Michael Korstick


Photos: Reinhard Winkler

Michael Korstick is not only one of the foremost Beethoven interpreters of our time, he is also one of the most versatile pianists of his generation. His repertoire includes more than 130 works for piano and orchestra as well as solo pieces of all stylistic periods, and he has given cyclical performances of the complete concerti by Beethoven, Brahms, Liszt, Rachmaninoff, Bartók, and Prokofiev. His concert tours took him all over the world, and he has collaborated with more than 100 orchestras. To date, he has recorded more than 60 CDs which have received rave reviews and many international prizes.

Characteristic ideas

Beethoven is and remains Michael Korstick's fixed star. Why is that?

„Beethoven is and has always been the fixed star of my musical universe“, says Michael Korstick. His recording of Beethoven’s 32 Piano Sonatas has taken the music world by storm. His fascination with Beethoven has existed for as long as he can remember, and encountering the recordings by the pianist Solomon while still a teenager shaped his musical perception: stylistic perfection free of any mannerism and an interpretive approach searching for the true meaning of what the composer has committed to paper. The enormous breadth and diversity of Korstick’s repertoire notwithstanding, his passion for Beethoven’s music has remained a central part of his work. He says, „This is the kind of music which might just as well have come out of me if I had been blessed to be a composer with something to say – well, unfortunately, that isn’t the case. I have neither the ability nor the urge to write music. But everything I might have wished to express is already there in Beethoven’s music. So it is kind of my mission to make him speak through my playing.“

Find out more in Michael Korstick’s Beethoven ABC

Korstick masters one of the largest repertoires among the pianists of our time. How did he come to this?

„Why I have accumulated such a wide repertoire besides my passion for Beethoven? I think it’s simply curiosity“, answers Michael Korstick. Curiosity for music, for composers, their message, their language, their ideas. To find challenges and solutions. For Korstick, to work on new pieces is a stimulating experience rather than toil, and even in pieces which he has performed many times he  keeps finding fascinating new aspects. The enormous width of his repertoire turns into an advantage here: „When I do a piece for the 150th time, I have been working on so many other things between the 150 previous times, so every time I come back to this piece I notice new things and discover fresh aspects. That way it never gets stale, it remains a challenge even on the 151st time.“

Testing the boundaries
Michael Korstick's piano playing is repeatedly described as extremist. What is it all about?

„It amuses me when I read occasionally that some people use the term ‘extreme’ when they discuss aspects of my interpretations – I don’t find that at all“, says a smiling Michael Korstick. What really interests him is the maximum range of expression: how slowly can a slow passage be played, how much power is possible in a loud place? Korstick is not fond of one-dimensional smoothness, instead he always tries to test the limits of what is possible and meaningful. How far can one go keep a piece of music meaningful according to the composer’s intentions? „It is absolutely not the case that I would simply try to play a fast movement as fast as possible! What I’m trying to do is to find out where the exact point is when increasing the speed further doesn’t make things better but worse. This is where the boundary lies, the limit of what the composer intended, and this point is the optimum.“

Fidelity to the score
Michael Korstick is often said to be faithful to the original, but how does he find out exactly what the composer meant?

„The term ‘fidelity to the score’ sounds kind of bureaucratic, doesn’t it? As if a musician had the simple job of working his way through a list of instructions, mechanically delivering a lecture. If that were the case, every pianist who is ‘faithful to the score’ would sound the same and bore everybody to death“, believes Michael Korstick. For him, being faithful to the score means to probe the limits of a piece and to follow the composer to these limits. It means that it is not his own mood, whim, or wilfulness which leads him to the extreme, but the conviction that this is what is wanted by the composer, exactly this way and not another. „I don’t believe in ‘director’s theater’, where the question is which story am I going to tell using Shakespeare as a point of departure. I’m asking myself what story the composer is hiding in his score. And what I must do to translate it into sound.“

=”Validity, sustainability and the intrinsic value of his playing are important to Michael Korstick. What does he mean by that?” id=”Wahrhaftigkeit”]What Michael Korstick means when he talks about validity or truthfulness is the challenge of understanding the meaning of a piece of music and staying as close as possible to what the composer may have had in mind. Researching the sources when necessary and using Urtext editions whenever possible helps him to see and feel what is right, before he embarks on translating it into sound. „A pianist must recognize what comes from the composer’s heart before he infuses the music with his own blood,“ this is how he describes his approach. For him, truthfulness means that an interpretation reaches  timeless validity, in the sense that a listener will want to hear it time and again, not as an act of repetition, but because the playing has the kind of intrinsic value which offers continuing insights. The opposite of quick effect.

„One of the nicest compliments I ever got was when I played the identical program on two consecutive nights: the organizer actually listened to Schubert’s long B flat major Sonata both times, and I ironically asked him why he was doing that to himself. He responded: ‘I just had to hear this one more time exactly this way and was curious whether I would notice things which may have escaped me the first time around.’ And that’s what validity means to me.


Photos (from left): Eric Engel/Philharmonie Luxembourg, Jochen Berger, Reinhard Winkler (2x)