Borletti-Buitoni Trust
17 June 2013

View from the platform: BBT Celebrated

by Nick Breckenfield

The following first appeared in the programme book for BBT Celebrated at London’s Southbank Centre, 17-19 May 2013.

In ten years the Borletti-Buitoni Trust has honoured a veritable orchestra of musicians. By my calculation, it could have mounted a tenth birthday performance of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony, conducted by Robin Ticciati (Fellowship 2005), if the 19 pianists, three guitarists and two harpists helped flesh out the chorus and some of the solo cellists transferred to the double basses. But that’s not the BBT way. Rather, we celebrate with a wealth of chamber music that goes to the very heart of what the Trust is all about: the development of the musician.

Trust co-founders, pianist Mitsuko Uchida and Italian philanthropist Ilaria Borletti Buitoni, have spoken of their aim to help ‘serious’ musicians, post training, to grow artistically and personally. There’s no surprise that chamber music is a key to such success, in its microcosm of democracy: discussing, trying things out, discarding ideas and working together towards the final performance, while retaining enough flexibility for the result to potentially continue developing. It’s a fine balancing act (a metaphor for the Trust’s work, perhaps), but one that leads to harmony (a metaphor for music itself).

I spoke to three of the artists appearing in BBT Celebrated. I ask Llŷr Williams (Award 2004) whether pianists, who have a solo existence (whereas all other instrumentalists and singers usually perform in partnership), have a different attitude to chamber music. ‘I suppose you do, but I find playing chamber music very useful and instructive. It makes you think about things in a different way… you have to listen and listen again.’ Mitsuko introduced Llŷr to violinist Alexander Janiczek and they have now played Beethoven, Brahms and Bartók sonatas many times together. For BBT Celebrated he forges two new partnerships, working for the first time with oboist Alexei Ogrintchouk (Award 2007) and baritone Henk Neven (Fellowship 2009). He relishes the new beginning at the first rehearsal where you start to forge the common ground that burgeons into a successful performance. And Llŷr is clear about chamber music’s wider importance. ‘It influences how you do concertos, where the orchestra needs to think like a chamber ensemble.’

Henk is similarly looking forward to working with Llŷr on Mahler’s Des Knaben Wunderhorn, which he’s performed in a reduced orchestral version, but not with piano. New repertoire and new partnerships ‘make you fresh, bringing new impulses to the music.’ He’s fascinated by how performances can subtly change ‘even if you’ve performed it a hundred times. In lieder and chamber music what I like is exploring the work’s worlds and discussing the texts so that, as performers, we breathe together.’

Cellist Nicolas Altstaedt (Fellowship, 2009) describes chamber music as emphatically as a ‘philosophy for life.’ He was drawn into it through his friend, Raphaël Merlin, cellist of Quatuor Ebène (Award 2007), who told Nicolas ‘how amazing it is for eight eyes and ears to see and hear more than you do as an individual.’ So hooked did Nicolas become that, as Gidon Kremer’s personal choice, he has taken over the Lockenhaus Festival. ‘It’s amazing how you can communicate in a different way. It’s more intimate than anything else in the world: the dearest moment, yet vulnerable and extremely sensitive.’ This ‘ear-opening’ process, the antidote to routine, expands the mind from ‘simply playing on a piece of wood.’

The importance of working together has a social aspect too. You get the impression from all three artists that the Trust is really like an extended family. It reminds me of ten years ago when I interviewed Mitsuko about the Trust and she ended with her wish that it all should be fun, though with a warning. ‘Fun is a serious business, and that is what I like.’ Serious and fun: BBT to a tee.

© Nick Breckenfield, 2013