Passion for Music – interview

Listen to Ingolf Wunder’s new radio interview or read its transcript below.

(interview – September 2018)

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You changed the violin for the piano. Why?

Life is sometimes not explainable. It just happens. In my case that was a very natural decision. Violin and music was just a hobby in our family so I was brought to music in order to understand what I’m listening to. And for fun. We played traditional Austrian folk music on the violin, so I had no professional ambitions on the violin. And then it happened all very quickly. A quite famous Austrian piano teacher heard me touch the piano when he was at the competition for his students back then, and he told my parents “This guy should play the piano”. My parents asked me and I said “OK. Let’s give it a go”. Then everything went very quickly. He introduced me to the world of arts. I didn’t know anything when I was 14 but then I dove into the world of Chopin, Beethoven, Liszt, Horowitz, singers and violinists. I was so excited that I started to practice the piano for six hours a day. Since then I’m a pianist.

14 years old – that’s late!

We always measure things by this what’s normal. Normal is what most of the people do. So for that standard, yes, it’s late. Everybody though has his own timing. Never say never, just go for it.

For you it doesn’t matter because you’re talented.

It’s for other people to judge. That’s the most important is the passion. If you really love what you do, things happen even if it doesn’t look good at the start.

Is passion the most important word in your dictionary?

It is and I think it should be for all of us. We all can be passionate about something and ideally we should do what we’re passionate about. I know that people like me, who can actually do that, are very lucky – I’m thankful everyday that I can do what I love to do.

The Chopin Competition was a very important moment in your life. But you’re not only a chopinist…

I’ve done in my life always what I wanted to do. I’m a very hard-worker, I work constantly, but I don’t call it work. I call it life. I’ve always played what I wanted to play and what I felt like playing. In fact Liszt was my first love. When my teacher, after showing me a several records, asked me “So what do you want to play?” I picked Liszt’s Sonetto 104. He said “well, it’s probably too difficult for you but let’s try!” and that was in fact the first piece I’ve ever played. I always choose what I like. I had to get a bit older to understand Chopin. Then I got he is a genius. I don’t use this word lightly because nobody, including geniuses, writes good all the time. And not all Chopin pieces are the same level, but everything he wrote has such a deep emotion, which is being transmitted through the harmonies and melodies, that it hits directly your nervous system. Science doesn’t understand yet how that’s possible but he really does that. I seriously love Chopin. Due to the work with Maestro Adam Harasiewicz I got introduced to this world. And, again, it was the right timing! I was ready, life was aligned and then everything happened. And, of course, I went for it! You have to go for things! You have to decide from one day to the other “Yes, I do it!” and then follow through. This is what I’ve always done in my life.

You were the favorite pianist during the Chopin Competition 2010. You know that. Is it comfortable for you?

The longer one lives, the more one knows. I came to the conclusion that music is really the most important thing – it’s such a cliché and everybody is saying this, but in the end music is energy, which is transported to the audience from an interpreter. For me it was a lovely thing to see that what I feel in music, others feel too and they react to what I’m doing. And that was the most important thing for me. Competitions are business; they are a part of the system we invented. But music is bigger than that.

What about your conducting?

Just after the Chopin Competition I wanted to understand the orchestra better and I started my conducting studies in Cracow with Pawel Przytocki. Next year I will conduct two Mozart concerti and a Mozart symphony. I don’t separate these things. It’s simply making music. The next step is writing music.

How about your connection to Poland? You have a Polish wife, Polish tutor (Adam Harasiewicz) and the second Polish tutor (Pawel Przytocki)…

Poland is a big part of my life. My wife and I, we live in Switzerland but we’re quite often in Poland. In addition to that we also have an art education startup for online music and art lessons with my wife which is party located in Warsaw. So we spend some time in Warsaw and I really enjoy Polish people, their energy. And I have to say Polish women are the best.

What about our Bydgoszcz Philharmonic Hall and its new piano?

I like the hall and its acoustics. I like the instrument too – it’s a very new Steinway. I’m a bit torn: on the one hand new instruments are excellent, everything works, everything is perfectly regulated. On the other hand (since it’s a new instrument) the wood hasn’t matured yet… The problem is that in order to be satisfied with an older instrument where the wood has matured and sounds better than the new one, the instrument has to be maintained very well. It’s difficult to keep this balance. A new instrument is very nice to play but I prefer when the piano is older.

Music is obviously your passion. Do you have any other passions?

In fact I do. Next to music it has been always the technology and computers. That’s why I’m also extremely happy that my wife and I started our IT startup where I can combine my love for arts with the technological side. We want to use the technology and the Internet to empower teachers and students all over the world to have lessons no matter where you live. Sometimes you’re born in a wrong zip code, wrong country, wrong place and you don’t have the people around that you need. My life showed that very clearly: I was growing up in the middle of nowhere in Austria and my parents had to drive me 350 km every week for piano lessons. And they did that, I’m very thankful. But some people are not lucky to have that. That’s why we want to use the Internet and the technology to help people get good education. Only a good teacher can ignite the fire and can bring you where you should be. A good teacher can make you and the bad teacher can break you. Many talents don’t even have the chance to explore what they want to.

A few words about Wojciech Kilar concerto what you play in our hall…

What I like in Kilar’s music is its simplicity. He creates the feeling and the sphere, which really grabs you. I cannot really describe it. It gives you not only the pulse but he creates his own world by combining the harmonies that actually shouldn’t fit but do.

Since he is mostly known as a film music composer, his stage music is a bit neglected.

I’m sad to hear that. It’s not correct. We should ask the question: what is music about? What should music do? Should the music only satisfy the needs of some very sophisticated people, who want something more than feelings: logic, algorithms and things that are only mathematically to explain? Or you want from music that it touches you, opens a new world for you? That you see pictures while hearing the harmonies? That you actually feel something? This is what Kilar’s music does. It’s deeper than so called intellectual music that I know. That’s why I will continue playing it…