going to play in A minor, the whole
point of the fantasy was to … Again, people have this idea that
a fantasy is this kind of strict, slightly sober, delineation
of material. And that’s exactly what it says
there, the idea of a fantasy was that for a composer
to exert his fantasy on the material that he chose to do. So you’ll have a point, a musical
point, which you can kind of do as much or as little
with as you wish. And the Byrd changes very fast. There are many, many different
ideas which come in the Byrd piece from sort of more strict
counterpoints, something which sounds a little
bit like dance bands, and lots, lots of poly rhythms going on. It’s not quite South
American, but it’s … There’s a lot of, lot of
fun to be had in this music. It’s incredibly varied. So every bit of material has its
own gesture and its own tempo and its own expressive devices.>>ANNE MCLEAN: Is the
Purcell pieces at the end, I think they’re vocal
transcriptions, are they?>>RICHARD EGARR: Yeah.>>ANNE MCLEAN: How does … Tell us about that.>>RICHARD EGARR: Yeah, I’m playing
3 grounds in the second half, one of which is actually,
probably by Croft. But I think it’s good enough to
be merited with a Purcell’s name. Yeah, Purcell made these
transcriptions and some vocal pieces from odes so the New Grand
in E minor you might’ve heard as “Here the Deities
Approve”, a great counter tenor or alto aria song in
the middle of an ode. And he made these amazing
little transcriptions and they really are spectacular. They don’t look, if you were to
just look at them on the paper, unless you had good imagination,
which I’m sure you all do. You wouldn’t quite believe
how fantastic they are, these transcriptions of these
grands and I’m finishing off with another one of these,
the grand in E minor, which I think is an absolute
little gem, a little masterpiece. So it leaves the concert
with a little bit of wist in the air, if you like. A bit of wistfulness.>>ANNE MCLEAN: One of the
things that is on display, and Ray White is going to
be showing it and talking to you during the intermission. We have a first edition of a
choice collection of lessons for the harpsichord or spinet
from 1696 and it has a preface where they go into some
detail about ornamentation.>>RICHARD EGARR: Mm-hmm.>>ANNE MCLEAN: I wanted to
ask you, I saw this reference in the Ashgate guide to personal … it talks about indigenous
English ornamentation. What does that mean? What would you say?>>RICHARD EGARR: Well
I think the English, because you know, we are … I’m afraid we’re an island, and
we are very much island people, we’ve always had our own kind of
special take on imported stuff. But the ornaments are basically
ornaments which come from lute music from both Italy and France. From the end of the 16th,
beginning of the 17th century. But, like most things in England,
they have their own take on it. English humor is very English. Monty Python is, you know, it
couldn’t be from anywhere else. Any of you know The Goons? Just go back and English humor’s
always had this kinda slightly weird take on things, and the ornaments,
both the personal and blow sweets, they’re basically the
French ornaments, but the way that they’re
used and … throughout the piece,
it’s very English. That’s all I can say. It’s just a little bit English
and slightly kinky in that way.>>ANNE MCLEAN: Well this is a great
segway into a question about one of your most recent projects,
which is definitely purely English. And that is your new
recording of H.M.S. Pinafore.>>RICHARD EGARR: Yes. Well it’s funny. I mean, I, like most
English prep school boys, we were made to do all
boy, all male productions of The Mikado and what
else did we do? Pirates of Penzance. I was a Japanese lady in The Mikado,
I’m sure you can imagine that. It’s perfectly natural. So there’s a sort of,
it’s a bit like cricket. We just understand cricket because
we’re English and we love Gilbert and Sullivan because we’re English. I believe there’s actually
a big Gilbert and Sullivan following
in the states as well. And it’s very much of its time,
but it’s also incredibly skillful. I mean, Sullivan’s music,
particularly in that score, you can tell that, I mean he went
to study in Leipzig when he was 16. So he was a seriously good musician and had a thoroughly
proper training. And when you look at the score, it’s
just full of wonderful orchestration which he’s got directly from his
knowledge and love of Mozart. And it’s just jolly good fun, and it
came about because we were sitting around during the recording, we made
the recording of the John Passion with the Academy of Ancient Music. We were sitting around
after the recording with a very large couple
of bottles of wine. And we just looked at the cast
that we’d had and someone said, it wasn’t me, it was either
the producer or cast manager, “Isn’t that a great
Gilbert and Sullivan cast?” And 2 years later I was asked to do
H.M.S. Pinafore then for a festival by that orchestra manager who now
works at the end of a festival, he put that into practice
and I did the H.M.S. Pinafore with Scottish opera. With most of the cast that
was on the John Passion and just had a great time. And again, it was something that
I researched very thoroughly. There are some very,
very old recordings of H.M.S. Pinafore,
there are 2 from 1907. Which is a lot closer to when
it was first on than we are now. So it’s a fascinating … I always try to apply … It’s all early music. I mean the Beatles is
early music as well.>>ANNE MCLEAN: Did you run into
any performance practice challenges or are … There’s also a canon of theater
traditions around it, right?>>RICHARD EGARR: Yeah,
certainly from the later … Well, again, there are 2
new schools or text schools, with massive amounts of notes
