Sixteenth Portrait Interview

1st April 2021

Interview: Leif Martinussen
Text and edition: Nete Parkov

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Jesper René, Pianist

Photo provided from the private collection of the artist

A musician who makes a name for himself on the Danish concert stages these years is the pianist Jesper René. With great individualism and initiative, he has for several years been able to create a musician career, where concert performance is the main element – a phenomenon that is quite unusual for a subject being increasingly under pressure from various fronts. Even in this corona era, which for many might be experienced as a temporary total stop, he has managed to keep his work going – not only with alternatives such as video performance and online teaching, but also with completely new initiatives with PR effect, keeping the wheels of his career moving. This winter, a large audience has for 10 weeks been able to enjoy the series “Piano explained” – in Danish “Klaveret forklaret” – where Jesper René has had alternating conversation partners in the studio – each time with the subject area of the guest as the journalistic angle and with the piano as the cultural focal point.

But one day, long before the current situation, composer Leif Martinussen had a visit from pianist Jesper René, and Leif used this opportunity to ask a number of questions about Jesper’s life and career. It was a nice October day in 2017. Jesper had not wanted to wait for the bus, so he had walked all the way from his home at Kongens Nytorv (The King’s New Square, ed.) in Copenhagen City and out to Leif’s terraced house in the suburb Tårnby. While lunch was being prepared downstairs in the ground floor kitchen, they were sitting in Leif’s office on the first floor, where Leif asked the question:

  • How early did you experience your interest in music? Do you come from a home with a piano?

“Your two questions are related, of course”, Jesper replied.” My interest in music arose early on because I do come from a home with a piano, a piano whose keys I of course touched while passing. I do not know how old I have been, probably not very. And when you are not so old, you often play with your thumb from top to bottom, so that is how I first played the piano standing in my childhood home. But even before I started touching it, I was used to hearing my dad practicing every single morning. So 20 years later, when I was going to find rehearsal rooms at the conservatory and passed many of the places where the clarinets practiced, well, I found that I could memorize a lot of the clarinet literature. That is – only the solo voices that my father practiced. I had never heard the piano or orchestral voices before. But yes, I’ve got it with me since I was a child.”

  • And as you approached school age?

“Because my father is a musician, I started playing the piano like everyone else when I was 9, and at first I had different teachers – also substitutes, I remember. It was not a revelation for me to be taught piano playing, it was not. Maybe it had something to do with the teachers being substitutes. I do remember what it was like.”

  • At that time, could you assess whether the teacher was good?

“Nah, but I can look back and state afterwards that they probably were not. They were simply not interested enough. That changed when I later got Eva Vestergaard.”

  • Were there other instruments in question at the time – the clarinet for example?

“No, I started playing it later when I was 12. On the clarinet, I played in my father’s harmony orchestra with both my mother and my brother. But I became more and more happy to play the piano. Then we moved to the town where my father was teaching. And there I got Eva Vestergaard, a good teacher, with whom I am still in contact – most recently this morning – and whom I still visit because she now lives in the same city. I play through my programs for her, and it has something to do with the fact that she is interested in music and that she taught me to play and prepared me to play in public for the first time.”

  • I read that as a 14-year-old you debuted with Haydn’s Piano Concerto in D major together with the Odense Symphony Orchestra?

“Yes, it was Eva Vestergård’s merit. Odense Symphony Orchestra with Frans Rasmussen – for two full houses.”

  • Were you nervous in the time before?

“I was not particularly nervous, because you are not when you are a 14-year-old. It is something that comes later. I remember I was very preoccupied with the clothes I was going to wear. I really wanted to wear some real concert clothes, but my teacher did not think I should. I should just wear a white shirt – and a black bow, black pants and black shoes. But not shiny shoes, it was more like boys’ shoes. The director, who took very good care of me, had a lot of experience with pianists. So I asked him how to walk on stage, because I thought you had to learn that too. He said I should walk completely normal. I still remember the two concerts: the door that opens – there are 1200 people sitting in there – you are greeted with applause. Then you go forward, then you bend over, sit down at the piano, and then you have to hear the long orchestral prelude, before…. And then it just has to be there – then you introduce the main theme – and then you’re up running . “

  • While you wait and hear the introductory music, do you turn more and more into yourself, abstracting more and more from….?

