Boris Berezovsky interviewed in Time Out
Slav to love
19th January 2005
Martin Hoyle finds pianist Boris Berezovsky
as enthused by his music as ever.
The Rotterdam Hilton does a nice line in English afternoon tea, complete with scones and clotted cream. The amiable Dutch ladies near us depart, leaving several dainty sandwiches. Boris Berezovsky's face lights up as he snaffles the leftovers. Only through nostalgis, you understand. 'Cheese and chutney!' he murmurs; and 'chutney' suddenly sounds very Russian, strangely sensual. Like a Proustian madeleine, it evokes memories. In this case of England.
The Russian pianist spent ten years in London, his life enlivened by the old black cab he bought - 'just for fun'; the public refused to believe he wasn't a cabbie. 'When it rains people force their way in. Even if I was going home to practise they'd just sit there. They wouldn't listen.' Berezovsky then began to pick up passengers because 'sometimes they'd talk to you'; but there were complications. 'I wasn't allowed to take money so I let them go for free. It's surprising how many people don't like the idea. They thought it weird. They'd force money on me. Or they'd throw it on the floor and slam the door...' He dreamily recalls driving his daughter to kindergarten - Golders Green to Swiss Cottage. 'I took the bus lane. Nobody ever stopped me... One day I'll buy a new taxi. They cost almost as much as an Audi or a Merc. The old one ended up as scrap.' He giggles a lot.
From which you'll gather that Berezovsky, gold medallist in Moscow's Tchaikovsky international Piano Competition at 25, is not one of music's ivory-tower dwellers. He's shrewdly pragmatic, for instance, about the value of competitions and how, in the USSR, they had become politicised. 'Van Cliburn [the young Texan pianist, the first American to win in Moscow] went back to the US a hero. It was like sport, like the American team beating Russia at ice hockey.' A Briton later paid the price. 'John Ogden had to share first with Ashkenazy - all thought Ogden much, much better. But the Politburo said they couldn't afford another winner from the west.' He notes sardonically that Ashkenazy proceeded to get bigger deals than Ogden in the west as a widely publicised (and photogenic) defector.
Berezovsky displays a very Slav balance of cynicism and emotionalism. Thursday's South Bank concert suitably finds him playing Khachaturian. 'In the '60s it was the most popular concerto in London, performed more than Tchaikovsky One or Beethoven Five - it's absolutely splendid.' He giggles again. 'Life goes in circles. Like fashion. Short skirts came back. Khachaturian will come back...
'It's very dark, almost Spanish, especially the first movement. And there's a gorgeous second movement.' For Khachaturian-sceptics wanting more solid musical fare from Berezovsky, there's a forthcoming release of Rachmaninov and Shostakovich piano trios on Warner Classics. 'I want to make as many recordings as possible,' he beams. 'On sale at airports, petrol stations, at Tesco - or Waitrose (better quality) - and Harrods, of course. I want to perform. I guess that's what I was made for. And to earn a lot of money in the process.'
But money is secondary. 'I'm hopelessly romantic. I speculate with emotions. I want a huge inflation of emotion. It's a bubble. It'll burst. But in the process you'll enjoy just doing it, creating something. Some people deal with money; I'm dealing with emotion. It sells, strangely enough.'
For two years now he's lived in Brussels, where he loves the Art Nouveau architecture. He rather wistfully asks after the London theatre but disclaims any hobby that might compete with music. 'Ask me any question about music, I'll answer it!' From baroque to 'Eugene Onegin' transcribed for 10 double-basses, or Emerson, Lake and Palmer's version of Mussorgsky's 'Pictures from an Exhibition', or Abba or Genesis. 'But we need classics like Tchaikovsky as common ground, something everyone can relate to. Otherwise we'd be lost in this world of choice. The rest is just curiosity.'
© Time Out