In this clip from his tonebase course on Bach's Fifth Cello Suite, Mischa Maisky discusses how he views performing for an audience, phrasing, and developing his interpretation.

Mischa Maisky on Performing

“I never play music for people who know it – for so-called ‘connoisseurs’. I play for people who are hearing this for the first time in their life, to take them on this journey.”

Faithfulness to the Score

Maisky’s goal is faithfulness. Sergei Rachmaninoff once told a student who asked him for interpretation advice that “I am not a Beethoven expert; why don’t we just play what Beethoven wrote?” The text is our best primary source.

manuscript for BWV 995, which Bach adapted for his fifth cello suite

A somewhat contradictory approach that has also informed Maisky’s concept of music is a story about Giuseppe Verdi; a young Arturo Toscanini asked Verdi about adding various unwritten changes in tempo to works. Verdi replied, “yes, but it’s all in music!” The tempo changes were already suggested by the notes themselves. The spirit of the music is what we should be faithful to, and so we must learn to read between the notes.

Portrait of J.S. Bach, c. 1725

Freedom in Your Interpretation

Sometimes, when you slightly overdo the music and exaggerate certain qualities, the audience will have a better chance of “getting” it.

In mathematics, 2x2 is always 4. In music, so goes the joke, 2x2 can equal 4.5 or even 5sometimes, but never 7. We are allowed certain freedoms, but they must remain within strict limits. If one does too much, the effect is lost. There’s a key difference between freedom and anarchy. Freedom still requires structure and laws.

Maisky admits that he has surely gone overboard with his liberties before.

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Dave McLellan

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