This past year and a half the world has been given an ultimatum: either pay attention to nature or suffer the consequences, and suffer we have. It is no longer a matter of ‘if’ but ‘when’ will it be too late. The pandemic has only magnified the crisis, placing an avalanche with impassible roads on our path, and especially for the performing arts.
Maybe a saving grace, if we are going to be positive against the challenges, is that we have a moment now to choose that going forward doesn’t have to mean picking up where we left off, but rather to consciously, with more awareness of our interconnectedness to everything, to chart a new path.
We can be better and in this new time, the arts can lead as an example—that is in essence why we are here—to express, cause reflection, and realize our inner-inter-connectedness of a common existence. No one is exempt, and so we are all tasked with saving the planet and the arts together.
But we are all only human, and each of us can only do our little part, and that is a start, a good start. The role of the arts as having a responsibility is one thing but understanding that the fragility of the arts and the fragility of the planet are connected requires a whole new way of relating the business of art with the world. In this way, a holistic approach is needed.
It’s not something we can be forced into doing, it has to become the norm, and just like learning music, thinking independently, cultivating your own voice, is the true mark of literacy—literacy being the thing that gives us our own mind, to be curious, skeptical, imaginative, practical, and able to face and deal with reality.
But don’t take my word for it. It’s people like Gabiz Reichert who live this, a real example of someone living fully in the present. He is on the path. Let’s see where he is going…
Kathy Geisler: What is your current job in the field of classical music? (what are you currently working on)
Gabiz Reichert: It’s still a bit frustrating of course with many concert organizers permanently out of business and others with a kind of “traffic jam” of programs from the lost seasons, which is why my main focus has been promoting my new CD that came out on July 1st. In the next few months, however, I am looking forward to playing as one of 20 candidates in the International Schimmel Piano Competition in Braunschweig, Germany, and I’m preparing my next few concerts in Munich and Switzerland.
Kathy: What were some of your early lessons or experiences in classical music?
Gabiz: Growing up in an artistic family, the piano and the arts in general have been omnipresent, even as a pre-kindergartener. By the time I got into elementary school in Switzerland, the piano was already a companion for me and became my excuse for not doing homework. As a result, the more homework I got, the more I was practicing the piano.
Switzerland is quite proud of its demanding school system (if you ask me, sometimes ridiculously demanding, especially for little kids), which paradoxically led to my practicing a lot and eventually — much to my family’s dislike — flunking more and more classes. So, one of the earliest and most impressionable lessons I learned due to playing the piano was that music is arguably one of the most powerful tools to escape the real world, not unlike video-games are these days.
Kathy: What is one of your favorite places and why?
Gabiz: Some years ago, a close friend of mine bought a house in the middle of nowhere in the Cevennes (southern France) and since he’s an amateur pianist, he was asking me if I had some idea as to where he could get an affordable piano to put there. I was living in Munich, but I had an old upright piano back at my mother’s house in Switzerland, which I then offered to give it to him as a gift for his new house. He has been inviting me there ever since, and it is absolutely stunning. You cannot reach this place with public transportation, the village nearby has only around 450 inhabitants and it feels as if it is completely detached from the rest of the world. While there, we’re always joking about something big happening in the “real world” and us not hearing about it here, because as far as you can see, there are only hills, valleys, and forest.
After dinner, you can sit outside with a Pastis and look at the most stunningly beautiful starry sky, because there is no air pollution there. At night you can hear the boars until the birds and the sun wakes you up — no alarm clock required. You wake up when the sun is up, and you go to sleep after you had your fill of shooting stars. There is no wifi and nobody misses it there, which makes it the perfect surrounding for refueling the tank for city-living.
Even though this is a place I have only known for a few years now, it feels like a childhood memory somehow, because it’s so familiar to be there (which of course is owed to the extraordinary hospitality of my friend!). The possibility of practicing the piano makes it even more valuable! It’s a very rare thing, that you’re able to have a beautiful vacation and still have the possibility of practicing, so it came to be a very special place for me.
Kathy: What is one of your favorite pieces and do you have a favorite performer or experience of it?
Gabiz: There are of course so many, and it is hard to choose. I grew up with Bartòk’s Mikrokosmos, therefore Bartòk will always be something in its own class for me. Right now what comes to my mind of my favorite pieces are two string quartets: Schubert “death and the maiden” (e.g. from the Artemis Quartett) and Shostakovich 8th (e. g. Borodin Quartett, whom unfortunately I could never hear live). I remember buying their album of the Shosta-quartets in London. I immediately put them on my phone so that I could listen to them in the tube. When I came to listen to the 8th, I was sitting in the very crowded Piccadilly line, but as soon as this first movement started (I have to admit that I didn’t know the piece until then!), I completely forgot about my whole surroundings, I probably could’ve been mugged right then and there and I wouldn’t even have bothered. I listened to the whole thing multiple times until I had realized that I mercilessly missed my stop!
Kathy: Is there an artist no longer living who somehow made an impression on you?
Gabiz: The artists I know personally that made an impression on me are — fortunately — all still alive! But of course we spend most of our time working “with” dead artists like Bach, Beethoven etc. and they all left their mark on the world by “impressing” us. In that sense all of the dead composers, writers, actors, film-makers and painters that I like left an impression on me through their art.
