A cellist who follows his own instincts

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A cellist who follows his own instincts

Art, of course, has nothing to do with the way an artist dresses. Or does it?
What about Jackson Pollack, who photographers always captured pouring buckets of industrial paint onto large canvasses, smoking a Marlboro and wearing jeans, showing off his masculine charms?
Mischa Maisky, a world-renowned cellist whose repertiore includes such musically heavy choices as the Bach cello suites, dresses rather lightly. He certainly broke the conventional dress code for male classical musicians Thursday, showing up at a press conference wearing a glittering gold necklace, a Dolce and Gabanna leather belt and an Issey Miyake pleated jacket.
One of the first comments that could be heard was a Korean journalist gossiping to his cameraman: “How long does it take for Maisky to iron his jacket?”
Mr. Maisky describes himself as a cosmopolitan.
“I was born in Latvia, but spent most of my time in Paris and Belgium,” he said. “I am married to an American wife, and my son was born in Paris. I drive a Japanese car. And here I am in Korea, performing with an English conductor.”
Mr. Maisky was born in Riga, the capital of Latvia, in 1948. He studied briefly at the Riga Conservatory, then in Leningrad, where he won the International Tchaikovsky Competition, one of the most prestigious in classical music.
His musical life came to a halt during the early 1970s, after his sister had moved to Israel to escape the threats she faced from the Soviet authorities as a Jew. Mr. Maisky was placed in a prison camp for two years, then into a mental hospital ― the period he recalls as the most unpredictable of his life.
“I didn’t know what was going to happen to my life, whether I could continue cello or not,” he recalls 30 years later. “What helped me to overcome, though, was an inborn optimism.”
He defected to Israel, and in 1973 made his debut at New York’s Carnegie Hall with the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra under William Steinberg.
His musical style is often described as “subjective” and “intellectual”― in contrast with artists like Yo-Yo Ma, for example, who is noted for his romantic style, and who himself had given a recital at the Seoul Arts Center the day before Mr. Maisky’s Thursday performance there.
Mr. Maisky is known for personalized interpretations of the classical repertoire. He is said to often change the speed of a piece, or otherwise disregard the original notation, to bring his own style to the music. That has earned him criticism from some in the musical world.
He is perhaps best known for his 1999 re-recording of the Bach cello suites on the Deutsche Grammophon label in 1999, revisiting music he had recorded 14 years before. Mr. Maisky recalled that the re-recording was triggered by a peculiar experience he had while passing a record shop in Zurich. There he had noticed some interesting sounds from loudspeakers. “There was some orchestral music, a singer, a violinist and then the Bourree from the C major cello suite,” he says in an interview in the album notes. “I thought it was someone making fun of me ― it sounded like a parody. When I saw it was my [1985] recording, I was shocked. I had not heard it for a number of years.”
Another of his recent re-recordings is “Shumann: Cello Concerto,” with Martha Argerich and the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra. He’d previously recorded it with the late Leonard Bernstein, under whom Mr. Maisky studied and whom he considers his greatest influence.
Bramwell Tovey, music director of the Luxembourg Philharmonic Orchestra, with whom Maisky performed for the first time during their Asian tour, said the cellist is as dynamic as his music.
“After our first concert we went out for supper, and I’ve never laughed so much in my life before,” Mr. Tovey said. “He is one of the most witty individuals I’ve ever known, with endless stories to tell. He’s also a very deep human being who has many profound and fascinating ideas about life and music.”

by Park Soo-mee
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