Vladimir Ashkenazy is perfectly willing to praise the piano concerto Andre Previn wrote for him three years ago--the concerto that he, Previn and the Los Angeles Philharmonic will give its United States premiere Thursday night in the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion. But--beyond that--he does not want to say too much about it.
"What's the point of describing to you something you will hear for yourself?" he asked rhetorically during a backstage interview at the Music Center recently. "I can only say that it's attractive."
In lieu of explanation, he recommended John Harbison's lengthy analysis of the piece in the current Los Angeles Philharmonic program book.
What he would discuss in his no-nonsense English is his now-thriving career as a conductor, a career going back 18 years.
For the Record
Los Angeles Times Thursday February 25, 1988 Home Edition Calendar Part 6 Page 10 Column 1 Entertainment Desk 1 inches; 29 words Type of Material: Correction
The scheduled East Coast premiere of Andre Previn's Piano Concerto on May 13 at Lincoln Center, New York, will be played by the Los Angeles Philharmonic. The wrong orchestra was named in Tuesday's Calendar.
"I never deliberately directed myself at becoming a conductor," the 50-year-old Russian-born conductor-pianist recalled. "But now I see that I have been preparing for many years to do this."
In 1987, Ashkenazy was appointed music director of the London-based Royal Philharmonic; at the end of 1989 he will add the Berlin Radio Orchestra to his list of musical responsibilities.
"As long as I can remember, I spent a lot of time listening to orchestral music, immersing myself in it as well as in piano music and vocal music. Of course, in the Soviet Union we had many orchestras, and I would always attend concerts by the Leningrad Philharmonic and others. I didn't think about it, but I was immersing myself in the orchestral repertory," he said.
Then in 1955, the year he turned 18, Ashkenazy heard the Boston Symphony in Moscow: "That was for me quite a revelation. Even though I was used to hearing good orchestras, the sound of this one made a big impression on me."
From then on, "Western orchestras provided much food for my thoughts."
Ashkenazy says he has never separated in his mind the different functions of being a musician--specifically, the functions of conducting and playing the piano.
"It's all music, and I am the same musician whether I am dealing in a sonata by Beethoven or a symphony by Beethoven. Music is indivisible."
But the physical requirements are "quite different. When you conduct, certain muscles participate, muscles you don't use when you play the piano. That is why it seems advisable to divide one's time between the activities--it would not be good to play a piano recital and conduct an orchestral concert on consecutive days."
Ashkenazy says he has talked to his colleague Daniel Barenboim--another pianist who conducts--about this. "He told me the same thing, that he has found it beneficial to take a few days to relax between the different engagements."
What Ashkenazy has discovered in the past 10 years about conducting, he claimed, is that he feels he was always meant to do it, and that circumstances have now brought him to it.
"For many years, I've been in a state of ambiguousness about conducting. I never came to a real decision to do it, or not to do it," he explained. "Then I realized that everything that happened in my musical life had been leading up to this. It was actually a natural development. Then I knew that it is the right thing for me."
Ashkenazy said he met Previn in 1962, when he played his first Los Angeles recital. "He came backstage and was very friendly and nice," he said. "It was not a long time after that that I began asking him to write a concerto for me. Eventually, he did write 'The Invisible Drummer,' a suite of five pieces, for me--it is something which I have played a lot. But, I always told him, this is not enough. I still want a concerto. Finally, he wrote it."
The world premiere performances by Ashkenazy with Previn conducting the Royal Philharmonic were in 1985 in Nottingham, Cardiff and London. In addition to Thursday night, performances will be given Friday night and Sunday afternoon. In April, Ashkenazy said, he and Previn will present the East Coast premiere with the New York Philharmonic in Lincoln Center.