Playing from the heart

Consummate classical pianist Amir Katz turns it up a notch with Chopin’s 21 Nocturnes.

Amir Katz 311 (photo credit: Courtesy)
Amir Katz 311
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Amir Katz, a Berlin-based Israeli pianist with a successful globe-trotting career, will perform Chopin’s 21 Nocturnes, which have recently been released on the German Oehms Classics label to great critical acclaim. The concert takes place on Saturday at the Enav Concert Hall in Tel Aviv.
Born and raised in Ramat Gan, after winning several national competitions Katz, with the help of grants and scholarships, moved to Europe to continue his studies with Sulamita Aronovsky, Elisso Wirssaladze and Michael Schäfer.
He also had lessons with Leon Fleisher, Karl Ulrich Schnabel and Murray Perahia.
Katz won first prize in four international competitions: Maria Canals in Barcelona, Robert Casadesus in Cleveland, Viotti Valsesia in Italy, and the Schubert Competition in Dortmund.
“After wandering throughout Europe, I finally ended up in Germany,” says Katz in a phone interview from his home in Berlin home.”The musical life is very rich here – just to mention three opera houses and the Berlin Philharmonic – and so is the night life. This is a cosmopolitan city, where everybody can find a niche for himself,” says the 37-year-old pianist.
Does he think that the approach to music of today is different from that of his teachers’ generation? “Everything in the world changes – the esthetics, the way of expressing one’s feelings. Due to CDs, people are far more critical; they hear better. On the other hand, as a side effect of the marketing, the essence of the music becomes almost marginal.
Anyway, there still are good and bad musicians. The former are those who keep the musical tradition, who respect the music text and they are not many, but that has always been the case.
As for the esthetics, when you listen to recordings of the early 20th century – be it pianists, conductors, singers – you can hear something that Wagner defined as an endless melody. Now, with the CDs, the performance is far more precise, but you have a feeling that the phenomenon of the never-ending line is disappearing.
Also, music has become more international, and there is more freedom of performance. There’s no such a thing as the correct interpretation, and performers and music critics have to be aware of that.
Katz performs up to 60 concerts a year, “but there must be a limit, otherwise you’ll be unable to play from heart.” He says that although playing with orchestras and in chamber ensembles is great, playing solo is what he loves most. “This is when I’m the master of myself.
The piano is an instrument with a rich repertoire. It can sound like an orchestra or a singer or even go beyond the music and transform into a human thought incarnate – and it is never boring.”
That said, “When playing with an outstanding musician, you can reach the heights you would never reach alone.”
His repertoire consists mainly of Schubert, Schumann, Chopin and Mendelssohn, as well as Mozart and Bach: “These are composers with whom I can stay my entire life. Theirs is a singing music, and I’m afraid it is sort of disappearing.and that is a pity because music comes from singing.”
For Katz, playing in Israel “is very important and personal but a bit more difficult because this is where I was born and grew up.”
Performing Chopin’s Nocturnes is also a special experience. In 2006 Katz traveled to Poland in search of his roots: “Families from both my maternal and paternal sides perished there in World War II. I gave a recital the memory of 17 family members who are gone. I played all the Nocturnes, and it was a special experience because these are very short pieces, but each is like a whole life story, and playing them is like reading a personal diary. With that recital, I closed the circle, and it will forever be etched my memory.”
The 21 Nocturnes by Chopin, Saturday at 8 p.m., Enav Concert Center, Gan Ha’ir, Tel Aviv. (03) 604-5000. NIS 70-85.