“Well, I felt my piano playing had begun already, even though it was the orchestra playing. Now that you mention it, I might get completely retroactively nervous at the thought, because with the exception of once I have never played with an orchestra since then. Of course I was nervous then – but not the way I am nervous today. It’s in a completely different way. It’s been a long time now since I heard that recording. I actually think it’s gone. But I’m not sure I could have played better today. Because it had something natural about it, and that is often the problem when you grow up – to bring out the natural. I had played the piano concerto with the local orchestra in Aarhus half a year before and had some piano rehearsals before – and had also practiced relatively much. So I had a little pain in my left hand, I think. But I just thought: It’s part of being a professional. Because that’s definitely what I felt like there. And I also played professionally. I have heard the recording, there was nothing to blame. I remember the first concert where Frans Rasmussen did not really comply with the agreement we had had about the tempo,  and put in a slightly too slow tempo for the first movement. On the recording, I can hear that I completely do not care. I set in at my very own pace. I felt it was wrong, and it certainly was. So it was just a matter of changing it. That self-willed approach to music that I have always had, it started there – it started right there when it was necessary to do something about it.”

  • Isn’t it early to get the very strong realization of when things are right?

“Well, I do not really know. I could just hear right away that the tempo was wrong. And then I thought: There is no reason to continue. I am the one who is responsible, at least for my own playing, and that orchestra, ok, they won’t have any problem, they can easily follow. When you hear the recording – not because I like to hear myself, because I normally never do – but then it was actually a very welcome breath of fresh air to that concert. I was not a pianist at the time, but still I just set my own pace. I had no qualms about it at all, because when the music plays, it may well be that the one is more right than the other, but he who takes the lead has it. And it doesn’t matter that things do not always fit together. Sometimes it might be good if you think about what a concert really means, that there are two parties arguing – is not what you say? At least that’s just how it turned out. And that will also be the case today. So it hasn’t changed – except that I’m not sure I would be able to play it as well today, because you are much more timid now, almost 30 years later.”

  • 5 years later, something also happened at the Louisiana Museum of Art?

“Well, now it’s almost becoming a kind of elaboration of what music associations and concert organizers want on the back of the program – that is, the work experience resume. I played for a competition for children and young people in Louisiana (Steinway Music Festival, ed.). There is nothing special about that. Many have won that competition, and so did I – even with a small speech added. Because, actually the same thing repeated itself from when I was a little boy and had to play with the symphony orchestra. For once more I thought: Now is the time when you have the opportunity.”

“Back in that time, Louisiana had an old grand piano, which they later renovated, so it became a completely different instrument. But at the time, it was almost obsolete and incredibly charming – there was a complete, well, an uncontrollability about it. I remember I had to play the first Mefisto waltz by Liszt, and I remember I knocked straight out of that piano, totally. I went completely beyond all bounds because at the time that’s how I meant you had to play the piano, at least as far as that music was concerned. It sounded quite strange, I remember. But the grand piano was really on my side, and so I played that devil’s waltz. Compared to what else was played, it sounded completely different. So I thought – because I played for a much longer time than I had been allowed – that they will just interrupt me if they think it’s too much. I played an adapted version, inspired by Horowitz, who had also adapted it for a perhaps more modern grand piano. I was not sure they would like that way of playing the piano. Because it was beyond all limits to ordinary student playing.”

  • You greatly closed up your temper?

“Well, it was a bit inappropriate. In fact, it was a children’s competition, even though I was in the very last category. And then I won the competition with distinction. But before I was told, I thought it was not certain that they could accept my way. And then, I remember, when you were told, you had to stand down there – kind of weird, like after a swimming competition – and then you had to step forward if you had excelled. I had not been nervous before – but right there I became very nervous in an unpleasant way. I was not nervous when I had to play, but when I was told that they had chosen me, I became incredibly nervous.”

  • Nervousness can be a companion, you cannot just get rid of. And that applies throughout one’s life as a musician, more or less.

