Frederic Rzewski Visits America

Other Pianists

FRANK J. OTERI: I wanted to talk with out about your piano music played by other pianists. Certainly a work like The People United Will Never Be Defeated has almost achieved the status of being a piece of standard repertoire in new music. There have been so many different pianists who’ve played it over the years and there are so many recordings of it in circulation: Ursula Oppens, Marc-André Hamelin…There have been a really wide variety of interpretations. And then there’s you—the performer who also plays this music. What is your feeling about sending this music out in the world and getting back all these other interpretations?

FREDERIC RZEWSKI: What do you mean?

FRANK J. OTERI: Well, it’s almost like a parent-child situation. You give birth to this music and then one day there it is—existing out in the world separate and apart from you.

FREDERIC RZEWSKI: I see what you mean. Sometimes it’s a little difficult. Sometimes I have mixed feelings about that because sometimes I notice that the young guy gets the gig and I think, “Well, you know, why not me?” On the other hand, I can’t really complain if somebody’s playing the music well. I guess it’s all for the best.

FRANK J. OTERI: Well, certainly even though you play all of these pieces yourself, some of them were written for others, like De Profundis, which was originally written for Anthony de Mare

FREDERIC RZEWSKI: Yes.

FRANK J. OTERI: That’s quite an intense piece…

FREDERIC RZEWSKI: Depends on who does it. When Tony does, it’s funny. When I do it, it’s sad.

FRANK J. OTERI: In both cases, it’s pretty intense. I’ve heard both of you do it. Tony I heard do it live as well which was really an experience.

FREDERIC RZEWSKI: A number of people have done it and I noticed that all of the interpretations I’ve heard of that piece have been good. There’s something about the writing that’s a built-in safety mechanism against mediocrity. No conventional or inhibited performer will go anywhere near this piece because it calls for a considerable amount of courage to perform these things in front of an audience. So everybody who does play this piece has an original and creative approach to it.

FRANK J. OTERI: A great deal of your piano music is not virtuosic in the standard definition. It’s more virtuosic as performance art, if you will: the grunting and tapping, the whoops, singing, and so forth. It’s a really different approach to the notion of performance.

FREDERIC RZEWSKI: Well, I learned a lot from John Cage. He was always an important role model for me and, of course, he was a master of this kind of thing.