Mein Freistil

Five Questions for Markus Becker

What runs through your mind when you improvise?

Markus Becker: “Often quite simple turns of phrase – an interval, motif or sonority. Anything can become a starting point. Then the heart, brain and hand will take over, though not always in that order. Even a physical finger pattern can assume a life of its own. Sometimes directional processes arise that compress or release things like a narrative. But there are also moments when something will expand and invite listeners to participate.”

What parts of you go into your freestyle playing?

Markus Becker: “My entire musical vocabulary, from Bach cantatas to Dixieland, from Steely Dan to Stockhausen! On the one hand is the power of association, the pleasure in surprising myself and recognising all the things I can latch on to. On the other is my social upbringing as a classical musician – the filter that allows me to make choices, that generates relations, forms and arcs of tension on the spur of the moment.”

What happens when everything falls into place?

Markus Becker: “Ideally I drop my guard, so to speak, and make myself touchable. I take a blind leap. When the audience responds to this recklessness – when the energy comes back – a space can emerge where basic, almost archetypical experiences are worked out. Listeners can become active agents in a symbiotic interchange that might never have come about without the music.”

What effect do such experiences have on you when you play written music?

Markus Becker: “They sharpen my awareness that familiar things must be made perceptible in ever-new ways. After all, the canon isn’t made up of dead matter: everything that impinges on the performance – every drop of adrenalin – changes the music per se. So the point is the physical attitude towards playing. Every millimetre is decisive. And of course the value of years of study comes to the fore: a conscious decision, no matter how tiny, can spark a great deal.”

How should one play the piano?

Markus Becker: “The grand piano – this commodious piece of furniture – basically sets the bar. To me, the quality of piano playing is measured against an almost spatial notion of sound and performance. We don’t hear good piano playing as an event outside ourselves, as an object in the distance. It invites us into an interesting space with clearly gradated depths. We’re allowed to enter a room full of life and imagination, a room that absorbs projections from the outside and sends back multi-layered intimations. It’s not a matter of a small slice of consciousness, but of consciousness in its entirety!”

Interview: Anselm Cybinski