Saturday 24 April 2010
By Floris Don
Baarn, 21 April – A photo shoot and seven interviews: the piano brothers Arthur (13) and Lucas (17) Jussen are having a very busy Wednesday afternoon. In the chic restaurant called Vuur, right next to the Hooge Vuursche Castle in Baarn, family members are buzzing about. While the pianists are posing for the photographers, impresario Marco Riaskoff tells how the grandparents just presented their debut CD with Beethoven sonatas – which has started all the commotion – to the grandsons. “I just double-checked it: Arthur Jussen is the youngest artist ever to be contracted by Deutsche Grammophon. Violinist Anne Sophie Mutter was 15 years old”, Riaskoff says. Moreover, the Jussens also are the very first Dutch musicians to conclude a contract with the prestigious German label.
It confirms what already was suspected: the blonde brothers are no cute stage monkeys – they are serious artists with a lasting career waiting for them, provided it is carefully worked out. “99 percent is to be about the content, otherwise, sooner or later you will run into a brick wall which you will be able to climb”, Arthur Jussen says.
Labour Inspectorate gives a hand. The under-aged pianists are only allowed a limited number of working days per year to perform, which forces the Jussens to make clear choices. “Giving interviews is also considered work – that is why we have planned so many on one single day. But now that we are getting so much media attention, we have to keep to the core of what it’s all about, and that is the music”, Lucas Jussen says.
Are you taken more seriously, now that you are getting older?
Lucas: “People do listen more critically. And they ought to, as people should come to listen because they appreciate our piano play. Take such a CD for example, if you play it you do not see us and it’s purely the music that counts.”
Even though it also features sweet photos, and the interview in the CD booklet tells that you ‘flush away some sweets with a coke’.
Lucas: “But of course, we are still children. There is nothing we can change about that.”
Arthur: “If it’s only about these pictures, in two years time we will fail anyway. We just have to keep playing well, and I think that with our CD we did in some way prove that eventually it really is about our music.”
Strikingly, your debut album actually only contains solo repertoires, with just one duet as a bonus track.
Lucas: “That was a very deliberate choice. Both of us have always been solo pianists. Most of the time we play separately and we would like to keep it that way. Many people see us as a duo only, which is quite understandable. We do not want to take away our ensembles, we really enjoy doing it. But if we had debuted with a quatre-mains CD we would never had been asked to play solo pieces.”
Were you allowed to compose the CD all by yourselves?
“Yes, we chose all the pieces ourselves and then we discussed it with our teachers, and they thought it was fine”, Lucas says.
Arthur: “We selected a number of early piano sonatas by Beethoven because those pieces really fit our age. You can start playing Mozart when you are still a child. But by now Lucas has almost grown out of puberty and I am just getting into it – at least, that is what they say. Beethoven’s music fits into that, it’s a bit stubborn actually. But at the same time the sonatas are very mature, the real great pianists can play those works just as well. They are not meant for children.”
And the late sonatas, they are not meant for adolescents?
Lucas: “The last sonata, opus 111, really goes too far – Beethoven wrote it in a stage of his life that is still far away from us. Technically, I might be able to play it, but musically it is another story; it all has to do with experience, emotions, age. Moreover, we feel the selection of the early sonatas is best for us, as we have often played those live. Well, relatively often, Alfred Brendel calls two thousand performances a lot, while I may have done twenty or so.”
Now everyone can compare your sonatas with those legendary pianists. Do you think that is a risk?
“Yes, obviously. But in music one cannot speak of better or less good, it is a matter of taste. We are just different, and we differ from each other too. On all CDs I listened there are moments of which I think: I would do that differently”, Lucas says.
What major interpretation differences are there between you?
Arthur, after a pause: “It’s hard to say, you know each other so well, there may be some details one would notice.”
Lucas: “To me, hearing him play is just as natural as hearing him speak. I cannot take any distance, someone else should evaluate that. Although I do notice that Arthur can just lose himself into a piece, especially in a slow part.”
Arthur: “Perhaps I sometimes am a little more introvert, but actually Lucas is as well – depending on the situation. It has both advantages and disadvantages. With Janácek one can allow oneself to be freer, as the form is freer as well. But with Mozart, for example, one has to stay very strict.”
What struck me about your CD is that your play is mostly serene, you are no musclemen.
Lucas: “That is exactly right. The great master pianists can allow themselves to do other things, although it might not always correctly fit into the style. We owe a lot to our friend Maria João Pires. She was involved in the recordings as a co-producer, and she urged us to let the music lead us, not the other way round. If you are going to try all kinds of things, the real experts will say you do not understand anything of Beethoven. It is not supposed to become a Lucas Jussen.”
“She sometimes is very strict, but we know her well. She just clearly tells if she thinks something is going wrong with the recording”, Arthur says.
You are also taking lessons from the piano educationalist Jan Wijn. In what way is he different from Pires?
Lucas: “In the more classic pieces, such as Beethoven, Jan Wijn is a bit more sober, for example as to the amount of pedal use. He tells us to sit still; Pires is more extrovert.”
Arthur: “Indeed, he is completely different. But that does not have to be confusing, it prevents you from becoming a clone of one single teacher.”
Lucas: “In my Latin class at school I read that Aristotle thinks that the middle of two extremes is the best.”
Is there any time for school? Chinese pianists of your age study eight hours per day.
Arthur: “I cannot concentrate such a long time, I need something to distract me. On school days, I usually practice 2.5 hours.”
Lucas: “We have been lucky up to now; music, school, sports, everything more or less fitted in. But of course, if you look at Russia for example, Sokolov, Volodos, and now Matsuev too, they are really great pianists. They have an incredible technique, also because they study for hours and hours. One only wonders if they have any kind of social life. We have a relatively normal childhood.”
Arthur: “It’s a choice. Music is a combination of technique and musicality. You can just hammer in the same loop for a hundred times, but you could just as well take it easy and keep your mind to it. That will easily save half an hour.”
If you both play solo, there is a risk one of you will be far more successful.
Arthur: “Now we are in a unique situation: two brothers who are relatively at the same level. And indeed, one of us might go very fast while the other one would somewhat stay behind. We just do not know.”
Lucas, joking: “I surely would not begrudge you!”