Classical music

Israeli pianist David Greilsammer blends baroque and modern music

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 28 April, 2015, 6:13am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 12 May, 2015, 11:36am

Not so long ago, Israeli pianist David Greilsammer had a revelation while strolling through a museum in Paris. The idea made such an impression it has inspired his many old-meets-new recital programmes, one of which he will bring to Hong Kong next month.

"I was struck by a strange and unexpected thought," the 37-year-old recalls. "As I walked from one room to the next, I suddenly realised how intense that very moment had been, that precise instant of leaving the previous hall and entering the next space, stepping into a new and different collection of paintings, looking at a new world of shapes and colours.

"This simple moment of exchanging one artistic world for a different one seemed like a revelation of great importance. In what felt like an effortless step, something had moved me deeply, something had made sense. Oddly, it is at that same time that I started creating programmes where past and present meet, where old composers converse with contemporary ones."

Best known for his interpretation of Mozart's music, Greilsammer says it is important for musicians to keep performing classical works because compositions from centuries ago continue to have relevance, and to inspire today.

"Once you know the past, you can be more connected to the present and to the future," he says. "We cannot forget what the old masters created, what they gave us; but on the other hand, we must be aware of the changes that happened in our modern world, and we must be aware of what music went through in recent decades - electronic music, pop, rock, jazz, blues, folk … as a musician, you need to have knowledge of everything."

In 2008, the pianist performed all of Mozart's piano sonatas in a one-day "marathon" in Paris. "Our mission should be to make Mozart more connected to the 21st century," says Greilsammer.

"When I play Mozart, sometimes I try to think: how would a jazz musician play this? The public has to feel that the music of the past can sound like music of today."

Though seemingly unconnected, baroque and contemporary music share some common ground, he adds.

"First, composers from both periods are radical and wild. They have tried different things, experimented with new sounds, looked for new forms, and gone beyond their own boundaries.

"Second, they have a poetic element in their music that does not comply with our traditional 'romantic' concept of classical music. Baroque and contemporary composers have been able to create emotions without going through the regular pathos that the 19th century has created," he says.

"It's not that I don't like Romantic music, but for me it is much less creative … There is a real musical bridge between the baroque and new music, as both are vibrant, creative and experimental."

Born in Jerusalem, Greilsammer studied at the prestigious Juilliard School under the direction of fellow Israeli Yoheved Kaplinsky, the school's classical pianist and lecturer. He has also worked with famed American pianist Richard Goode. After making his debut at the Lincoln Centre in New York, he was named "Young Musician of the Year" at the French Music Awards.

Kudos has come from several quarters: last December, The New York Times named his New York recital as one of the best musical events of the year, and selected his album, Mozart In-Between, as one of the best recordings of the year.

Since 2013, he has held the post of music and artistic director of the Geneva Camerata in Switzerland and, along with his equally innovative orchestra, will be giving more than 30 concerts this season, including performances in Berlin, Paris and London. He is also "artist in residence" at the Saint-Etienne Opera in France and the renowned Meitar Ensemble in Tel Aviv.

It's an impressive list of achievements for the pianist who continues to carve a name for himself with his fascinating and eclectic programmes that juxtapose old and new music, a format that has resonated with audiences around the world.

Greilsammer performed in Hong Kong six years ago, and has many fond memories of that trip and the audience. "I love Hong Kong, the people, the atmosphere, the architecture, the food," he says.

Once you know the past, you can be connected to the present and to the future

He returns to the city for one performance next month. Titled "Imaginary Bridges", the recital will showcase his trademark conceptual leaps between the old and new. And true to form, it will also be a long show (70 minutes) with no intermission. The concert is part of the Spring Recital series from Premier Performances.

"For this concert [in Hong Kong], my wish is to embark with the public on a musical journey, strolling continuously and without interruption through different worlds of sound, different shapes, and disparate styles. My hope is to assemble unusual, short pieces of music into one single, whole piece. And in order to keep a coherent, and logical trajectory along this journey, I selected two periods of classical music that are particularly dear to me: baroque and contemporary. The composers of these two periods are defined by two elements that I love deeply: they are both radical and poetic."

Greilsammer says at the heart of this journey are some unexpected pairings of pieces from the early baroque and pieces of today. "I wondered: could it be possible that as listeners we are moved not only by the work itself, but also by everything that surrounds it?

"It is my hope that when walking through this path, new and unexpected connections will occur, leading us into the secret, hidden garden of music."

Imaginary Bridges, City Hall Concert Hall, May 4, 8pm, HK$80-HK$480, Inquiries: 9545 6851