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Interview with Petronel Malan (Piano)

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Winner of 2000 International Web Concert Hall Competition

malan.jpg (14345 bytes)MOL: Tell us about your musical background (detail, if possible). How did it all start?
My mom had inherited a piano and there are many pictures of me as a baby
trying to play piano. And those are the only pictures where I am smiling - I was a very moody baby! She often had to lock the piano, since I was pretending to play piano as a toddler all the time and the noise drove them crazy! I am the second eldest of four children. My mom is a musician and my dad is a lawyer and property developer. My elder brother is also in property, then me, my sister, Annie, is an actress/business woman in South Africa and my
younger brother is the "dot-com guy" in the family, majoring in computers at the University of Pretoria.
MOL: How did your friend, parents, etc. influence you as a musician?
My mom took me to a concert when I was almost 4 years old and there was a woman playing piano, wearing a red dress and I thought it was the greatest thing in the worId - to play piano in a red dress! My mom was an opera singer and thus gave me my first piano lessons. After a year or so, I became a student of Dr. Adolph Hallis, who at age 84, only took college students, but was prepared to teach me on a weekly basis. My mom had to go to lessons with me and translate, since I could not speak English at the time. (Afrikaans is my first language).


MOL: Who are your teachers? And when you recall some of your teachers what are >the first and best qualities you remember? How did your teacher influence you as a musician?
Dr. Hallis: I learnt a lot from him and often wish that I could speak to him today now that I am older, since he studied with Tobias Matthay, lived in Paris where he knew Debussy and had performed with John Barbirolli etc. It was a previous generation of music-making. He died and I went on to study with Prof. Hennie Joubert who also died about a year later. Then I became a student of Prof Joseph Stanford and also took lessons with Steven de Groote when he was in South Africa or when I visited him in the USA. As many people would recall, Steven died in 1989. (I do not know what I
do to these teachers! But, I do not think it is my fault! I am glad to say that Prof. Stanford is alive and doing well!!) When I came to the USA, I studied with Ralph Votapek at Michigan State
University in East-Lansing and finished my bachelor's there. I then moved to Texas where I finished my Master's degree and DMA (hopefully by 2001) studying with Joseph Banowetz. Mr. Banowetz is very well known especailly due to the great pedalling book he wrote and I really enjoy working with him - he has great ideas.

MOL: Do you teach? If so, where? Tell us about your teaching methods? What do you mostly emphasize to your students and why?

No, I do not teach right now. I used to teach as a Teaching Fellow at the University of North Texas for three years. It was very good for me at that time to try and formulate in words, why I do not like something in  someone's playing, but in a way there are very many frustrating moments when
one teaches.

MOL: Do you practice what you preach to your students?
I never tried to shoot or poison any of my students, so that is good!

MOL: About practicing strateg... How much do you practice daily before a performance?
I practice everyday, all day, when I can, as much as I can. It is that simple.

A regular amount of practice every day is more beneficial than cramming the night before for 7 hours. I do not believe in that. So, I need to run errands, travel, do laundry, everyday stuff, email my family (which I do just about every day) etc. and I pretty much practice the remaining time I have. I do not have a certain schedule to my practice routine. I know which piece/s need/s most work that day and try to start with that and then I also know which piece I will need months from now, and will start working on that systematically. Practicing is a process. It is like working out - if you do it systematically, you will have great results. Trying to run a marathon with insufficient practice will not work!

MOL: How do you select repertoire for your recital?
Anything that I hear that I like, I will try and find the time to learn. Often, though, one is asked to play something that you do not really want to play, but have to, so you will do that too. I have also found that it is an amazing awakening if you HAVE to learn something, how much you just might
like it and actually enjoy playing. I am releasing a CD next year. It will be a transcription album. I spent a lot of time researching which transcriptions have not been played to death and spend a lot of time in everyone I know's library. I found a LOT of neglected pieces and that has also been a lot of fun.

