||: Being, Going, Growing, Changing :||
A musician’s perpetuum mobile
An essay by Igor Levit
I am on the move. I have no choice. Of course, it’s part of my job to travel and play concerts all over the world. But another reason I travel is because I need to. In all its different stages, being on the move changes me: departure from home, arrival elsewhere, return journey, arrival back home. Being on the move means setting off, escaping, liberation, it is loneliness and oneness with your own self, coming and going at the same time. Vanishing point and destination is always the concert on the podium, the reward for all the effort.
My first reaction when I was asked to write an essay on the motto of the 2020 Festival was »of course«. Then doubts assailed me. What could I tell my readers that they didn’t know already? But perhaps these remarks will give them a look behind the scenes and an impression of the unknown side of an artist’s life, the two-thirds of it spent »on the move«. And they are a reflection on how the parameters of concert life have changed me and go on changing me, as an artist and indeed as a person.
When I start thinking about being on the move, I cannot help but think about what it means to be at home. Everyone needs a place where they can give their innermost thoughts the scope they require, a place we call »home«. But what is it that makes our home a home? Is it just the place where we live, full of the furniture and personal possessions we have amassed over the years? These physical things have no significance for me. They could be part of some anonymous hotel-room anywhere in the world. Only when friends, family and the people I associate with fill this space does it become my home.
It would sound very fine if I could say: »Heidelberger Frühling is also my home.« But things are rather different. This in no way belittles the importance the festival has for me. The »Frühling« is a highly significant place that I would never want to be without. I love being here, my relationship with the festival could not be closer. This is hardly surprising, possibly a little banal. There are a number of locations that have a similar standing in my musical life, the Salzburg Festival, for example, or the Wigmore Hall in London. Salzburg, London, Heidelberg – all places with rich traditions, places where institutions have been established that make these cities culturally vibrant. And the programmes I devise for these places take shape in close and amicable consultation witzh others. But what concerns me here more than anything is you, the audience. I can’t say that my playing is more intense in Heidelberg than elsewhere, or more profound, or simply better. What I can say is that I play differently because there are only very few places where I know my audience so well, where I experience so much resonance. Hardly anywhere else is the dialogue so pronounced.
»Vanishing point and destination is always the concert on the podium, the reward for all the effort.«
I love having people in the audience that I know, people I can talk to later and feel close to during the concert itself. Playing concerts and everything that goes with it is what I long for more than anything else. For me, it is hardly an exaggeration to say that music-making is a drug.
It would be wrong to believe that it’s a habit you can kick. Most people believe that life on the platform is so staggering because it’s a sop to the artist’s narcissistic leanings. But it’s not as banal as that. The stage is much more than a place where the artist can smear superficially soothing balsam all over the aching heart that he wears on his sleeve. The stage is an essential place. It bestows significance not only on me, but also on the works themselves and the audience.
The stage is where I come into my own. Stage time is my time. On the platform I am at one with myself, in an absolute sense. I don’t draw my horns in, I don’t cut things down to size. On the platform I let it all happen. That’s what the stage is for. When I play at home, I can stop, get up and go. On stage I may be alone, but I’m fully in agreement with that solitude. My emotional state as a human individual recedes into the background. This may sound odd because playing feeds on emotion. True. But on the platform those emotions enter into a dialogue with the work, with the past, with the present, with the composer, with the audience. I have a subject and I have something to say. My channel for communicating is the way I play. On the platform I know where I am. The platform is the right place.
So for me being on the move is an ambivalent thing. In my travel mode, I’m a functioning entity. Functioning sounds mechanical, not human, but that is the reassuring thing about it. On the road I’m a professional. Travelling round the world is more than physical displacement. Travel routines are like a choreography that I perform as a professional musician. Travel routes give me a framework, they structure my day and give me respite from my private life. And when I go on stage to play, I’ve reached my destination. It is an arrival that can only happen because I left another place before.
Then I enter into a dialogue, I’m in a community and interact with others before I become private again. I’m on the move, I have no choice: being, going, growing, changing.