What is the most difficult concerto for you?
Deniz Türkmen: Of course the concertos by masters like Rachmaninoff, Ravel or Brahms are at a very high level, but for me Scriabin's concerto is the most difficult to interpret.
Which of Chopin's etudes is the easiest for you?
Deniz Türkmen: Each etude has its own difficulty, but for me the easiest is the octave etude. Many people can never believe their ears when I say that, but everyone is different. Playing fast octaves is like resting for me.
How do you start a new composition?
Deniz Türkmen: There is always something in my mind. For example, when I see a beautiful landscape, I am immediately inspired and I play the piano in my imagination. I love that feeling of inspiration!
Are there any of your own works that push yourself to the limit?
Deniz Türkmen: My composition "Poems", which is also known as the 2nd piano sonata, brings me to my limit - I have never performed it publicly. It is a work that makes me sweat a lot!
Are there pianists who still inspire you today?
Deniz Türkmen: There are many. I like to hear 20th century recordings by Rubinstein, Horowitz, Sofronitsky, Cortot, Gieseking - I could now list a number of legends.
Is there something like a best or right interpretation for you?
Deniz Türkmen: No, definitely not! Horowitz, for example, recorded Chopin's 2nd piano sonata so often - each recording is so different in tempo and dynamics. This is what makes the music so unique. You may have lost a loved one and now play some passages more thoughtfully and sensitively. Or you had a stressful day and now play some passages more energetically and aggressively. Everything that happens in life also affects how you play.
I like to play the piano, cello and violin. Should I continue playing all 3 instruments or choose one to professionalize it?
Deniz Türkmen: You have to differentiate between 'playing an instrument' and 'living an instrument'. The question is: What do you want to achieve? For example, if you want to perform Tchaikovsky's Violin Concerto at Carnegie Hall, you should give your heart to the violin. If you want to be a common musician, you can continue playing all 3 instruments.
How did you discover your love for composing?
Deniz Türkmen: As a child and teenager I composed only for fun and curiosity. When I got older and performed here and there as a concert pianist, I sometimes felt like a record player playing works by Beethoven, Chopin or Rachmaninoff. So I started adding some of my own compositions to my concert programs. A highlight was when the audience got up and clapped when I premiered my 'Grand Sonata', it was a nice feeling because I knew it was a work by me and not by another composer. Composing is like breathing for me now.
Your last album has been heard 100,000 times in such a short time. How do you manage to assert yourself as a classical musician in this hard music branch full of rock and pop music?
Deniz Türkmen: My motto is always: Create something new. I found out a few years ago that Turkish and Azerbaijani art music hadn't been arranged much for piano yet, so I did it. When my album came out it was very popular because there was no such thing before. My album even hit the charts.
Do I need an academic music degree these days to start a successful music career?
Deniz Türkmen: No, I know a lot of musicians with no academic training who have a more successful career than those with an academic degree. You should never rely on a piece of paper. In the end, it all depends on your skills.
What is the best way to learn a new piece?
Deniz Türkmen: The most important thing is that you learn it effectively with full attention and concentration. You should always use time effectively in life. Most people always have excuses to postpone something to another day. What others need 8 hours for, you can do in 2 hours, discipline is everything.
I am currently experiencing a low point in my music career, how should I deal with it?
Deniz Türkmen: There are always ups and downs in a career, you should never get emotional, it could make things worse. Emotionality is the enemy of a successful career.
I would like to learn a concerto. Would you recommend one to start with? What was your first concerto that you played?
Deniz Türkmen: I recommend a concerto from the Viennese classic, such as early concertos by Haydn or Mozart. It is good to start with these so that you first get a feeling of what it is like to play with an orchestra. My first was Grieg's concerto. As a child I had listened to the recordings of this concerto of legends like Rubinstein, Gilels and Michelangeli so often. For me, this concerto is one of the highlights of music.
I want to keep fit as a musician. How do you keep fit?
Deniz Türkmen: I ride my bike or jog in the park for an hour every 2 days. I don't use a car to go to the supermarket 800 meters away, so I also strain my arm muscles when I carry the bags back. I usually cook very fresh, but you should also set days when you eat less healthy things, that's good for the psyche, you can not only eat healthily. As you can see, it's easy to keep fit.
I'm already 75 years old, is it too late to start playing the piano?
Deniz Türkmen: No, definitely not! It's never too late to start something new. In fact, it is very important to play a musical instrument in life. A study also showed that even 85 year olds who started learning a musical instrument improved their brain's memory performance within 6 months.
What do you think is the most difficult sonata in Russian piano music?
Deniz Türkmen: It is very difficult to say. The sonatas by Scriabin and Rachmaninoff are of course very demanding, but for me the 8th sonata by Prokofiev is the most difficult. Every concert pianist breaks a sweat with this sonata. It is also one of those sonatas where you have to warm up like hell.
What kind of concert program would you recommend to a pianist like me who is about to give his first piano recital? Have you ever seen the first concerts of pianists who went wrong?
