Video specials

Claudio Abbado, Maurizio Pollini and Anna Prohaska on old and new musical friendships (17:55)

Claudio Abbado and Maurizio Pollini have been performing together for half a century: a unique friendship among artists that continues to reveal new facets. As happened in the middle of May 2011, when the two musicians performed their first joint interpretation of Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 17 in G major. The evening also included other highlights: works by Berg and Mahler, and performances by the young soprano Anna Prohaska. Claudio Abbado, Maurizio Pollini and Anna Prohaska discuss the concert with Sarah Wills, horn player with the Berliner Philharmoniker.

The concert

Welcome to the Digital Concert Hall, Anna Prohaska, Claudio Abbado, Maurizio Pollini. Thank you very much for taking the time to talk to me. Claudio, this is like a week of old friends new friends for you, isn't it? We have a new friend, Anna, and an old friend, Maurizio, and old friends in the orchestra as well. How does it feel to come back and bring everyone together?

It's always a great, great pleasure to make music, to see all the friends again. Of course, with Maurizio so many years.

How many years do you know each other?

Almost a half century, and we play so many concertos from Mozart, Nono, and Brahms, Beethoven, all Beethoven's concertos.

You've played everything, I think, together that there is.

We play many things.

Not everything.

Not everything.

A good number of concertos.

Quite a good collaboration.

Absolutely, absolutely.

But tonight's concerto is one that you haven't played together, is that right?


No, it's right. We haven't played together. It's a marvelous concerto. I didn't play it for a few years, and hearing now these sounds, the marvelous sound of Mozart so well played by the orchestra was really a great joy for me, like a discovery. I really know very well the concerto. It's one of those perhaps not played so often, but it's one of the most beautiful concertos by Mozart. Doesn't require a timpani and trumpets. It's more a chamber concerto.

But the invention is so extraordinary, for instance, the invention of the third movement, the variation. This is already going into the line that Beethoven will follow later. It's an extraordinary way of composing a variation. And the second movement with all the modulation is absolutely magical, one of the great movements of Mozart.

There's quite a lot of light and shade in this concerto. It starts so happy, and then all of a sudden, it gets a little bit shadowy.

It is basically a happy concerto, but it has also shadows.

Can you two remember the first time you played together?


Chopin concerto in Italy in the '60s.

In the '60s. Can you remember the first time you played with Anna? It's not so long ago, is it?

The first time was with Lulu.

Mm-hm. In Caracas.

In Venezuela.

Ooh, that's a nice place for a [INAUDIBLE].

Yeah, with Simon Bolivar Orchestra, with Abreu.

Fantastic. And, I believe, Anna and Maurizio, you'll be playing together for the first time soon, no? In Lucerne?

Yes, in the summer, at the Lucerne Festival, because Anna will sing a new work by Giacomo Manzoni, the Italian composer, a new work that will have its premiere in Lucerne. And so I'm very happy that you accepted to do that.

Oh yes. I'm also very, very honest. I met Giacomo Manzoni in the evening for Claudio's 75th birthday concert and Giacomo decided to write something for me. And it's such a great honor that it will be together with these wonderful gentlemen in this amazing festival, and we're going to take it all over the world, so to Paris, to New York, to Berlin.


I didn't know.

You didn't know?

That's when you heard Anna for the first time, on the recording of the Rihm piece that was written for your birthday. Do you remember?

Yeah, exactly.

And what did you think when you heard this voice?

Yes, that's a personality, fantastic. And also, we work together, we understand each other very well.

You said that to me the other day. You said when you worked on the Mozart with Anna, you said you just understood each other from the first notes. Isn't that wonderful when that happens?

Yes. When you have somebody who can make music, great music, and [ITALIAN].

You two have this as well, but for a little bit longer.


Do you have a favorite concerto you like to do together?

We play all the Beethoven, all the Brahms.

It's very difficult to choose one concerto. You like them all.

It's like when someone says, what's your favorite composer? And I always think, depends on the mood.

Impossible question.

Impossible, yes. But you must have had some great tours in your time. What you do when you're not playing? What do you do after the concert? You go out and eat great Italian food?



Why not?

--it's possible. Sometimes it's not possible. In holiday times when many things going to the sea, for instance.

Some musicians don't like to have holidays. Some musicians just like to work, work, work.

Or visiting towns and cities and monuments, or being in the theater. There are many, many things. Or being with friends.

Claudio, you like to cook, right?

Yes. We see each other sometimes in Sardinia or up in the mountains.

Make holidays together.

I don't know if we make holidays, or sometimes we prepare. I remember when we prepared the Beethoven Piano Concerto for Berlin, that we were working in [INAUDIBLE].

You did a lot together here in Berlin, didn't you?


