Monday, October 30, 2023

Eric Zivian in Conversation with Christian Baldini

On November 4, I will have the pleasure of collaborating with pianist Eric Zivian as our soloist in Beethoven's Piano Concerto No. 4 with the Camellia Symphony Orchestra in Sacramento. Also on the program (aptly titled "Revolutionary Spirits") will be Beethoven's Symphony No. 2, as well as Ruth Crawford Seeger's Andante for Strings. Below is a conversation with Eric.


Christian Baldini: Eric, once more it will be a pleasure to work with you and to make music together. What are some of the things you like the most about this Beethoven Concerto? And what should people listen for in it?

Eric Zivian: It’s wonderful to be back working with you again! The Beethoven Fourth Piano Concerto is a very special piece in the repertoire. It is not stormy or extroverted like Beethoven’s other concertos, but predominantly gentle and lyrical. The slow movement, a dramatic dialogue between the orchestra and piano, is absolutely stunning. In the first movement, Beethoven breaks the usual pattern of concerto first movements and opens with a rhapsodic piano solo before the standard orchestral introduction. I find the ornaments in the piano part toward the end of the movement, after the cadenza, to be some of the most delightful ever written.


CB: Does your interpretation change much as rehearsals go forward? Aside from practicalities, do you feel that rehearsing with others and in different spaces affect your performance or your understanding of a piece? 

EZ: Absolutely. There is nothing like rehearsing with a full orchestra under the direction of an intelligent and sensitive musician like you to give me a fresh perspective. Plus, during practice I always think of new things!


CB: Well thank you, it is truly a wonderful collaboration working with you and receiving so much feedback from you in rehearsals! You also play a lot on the fortepiano. Has this informed how you approach a Beethoven or Mozart Concerto when performing on a modern instrument?

EZ: Very much so. I have a fortepiano modeled on the kind of instrument Mozart and Beethoven would have known. It has a totally different touch and sound, very articulate in all registers with deep bass notes, bringing out the clarity of the counterpoint. With that sound in my ear, I have learned to emphasize those qualities on the modern piano when playing 18th and 19th-century music.


CB: You also love the music of Brahms, and of Ligeti. What attracts you so much to their music, and why?

EZ: Although Brahms and Ligeti were very different composers, I love their music for much the same reason: they use complex rhythms that appeal to my sensibility, while at the same emphasizing clarity and directness of expression.


CB: As a composer, what are some of your priorities, and/or what do you try to achieve with your own music?

EZ: To be fully transparent, I haven’t written music in some years. But in my composing days, I also aimed to write music that reflected a combination of rhythmic intricacy and straightforward expression. Decades of composing music also helps me, as a performer, to gain insight into the composer’s perspective.


CB: What would be your advice for young pianists and for young composers? What is your advice when people lose hope or get frustrated with themselves?

EZ: My advice is: always remember what drew you to performing or composing. By all means listen to the valuable advice of your teachers and mentors, but stay true to your own vision of what music is all about. During performance, or the creative process, relax and let the music flow through you.


CB: Thank you Eric, I am very much looking forward to our performance together!

EZ: Thanks Christian, I can’t wait!


 Eric Zivian received music degrees from the Curtis Institute of Music, the Juilliard School and the Yale School of Music. He studied piano with Gary Graffman and Peter Serkin and composition with Ned Rorem, Jacob Druckman, and Martin Bresnick.

Eric is equally at home on modern and period instruments. He is Music Director of the Valley of the Moon Music Festival, a festival in Sonoma specializing in Classical and Romantic chamber music played on period instruments, and a longtime member of the Left Coast Chamber Ensemble in San Francisco.

Eric recently performed the Mozart C minor Concerto with the Portland Baroque Orchestra and the Beethoven Choral Fantasy with the Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra. At the height of the pandemic, Eric livestreamed all 32 Beethoven piano sonatas on period pianos.


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