Deniz Türkmen: I saw some first concerts where a lot went wrong, for example a pianist who played Rachmaninoff's 2nd sonata. If it's 100% at home, it's 50% at a concert, so it has to be at least 200% at home. You should listen to your inner being. If you have any doubts about one work in the concert program, you should take another one immediately. Doubt is never a good sign. As a teenager I went to a concert by Yuja Wang, she even exchanged something in the concert program a few minutes before the concert. You can always have less good days. That's human. Classical music is the Champions League of music, especially when you play transcriptions by Godowsky or Cziffra in concerts.
Where do you see yourself as a pensioner?
Deniz Türkmen: Such questions always amuse me. I would say if I look at the pensioners in Germany, hopefully not someone who gets up in the morning, eats, drinks, listens to the radio, watches television, stares at the smartphone and goes to sleep. My goal is to give concerts, compose and teach until my last breath.
Which brand of piano do you like the most?
Deniz Türkmen: I have a lot of favorites. Nowadays all brands are of a very high level and very qualitative. Yamaha, Steinway, Kawai, Fazioli, Schimmel or Petrof. I could list many now. All of them are great and I love to play all of them.
If you had to describe your life with a short piano piece, which would you choose?
Deniz Türkmen: First of all, I love these kinds of questions! I think I would describe my life with Grieg's Arietta. It's a piece full of hope.
Do you always warm up before concerts?
Deniz Türkmen: It depends on the concert program. Claudio Arrau once said in an interview that he had to warm up the most with Beethoven's Waldstein Sonata. I usually distract myself with a walk in the woods or read a book before a concert, but when Prokofiev is on the program I have to warm up a lot.
When you're in the studio, how often do you record the same piece?
Deniz Türkmen: I only record something once. I know that pianists like Krystian Zimerman repeat something very often. But I'm someone who only records something once and that's it. It should be natural, not chemical. Rubinstein was also someone who only recorded something once. There is something magical about it.
Which place in the world do you like most?
Deniz Türkmen: The village in Turkey where my father grew up. It is a place full of peace and harmony high up in the mountains. This place makes you forget all your worries.
Did Liszt really sight-read Chopin's etudes? What do you think?
Deniz Türkmen: It's hard to believe. There are many myths from the past. It is certain that Liszt was very jealous of Chopin's etudes. He could not understand how one could combine beauty and difficulty in such a way. According to presumptions, it is assumed that he already got the etudes before meeting Chopin. So of course he could show off. When Chopin published his etudes, all eyes went to him. You should never forget that Liszt was very much in love with himself and didn't like to see anyone standing over him. So sometimes he tried unfair methods. Of course, Franz Liszt is one of the greatest composers in history! Maybe even the greatest composer.
Why didn't female composers like Clara Schumann get a lot of attention at the time?
Deniz Türkmen: Women were viewed very differently back then, but she was truly a power woman. She was piano technically much more talented than Chopin and Liszt, as I have read in various books. At that time, however, women were never accepted into this circle of artists. If you don't know Cécile Chaminade yet, I would also recommend you to listen to her compositions. She composed a lot. Every single composition is beautiful.
I wonder why pianists like Trifonov and Lang Lang make such acrobatic movements on stage, but legends like Rubinstein and Horowitz didn't do it, why is that? You also don't do acrobatic movements like I saw in your concert videos.
Deniz Türkmen: Grandmasters like Rubinstein and Horowitz concentrated on the music and wanted to feel it. Rubinstein even once said that when you do such acrobatic movements, the emotions of the music are lost. Pianists like Trifonov and Lang Lang have made it a habit. It doesn't have much to do with their emotions. It's much more like an automatic mechanism. That's why I close my eyes when I go to concerts by this type of pianist to just concentrate on the music. Then you focus only on the pianist's interpretation and can enjoy it. I also don't do acrobatic movements like Rubinstein and Horowitz, you saw that right. In this way, concert guests who are new to classical music can concentrate better on the music. Once a listener even came up to me after one of my concerts and said that she could concentrate fully on the music and at a Lang Lang concert she couldn't because she was so distracted by the pianist. I thanked her and said that I am a pianist and not an acrobatic preparing for the Olympics.
How long was your longest concert program and which composers were included?
Deniz Türkmen: My longest concert program was over 2 hours. It contained Mozart, Schubert, Chopin, Scriabin, Rachmaninoff and my own works. It was a benefit concert in a church. I deliberately dragged it out so people donated more.
Many students in German music universities come from China and Russia. Are they more talented?
Deniz Türkmen: Everyone is talented, but when parents and educational policies fail, the children cannot help it. In China and Russia, children get better support and education. They are specifically prepared for what they love to do. The culture there is also associated with a lot of discipline and respect, which is why the upbringing of parents is so successful. And not to forget the very good educational policy there. I have been asked very often why there are so many artists from China and Russia in German music universities. Quite simply: They invest a lot more in education there. You don't have to be an expert to see this. It's a shame that Germany is very far behind. Playing a musical instrument and getting lessons is a luxury in Germany. Unfortunately.