There isn’t really this ONE artist, that shaped me or my artistry because of this ONE experience I had, I think life is — sometimes fortunately and sometimes unfortunately — more complicated than that. The end-goal for me would be, to be my own artist without any influence from anywhere, but of course, this is just meant as a maybe slightly extreme utopian fantasy. Of course there are a lot of artists no longer living, that made an impression on me, in the end, every artists is — to a certain degree — a result of the greats that were before them, if they want to be or not! As a child, I was extremely fond of the Russian greats like Horowitz, Richter, Gilels, etc. because these were the recordings that were lying around the house and as a kid I tried to copy them at times. As a teenager and student though, I had this kind of counter-reaction of refusing to listen to any recordings of the pieces I played myself until I was at least kind of happy with my own interpretation. I would say, the artists that actually shaped my own artistry the most were probably not even pianists themselves! I’m thinking about the novels of Hermann Hesse, Ernest Hemingway and Paul Auster, the paintings of Arnold Böcklin and Maria Lassnig, and the films by Stanley Kubrick, just to name the ones that passed away.
Kathy: What is one thing you think will be different about classical music 100 years from now?
Gabiz: In a hundred years, “die Soldaten” by Zimmerman will be as far away as Brahms and Liszt are from the present day, so I wouldn’t dare to make some kind of programmatic predictions. Concerning the presentation of our profession though, I believe there is a lot that could be done in order to fulfill the whole potential of our field. As much as I love classical music and especially the people in it, it pains me to admit that I understand the accusation of classical music being for elites only. We scorn people for applauding “at the wrong time”, for not understanding stagings of operas that imply knowledge about the 1972 Salzburger Festspiele staging, and simply for not valuing music they don’t like. While sports have become the “fun-parent”, classical music has become the stern and serious one that no one likes to hang out with. Other than that, I think we’ll have to start being more aware of climate-change. Is it really necessary that big German orchestras have one big tour through Asia every year? The same goes for super-star-soloists that play more than 200 concerts a year, sometimes flying from the US to Europe back and forth in just a few days. If we would be a bit more conscious about that, we would have to invite more local artists, which again would lead to a more diverse field. These are just two of the things, that I at least hope will change in the next one hundred years.
Kathy: What is something about your work that you think most people have no idea about?
Gabiz: Probably the amount of work that is behind every artist. Many of us feel the need to “sell” ourselves as a a natural talent and every so often one can read in an interview that “music is like a second mother tongue to me.” Of course that’s true in a way, music can feel like a second mother tongue, but it’s one that takes a lot of time and energy to learn. You can decide with 18, 19, 20+ years of age, that you want to become a doctor, but you can’t decide then to pick up an instrument and become a professional musician (at least most people can’t, of course there can be exceptions). So I think not all people truly understand just how much work every artist has put into their own development and how much time we sacrifice to perfect just a few bars of music.
Kathy: Did you have any life-changing experiences that put you on the path that led you to be doing what you’re doing today?
Gabiz: After I finished school, I went to London — not to study music, but rather just to conquer the whole world in general (the mind of an 18-year-old can be fantastic). I went to the St. Giles College to do my Cambridge Proficiency Exam because I thought I might want to try to study acting. I felt frustrated with music and piano playing, and at that time I didn’t even understand why. When I arrived in London I was actually looking forward not to touch a piano for at least a year, until I figured out what to do in life. But in the end, I lasted about three weeks until I just hated not playing the piano. In my 4th week in London, I kind of conned my way into a church where they had a grand piano. They very kindly allowed me to practice there night and day and that was truly life-changing for me.
Because I was without a teacher in London, I could play what I wanted, and play it how I wanted for the first time. I allowed myself to listen to my body and mind alike, I had to take all the responsibility for my playing and work completely on my own. It was only then, that I realized just how bad of a match my previous teacher and I had been, which had led to my being frustrated in the first place. That was a pivotal moment in my development and it was the first step to artistic independence. After that, I was lucky enough that my Professor in Munich (where I started a year later) was supporting — and demanding! — independence from his students.
Kathy: Is there anything else you would like to say about yourself, your work, or classical music?
Gabiz: I think I covered a lot in the last few questions, sorry for my multiple digressions! The pandemic was giving us a hard time, in general, and in the classical music business, and I just hope that we will be able not only to recover from that, but to grow because of it and to keep evolving as a profession. The pandemic — weirdly enough — brought the classical music scene closer together, and I hope we can keep up the growing solidarity between artists. Classical music is a precious and marvelous, but fragile thing, and I’m looking forward to the future and to how we’re going to develop it.
As said at the start of this interview, I’m promoting my new CD A New Path now (available everywhere where you can buy CDs online and on Spotify, Deezer, YouTube Music, Apple Music, etc.). The program compares three different composers in their experimental phases. Other than that, I’m trying to produce 9 animated short films to the 9 Études-Tableaux (Picture-Studies in English) Op. 39 from Rachmaninov. The project is still in the early phases, and of course, the world doesn’t move without money, so we’re currently looking for sponsors to support us in this endeavor. Rachmaninov’s Pictures are full of dark colors and even though they are so short, they tell elaborate stories. If anyone reading this is interested in hearing more about my phantasy of producing these films, I can be contacted directly through my website. And of course: Thank you for reading!
This interview originally appeared in Humans of Classical Music on medium.com