Pianist Noriko Ogawa curates UK Debussy Festival

21 November 2011
imports_PIA_0-yr66j3jz-100000_79613.jpg Pianist Noriko Ogawa curates UK Debussy Festival
Japanese pianist Noriko Ogawa talks to editor Erica Worth about her <em>Reflections on Debussy</em> Festival at Manchester&rsquo;s Bridgewater Hall ...
How did this new Festival come about?
A couple of years ago Bridgewater Hall Artistic Consultant Peter Davison heard me play a recital of the Debussy etudes. The etudes are very unique, so I think that’s why they stayed in his mind. I had wanted one recital at the Bridgewater Hall, and he came up with the Reflections on Debussy Festival idea!
What do you do as festival co-curator?
All the concerts were initiated and programmed by me. I picked whom I wanted to invite to play. I won’t be introducing all the concerts, but there will be pre-concert talks.
How long did it take to programme?
A long time! A lot of hours with lots of discussions and having to meet so many people. When I’m in the UK, which is probably 3-4 months a year, I have to spend many hours on it.
We know you love Debussy. Tell us why.
I first heard Debussy as a child watching André Watts playing Reflets dans l’eau on TV. I couldn’t believe how beautiful it was. In Japan, playing Debussy was a bit ‘alternative’. So Debussy’s music was like a sweet from the cupboard that I was eating secretly. My teachers didn’t want me to play it, so I never took it to lessons. At 18, when I went to Juilliard, I was busy getting into the competition circuit and Debussy’s music is not really competition repertoire. It stayed deeply within me, though it took me many years to go public!
What does Debussy’s music mean to you?
Enjoying the pure beauty of sound. That’s what his music is about. It’s not too emotional. You are just looking for the beautiful sound that comes from the instrument. Romantic music is the ‘king’ of music, and my teachers often said ‘you’re not Romantic enough’. When I came to Debussy, I didn’t have to worry about that – I could just enjoy the beauty of the sound. Of course there is some emotion in Debussy, but you don’t have to ‘advertise’ it!
Some of the festival’s programmes have Japanese/Debussy themes.
There are similarities. Like Debussy, Japanese composers, such as Takemitsu, go for poetic titles, such as ‘clouds’, ‘water’, ‘air’ and so on. They both have this sensitive sound manipulation. Also, Debussy and Japanese culture don’t put too much into emotion. 2012 is also the 150th anniversary of Japanese Samurai diplomats arriving in the UK for the first time. Debussy was fascinated by the Far East, particularly in Japanese culture. So we will feature arts from two ends of the globe – the festival will demonstrate the dramatic differences as well as the amazing similarities between the two.
What are your favourite pieces?
Reflets dans l’eauand I love the etudes, as a set, because the titles and technical advice is very abstract. This set is probably Debussy’s most ‘honest’ writing. They are the last set of piano pieces that he wrote. There’s something sad, dark, deep.
Is Debussy’s music is accessible to the amateur? 
Absolutely!The girl with flaxen hair, Clair de lune, Arabesque No 1 – I’ve met many amateurs who say they’ve been working on at least one of them.
What are the technical challenges in Debussy?
You need incredible finger control. You have to be listening all the time. You can’t get ‘drowned’ into the music (of course there’s lots of ‘watery’ music!). A part of your brain has to be always aware of what’s happening, so you need good communication between brain and fingers. Debussy often asks you to accent this note, and that note – it’s not so conventional. It’s not controlled by your own emotion. You need a cool mind and lots of control.

Which interpreters would you tell people to listen to?
Giesekingand Michelangeli, definitely. Michelangeli is a good example of the controlling business. Gieseking – well, it’s just a miracle what he does.
How is Debussy received in recital?
People get a bit nervous when I want to do a lot of Debussy in recital because they think it’s wishy-washy, watery music. But it’s not! 2012 is the year I’ll be convincing the public that here’s a hard-core composer!
The Reflections on Debussy Festival at Bridgewater Hall Manchester is from 20 January to 9 June 2012. Click here for further details. BIS Records releases Ogawa’s Debussy – Complete Piano Music box set in January (BISCD1955/56). Ogawa spoke with Erica Worth. Debussy’s Prélude from Suite Bergamasque features inside Pianist 63's Scores section

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