about what comes from where. So there are lots of decisions
to be made on that but. No, I just went back to the … I got the orchestra to, again,
to start sliding around a lot, and was quite flexible
in approach to tempo and all those good things, really. But it’s fantastic music. It’s just, it’s absolutely
wonderful music.>>ANNE MCLEAN: What
plans for other … I mean, you have so many
blossoming projects. What else is coming
up for you like this?>>RICHARD EGARR: I can’t … I know what I’m doing
next week, I think.>>ANNE MCLEAN: This is a big tour
I should say, what you’re doing now, Montreal, New York, Washington.>>RICHARD EGARR: It’s an
intense week, this week, so … I have another concert in Pittsburgh
tomorrow, then I stagger home or onto a plane, or two
planes, which’ll take me home. No, I mean it’s … What I love doing the
big variety of things. I’m not the kind of musician who has
ever wanted to be restricted to … People love to put you in a box. They love to say, “He’s an
early music specialist, so,” but that’s why I record
Stachofsky or Castro transcriptions and make a recording
of H.M.S. Pinafore because the people go, “Oh.” And I’ve always been like
that and Andrew was the same, Andrew Manze was exactly the same. We sort of grew up that way, we
weren’t prepared to be put in a box. And we’ve always done other
things, and Andrew is now, as you probably know, having
a very successful career as a modern conductor
conducting a modern orchestra, conducting Vaughan Williams, and
Bruckner, and Mahler 5, he just did. And he doesn’t actually
doesn’t do any early music at all, at the moment. And hasn’t done since 2008
when he put his violin away. But neither of us have ever wanted
to restrict ourselves to … Because music is music. And basically, there
are two types of music. Good music and bad music. And if it’s good music,
I’m interested in it. And I’m interested in some of
the bad music, actually, as well. So I’ve always sort of
been fascinated by music. That’s why I say I
am a music addict. And if something comes along
and grabs my attention, then I will grab it and run with it.>>ANNE MCLEAN: Well it’s
really exciting for us to have had this chance to
chat with you about all these, sort of, passions of yours. And I wondered if there’s
some folks that would like to ask a few questions before
Richard has to go back and warm up.>>RICHARD EGARR: Please
do, it’s always interesting to see what questions I get asked.>>AUDIENCE: I have a question on
the harpsichords that you play. Just because the plastic and
the quills that you put on tour, you get different harpsichord
tall that you go to?>>RICHARD EGARR: The question,
if you didn’t hear it is, do I get a different
harpsichord everywhere I go? Simple answer is yes. And actually, generally,
particularly in the states, and I’ve never had bad instruments. I’ve had some interestingly
tuned instruments. But no, there is a great level
of good instruments here. That’s not the case
all over the world, it’s been slightly challenging
getting some instruments in the far east, occasionally, ’cause it’s just it’s
very new there. So, I went to Bangkok for
the first time this year, and there is one harpsichord
in Bangkok which was bought not too long
ago in the last 4 or 5 years, but whoever bought it, didn’t
really know what they were getting into when they bought it. So rather than having bought
a very good modern copy of a historical instrument,
they bought some sort of slightly dodgy something which
was perhaps modeled on something in Soviet Russia in about 1958. But that’s fine, but they
didn’t know any better. Generally, the harpsichords here are
really, really excellent, so I’m … But it’s, but that’s
part of the job, and if you’re an organist,
you have the same thing. If you go to a church and
there’s a different organ. You just get used to
just getting on with it and dealing with what you’re given. And that’s also part of the fun. It’s not always fun, but mostly fun.>>AUDIENCE: What do you consider
to be interesting bad music?>>RICHARD EGARR: That’s
a good question now. Now that I said that …>>AUDIENCE: Heavy metal?>>RICHARD EGARR: Well
actually, I do like heavy metal, I’m a great great fan of … I’ve even got a couple
of CDs of some sort of really dark metal stuff as well. And a friend of mine, a very, very
fine timpani player, brilliant, brilliant timpani player,
has a sort of … Not quite grunge, but a
really really dark band called Plastic Noose. Now, I will listen to anything. I don’t say I always
understand it, but … yeah. Good question, I’ll think about the bad music
that I’m interested in. But I’m kind of interested in music, I will listen to anything,
pretty much.>>AUDIENCE: So I have another
question about ornamentation, personal expression of
the performer, phrasing. Could you speak a little bit more
about your approach verses others?>>RICHARD EGARR: Well I think
we talked about this earlier. Take Bach as an example. There’s certainly quite
a lot of people, even in the historical world, who
frown on you if you ornament Bach. You know, cause Bach is, it’s
all written down, you don’t need to do anymore, it’s all perfect … Now, that is patently, for me at
least, my understanding of some, that’s just, that wouldn’t happen. If you look at all different
sources, if you’re looking at the French Swedes for instance,
today, there’s no manuscript from Bach himself, but they’re
all copies made by pupils or sons and all of these secondary
sources have variance. Different ornaments,
different slurs. Now, that’s a musicologist’s
nightmare, ’cause it means they have to write pages and pages of critical
commentary trying to figure out and make the decisions of which
one they take into an edition. For me, it’s another example of the
