Music has always been transnational; people pick up whatever interests them, and certainly a lot of classical music has absorbed influences from all over the world.
It took me way beyond what I knew, into places of which I was totally scared, but as I became less frightened, I welcomed new ways of thinking and approaching something. It made me an infinitely richer person, and I think a better musician.
It’s easy for me to care about Toronto, because Toronto is a community that cares about itself. It represents the world. It talks to itself, and because it does, it figures out that there must be a music garden as part of its existence.
As you begin to realize that every different type of music, everybody’s individual music, has its own rhythm, life, language and heritage, you realize how life changes, and you learn how to be more open and adaptive to what is around us.
As a musician I’m kind of nomadic, Waldo-like. I show up in different places, and I’m witness to unbelievable things.
But an innovation, to grow organically from within, has to be based on an intact tradition, so our idea is to bring together musicians who represent all these traditions, in workshops, festivals, and concerts, to see how we can connect with each other in music.
Music is powered by ideas. If you don’t have clarity of ideas, you’re just communicating sheer sound.
Children, in a way, are constant learners. Certainly sponge-like. Absorbing everything without careful analysis, even though, at the same time, they are certainly capable of incredible insights.
I remember when I was growing up. My great wish was to understand who I was and how I fit in the world.
Mastering music is more than learning technical skills. Practicing is about quality, not quantity. Some days I practice for hours; other days it will be just a few minutes.
My job as a performer is to make sure that whatever happens in a performance lives in somebody else, that it’s memorable… If you forget tomorrow what you heard yesterday, there’s really not much point in you having been there – or me, for that matter.
My involvement in the political arena is to make sure there’s a place for culture.
Things can fall apart, or threaten to, for many reasons, and then there’s got to be a leap of faith. Ultimately, when you’re at the edge, you have to go forward or backward; if you go forward, you have to jump together.
As a child, you respond physically, tactically. You’re delighted by sound, you’re delighted by recognizing something. It’s like hide and seek. Is it there? Is it not there? Is it this note? Is it not this note? It’s one fantastic game.
One is that you have to take time, lots of time, to let an idea grow from within. The second is that when you sign on to something, there will be issues of trust, deep trust, the way the members of a string quartet have to trust one another.
People will ask, ‘Are you famous?’ And I always answer, ‘My mother thinks so.’
I think all musicians have at one time or another experienced one physical problem or another. I have had tendinitis a couple of times, so I try to be really careful. It takes patience and persistence to overcome injury.
I think one of the great things about being a musician is that you never stop learning.
I think there are so many ways to become interested in music. I believe signs of sustained interest gives a sense of the right time. Music, if thought of as a language, would perhaps indicate that as early as possible is not so bad. I do believe that a really nurturing first teacher that makes the child love something is crucial.
You know, you can have someone who’s the very best at something, but if there’s not that kind of chemistry, collaborating is not going to amount to anything.
One of the most interesting aspects of the film project was collaborating with so many people – directors, filmmakers, and writers – over a five-year period. I learned that there are two components to this.
I really would like to be involved in things and to understand things, and in some ways you’ve got to be careful what you wish for because I feel very, very blessed to have such an interesting life and to be able to have little snapshots of lives of people from many different parts of the world.
Sound is ephemeral, fleeting, but some sort of a physical manifestation can help you hold on to it longer in time. I’m sure of this; I’ve always thought the sound that you make is just the tip of the iceberg, like the person that you see physically is just the tip of the iceberg as well.
I think anybody who goes away finds you appreciate home more when you return.
I love grocery shopping when I’m home. That’s what makes me feel totally normal. I love both the idea of home as in being with my family and friends, and also the idea of exploration. I think those two are probably my great interests.
A composition is always more than the sum of its parts. In other words, a really good piece of music is more than itself. It’s sort of like a prism, which you can see from each facet a single totality.
There’s a part of me that’s always charging ahead. I’m the curious kid, always going to the edge.
My teacher, my great cello teacher Leonard Rose, was such a great cellist, and nurturing man, very patient. But I grew up not only admiring him, but obviously Casals, Rostrotovich, Jacqueline du Pre, and many others, including many of my peers and contemporaries.
I think of a piece of music as something that comes alive when it is being performed, and I feel that my role in the transmission of music is to be its best advocate at that moment.
The thing that I’ve always been slightly frustrated with, was that the idea of a CD is kind of confined to a material possession that you can put on a shelf. And the idea of music, for me, is always about both the communication and the sharing of content. And so the interactive part is missing.
You go through phases. You have to reinvent reasons for playing, and one year’s answer might not do for another.
I think the purpose of a piece of music is significant when it actually lives in somebody else. A composer puts down a code, and a performer can activate the code in somebody else. Once it lives in somebody else, it can live in others as well.
Once something is memorable, it’s living and you’re using it. That to me is the foundation of a creative society.
Passion is one great force that unleashes creativity, because if you’re passionate about something, then you’re more willing to take risks.
When we have a good balance between thinking and feeling… our actions and lives are always the richer for it.
Practicing is not only playing your instrument, either by yourself or rehearsing with others – it also includes imagining yourself practicing. Your brain forms the same neural connections and muscle memory whether you are imagining the task or actually doing it.
I learn something not because I have to, but because I really want to. That’s the same view I have for performing. I’m performing because I really want to, not because I have to bring bread back home.
I’m not likely to forget where I’ve been and what I’ve done and learned. I think it’s just as important to play new instruments as to play new pieces. The old ones are getting scarcer and the new ones more and more wonderful.
The role of the musician is to go from concept to full execution. Put another way, it’s to go from understanding the content of something to really learning how to communicate it and make sure it’s well-received and lives in somebody else.
Jazz has been such a force in music, that any musician, including classical composers, have been influenced, and obviously performers, also.
With every year of playing, you want to relax one more muscle. Why? Because the more tense you are, the less you can hear.
The tradition of classical music and the opera is such that it used to be the place where social intercourse could take place between all parts of society: politicians, industrialists, artists, citizens, etc. That tradition, I think, still exists, but it’s much, much more diluted.
What came up at age 49 is I realized that of all the things I’m interested in, the thing I’m most interested in is figuring out what makes people tick, why people think the way they do, why they act the way they do. And I realized that music is such a great way to investigate why people do what they do.
When you learn something from people, or from a culture, you accept it as a gift, and it is your lifelong commitment to preserve it and build on it.
The tango is really a combination of many cultures, though it eventually became the national music of Argentina.
There are limits to how much sound a cello can make. That’s part of the framing of acoustical instruments. Finding what those limits might be, and then trying to suggest perhaps even the illusion of going beyond is part of that kind of effort.
I’ve been traveling all over the world for 25 years, performing, talking to people, studying their cultures and musical instruments, and I always come away with more questions in my head than can be answered.
Many of the Central Asians know Russian, and Ted Levin speaks it fluently. I speak Chinese, but Mongolian is completely different, so we had to have translators.