“Yes, you are always nervous, you are. But you are probably only nervous because you have practiced so much, and that is the prerequisite for being able to play well. When you have practiced a lot, you become very nervous to not being able to live up to what you have prepared. Indeed, I am always very nervous.”

In this video the adult Jesper René in Danish language introduces himself and tells about the piano playing, with a special focus on the composer Chopin. He also talks about his fencing master’s degree, which he passed in Zagreb. And finally, he talks about the enormous pressure of expectations you as a professional musician and concert performer are subject to, and which is the real cause of the nervousness that is most often a relentless companion to the virtuoso soloist.

  • Today you try arm forces with the great well-known composers of which some rise like lighthouses above others. Are there any that have been particularly inspiring for you to play?

“I have played all the best music, you could probably say. And you can especially not ignore Bach, no one can. There are certainly not many who do play Bach, and that is very understandable. It is very difficult music – both to practice but also to realize. And I never thought it would be my deed, because I always thought I had incredibly bad prerequisites for exactly that music. But often it turns out that things you find difficult are also the things you find most interesting. The most unattainable is often the hardest to stay away from. Because it is so difficult to both understand and realize. Most people avoid that music. So the only good thing about dealing with the great Bach works is that you can keep them to yourself. Because, it has indeed been very, very difficult to live with that music on stage. But I have managed to make it something everyday, because I have performed it up to 50 times a year – and that’s what it takes. Simple as that.”

  • But you have to go through many layers to understand the music. You have to understand the construction – and then there is the whole invisible number symbolism that can also be hidden in it. When you enter that universe, does that help you to give a different kind of presentation of the music?

“Well, that’s a good question. I relatively late myself started to get interested in the deeper layers of Bach’s music. At first I was just happy with how good it was at rehearsing – then how good it was at playing – and then also how beneficial it was to have in your repertoire. Since then I have tried to dig a little deeper, and then some layers have appeared that are not immediately audible, but which require you to study the music. And so I have to some extent aspired. “

  • Some have compared Bach’s music to a column of colors – some colors are very strong, while others are weaker – some think in parameters that lie throughout the universe. What do you think about such thoughts?

“In connection with having to play the great works, I have also sometimes given a presentation, sometimes even a seminar or lecture about it, and it has attracted an incredible amount of strange people, who have each had their bids. One of the last times I had to talk about it, someone asked me afterwards how many notes there were in what I had played. I was not quite aware of that. There might be 20,000, I said. But if you then boiled it all down to such a kind of basic soup, he would know, what would the result then be – would it be flora or fauna. I did not know what to say to that. There are many approaches to understanding Bach’s music, but I think the only right one is to play it. It is the only way to feel it. You do not even have to listen – you just have to play it. It has to enter through the body. Only then you will be able to feel the music. So what is to be said, what is to be done with Bach’s music though? Everyone can have their own approach to it, and everyone has. But it’s something you do not just finish. Maybe it’s written for the one who plays it. “

Bach’s handwriting – Die Kunst der Fuge
  • If you are playing a well-known piece, and you may in your backpack have an idea about how big names have played it, does it then require courage to come up with your own personal offer in the interpretation you want to present yourself?

“No, I do not think so – in fact, I feel the exact opposite. You can only play it the way you hear it. Other people’s interpretations do not matter much to me. It was different when I was younger, because I also have a past as a jazz pianist, and in that genre it’s quite common. So, when I switched from playing jazz to practicing more classical music, there were some recordings that I found were incredibly good – and then I selected instruments that sounded like those on the recording. And then I just kept going until I thought it sounded the same. I just copied, perfectly, as best as I could. A complete plagiarism. And I benefited immensely from that. Then it certainly became something else at the concert, even though there was something left of it, I would say – there was something of it that I wanted to strive for. Of course, it is not a good idea to plagiarize others and then show it off in one’s own name. But just as you study many composers, or just as an artist learns by painting a lot of copies, you can learn by copying a way of playing. I haven’t had such really formal weekly tuition since high school, I think. It became somewhat incoherent.”

  • Does that mean your official education is a little different from many others’?

