The virtuoso pianist tells Sonia Kolesnikov-Jessop about the rigours of preparing for a concert and the importance of fillet steak.
'I'm definitely not a morning person and I get up as late as possible, usually not before 9am. First, I check my e-mails on my BlackBerry. I don't really have breakfast but I can't survive without tea; Earl Grey is my favourite.
On the day of a concert I always have rehearsals between 10.30am and 1.30pm. That's my routine. If it's a recital, where I'm alone on stage, the main purpose of the rehearsal is to try the piano in the hall - for the acoustics - and see how it feels on stage. Often we have a piano selection, where they will roll out two or three pianos I can choose from. I always play on a Steinway. The sound of the piano is the most important thing but, as a performer, the touch and the mechanics of the piano are also important.
I try to choose a piano that goes with the size of the concert hall and the programme I'm playing. I can select a piano in five to 10 minutes. Sometimes I need a more powerful piano for a big Romantic piece such as by Rachmaninov or Brahms. However, sometimes you don't need such a huge sound; colour is more important for an intimate piece. I don't usually use all the time allocated
to the rehearsal and I never go through the entire programme. I cannot do that twice in a day. I just play a few selected passages, that's it.
If it's a concert with an orchestra, it's different. The typical schedule is one rehearsal with the orchestra the day before the concert - usually for about three hours - and then a run-through of the entire piece for the dress rehearsal on the day of the concert. Sometimes the dress rehearsal is the only rehearsal you get with the orchestra, so it's really important.
I practise every day, a minimum of three to four hours. The only time I don't touch a piano is when I'm on holiday. Then I don't do anything for two weeks. It'll take me about two or three intensive days to get back into it.
When I'm travelling, it's always arranged so I have access to a piano whether in the concert hall or in a shop, or sometimes, if I'm lucky, in the hotel room. That is, of course, very convenient and luxurious because I can stay in my pyjamas and still practise. You'd be surprised how many hotels have pianos. They're not always in very good condition and they're more for decoration, but some do have surprisingly nice Steinways.
I always have to think ahead because I don't practise the pieces I'm going to be playing that week - they're usually ready - so I practise the pieces that are coming up the next week or sometimes the month after.
In a normal year, I will perform two recital programmes and quite a few concerto pieces. I'm a very generous person with concertos. I know some colleagues only offer one or two, but I usually play eight to 10 concertos in any given season.
Sometimes the orchestra will come to me and ask me for a specific piece, in which case I might offer it to other places too. It's a convivial process. This year, I'm playing a lot of Liszt, concertos by Chopin, Grieg, Saint-Saens, Ravel, Gershwin and Beethoven. For recital, I have one whose first half is of Satie, Debussy and Messiaen - a journey into the French 20th century to see how they all developed from each other - and the second half is a Brahms' sonata. The other recital has the complete Debussy preludes [second book] and Schuman.
I guess my choice of music reflects who I am. I was born and brought up in France, but my mother is German, so I have two influences. I think I'm more French than German, but in terms of music, my taste is shared.
As a pianist, I'm more Romantic than Classical. Tchaikovsky, Rachmaninov, Chopin and the French, of course; there is always room for Debussy and Ravel. I think that reflects my personality.
Anyway, after my dress rehearsal, I do have a bit of a routine for lunch: I always eat a steak, preferably a nice fillet, very rare. Maybe it's psychological but I feel I need to have a lot of protein to have strength for the concert. A two-hour recital is a big physical effort and you need to be in good shape. Otherwise I'm on the South Beach diet, low fat, low carb. I never drink on the day of a concert. The few times in my life I've done it, it's not that I played badly, but I did feel different, even with just a beer.
After lunch, if I have enough time, I'll make an effort to see something of the city I'm in or do a bit of shopping. But I always go back to the hotel because I need to relax for two or three hours. I go to bed, watch TV or read and eventually go to sleep. I do need that nap.
I need to get up at least two hours before a concert, otherwise my brain is not functioning fully. I have a shave, although I don't like shaving and I do it as infrequently as possible, usually just on the day of a concert. I get myself sorted by laying out all the things I need because I'll get dressed at the venue. Once in a while, I forget my cufflinks or socks. When I was much younger I used to arrive at
the last minute at the concert hall and people would be sweating, waiting for me. But with age I've changed and I now like to arrive maybe 45 minutes before the curtain rises. I stay in the dressing room, get dressed, warm up my fingers by doing a couple of exercises.
Waiting before the concert is the most uncomfortable part of the day. Sometimes I get nervous; sometimes not at all - it's something you can't control. I'm usually not a nervous person, but a bit of nerves is not a bad thing. That's what makes a live concert magnetic and an incredible experience; otherwise it's like listening to a CD.
After I finish my performance, I like to sit in the hall and listen to the second half if I'm not playing. I also like to sign CDs and meet the public. I think people need more than listening to a pianist; they want to know what the person is like; they want to speak to them.
After a concert, I'm absolutely a party type. I rarely stay alone and there is often a party arranged by the organisers. But if not, I'll meet up with friends and explore the bars and clubs. I rarely go to bed before 1am.
Once or twice a year I record an album, and for that you have to be prepared to the max. I usually set aside 10 days for this because, once you are recording, time is so expensive you need to be very professional. A solo CD usually takes four or five days; a concerto with orchestra usually takes one day.
When I'm not travelling I'm back in Los Angeles, where I like my life the best. Then I relax, sit by the pool, cruise around in my car and just enjoy myself.'