Barry Mitchell interviews David Belkovski. March 2019.
Tell me about your background in music and how and why you became interested in the fortepiano.
I’ve been fortunate in that I’ve had wildly different musical influences vying for my attention from the very beginning. I played nearly as much saxophone as I did piano during my teenage years. I would play Balkan folk music with my dad during summers, vacillate between lessons in jazz and classical on piano, and eagerly await the newest hip-hop albums. By the time I graduated from Interlochen Arts Academy, however, I was completely taken by classical music. I went on to a degree on modern piano with the brilliant Natalya Antonova at the Eastman School of Music. Toward the end of my undergraduate degree, I discovered the fortepiano and harpsichord, as well as the concept of historically informed performance. After countless hours spent with recordings and YouTube videos of Malcolm Bilson, Kristian Bezuidenhout, and the like, it was difficult to imagine Mozart another way. I immersed myself in that sound world and with the help of Matthew Bengtson, Arthur Greene, and Penny Crawford at the University of Michigan, I had both access to instruments and the support necessary to pursue this kind of study.
David Belkovski, 2019.
What attracts you to the fortepiano and what are the main challenges of playing it compared to playing a modern piano?
Quite honestly, the most attractive aspect of the fortepiano is that there is no one type! There were so many radical changes to the instrument made between its origins in Florence to the Steinway model we know today, that it is seemingly a never-ending journey of exploration, from piano to piano, composer to composer. We can find as much variety in the piano-building of the time as in the music itself — I find that rather exciting!
During the Sfzp International Fortepiano Competition what pieces did you play and on what instrument?
I performed the Allegro assai 3rd movement of Mozart’s sonata K. 332, the Rondo in C Minor, Wq. 59/4 of CPE Bach, and finally the C Minor Fantasie of Mozart, K. 475. I played these on a wonderful Paul McNulty copy of an Anton Walter piano built at the turn of the 19th century. Its mechanisms were certainly ones which Mozart himself would have recognized.
You are currently studying for a Masters of Music in Historical Performance at The Juilliard School: how does research into historical performance inform your playing?
I’m not sure that I could play historic keyboards without regularly engaging the original sources — treatises, letters, concert reviews, etc. The foundational principle behind approaching early music is that the score is often little more than certain musical signposts suggesting an interpretation. Grappling directly with the sources at the very least gives me insight into a cultural practice we’re no longer privy to and, most importantly, inspires my imagination. It has been truly liberating and emboldening to feel that I have a responsibility to infer that which hasn’t been notated, elaborate what might have been taken for granted, and better understand my role as a performer to affect more profoundly the final result.
Do you have any plans to make recordings, and given the choice, what would you like to record?
Tough question! It’s hard for me to find the resources to make adequate recordings but I have plenty of projects in mind. I would love to record the chamber music of Brahms and Schumann with the influence of their contemporaries’ playing (many of them are captured on record!). No question this includes works for strings and piano, but there are beautiful songs for multiple voices and keyboard by Schumann, Brahms, and Schubert which are rarely done and certainly not with period instruments or historic vocal techniques. In terms of solo repertoire, I have in mind to record an album that spans multiple iterations of the fortepiano (from Mozart to Chopin to Brahms, for example) through which the listener can appreciate the lovely differences and particularities of the instruments from track to track. That’s only scratching the surface for me but certainly two projects I’m itching to work on!
In general, what are your plans for the future?
It’s hard to say, as my engagements in and out of school span across multiple keyboards and genres. I see myself moving toward leading an early music ensemble from the keyboard. In general, the greater the variety in my programming, the more comfortable I will be with my career. I’m also looking to grow as an improvising musician, incorporating baroque and classical improvisations into my concerts. As for fortepiano, I’d love to be at the forefront of a push by young enthusiasts, something that could take the form of an intimate concert series, which New York could certainly accommodate with the appropriate support and interest!