Please enjoy Susan Oliver’s Q&A with Guest Artist David Jalbert, who joins us for the Saturday, February 8 concert “Winter Passion,” with topics covering his history with Michael Newnham and the PSO, the demands of his schedule, bagels and tennis!
Audience Getting to Know You
Susan Oliver: What are the five things you can’t live without?
David Jalbert: Well, piano I guess, tennis, my Kindle, news/politics, videogames
SO: What is your motto, or the advice you live by?
DJ: “when you’re not practising, someone else is”
SO: You hold an Artist Diploma from the Juilliard School in New York, and a Master’s Degree from the Université de Montréal. New York or Montreal bagels?
DJ: Definitely Montreal.
On Your Relationship with the PSO
SO: You first performed with the PSO during the 2008-2009 season and Michael Newnham, the PSO’s Music Director and Conductor, said that your attention to detail, combined with an infectious generosity of spirit, endeared you to the orchestra and audience. What draws you to play again with the orchestra?
DJ: I’m so excited to play with Michael Newnham and the PSO again! I have fond memories of that last visit. And Michael is just a great guy, on top of being a wonderful musician.
SO: You are a professor of piano at the University of Ottawa, regular guest artist and commentator on CBC Radio and Radio-Canada broadcasts, as well as a regular guest soloist, performing in Canada, the United States, Mexico, South Africa and Europe. Are you working with the PSO on the concerto now, even as you meet the demands of all of these other roles?
DJ: Yup, it’s always going on all at once. It’s the middle of the spring term at the University right now, so things get pretty hectic!
On Prokofiev and his Piano Concerto No. 1
SO: What are the first three words that come to mind when you think of this piece? And, why?
DJ: Youthful, fiery, inspired. Prokofiev wrote this concerto while he was still a student, at 18-19 years old, and premiered it himself; it therefore has a rather explosive amount of youthful energy and optimism, along with some good old bravado (read: showing off) and drama. The influence of Tchaikovsky is there, but so is Prokofiev’s own, completely new sound and pianism.
SO: The Concerto was pronounced “musical mud,” “the work of a madman,” and “primitive cacophony,” while one critic suggested that the audience chip in to “buy the poor fellow a straitjacket.” How do you describe this piece?
DJ: Gotta love those early reviews! It’s hilarious to read this when the composer has gone on to become a paragon of Russian music 100 years later.
SO: Prokofiev was extraordinarily gifted at a young age and in his equally extraordinary self-confidence, and perhaps his boredom with the pace of his schooling, developed a reputation as an “enfant terrible.” You have described your younger self as “a 21-year-old arrogant whiz kid pianist.” Enfant terrible?
DJ: Well I’m twice that age now, definitely less arrogant, and no kid anymore! But I guess I’ve always had a rebellious side, which made Prokofiev my favorite composer at an age when most kids are getting into Chopin or Beethoven.
SO: You started a degree in art history when you were doing your Master’s in music at the Université de Montréal. At that time, it was 20th century art that appealed to you. As a student of art history myself, an (19th century) artist that comes to mind when I consider Prokofiev is Cezanne. Do you see a connection between Cezanne’s understanding and respect for the traditional forms, but his desire to depart from convention in perspective and form with Prokofiev’s musical vision? And, if so, what work by Cezanne would you visually relate with a work by Prokofiev?
DJ: That’s a good analogy actually. I think of Prokofiev as a neo-classicist, but before that as a rule-breaker, so Cézanne’s early embrace of a style that would abolish the traditional rules of perspective makes a good comparison. But it’s hard for me to pick a specific painting, as I don’t think of music very “visually” in general.
David Jalbert, Professionally
SO: Named by the CBC as one of the 15 best Canadian pianists of all time, you have established yourself among the elite of a new generation of classical musicians. Can you give a brief insight into what you think defines the “new generation?”
DJ: Non-boomers? : )
SO: In an interview with La Scena Musicale almost 20 years ago you said your plans for the future were to “continue entering international piano competitions …[and] continue building my concert repertoire, which will include many concertos.” With that and so much more accomplished, in five/ten years from now professionally you will be…?
DJ: A grizzled but enthusiastic veteran!
On Classical Music
SO: What would you want to convey to the PSO audience, or those who have not been to the symphony but are reading the concert article, about classical music?
DJ: You are definitely missing out on one of the great things in life, and it’s never too late.
SO: You are a lover of tennis. (“Tennis fanatic,” you self-described.) Where were you when Bianca Vanessa Andreescu won the U.S. Open and became the first Canadian to win a Grand Slam title?
DJ: Glued to my TV, not believing what I was watching!
Thank you, David.