MOL: How do you select repertoire for your concerto performance?
Concerti, the orchestras mostly ask for. The last three times I had asked to play Prokofieff 2 and the repsonse I mostly get was that the audience might not enjoy it. So, again Tschaikofsky or a Mozart. I understand where the orchestras are coming from since they have to sell tickets, but would love to play less mainstream concerti. I am writing my DMA Dissertation right now on a concerto by South African composer Alexander Johnson, and I think the music is very beautiful and accessible and I would love to have a chance to play that in the USA some time. I would also like
play something like the Dohnanyi concerto more frequently - and even that is sometimes frowned upon. I guess people just like to hear Rachmaninoff and Tschaikofsky.

MOL: How many concerts do you have a year?
It depends. Up to 4 a month. More than that I think gets a little crazy. And I usually take 2 trips a year to South Africa to see my family, so that needs to be worked in too.

MOL: What period of music do you enjoy playing the most and why?
I do not have a specific favourite. I do like playing Bach (even though one is always scared in the fugues!) and I love playing Mozart or Haydn (the pureness in the music is almost like a cleansing day at the spa!) and who does not love to play Rachmaninoff or Chopin and also like to play 20th
Century music. Something that EVERYBODY does not play - that way you can also feel that you are contributing to the education of the audience.

MOL: In your opinion, what is your strength in your playing?
I drink lots of Powerade and eat bananas before I play!

MOL: What do you hope to accomplish as a musician?
To do just that: BE A MUSICIAN!!!!!

MOL: How many different concertos do you have that are ready to play within three weeks notice?
Three weeks is a long period of time. No telling what I can get done in three weeks. The question should be - if you have no other concerts for the next three weeks - which concerti can you get ready. Or: You are playing 4 recitals in the next three weeks - which concerti can you learn in the
same time! Those would be very different answers.

MOL: Do you like any other forms of art? such as painting? a favorite writer?
I often try to go to art museums when I travel - Chicago, NY, Paris and I especially try to see special exhibits, but often, the day after the concert I leave town and get to see nothing! It took me three stops in Paris before I ever got to go to the Louvre.

MOL: What do you like to read? And why?
Something with a twist. Agatha Christie, Roald Dahl. Lately, I have been reading a lot of books about my country - since I have not lived there for so long. The country has undergone amazing changes and I try to keep up with that. I remember reading Nelson Mandela's "A long walk to freedom" while in Europe and being so upset with things that happened in my country, yet so
proud of the changes we have made as a nation.

MOL: What are some of your recent reading?
The one book that I read just about all the time is David Dubal's "Art of the Piano." Whenever I listen to a recording, I open the book and read about the pianist I am listening to and the pieces etc. I really like that book.

MOL: What else do you do for fun?
I love antique jewelry and vintage clothes, so I am always in search of that wherever I go. I also love second hand book stores. If I have 30 min before having to go to the airport, I will try and go to the second book store wherever I am. I have found great stuff at those little town book stores.

MOL: What do you hope to achieve ten years from now in your music career?
In today's world, I should say TO STILL HAVE A CAREER!!!!!

MOL: In your opinion, what are the characteristics of a good performer?
Anything that has a genuine involvement and manages to move me in any way - is a good performance. I often see some of the great pianists play and they look so bored - and I hate that.
If the CD is playing and I stop what I am doing to LISTEN, that is great - I love Myra Hess, Edwin Fisher, Ignaz Friedman. Also, of contemporary pianists, of course, Argerich! and Stephen Hough's Piano Album is also one of "my favourite things" on earth.

MOL: Do you believe a performer must attend conservatory? What is your opinion on this?
I do not think you should ever choose a certain school, or a great city or where your friend (or worse: BOYFRIEND!!) goes to school. I think you need to choose your teacher. A teacher that you have had lessons with and get along with and where there is an understanding and mutual respect.

MOL:  I think we need to wrap up at this point. So on behalf of MusicalOnline, we would like to thank you for your time and we wish all the success.

MusicalOnline
November, 2000

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