Is it one of your favorite orchestras to work with? I hope you say yes.

It's one of the--

Logical. It's a logical answer, but it's absolutely true.

And do you miss it, Claudio?


Do you miss the orchestra?

No, I don't miss it. I come every year.

You come every year. We don't give you a chance to miss us.

No, but you know how it is. I play just one concert in Berlin, two concerts in Lucerne, and something with a Mozart Orchestra. That's it.

But you're feeling fine?



But I take more time for myself to study, to read, to learn. All life, we have to learn something.

It's important. Anna, you're still so young and vivacious, you don't need to take so much time for yourself, or do you? What you do when you're not preparing, because you're quite busy these days?

Definitely. Sometimes maybe once a year, I have a three week holiday, and otherwise I'm usually working through. If I have three, four five days sometime, I love to just go off, take a plane to some new city that I haven't seen. I'm not so much of a beach person. I love to go to a new place to see, for example, historical excavations, wonderful museums. Those are the things that I do first in a new town, and then I like to hear the local orchestra, see maybe a play in a theater. I'm a great fan of straight theater as well, so not just music, but also theater in the wider sense. I'm a huge history fan. I love to read about the Roman Empire up to the Second World War. That's one of the most interesting things for me. And I love hiking, so I'm from the mountains.

Well, you'll have to go together, then.


Yeah, why not?

We went on a little hike in Venezuela in the botanical gardens that have quite a lot of hills and stuff, and it was very hot. I remember that. It was very humid and hot.

I forgot.

Anna, I know, she's very sporty, and when she goes jogging, she likes to listen to heavy metal, so it's quite incredible, heavy metal music. So this incredibly ethereal voice, and while she's jogging, she hears heavy metal. Do you have any secret music loves as well?

When I was sick, I heard Bach. It was a great medicine.

Medicine, yeah. Bach is good medicine.

Medicine for the soul, isn't it, music?

Are you a jazz fan, or do you like other types of music as well?

I was a jazz fan when I was very, very young, 16 years old. But after this period, not so much, absolutely.

You're for Mozart. Yes, you can hear it. It's really so wonderful to hear you playing Mozart this week.

The program, Claudio. Tell me, you've balanced Mozart and then Berg, and then Mozart and then Mahler. And the Mahler 10, I couldn't find any information that you've done this before in the orchestra because you did a lot of Mahler with the Philharmonic because they didn't play so much Mahler, did they?

We played all the symphonies, I think.

All of them.

Except the 8, that we didn't play.


I recorded.

You did the 8. I remember. You were here--

In Berlin?

In Berlin.

Then he's right.

Yes? See, friends know you best. This aria that Anna's singing, yesterday in the rehearsal, we were all just smiling during it because it's incredibly difficult, incredibly virtuosic, and absolutely gorgeous.

Yes. She's doing wonderful.

Is it particularly difficult to sing?

Well, yes. I mean, you've got to really hold yourself back and constantly, you think about technique, although I'm more of an emotional person. I'm someone who accesses music through emotions, and also through the brain, thinking about the text, of course, but especially through feeling the music. And if you let your body go wild during the piece, then you lose this amazing, pristine, crystalline line which you have to have for this very slow and very high and languid sounding Mozart. So it's a bit of a challenge, but with this amazing accompaniment, it's not as difficult as I thought it would be.

It was wonderful to hear the voice, and then with the oboe, [INAUDIBLE]. That was a fantastic duet.

It is. It's like two voices together.

It's wonderful. That's what I love about also being in a duet with an oboe because it's maybe the instrument that's closest to the soprano voice. It's practically the same tessitura, and it's also got a similar sound with the vibrato, the non-vibrato, these things that they can also play with. And also, I have a kind of double reed in my throat, haven't I, like a double reed instrument?

A double reed in your throat.

Physically, it's a similar thing. It's really true.

Is it particularly nerve wracking as a young singer to get up on stage and [INAUDIBLE]?

She has to start with Mozart.

Yeah, to also start with Mozart. It's quite a scary piece to start with.

That's true.

It's a great piece.

But it's better. Also, we start the rehearsals too.

Yeah. I find it better that way because throughout the evening, I can get more and more dramatic. So the first half of the aria is very crystalline, and then it goes into more of a spinto, more dramatic coloring in the Mozart. And then the next piece in the Berg, which lets me really let rip, and I can really have fun with the high notes and the coloratura. But it's a lot more dramatic. So technically, for the voice, it's better that way to do Mozart first, and then a romantic piece-- which I think Lulu still is. It's very late romantic.

I've imagined with soloists, when I've done horn concertos, the waiting is the worst part, the traditional waiting until the overture is finished and sitting in your dressing room all by yourself. Is that the worst part for you, the waiting?

It depends from the night.

