MURAKAMI: Among the musicians who play Mahler, and perhaps also among those who listen to him, there are many who attach importance to his life, his vision of the world, the political background of his time and that atmosphere of the end of the century. What is your opinion of all this?
OZAWA: I don’t think much about that kind of thing. I put more effort into reading the sheet music. I started going to Vienna to work about thirty years ago, there I made friends and got into the habit of visiting museums.
I came across the paintings by Klimt and Egon Schiele, a real revelation for me. Since then I have tried to go to museums frequently, and when I look at works of art I understand many things. I mean, Mahler’s music was a break with traditional Germanic music. One can get an idea of what that rupture meant through art, and I have always thought that it was not something done by halves.
OZAWA: Klimt’s paintings are beautiful and at the same time very detailed, but when you look at them closely, don’t you get the impression that he was a little crazy?
MURAKAMI: Yes, they are certainly not normal.
OZAWA: I don’t know if it is madness or something that transcends the idea of normality. It gives me the impression that there are things that go beyond concepts such as morality. In fact, in his day morale was breaking down and there were also diseases and epidemics everywhere.
MURAKAMI: Syphilis was wreaking havoc. Vienna was permeated with that atmosphere.
When I was there I had time and I rented a car to visit the south of the Czech Republic, the old Bohemia, where the town where Mahler was born, Kaliste is located. I had no special intention of going there, but I happened by chance and stopped. It is still a deeply rural place.
Around me I saw nothing but field and more field. It wasn’t that far from Vienna, but I was struck by the huge contrast between the two places. I imagined Mahler leaving that place behind to settle in the capital and I imagined the immense change in values that he had to face. I mean, from the point of view of the Viennese, Mahler was just a villager.
OZAWA: I understand what you mean.
MURAKAMI: To make matters worse, he was Jewish. It is also possible that Vienna acquired a renewed vitality and great dynamism by absorbing all those cultures from the nearby periphery. It is something that emerges from the biographies of Rubinstein or Rudolf Serkin.
From this perspective, it is understood how popular melodies or those of klezmer music, traditional Ashkenazi music, suddenly appear in Mahler’s music, mix with “serious” music, as if they were true intruders.
That variety is one of the greatest charms of your music, don’t you think? Had he not been born in the country and raised musically in Vienna, he might never have been able to create such music.
OZAWA: It is possible.
MURAKAMI: All the great creators of the time, Kafka, Mahler, Proust, were Jews. They all agitated the established cultural structure in their own way and did so from the periphery. In this sense, it seems important to me to take into consideration that Mahler was a Jewish from the provinces
MURAKAMI: Going back to the performances of the sixties by Leonard Bernstein, the emotional streak seems to be one of his most important elements, as if it projects an unleashed passion into him.
OZAWA: Yes, the passion is there. Of that there is no doubt.
MURAKAMI: You show great empathy with Mahler’s music, great personal commitment. First of all, he was very aware of the fact that he was Jewish.
OZAWA: Yes. He certainly had it in mind.
MURAKAMI: However, I get the impression that this ethnic detail ends up gradually being diluted in the successive interpretations. For example, in yours or Abaddo’s it is not very reflected.
OZAWA: Yes, the truth is that I have never paid much attention to that, but Lenny has. It was very ingrained in his conscience.
MURAKAMI: Does the music contain elements that can be considered Jewish?