“Yes, I have not followed any program, you might say. And I have probably been mostly inspired by musicians I have not known. But first and foremost, I have been inspired by the composers I have played. They have been my actual inspiration. There you look directly into the manuscript. You look into the same thing that everyone else has looked into, and the sheet music has been incredibly inspiring. It started with me playing Chopin’s work. I spent a long time on this and it has given such an idea of how he has played. With the greatest composers, one is often left with a feeling that those who play them are not hitting it quite right. And I’ve always had that feeling with Chopin’s music – so to speak, with Debussy’s music too. “

  • The great composers each have their aura, and they each have their own universe. At Chopin, is it the light, elegant and the blurred that does it?

“It’s clear that Chopin’s music has something introverted and somewhat restrained about it. And you might think, perhaps, blurred. It’s not so immediate, Chopin’s music, it’s really very restrained. You can think on it as a romantic image, but at the same time it is also incredibly strictly constructed. It is incredibly classical music. With Bach’s music it is different, because it is so universal that it almost does not matter how you play it. It has little effect on the quality of the music. “

  • Yes, the basic form is very clear.

“If I have sought inspiration from others, then I have done it right, because from Chopin there are threads back to many generations before him. You do not need to know what he has studied, because you can see and hear that when you look in the notes. Then you can really see what a large repertoire he draws on. Bach and Mozart can easily be heard when you look in Chopin’s sheet music, because they were the composers with the best taste. There is an incredibly high quality in Chopin’s music. That’s what taught me how to play the piano.”

JR tells about the music – Photo provided from the private collection of the artist
  • Chopin has especially written for piano, but he has also written 2 piano concerts. Haven’t they been a bit overlooked? I remember my teacher saying that they might not have been the most interesting things Chopin had written.

“I can not understand you saying that. To me they appear as some of the finest piano concerts, and I thought it was some of the most played and widely known. It may well be that they have had a completely different position. You know, Mozart’s sonatas were not in use at all until 1920, and Schubert’s sonatas were not considered anything. Chopin’s music and Liszt’s music were inappropriate, and Rachmaninov’s music was not serious. But listening to piano concerto in E minor, then you can hear that it is the very best music he has saved for that concert. Then you may have had a teacher who has said that it is poorly orchestrated. But one must imagine that Chopin is arisen from the still feudal time. It was probably the revolution that killed him. He feared rather than anyone that the bad taste would become prevalent, and it did. That concert has just been orchestrated in such a way that the soloist can be a soloist. I think it’s an excellent orchestration that sounds beautiful and fits nicely with the piano sound that Chopin has been able to play with. And that’s how I think one should play it today, too. It is rarely done. The refined and restrained, it may be a wrong word to use here, but that tasteful way of playing, that’s how that music sounds to my ears. And with the way Chopin has orchestrated it, it sounds absolutely formidable. It is orchestrated so you can play it with just a small crew. Just a handful of people, that’s enough. A student once asked Chopin if he could give the E minor concerto as entertainment in a private context. The student was given permission to do so, which has surprised me a little, and it would also be just fine to play only one of the movements – yes, even excerpts from the first movement, a little here and a little there, it was not necessary to have it in context. It’s like when you hear some really good music in the car that you know, you only hear a little now and then, but that’s enough, because the rest you have in your head. And if you take that e minor concerto, then you can just play 8 bars here and there. That’s enough to be able to hear how good it is. I think it’s a great concert. “

Photo provided from the private collection of the artist
  • Personally, I have always been incredibly fond of Debussy. Atmosphere, changing sounds, new constellations – then we are as well close to the art of painting somewhere. I think of Monet and – that is, those sensuous colors and expressions.