From the night, yeah. It's always a matter of how you feel. This getting nervous thing is never something I've managed to--

And it doesn't get less and less. I mean, you can--

I don't know. Does it get less? Does getting nervous get less?

I have the impression that it stays.

It stays. Oh no. We want it to go away.

To be honest, singing my first solo in [INAUDIBLE], or Haydn Mass or something in church or at school was actually just as nerve wracking as performing nowadays. It's just that nowadays, you also know the consequences. You know the prospects, what might happen, and you have much more of an idea of the music industry and these kind of things. Also modern music industry with all these electronic new introductions, like YouTube and these things where we're constantly under surveillance by the public. It's a lot more, I think, than it was earlier. Now everybody can come with a little camera, can record any rehearsal or any concert, and then it's on the internet.

What do you think of this? Do you agree with Anna? Everything is so recorded these days, every little cough on stage, somebody's out there recording it.

In the future, there will be witness of all musicians and nothing will escape, but it will be a great help also. If we could know something about Beethoven or Chopin playing, it would be a great advantage for us, but we cannot have that.

Absolutely. My brother's a conductor.

But we have Stravinsky conducting, and Schoenberg conducting, and other great conductors, et cetera.

You do this wonderful Progetto Pollini, this wonderful mixture of old and new. You did Monteverdi was mixed with Rihm and Boulez.

I took care of some cycle of concerts here, and they are also presenting some works that are not played every day. And so also ancient work, as well as some contemporary or modern works that are not, in my opinion, played enough in the concert scene, which is represented mostly by the 19th and 18th century.

Nono was a great friend of yours, wasn't he?


I was reading about the film that you made with him together.

We played many--

Many things.

Many things for the first time.

Anna sang an opera by Nono.

Al Gran Sole Carico D'Amore two years ago at the Salzburg Festival, and I was so excited to hear that Claudio did the world premiere at La Scala back then. And a very turbulent time, wasn't it, 1968 or around then? '68, '69?

Yes, it was like a revolution.

Yeah, yeah, yeah.

With the audience of La Scala, you know?

I can imagine.

How did they react to that?

Somebody likes it, somebody didn't like.

But usually the ones who don't like it are the louder ones, right?

In La Scala, I think so, yeah.

Not so much.


No, not so much. But you know, it takes time. Like today we were just talking about Mahler. When they played for the first time Mahler 10, the adagio, they didn't understand anything. It takes time. Mahler, [INAUDIBLE] we need a half century to understand his music. And with Nono, it's the same.

Do you think there's a similarity between Mahler's 10th Adagio and the Lulu Adagio, because listening to both of them yesterday in the rehearsal, there's very, very similar parts in there.

You know, studying these two scores, I was thinking, you know, Mahler was even more modern than Berg.

He was.

With the harmony. There's something incredible. Of course, Berg is a wonderful composer, so new for his time, no? But Mahler was at the beginning of the 19th century, so that's incredible.

So how about a Lulu with Anna? I can imagine you as the perfect Lulu.

Oh, thank you.

I could. Don't you think?

Yes, sure.

So there we go. That's a collaboration.

It was a project. You are doing it, I hope?

Yeah, but I think in a few years time. Not yet. As we all know, the orchestra is just so huge, and the tessitura is actually for a coloratura soprano, and you need a lot of middle, though. You need three voices. It's like Traviata, these big, big soprano roles that you have.

Yeah, very dramatic.

Exactly, but also high. So I think I'll wait a few years and then I'll be very happy. It's my absolute dream role.

That's wise.


Claudio, we're up here in the orchestra recreation room, and there's a poster here on the wall-- I don't know if you've seen it-- from 1956, if I may say that. And it was a competition of Carlo "Secchi," it says?


Zecchi. And you were taking part with Zubin Mehtca and Daniel Baremboim.

Yeah, in Sienna.

Do you remember this? In Sienna. It's on the poster.

Yes, I remember this.

And this is the original poster from there.

I didn't see the poster, but I remember in Sienna.

Yes, we're very privileged to have this poster here.

And Zecchi was a great pianist. Then he decided to conduct, and was teaching. It was very interesting.

And who won?

Who won?

Who won the competition? Was it a competition?

It was not a competition.

Oh, it was just a concert of all the up and coming young conductors.

No, I think they invited only a few conductors to study with Zecchi.

We never knew this.

It was not a competition. We though it was some sort of a competition.

It was a good friendship.

Yeah, a good friendship. A good friendship like all three of you, and thank you so much. You've been fantastic.

Thank you.

Thank you for coming to talk to me.

Thank you. You're a wonderful host, Sarah.

Have a wonderful concert.

Thank you.

See you, hopefully, all again very, very soon.


Hope so, too.

My pleasure.

Thank you.