Following the premiere of "Invisible Cities": interview with Filip Fak

Your biography puts a special emphasis on the Music Biennale, so we are really interested in finding out what a couple of decades of the Biennale experience means to you?

Maybe this is going to sound like a cliché, but for me, the Biennale has been a 'window to the world' of sorts right from the very beginning. Just like in every classically trained musician's case, our everyday work occurs more within a realm of musical restauration than co-creation, so nothing can replace the experience of coming into contact with that many vivid and contemporary ideas from all over the world. The experience of 'bringing a dead letter to life' through direct collaboration and communication with composers, contact with a multitude of new musical languages or 'dialects', becoming familiar with different aesthetics, ways of thinking and approaches to music, discovering contemporary playing techniques... all of that is an endless source of inspiration and education, it opens up new horizons in contemplating music and life in general and it is, therefore, a big step forward in the continuous process of accomplishment and the search for artistic truths for every musician who looks at the Biennale with an open mind and an open heart.

This is both a popular and a tiresome question – how would you summarize the Biennale in the sense of 'before' and 'now'?

This is difficult to answer for many reasons. The Biennale is a living organism, one with a complex structure, so I think it is impossible (and also probably artistically unfair) to make generalized statements about the Biennale as if it was a completely foreseeable phenomenon. Every concert, every event of the Festival is so exceptional and specific, just as specific as every piece, every composer, or every performer who constitutes a certain musical multiverse that escapes any kind of rudimentary and unambiguous definition. Besides, there is also a lack of temporal distance, which is always necessary when 'reviewing' a specific artistic phenomenon in order for it to crystallize into something that is deemed more valuable or less valuable, or whatever this process could be called. So, if I try to answer your question about when it was better, I would probably say something like: ''always, and therefore, now as well.''

Let's look back at the previous Biennale, which introduced the 5-Minute Piano Concerto Competition, and featured you as one of the performers. What was that like?

The 5-Minute Piano Concerto Competition was, despite its fairly harmless-sounding title, quite a serious and complicated endeavor, and I was expected to play a total of ten five-minute piano concertos in the same night, backed up by an impromptu ensemble made of top Croatian instrumentalists, conducted by Maestro Aleksandar Kalajdžić.

Anyone who thinks that a miniature piano concerto is, due to its small proportions, easier to tackle would be sorely mistaken; in most cases the authors attempted to express as much as possible within those five minutes, and these small forms were made into a concentrate, that is, a thick nucleus of the author's ideas, which strived to achieve its own kind of 'big bang'. Still, the hard work put into the concert paid off because some of those pieces turned out to be true miniature masterpieces and were heartily accepted by the audience. The competition winner, the young composer Daniele Gasparini, also wrote a superb piano concerto for this year's Biennale, this time one of larger architectural proportions.

Regarding your composing endeavors, has the thought of applying as a composer instead of a performer crossed your mind?

In short, I honestly have not thought about it, simply because I had already been approached and consulted as a soloist-performer for the competition and it would have led to a certain conflict of interest. But generally speaking, since you have mentioned my composing endeavors, I have to say that this aspect of my work has been consciously and purposefully delayed until a more mature period of my life, so, even a potential future creative contribution to the Biennale is going to have to wait a couple of years.

Your performances and awards are many, and last year you have become the first permanently employed pianist of the Zagreb Philharmonic. What does this mean to you?

I have to admit this is one of my favorite accomplishments, and undoubtedly an accomplishment I am very proud of because the Zagreb Philharmonic is an institution I have always regarded with the highest respect. Even though sometimes it really is not easy to play in an orchestra, especially when you are used to having relative freedom like I am, as a free artist or as a professor at the Music Academy for example, I genuinely enjoy playing in an orchestra. I love the orchestral repertoire just as much as I love the piano repertoire and I find the moment of collective endeavor, that is, the synergy that can produce the greatest achievements imaginable or even available to a musician (it brings to memory the recent performance of Mahler's Symphony No. 8 for instance) solely within an orchestral context very fulfilling. Unfortunately, I also have to admit that my decision to be a Philharmonic pianist has been met with a pretty arrogant lack of understanding from many of my colleagues, because the conventional point of view maintains that any capable pianist should be focused exclusively on a solo career. I am proud to have broken these mind-impoverishing stereotypes and prejudice on a personal level, and that I can enjoy the blessings and the undreamt-of luxuries of both playing in an orchestra or a chamber ensemble, playing with other instrumentalists and vocal soloists, as well as playing as a soloist, or simply composing. In addition, this universal and anti-egoistical approach to music and its performance is what I have also been trying to instill in my students at the Academy, in an honest attempt to 'cure' them of this unfortunate isolation that is almost forced upon them as pianists from an early age.

Right now we are not too familiar with Daniele Gasparini's composition Invisible Cities, which will have its world premiere at this year's Biennale, with you performing it. What are your thoughts on this piece, especially from a performer's perspective?

I would not be entirely joking if I told you I was as curious as you are – you see, since it is a world premiere, I, too, can hardly wait for the first rehearsal with the Croatian Radiotelevision Symphony Orchestra, when I am going to hear what the piece actually sounds like, because right now I am familiar with only one of its dimensions: the solo piano section. By the way, the piece got its name and author his inspiration from the novel Invisible Cities, written by the great Italian writer Italo Calvino, while the four contrasting concerto movements (Smeraldina, Ottavia, Valdrada, Olinda) bear the names of four imaginary cities from this novel. It is hard to summarize the relationship between the literary original and the music, but I can say that the author went beyond painting a simple tonal picture, thus revealing himself to be not only an imaginative and skilled composer, but also a true connoisseur of the piano, as well as the piano texture, which he infused with many original and unique innovations. All in all, Daniele Gasparini is most certainly a young composer we should keep in sight in the years to come.


Interviewer: Martina Bratić