Fast cars and pianos - six questions with acclaimed pianist Freddy Kempf


Freddy Kempf and the NZSO rehearsing an George Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue in the Michael Fowler Centre on 13 September, 2017.

Acclaimed British pianist Freddy Kempf loves fast cars and fast music. Kempt, 39, is touring with the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra playing six piano works that span more than 300 years in Pianomania.

From George Frederic Handel, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Frédéric Chopin, Felix Mendelssohn, Sergei Rachmaninov and George Gershwin, Kempf said the works continued to resonate with audiences.

"I wanted to pick a mixture of my favourite pieces as well as works that made sense stuck together, that maybe explained a little about the whole idea of piano plus orchestra," he said.

Acclaimed British pianist Freddy Kempf, 39.

Acclaimed British pianist Freddy Kempf, 39.

Freddy Kempf, the quiet achiever
Top talent to perform best of Beethoven

When did you know that you wanted to be a musician?

I always remember loving music - and even before I started playing an instrument I was listening to it. I first wanted to play an instrument at age four - I very clearly stated I wanted to have lessons. And after that it was just my hobby - and luckily it still is!

British acclaimed piano star Freddy Kempf doesn't have the need for speed in his 4-tonne 8-seater mini-van.
Dennis Bald

British acclaimed piano star Freddy Kempf doesn't have the need for speed in his 4-tonne 8-seater mini-van.

How do you play and conduct at the same time?

The conducting part is mostly in rehearsal. Normally a soloist will have a separate conductor that plans how to use the rehearsal time and what plan to have for the show. I then have to take over this role, where the playing part is less important. I have to focus on listening to the orchestra and sorting out whatever problems occur. In the concert I'm mostly just playing since by then everyone knows what's going on.

How did you come to choose the six works you will perform in Pianomania?

The Handel was the most dramatic work I could find written before Mozart and Beethoven - and happens to be basically the first example of a concerto written in the way that they've been written ever since. 

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The Mozart is simply sublime. The Chopin is one of my favourite works for piano that is rarely played because the orchestra part is so minor.

The Mendelssohn is a work I played as a child, written by Mendelssohn when he was very young, and a very exciting piece. The Rachmaninov almost everyone recognises, and is one of the most passionate works ever written. The Gershwin is so unique - not a concerto, but one of the most famous works for piano and performed almost more often than anything else.

What do you love about driving fast cars?

I only ever got up to 270kmh one time, since my car was new back then, I was new to Germany's Autobahns and the Autobahn was completely deserted at 5am that Saturday morning. Now that I have three kids I've switched to a four-tonne, eight-seater mini-van – and it doesn't do anything at all quickly.

Is there anything in common with driving fast cars and playing the piano? 

To be honest, I don't think there's much similarity, aside from the adrenalin rush. When things are whizzing by on the road you're concentrating extremely hard and using very controlled physical responses. On the piano at high speed I find that you let your hands fly instinctively – you don't really know what they're doing and I'm often amazed that my hands manage to make the sounds that I'm simply hearing in my mind as I play.

Kempf performs Pianomania with the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra from 14 September in Napier, Auckland, Hamilton, Blenheim, Christchurch, Dunedin and Wellington.

 - Stuff


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