Work and lifestyle at the cutting edge. In discussions with contemporaries we review the assertions, clichés and ideals which circulate around work environments. This time,we spoke with Marino Formenti on the phone. The pianist and conductor (born in 1965) lives in Vienna; he spoke to Désirée Schellerer and Angelika Molk about the importance of the pause in music, ceaseless toil and the carrot and the stick.
Marino Formenti is seen as one of the most interesting musical personalities of our time thanks to his unusual combination of intellect and emotionality. Praised by the Los Angeles Times as "Glenn Gould for the 21st Century", Formenti has made his name in contemporary music and with his quest to combine old and new. Formenti's preference for new, unexpected connections can be seen in the different projects which often experiment with the concert form (Missa, Piano Trips, Nothing is Real, The Party, Piano Integral, Kurtág’s Ghosts, Sieben Letzte Worte). He will shortly appear in the documentary "Schubert und ICH" (Schubert and I), in which Formenti will teach Schubert songs to five musical amateurs in a private setting.
Mr Formenti, the summer edition of our magazine has the theme of "pause". In music, the pause can sometimes have great importance; one only has to think of John Cage. What importance has the pause in your work?
A pause is probably the most important feature in music. Stillness is part of music, similar as it is in life: You need moments to revive yourself. This is, however, sometimes hard in today's world as it has become so much more hectic.
Has the life of the artist also become more hectic?
Even a classical artist is travelling more today as opposed to just two or three generations ago. You can only master this by using routine - but routine is totally uninteresting, it's a bit like playing the same piece over and over again. It is much nicer to look for new ways. This can be very tiring. I don't want to complain though as it is a wonderful life.
Artists and creative people are granted longer hiatuses - different to employees: There is still the image that this time of leisure is necessary for inspiration and new creative power. Do you agree with this? What kind of breaks do you take - short, long or none?
I am not sure if one really grants creative people longer hiatuses. There are artists and there are artists. Some have to constantly engage with new challenges and surprises, create without any breaks and turn their entire life into music - I am one of those, even if it includes a triple bypass which I just had fitted. And I am not even that old. It is possible that this has something to do with the fact that I am unable to take a break. At this very moment, I am longingly searching for a break.
How should we picture a typical workday in your life? Is there even such a thing?
No, there is no such day, not at all, since I change between playing, planning and conducting. I just made the film "Schubert und ICH" and I did an art performance at Art Basel. My projects are so different. It can be that I am sitting in a library doing research or trying out camera positions with a cameraman for hours on end.
The space at the piano - would you say that this is your main workplace? Which places are a part of your work life, which are important to you or your inspiration?
The places of my work life are probably my apartment, my piano, the computer desk or even the kitchen because that's where I indulge in apricots and create programs at the same time.
I have been working for 20 years in the same apartment in Vienna. A very beautiful, light apartment, but in 18 years I only sat on the sofa for about 2 hours. On the one hand, it's because I am on the road so much, on the other hand, it's because I am so driven. I was almost proud of this in the past, but now I believe that it is important to have a space where you can simply "be" and enjoy life - this is something I am slowly discovering.
Which places inspire you?
That could be the mountains in Lungau or the subway in New York. Music does not know borders: It embraces both the alpine meadow as well as Times Square, all aspects of life so to speak, and it is about being inspired by everything.
Where do you most like to work?
Well, that depends on the project. The piano was always the most beautiful and also the most horrific place in my life until I made my peace with it. There may be musicians who suffered less in their relationship with their instrument. For me there were always good times and bad times.
Is this because of painful practising?
Music is a utopian thing; there is never a final solution. You have to imagine this like the work of an architect or designer, who creates by evening a wonderful sofa and then the next morning everything has almost vanished. Or in the meantime, he wants to make everything completely different anyway. Music is a bit like the carrot and the stick. The closer you get to the carrot, the further away it gets.
You make ambitious projects such as the festival "Wellenklänge" in Lunz am See or recently the film "Schubert und ICH". This requires teamwork, a different setting to that of the lonely artist. Is this switch a challenge for you?
It is a luxury to have the opportunity to work by yourself and also with other people. Most people are either alone or work at least in a solid structure. I enjoy working collaboratively, otherwise I would be even lonelier. Playing the piano is after all solitary work: You need to enjoy being alone, which I do. And then I am happy when I get the chance to do something with others.
Do you find it difficult to hand over responsibility? Are you not used to making decisions yourself?
I think that joint working only works when the authorities are clearly defined. This applies to music, but I would not be surprised if it did not apply to all other tasks, too. I can be very stubborn when it concerns my projects and I dislike compromises. Feedback, however, is important: there are areas where this is more common than in music, such as in sport or theatre and film - where a dramatic advisor helps the director. A tennis player who is already a world champion will still faithfully consult his trainer. This requires humility and greatness. It would be like a pianist who still sees his teacher or another pianist in order to get an opinion. This does not happen - or only happens rarely - in music.
You look for unusual performance venues, such as a church in which you provide mattresses for the listeners. Why does that appeal to you?
The musical experience can be very different. That's why it simply makes no sense to always listen to music in the same set-up, always sitting down nicely or always standing up as is common during a rock concert. It is really a completely different experience if you listen to music while sitting on a sofa with a glass of wine or while lying on some mattresses. I want to decide in which situation the listener is so he can experience music in a certain way. At Art Basel, I did a performance with the American artist Stephan Prina - for this I had to think a lot about furniture, it's part of it. We chose a set-up where I first served tea then spoke with the visitor and then played.
Are there certain rituals that are important to you?
Rituals and routine do not start with the same letter by accident. Good or bad: I don't have rituals. I try to live and create differently every day.
What is the most important tool for your work?
That does not exist either. It can be the key of the piano or the coffee filter which I use to rub the piano strings, or YouTube.
Not the piano?
If this was the case, then I would not have started to wreck the piano, to scratch it, to build houses with it. Music needs renewal. Even when I play the piano, it has never solely interested me from the piano's perspective. The "original pianist" Glenn Gould said once: "I don't play this piece, this is a piece for pianists!" The piano in itself is a black and white image: you play the note, what happens then is outside of your influence, you can no longer modulate the note. However, as it is so black and white, the piano is the only instrument that can suggest a choir, orchestra, oboe; it can sound rock-like, jazz-like or classical! But only if you are able to look beyond it, otherwise it is boring.
One final question: Summer - much time for leisure, recuperation and doing nothing. Summer break. How do you spend it?
Normally, I don't take a great break, but this year I will. I will be in the South of France for a month.
And what will you do there?
Nothing. If I am able to....
Thank you for the interview!