When I caught up with the Parisian piano phenomenon Lise de la Salle, she was getting ready for a nice lunch in New York City. Now a permanent New Yorker since February, she will be performing her Santa Barbara recital debut on Sunday, November 8, at Hahn Hall via the UCSB Arts & Lectures Up Close & Musical series. I spoke with her about her favorite piano players, her technique, and the importance of support.
You played with the L.A. Phil at the Granada Theatre in May. Can you tell us more about your L.A. connection? I’m lucky to have this relationship with the L.A. Phil. The first time I played with them, I was 20-21 [now 27]. My first time I played with them, it was a big deal to debut with them, but it was also my debut at the Hollywood Bowl, playing Prokofiev’s Piano Concerto No. 1 in front of 15,000 people.
Who are some of your favorite piano players? I have always loved Sviatoslav Richter; growing up, I listened to all of his recordings. For me, the most remarkable thing about his playing is his honesty; he gives 100 percent of himself through his music. You can feel that he is not a show-off player; he is not trying to demonstrate or trying to play the way that the audience wants. He does an incredible job of getting and staying close to the music.
What do you think makes your styling of playing piano unique? What are some of your strengths? That is a difficult question. I don’t consider my way of playing special or unique. I just play the way I play, and I have the most incredible time playing for an audience. Their answer and reaction is there, so my relationship with the audience is the emotional link that we have developed over the years. I’m a very emotional player, and I think the most important thing is to create a mutual feeling that we can share during the performance.
What do you do outside of music — what do you do for fun? [Chuckles.] For fun, I do lots of things like, you know, “normal people.” I love good food, and I like to explore the nice restaurants. Living in New York, it’s a great place to do that. I love to go to museums when I have time because I was really influenced by my upbringing. Music and painting were the two big focuses in the family. I grew up around art — I think I got the virus. You know, when you have little time with the people you love, your family and friends, you just want to sit in a nice area, drink and talk — to do things that are important in a very simple way that gives you things to think about and grow as a human being. I think too many players today forget that music is not a science. It’s not like if you put the right amount of time and practice you can just play; it’s about emotion and the message you want to share.
What do you look for in music that speaks to you and brings out the connection with the music? I think we pianists are extremely lucky because we have the widest repertoire, but I don’t play music unless I have an emotional connection. Lately, I have been playing a lot of Beethoven and Brahms because I feel very close to the German romantic composers.
When you’re playing their music, do you feel that you’re bringing your voice to them, or do you feel like the music tells you how to play it? Yeah, that raises the question, “What is supposed to be first?” But if you feel that you understand the music, and you have that inner voice that tells you in a way what to do, that is a good sign, a good beginning. Music is primarily about emotion and instinct.
What are your future goals; what do you have planned for us? I’ve had a very exiting trajectory career-wise, but I would be very happy to perform with orchestras that I haven’t played with yet, play in new venues, and develop new musical relationships. You know, this is a very difficult and intense life if you’re not careful and don’t have the right people around. If you don’t take care of yourself, you can be overwhelmed and eaten by the system in a way. I am very thankful because I feel that I have the best people around me — a great team that loves and supports me.
Lise de la Salle performs at the Music Academy of the West’s Hahn Hall on Sunday, November 8, at 4 p.m. Call (805) 893-3535 or visit artsandlectures.sa.ucsb.edu for more information.