Artist Profile: Pianist Ralph van Raat

This will be the first of a sereis of email conversations I’ll be having with pianist (and Naxos recording artist) Ralph van Raat. After contacting Ralph about this project we quickly become friends and found ourselves chatting about more than the music. Here is the first round of questions I had for Mr. van Raat. His CD will be available worldwide in September. Enjoy!

-What do you have going on this summer musically?

Usually, I spend my holidays mostly by learning a lot of new repertoire for the coming concert season. I deliberately (and almost traditionally) reserve a period of several weeks in this period without any concerts or other engagements, to fully concentrate myself at making a good start with all those new works. Obviously, the process of learning new works continues throughout the whole year, but then all the attention has to be divided between many things, such as concertizing, lecturing, and practising. It always turns out to be an absolutely amazing and enjoyable experience to put aside these things for a while and just plunge into all those exciting new projects! Another exciting thing is the recording of two new CD’s for Naxos, right at the end of summer, which I am greatly looking forward to.

-Where will you be taking your Holiday?

Holidays will take me this year to a rather quiet place in southern France – a very small village near Avignon – where there is, in fact, no piano or whatsoever. I used not to take holidays and continue to work for many years, however, retreating into silence, quietness and into your own world of thought for a while, with many books and good food, turns out to be very inspiring and refreshing, too…

-You’re a Pilot? When did aviation start to interest you and how did this interst develop?

It is almost hard to remember when aviation started to interest me, as my interest (like with music) started before I was born (at least – that is the way it feels!!). It had always been a dilemma for me in what area to try and pursue a career – aviation or music. At 14, I took a glider flying course. I was at high school, and mostly had time for my interests (playing the piano and flying) during the weekends. I noticed that, despite my enthusiasm for flying, the passion for music won more often. Unfortunately I had to make a decision how to spend my time, and after two years I chose to spend as much time as I could on a music career. However, the dream of flying never let go of me. Once I studied at the conservatory, I was happy to win some competitions not only because it helped my career, but also because I thought that it would bring the prospect of being able to fly more close: at least as a passenger, travelling to foreign concert venues, but perhaps even for private flying, some day….And sometime ago I decided to make that dream come true and plunge into a PPL course.

I can say, that it is the best of life, combining the worlds of music and aviation. I mutually learn from them: music has to do with a lot of mental and practical preparation; with finding a balance between reason and emotion (i.e. taking passion into control); and with the final performance as a critical moment where all knowledge comes together at once. With flying, I recognize many of the same issues and processes. You prepare your flight carefully, the route, the circumstances such as weather, your fuel etc. Then the flight itself can be seen as the performance, where it comes down to passion, skills and knowledge, like in a concert. During a flight, you have to take many things into account in order to arrive where you want to arrive, such as the action of wind. That is very similar to adjusting your musical performance to the acoustics of the concert hall and the ‘mood’ of the audience, in order to shape the ‘destination’ (or goals) of your concert performance. So in fact, flying for an hour does not feel much different that playing the piano for an hour!

-Do you look at very much art? Do you have any favorites in the world of the Visual Arts?

In fact, I have always been very inspired by the analogies between visual arts and music especially from the end of the 19th century up till and including today. To me it seems that in any period of time in history, there never has been a closer correlation between those two. In fact, especially more “difficult” abstract music (such as the compositions by Webern and Schoenberg) can be much better understood by looking at the visual interpretations of very similar artistic views in works by painters such as Kandinsky. Personally, I am very fascinated by post-impressionism, which is characterized by painters such as Cézanne. They were especially interested in the different emotions and effects of colour, something that interests me in music a lot. Also, they tried (with pointillist techniques) to create a larger whole by using minute streaks of paint. In music, one also strives to make one coherent story of seemingly loose entities, which are the individual notes, until something recognizable appears. It is especially in this perspective that I find ideas for playing and interpreting music in visual arts.

To Be continued…..