Who or what inspired you to take up piano, and pursue a career in music?
My mother’s old upright piano was placed in my childhood room, where it occupied most of the space. Being the largest and darkest object in that little room, it was impossible to ignore. So I began playing the keys of the piano as baby. My older brother was having weekly piano lessons at home, and I spent a lot of time listening to his lessons and watching him practice. I began receiving actual piano-lessons-with-a-teacher when I turned 6 years old.
The thought of pursuing a musical career did not occur to me until much later, when I was already in music school and completing my Masters degree. Nobody in my family is a professional musician, and I didn’t plan to become one either. I have always been very interested in many other things, and for a long time toyed with the idea of studying physics, or medicine, or literature, or psychology. However, in the end none of this happened, because there was always the music. It fascinated me so much that I could never feel complete without it.
Who or what have been the most important influences on your musical life and career?
In order of appearance:
- My mother (who introduced me to music).
- Nature (the most astonishing artwork, an endless source of inspiration).
- Johann Sebastian Bach (my favourite composer and my biggest motivation to play music)
- Austrian writer Thomas Bernhard (for, through his books, giving me the courage to be uncompromising about my artistic passion and personal truth, even at the cost of seeming eccentric or unpopular)
- German Singer Andreas Scholl (an amazing, inspiring musician, a true master in his field, whom I am so fortunate to have as my musical and life partner for many years. I learn something from him every day)
- German Jazz Pianist Michael Wollny (an ingenious player and composer, with whom I’ve had the honour to collaborate since 2009. We have played many concerts together, and have had endless discussions about music and art and the world. These experiences have opened my mind and ears. I would not have been the same musician without it).
What have been the greatest challenges of your career so far?
Having a baby, by far. It requires even more time, attention, devotion, and love than music does, and is much more uncompromising about receiving it. Balancing motherhood and a career as a performing musician has been enormously trying. It is my greatest challenge.
Which performance/recordings are you most proud of?
I take special pride in my “Satie” recording, which came into being right after my baby was born. The album was done while breastfeeding and still being a new mom. It was a speedy process, which took less than three months from the time the project was proposed by my record label until the album was mastered. I had to be resourceful and efficient in choosing the repertoire, learning it, conceptualising it and recording it, all the while having a 3-month old baby in my lap. The musical result still pleases me now. So I feel rather proud, both as a musician and as a working mom.
Which particular works do you think you play best?
I play best the music that I love the most. I cannot say why certain works grab my heart more than others. It’s a personal thing, I guess, like with people. But when I love everything about a piece of music, that’s when I feel that i can do something special with it. I happen to feel this way about most works by J. S. Bach, by the way.
How do you make your repertoire choices from season to season?
My starting point is usually one musical work that I really love, with which I want to spend my time, studying, exploring, and performing. Sometimes it can even be a musical miniature— the deciding factor is not so much the musicological significance of a work, but rather my attachment to it, which is a very personal thing. I look then for thematic connections that can build up a good concert program. Such connections can be, for example, more music by the same composer or time period, or by composers of the same nationality, etc. In the next stage, I sift through as large a range of repertoire as I can, reading and studying any music that may relate to such a program. From this vast repertoire, I narrow down the choice drastically to the few works that are my absolute personal favourites.
Do you have a favorite concert venue to perform in and why?
There are innumerable parameters that contribute to a good (of bad) concert experience, of which the actual physical venue is only one. Other parameters include, for example, the musical programme, size and mood of the audience, lighting in the hall, the season, time of the day, my own state of mind, etc. etc. There is no denying that playing on a state-of-the-art Steinway grand in a famous classical concert hall is an entirely different experience to playing on an old, beaten piano in a basement of some club. But the overall experience is not necessarily better one or the other. Having said that, I will now make a vast generalisation by saying that I had a particularly nice time playing concerts in South Korea, where I found the audience to be amazingly diverse, young, and always attentive, respectful, and highly appreciative of classical music. It was always a very gratifying experience for me. As for technical conditions: In Spivy Hall in Atlanta, Georgia, I had the unique experience of playing a piano so fantastic, which fit the hall’s acoustics so perfectly, that I had the impression my music was happening on its own: the sound I had imagined in my mind became musical reality in the hall instantly and effortlessly. It was unforgettable.
What is your most memorable concert experience?
In August 2015, I was 8 months pregnant, and was scheduled to play two last concerts before going on maternity leave. The first concert took place in the stunning Wiesbaden Kurhaus on August 6th, in front of capacity crowd of about 1350 people. I shared the stage with my husband, Andreas, with Idan Raichel of Israel, and with 6 other musicians, each of various nationalities, including Egypt, Iraq, Ethiopia, Israel and Germany. The concert was pure magic, and everyone in the audience was on its feet, dancing and singing along. The next evening, we were supposed to perform in Kassel again with the same programme. However, our little baby decided to join the world just then, and she was born that afternoon, a month earlier than expected. Andreas was there to see her, before we sent him off, just in time to make it to the second concert. The level of adrenaline in those two days was off the charts. The story of our music and the story of our love came together when we became a family. I will never, ever, forget it.
As a musician, what is your definition of success?
In relation to music, I interpret the term “success” on various levels:
The first and most immediate one is the ability to translate a musical idea that I have in my mind into actual music. This process takes place in the practice room, usually on my own. Technical difficulties must be overcome in order to rise from the physical level (instrument constrictions, room conditions) into an intangible intellectual and spiritual level. If and when this happens, I feel enormously satisfied, and consider myself successful. Then there comes the challenge of communicating this musical idea to a listener. If my music evokes an emotional reaction in anyone other than myself, I consider this an accomplishment. On yet another level, there is the privilege of being invited to play music and getting paid for it. An amazing concept I never quite got over, and a privilege I never thought I’d experience myself. Finally, being invited an paid to play music, which happens to be the music I love the most, with colleagues I admire, in beautiful places, on stunning instruments, for attentive appreciative audience, is nothing short of a miracle. After this, there’s the rest of life’s challenges to worry about.
What do you consider to be the most important ideas and concepts to impart to aspiring musicians?
I guess it’s this: work hard and stay true to yourself. Quality and refinement, in music or anything else, do not happen on their own. They are always the result of a lot a lot a lot of work and complete dedication. By “true to yourself” i mean that one must follow one’s artistic path, which is never the same as anyone else’s. It takes courage to uncover or create this path for yourself, but it is also immensely liberating, and the only way, I believe, to true realisation of the artistic soul.
Tamar Halperin came to prominence through her work with jazz pianist Michael Wollny on the album „Wunderkammer“. Her repertoire embraces works from five hundred years of music history. As soloist she works with a wide range of international ensembles, including the New York Philharmonic Orchestra. Together with Etienne Abelin and Tomek Kolczynski, Tamar Halperin has woven the Bach originals with the electronic compositions into new entities – a techniques which was referred to as a „pasticcio“ in the Renaissance and Baroque eras, and which lend the density and emotionality of Bach’s music a new dimension.