“Yes, but you are no longer from the baroque painting and Bach’s music and the romantics’ with Chopin’s music. It’s just a different time, I think. In Debussy’s music you can simply see that it is an extension of Chopin’s work. Debussy’s music, it starts where Chopin’s music stops, there’s probably half a century in between, but the thread is being picked up. Debussy was very fascinated by the fact that he had had a music teacher, who was possibly – yes, at least that was what he meant – a student of Chopin. Well, you can not count on that, because Chopin has received a towering amount per hour to teach piano. He has had excessive inclinations, and who has not been a student of Chopin? But at least Debussy was very, very interested in this, and he himself was an incredibly good piano player, just as Chopin has been incomparable. Just as Beethoven has been incomparable – you can simply hear that. Like Bach has been incomparable. But the connection between Debussy’s and Chopin’s music, well, it does not matter that Debussy had a notion of his piano teacher being a student of Chopin. It does not matter if it goes the direct way or via something else. It does not matter who has been taught by whom. After all, it has no decisive significance.”

  • Many pieces of music have a title behind which a particular story is hidden, maybe an event or something else. Are you thinking about that?

“Mostly because at one point I was performing with a poet – but actually only because of that. No, for me it has been the music alone – only that. I heard “Exhibition Pictures” the other day, and I played Tchaikovsky’s “The Seasons” today, and I’m working on those Debussy preludes, all of which have titles. So – you can not say you are free of…. but at the same time that drive has not been deeper in me than I do not bother to look for what the titles mean. Because it stands at the end, and there they are just allowed to stand. No, I think it’s the music’s own mechanics, and people can put which meaning in it they want. It is first and foremost the music that is important. It does not have to be a backdrop for anything. And if there should be a poem as a basis for the music, then no two people perceive the poem equally. Nor will it be with the music. No, it is only the music that is important to me – how it is, how it is structured. Because you can put a lot of different emotions into music. And that’s a good thing – it can be played in many different ways.”

Below you will find an expressive moment image of the soloist’s eye of the needle: the concert, where you present the result of a basically endless training – the rehearsed program. In Danish language.

  • The situation of classical music today? It is a fairly elitist area – it is not the great breadth of the Danish population that immediately has it as a first priority. And yet it lives on the horizon. Is it uphill?

“It has always been like that – with changing systems. I do not have much opinion about it. It is up to people themselves whether they want to deal with it. It is people’s own responsibility – the responsibility of each individual. There is no lock on anything today, there is no lock on libraries or on the internet, but still classical musik is only for the few – you can just as well admit that. There is no reason to change it, there is no reason to do it differently. You just come up with what is. I have never, ever been afraid of that, never. I’m not afraid to play it in very, very different circumstances either. It’s not the audience I’m playing for at all – it’s primarily for my own sake. And whether it’s one or the other kind of audience, whether there are few or many, it does not matter at all. That’s not something I’m considering at all. Well, the situation is not good, but it has never been.”

  • It has always had to fight for its justification, and it has also been a question of whether it could develop economically….

“It has never been sustainable, that’s obvious. There are far too many trained musicians – there is no need for so many at all.”

Photo provided from the private collection of the artist
  • Is there anything other than music that interests you? Playing chess – drinking a good glass of wine – areas you cultivate or enjoy?

“Yes, at intervals. Most often in periods. Because you have to cultivate it if you have to move a little. Today I can say that I have been through quite a lot, but wine – that does not interest me. Chess interests me only as an amusement. I am not preoccupied with the game itself, because then I would have to spend all day on it. I have also been preoccupied with fencing, it has been my job, but I am not preoccupied with this anymore either. I have been preoccupied with art and antiques – neither am I anymore.”

  • Do you have to opt out of other things to keep your level?

“Yes. It might be a good thing to get another new interest on the wallpaper, but it takes a long time. Different people have thought I was very versatile, and I have never been able to understand that because – I really feel that I have been so one-track, at least at a time, so you can hope that there are some of the things you have been interested in that have not been completely forgotten – that there is still something left, which can be used in another context.”

  • But even if you are focused on one thing, there might be things that still point in from the outside and leave an influence that you can immediately take with you?

“Yes, that’s right. I hope so too, because music is so much more than just the purely mechanical. That is of course the precondition, but it is clear that the things you come into contact with by doing other than to practice and get new interests – you can hope that it settles down for the use of that piece of mechanics that must be available to be able to realize the music at all. But the problem is that you have to spend so much time on that.”

  • We know that the soloist’s training is hard work – it is exactly to equate with a professional athlete, daily exercises. One must constantly take care of oneself, physically and mentally.