performer has a certain freedom, responsibility of freedom,
given a text. So, and even Bach. Bach was an inveterate tinkerer
looking at the something like the Matthew Passion. The first verse which I
recorded, is very, very different from the version that most
of you have probably heard. It’s much more decorated,
it’s much more ornamented. So the idea of adding
stuff was something that Bach was doing
for himself anyway. And any performer at that time would
naturally put their take on it, it’s like any great jazz saxophone
player playing a standard will have their own idea of how
to decorate a melody. And any violinist in the
baroque or even actually, even the classical period, would
probably make his own decorations through reports of opera woodwind
instruments, woodwind players at the beginning of
the 19th century. Being criticized for
still doing ornaments. So there’s a Dussek sonata, the
great, great sonata by one of my, again, another one of
my great, great heroes, Dussek is a great composer. Beginning of a sonata for the
death of Ferdinand of Prussia. Where it just starts with
a left hand bunch of notes, and he has to right at the
beginning, just very simple, low notes in quarter notes. He had to write in the beginning
of the score, this is 1807, senza ornamenti: “don’t ornament.” So the whole practice of
music making was imbued with personal ornamentation, so to say that you shouldn’t
ornament Bach is really, I think, nonsense. It was just expected in
part of being a performer. And you wouldn’t necessarily do that
if you’re doing the B minor mass, if you’ve got something
as complex as that, and everybody started doing
their own ornamentation then, of course, that’s slightly bonkers. But certainly, when you’re playing
a keyboard piece or something where a solo performer is
involved in bringing up a piece like that then it would’ve
been expected that you would add your own layer
of stuff on top of the foundation. So that was a long
answer, wasn’t it? I’m sorry about that.>>AUDIENCE: I had another Bach
question which is what do you feel about playing Bach on the
piano verses the harpsichord? And do you play him on the piano
as well as the harpsichord, and which pieces sort of lend
themselves to which instrument?>>RICHARD EGARR: I think it’s sort
of a little bit what I said earlier. Bach is great. The music for me doesn’t change. I’ve played Bach on a synthesizer. And it’s great fun. When I play Bach on a modern
piano, the music doesn’t change, but the tool has changed,
it does different things. But I always, if I conduct a
modern orchestra doing old music, what I do, and why I’m absolutely
committed to old instruments, is if you play Bach using an
old harpsichord or an organ, it shows you so much about the
color possibilities of the music. And I use that knowledge, and I
take it with me when I play it on the modern piano or on the
synthesizer or whatever it is. So, I’m certainly not one of those
purist early musicians who say, “Oh, you mustn’t play Bach on a piano.” I won’t say that. Because Bach can sound absolutely
gorgeous on a modern piano if you have someone that’s
sensitive to the music. I’ve heard … So, for instance, I’ve
heard some really, really beautiful performances
of Bach on the modern piano. And I’ve heard some
really hideous performances of Bach on the harpsichord. It’s not all about the instruments,
but it’s about your understanding of music through using the
instruments to tell you something about the music that
they were written for.>>ANNE MCLEAN: Maybe
one more question, does anyone have a final one? No? Okay.>>AUDIENCE: Oh I just had a
question about if trend’s good or bad for baroque opera, and the
example recently that I’m thinking of is the Folketeatret doing the
reorchestration and translation of the Monteverdi operas
into German. Is that a trend or the
sort of idea that you have to change baroque opera to
sort of make it presentable, or is it just one of the variations?>>RICHARD EGARR: You
mean in terms of language, or in terms of everything that
had to do with baroque opera? I mean …>>AUDIENCE: Well, that they
reorchestrated and translated it.>>RICHARD EGARR: That’s
a tricky one, because … To go back and take part,
if you were, as an audience, were transported back to
an opera house in London, listening to a Handel opera. It would be a very, very
different experience from sitting in an opera house now. Because you wouldn’t be
expected to sit there for 5 hours, concentrating. You could be doing all
sorts of things in the boxes at the back, and you know. It’s just, it’s a different
experience. So you know, you would
have to go to a… If it was a successful opera,
you’d probably go and see it 4 or 5 times, just to get to know it. And you’d go to listen
to your favorite aria with your favorite singer. And once the singer had gone off,
you’d be probably playing cards. It’s a very different, different
thing and translating an opera into a native language
can be very helpful. Reorchestration’s a different,
that’s a different thing. I don’t think that’s
necessarily necessary. It’s not a necessity. But there again, you
know I love Stachofsky, and I love Stachofsky’s
arrangement of baroque music. I’ve recorded lots of it. It would be good to know the
reason why they did that. Do you know the reason why they …>>AUDIENCE: I do not.>>RICHARD EGARR: No.>>AUDIENCE: I was skeptical,
but I didn’t hate it.>>RICHARD EGARR: Well,
there you go. That’s positive.>>ANNE MCLEAN: Well
that’s a good note then. So thank you so much, Richard.>>RICHARD EGARR: You’re
welcome, you’re welcome.>>ANNE MCLEAN: We were
delighted to have you. [applause]>>This has been a presentation
of the Library of Congress. Visit us at loc dot gov.

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