Pianist Dénes Várjon met Steven Isserlis in the 1980s at the International Musicians Seminar (IMS) at Prussia Cove but it is only since 2006 that he has been working regularly with him on repertoire from Beethoven to Adès. On this month’s cover disc he performs Mendelssohn’s Piano Trio No. 1 with Isserlis and violinist Joshua Bell.
How long have you known Steven Isserlis?
I’ve known Steven for many years now, since I went to Prussia Cove as a student of András Schiff. IMS Prussia Cove was a vital point in my musical life and a symbol of how one should work on music, an ideal way of music-making. Until five years ago Steven and I played together only very occasionally but since then we have played together about once a season and for me it is absolutely the greatest pleasure. He has a sensational sense of humour so playing with him is not only a great and deep musical experience but also a very fun experience, which means a lot when you’re touring.
Can you remember what you played in your first concert together?
We started to give recitals together in 2006 and the first concert was a recital of Schumann. Since then we have played all kinds of other chamber music in all kinds of combinations. We play a wide range of repertoire, from Beethoven sonatas to 21st-century music: just a few days ago we played the Thomas Adès piece, Lieux retrouvés, which was composed for Steven, which I enjoyed very much. He also came to my music festival this year in Hungary, for the second time, and was a great success, as always.
Why do you enjoy playing with Steven?
Chamber music for him is the alpha and omega. For him, and also for me, playing music together is a communication: we share thoughts, we listen, we react to each other. It feels natural to play with Steven because we feel music in the same way and we understand each other so well, musically, and also because we are very close friends. When we rehearse it feels so natural and it’s such a great atmosphere.
The performance of the Mendelssohn Piano Trio that appears on the December BBC Music Magazine Cover CD was recorded at Cadogan Hall during the Proms in 2009. Can you tell us a bit about the concert?
When Steven, Joshua and I arrived for the rehearsal in the morning, people were queuing to get tickets, which very rarely happens for a chamber music concert. Steven and Josh are both great stars in London, so that was probably the reason, although I’d like to think that they also wanted to hear Mendelssohn’s chamber music.
To hear Dénes Várjon perform Mendelssohn’s Piano Trio No. 1, with cellist Steven Isserlis and violinist Joshua Bell, pick up a copy of the December issue of BBC Music Magazine, on sale now.
Interview by Elizabeth Davis