“Yes, you have to make sure you get up in the morning.”

  • … and not consume too many intoxicants.

“No, that will not work. You have to stay focused.”

  • You go for long walks, I know. Are you meditating while getting fresh air and peace in your head?

“Well, I feel like I’m getting peace of mind when I work on what I do. I’ve walked out here to you – it took an hour and twenty minutes, exactly. And it’s nice weather, so it’s been a good way to get out here. It has not taken much longer than standing and waiting for the buses, which I have not researched when would go. And then you have got that exercise too. From my many years with my fencing, I like to be in reasonable shape. And in many ways, if you have to achieve a lot, it’s about being practical.”

  • There’s a little story I remember you told me on another occasion – that you traveled to Croatia for some fencing convention?

“I was selected by the Danish Fencing Association – Europe had got 20 places, and Denmark had got 1 place – and then we still got 2, so I could go there with a colleague. It was to Zagreb that I got the first fencing exam, and it was incredibly poorly timed. 10 years before, I had set myself the goal that February 22, 2010, one of Chopin’s official 200th birthdays, could be a great date to look forward to. Through the years I had gotten a pretty large number of pieces of Chopin’s work in my fingers and had spent several years not only searching and examining Chopin’s work but also playing as much of it as possible. But even on the same day, it turned out that I got the opportunity to get that fencing education with departure on February 22nd. So that day there was no Chopin, at least not in Denmark. That day I traveled to Zagreb and was accommodated in a real concrete hotel building located in a communist satellite town just outside Zagreb, where I was to be for the next while. The ambassador was so kind as to set up his digital piano in my room, so that I avoided the inconsolable card and drinking game with the fencing master colleagues downstairs. I stayed upstairs and could practice every single day. There was fencing training 6-8 hours a day, but then in the evening I could sit up there and enjoy the piano.”

Photo provided from the private collection of the artist
Photo provided from the private collection of the artist

“On February 22, when we came down, I thought I had to wear a tracksuit, and then I ran into the old town and also found the conservatory – a dilapidated place – and there I went up on one of the top floors, found a room next to where I could hear Pogorelich, of all people – his brother, who is also a good pianist – sitting and teaching. So I sat down there, then I played some Chopin-pieces, and then I thought: That must be it! And then I ran home to my hotel again. “

  • So you got your mark?

“I got my mark.”

  • Are there any things you would like to say about yourself and the music?

“Then you must ask me something, Leif!”

  • We have been around a lot, and one of the things I find so interesting about you is that you have not wanted to be guided by other people’s solutions to many different issues.

“I have never had anything against other people’s opinions. I have always thought they were very valuable if I thought I could use them for something. Many times I have done what I was told. But when it really mattered I have done it in my own way anyway. It has been a common thread in the way I have followed my own education. For that I would really say: Even though I do not have paper on anything – I have only paper on that fencing master’s degree – then I would still say that I have educated myself simply by plowing through piles of repertoires. “

  • There must be room for you daring to dare, what you yourself feel you have to offer as the way you present a given piece of music. It is very important.

“I have never been afraid of that. I have been afraid of so much else that we have talked about, but not exactly that.”

  • It’s a strength you have in support of not being nervous when you go and sit on the piano bench. Thank you for your words.

“Thank you for yours.”

Photo: Nete Parkov, 2017

March 2021: Since Jesper’s visit to Tårnby 3½ years ago, a lot of water has flowed in both river and beach. Jesper’s at times almost flying concert business over the ensuing years was abruptly put on hold when the country – and the whole world – saw the debut of the corona pandemic. As we all know, it led to a true domino effect of societal shutdowns, country after country. It meant changed living and working conditions for everyone, whether their work situation were stabbed, put on pause or for some simply became non-existent. On 19 March 2020, 8 days after the Danish government had announced the closure of society, the following update could be read on Jesper René’s Facebook profile:

‘Thank you are poor words, exclusively.
At this time, I believe that one should look at the government’s initiatives as a warning for the future, i.e. the time that comes immediately after, when this crisis will be gone. Many artists are dissatisfied with being overlooked in terms of support at this time, when many larger groups are being secured – and in this regard I think one must see the current government, showing excellent manpower and overview, in a larger light. We who have chosen to be independent have chosen it because we want to and can do so without uniting – and even if it means a completely changed market in half or a whole year, it is precisely the one-man performances which have the easiest time adapting themselves and surviving. Of course, this is not an utterance against artists, but only a realistic view of a situation I know from the inside – and therefore don’t spend a significant amount of energy on, because it removes focus from what I have to consolidate now for use when things return to normal. Artists who are used to being mentioned in the newspaper and of people standing up for them every time they take their hands out of their pockets, but at the same time do not have to pay for when ruining things, can historically not expect other people to take the money out of theirs – because it is naive to think that in a crisis situation one weighs the things that can most easily be dispensed with if the globe goes on alert. I always think of a picture, I think it is in Thomas Mann’s Felix Krull, where the uncle admonishes his young nephew, after he has shown him the back of the theater with its damp-shielded wallpaper, tarnished masks and worn stairs, that art is a good stick to go through life with but a bad crutch – all the while teaching him to order CH. Margaux without making the slightest remark about the mighty price of the bottle. These are the contrasts we go for.

Based on the development, Leif has this year asked Jesper some additional questions:

  • Now, more than 3 years later, how do you see the situation – not least after Corona has turned it all upside down?

“Well, I must say that I would have answered many of the questions differently humbly if I had been asked today – not least because I rode on a wave of momentum and progress at the time with nearly 100 annual concerts. Now everyone has their lives changed, many have lost their jobs and meaning in everyday life. I myself have probably not been hit so hard because I have always been used to spending many hours in isolation at the piano, and therefore I have not had such a hard time with the conversion. Clearly, my livelihood disappeared with the cancellation of all those concerts. But fortunately I have been able to adapt and I was applied for as a teacher before, because I have had distance teaching in Greenland for years – so I have been able to manage it myself, as I want. “

  • Has it had any impact on your piano playing?

“The hopelessness that has gradually arisen has not done me any good for my piano playing. While the country was being closed down, I was stranded with my parents on Fyn (the island Funen, ed.) – and stayed there for many months. So I rode a bicycle on all the middle of the island and also cleaned up some ditches, while I got to relax with my parents on top of some years of great pressure. I have been able to keep up with my piano playing – especially now in recent months, where Yamaha has offered me the role of ambassador for their brand and has set up a new grand piano in my home at Kongens Nytorv. So I have rehearsed some new programs and consolidated some old ones so I am ready for the concert performances to be resumed. “

  • Has there been time for reflection?

It is clear that the past year’s time has clarified some things that I – because I grew up with musicians – have always known, but which in a time of crisis become clear to everyone. This applies partly to the lack of interest and appreciation of the music world – and partly to the lack of support from political parties, where one must probably be honest and say that only a few are familiar with classical culture. I think we see what a lack of space culture has been given in our consciousness – or perhaps always had – and it then shows up in our society when it all has to be re-evaluated and not run on automatic allocation of funds. Many politicians have not grown up with culture, and therefore do not know the significance of it on their own body. I’m not surprised, and instead of retaliating, I find my own way through the morass. But lack of support also applies in our own ranks, where permanent employees, who are already not the most risk-averse, have not shown great solidarity with soloists during their repatriation. Many soloists have e.g. experienced that permanent employees do not show understanding of contracts, agreements, etc. and therefore have not been able to get their receivables. I myself have asserted my claims and had no problems enforcing the contract law. But I have not become popular, and I have even been warned in writing not to assert my claims because the state institution was not to blame for the cancellation. So I think in the future we will see a cultural policy that is similar to the post-war era – because the money supply must be empty by now. Many will find it very, very difficult in the future, where I think we will see a huge change in society – politically, secularly and economically. We’ve had the best time, I think. Luckily, I play piano and exclusively known standard works. Yes, I play probably the most popular instrument with the most beloved works on my programs. That music will always be in demand no matter what social or political situation we find ourselves in.

Photo provided from the private collection of the artist
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Jesper René – Pianist