Matan, where did you grow up, what is your background and how did you start to play?
I grew up in a non-musical family. My mother loves music and as a toddler I learned to listen to LPs on my own, and was fascinated for hours from music by Brahms, Bruckner and Mahler. My parents bought me small musical toys and I used to sing and play all day long. One day I came across a piano, and it was clear for me that is the instrument I want to play, as it provided instant gratification and had the possibility of imitating a whole orchestra.
I started both piano and composition at the age of six. For a very long time, until I was 18, I was mostly interested in composition and improvisation, and piano studies were secondary.
All had changed when I entered the Tel-Aviv university. Initially, I wanted to study only composition, but my teacher advised me to apply also for the piano department. I had the immense luck to study with a fantastic teacher, Emanuel Krasovsky, who saw immediately the big potential I had and together we were able to accomplish many things, despite the fact my first public concert was when I was over 18.
Over the years I was privileged to work with some great artists who greatly inspired me, such as András Schiff, Daniel Barenboim and Richard Goode.
Among my "regular" teachers, I have learned most from my first teacher, Emanuel Krasovsky, and my last teacher, Murray Perahia.
How do you combine your joint activities as composer and pianist? And does understanding the composition process make a difference to how you approach the music that you perform?
It is essential for me to do both professions at the highest level possible, and each year it becomes a greater and greater challenge as my concert schedule is always growing and I need to find time to write my commissions. As it is impossible for me to compose in months I have lots of concerts or on tour, I find each year at least two months where I do not perform, and that is when I compose.
Although the two professions are very different from each other, as a pianist I feel my approach to music is closer to a composer approach- I am always interested in form and harmony and never found myself interested in other performers, or "superficial" performance aspects (i.e. octaves, scales, etc.).
As a composer, I am more empathic towards performers, as I know hard it is to play, and I'm always making sure I do not create unnecessary difficulties.
What ideas and motivations inspire you as a composer?
As a composer, my ideas come from various different sources- together with musical inspirations, I am often inspired by films, paintings, books and poetry. Once an idea is planted, all I need is to concentrate and develop it. But to reach that initial idea can take a long time...
Please tell us about your programme for the Wigmore concert.
For my Wigmore recital I wanted to pick three very different, though wonderful works: Ligeti's Musica Ricercata, which is one of the composer's early works from the 50s, and in which he has already found his unique voice, departing from the language of Bartok and of eastern-European music. These 11 bagatelles are each constructed from an added tone: the first uses only 2 notes, the second 3, the third 4, and so on until the last piece which uses the full 12 notes.
The second piece which I will present is Rameau's Nouvelle Suite en La. Naturally, Rameau is a harpsichord composer and many of the ornaments are better suited for harpsichord than for the modern piano. However, I find that rather than imitating the harpsichord, it is rather convincing to play it in a modern tradition, and even at times to use (God forbids!) the pedal. These wonderful dances include a harmonically daring Sarabande and the famous and virtuosic closing Gavotte et Doubles.
I don't think it is needed to introduce Schubert's A Major sonata D959, the one before last sonata and one of the last pieces which he wrote. I feel very close to Schubert's music, and this sonata is one of my favourites among his pieces.
Coming from the Middle East, do you feel music can be a positive force for change and reconciliation there?
I do believe music, or any form of art for that matter, has no nationality or boundaries and is stronger than any political thought, regime or power. It has always been that way and will always remain independent.