“Zimerman and Bernstein interpret Brahms”: two titans at the top in “The Great Moments of Music”, on Arte

Krystian Zimerman and Leonard Bernstein, in Vienna in 1984.


Among the one hundred and thirty-nine conductors with whom he has collaborated, the Swiss pianist of Polish origin Krystian Zimerman (born in 1956) considers ” in hindsight, (that) Leonard Bernstein (1918-1990) is the one who counted the most”. He makes these remarks in front of the camera of Dag Freyer, who obtained an interview with the pianist whose reputation is to give only a dropper.

“In reality, I am asked very little, says Zimerman. I told you: “If it’s me you want to talk about, it’s no; but if it’s Leonard Bernstein and the (Second) concerto of Brahms that interest you, yes. Because I owe a lot to this man.” » Indeed, Dag Freyer returns to a mythical concert of 1984, filmed at the Musikverein in Vienna, with the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra, conducted by the American conductor.

The two had known each other since 1976, a year after 18-year-old Krystian Zimerman won first prize at the prestigious Warsaw Chopin Competition; in 1981, they had given, in Vienna, the First Concerto op. 15 (1854-1858), by Johannes Brahms. ” A desaster “remembers the pianist, who had had the misfortune to wipe his forehead coated with foundation by television make-up artists: his fingers slipped on the keyboard of an otherwise poorly tuned piano.

After this failure, Zimerman took his revenge: by playing on his own instrument, which he transports, adjusts and tunes himself, and by restoring the first concerto, in 1984, during the same evening, where was to be filmed for the second concerto op. 83 (1878-1881), the complete recording of which is offered by Arte on its Arte Concert platform.

“Sound Architect”

The conversation with Zimerman returns to this singularity that the pianist has of only performing with his personal piano, regulated by him. ” Why not ? After all, I don’t share my toothbrush! », retorts the person concerned, who says he grew up near a piano with which he exchanged “like with a real person”.

After the war, Silesia, his native region, which had belonged to Germany, found itself with many grand pianos, but no spare parts. “That’s how I became a manual worker! », explains Zimerman. A joke circulated about this in his youth: “If you send Zimerman into the forest, he comes back with a grand piano…”

Four musicians are invited to talk about Zimerman and Bernstein: the pianists Hélène Grimaud, Igor Levit and Carl Wolf (who was a student of Zimerman at the Musikhochschule in Basel); and conductor Marin Alsop, a former protegee of the maestro. Hélène Grimaud says of her colleague: “He is an architect of sound, form and emotion. An unequaled ideal, one of the rare geniuses in practice. »

Igor Levit, who is not half a portion of a pianist himself, remains speechless at the technical ease of his colleague (the famous passage in octaves of the “Scherzo”), but he especially admires the polyphonic clarity of his playing. And “the way in which Bernstein offers him the chords of the orchestra” in the sublime slow movement.

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The most beautiful moment of the film is surely the testimony of admiring affection of the pianist towards Bernstein: “I have never found with others the same freedom in concert. »

Zimerman and Bernstein perform Brahmsby Dag Freyer (Germany, 2022, 43 min). On Arte.tv until July 17.

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