Interview with Torleif Thedéen
This past December, I heard one of the most mesmerizing performances of Messiaen’s Quartet for the End of Time with Janine Jansen, Martin Fröst, Lucas Debargue, and Torleif Thedéen. You might be thinking, "come on, with those amazing players they could throw it together the day before and it’ll still sound amazing", but the way they played those unisons…and seeing just how detailed and precise Torleif was when I worked on Beethoven’s Piano Trio Op.70/2 with him the next day, I know they rehearsed like crazy.
Torleif and I first met in 2016 at Krzyzowa Music Festival in Poland, a chamber music festival founded by violinist Viviane Hagner. We only met briefly towards the end of the festival and unfortunately didn’t get to work together there, but the beauty of music festivals is that you become a part of that community (well actually, to be honest I’m not entirely sure if Torleif remembered me!), and through this connection I was able to connect with him. He was extremely kind to make time for this interview on his day off— thank you, Torleif!
Mari: What was the first piece by Britten you’d ever heard?
Torleif: It might have been the Violin Concerto, which is a great piece. It’s amazing.
M: I love that concerto too!! How would you describe his music in a few words?
T: It has such an enormous eruptive power— it is extremely emotional, but also childlike at times. So there is a very big span of different types of expressions.
M: In our last concert we explored the question “what does it mean to be an artist in our modern age?”— what do you think are some of the challenges we face as artists today?
T: I’m not sure. In a way for me, it’s not so different than the challenges people faced 50 years ago. I would say that the challenges musicians face today are still to play in tune, to play with good rhythm, and to understand the composer. It’s almost like a provocation to say this, but it hasn’t really changed. But that says something about me. I don’t have a website, I don’t have a Facebook fan page— I just go and play my concerts. I’m sure if you’re young you can’t just ignore those things the way I do, because you have to be so communicative and be connected online.
M: Along those lines, Britten talked about how new technologies, radio broadcast, and recording changed the way people consume music and changed the value of music. Today, as you mentioned we see the growing impact of social media— number of likes, retweets, etc.
T: But does that matter a lot? The likes? Do you get concerts out of it? I mean, what is the final aim or the goal? Do you want to be a performing artist and play concerts? Maybe Facebook is an important component today. I don’t know.
I once spoke to a young cellist and he said it’s impossible to have a career if you don’t do Facebook or Twitter— that social media is super important. I thought to myself, wow, I didn’t know that. Again, I don’t have a twitter account and I don’t have a Facebook fan page, but of course, I’m from another generation so it might be different today.
I’d say what is definitely very different now than 40 years ago is that everything is recorded, everything is streamed, it’s filmed…
M: Yes, you never know who is going to upload a clip of your performance on YouTube... Well, back to Britten! What do you think he was like as a person?
T: I think he was very kind. It’s a pure speculation but he seemed to be gentle, not aggressive. A gentleman.
M: But you said earlier that his music was eruptive- you think music was an outlet for his emotions?
T: Yes, an outlet for the big drama!
M: if you could ask Britten one question, what would it be?
T: Would you have written so much for the cello if you had not met Slava Rostropovich?
Torleif's recording of Messiaen's Quartet for the End of Time is available on iTunes and is streamed on Spotify!
Interviewed on December 8, 2017