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Pedja Muzijevic

Pedja Muzijevic

March 7, 2019

Today’s episode, produced by Naomi Lewin, features Pedja Muzijevic, the newly appointed Artistic Advisor of Tippet Rise.

Photo: Erik Petersen

Transcript

INTRODUCTION: Welcome to the Tippet Rise podcast, brought to you from the Tippet Rise Art Center, located on a 12,000 acre ranch in Fishtail, Montana, just north of Yellowstone National Park. I’m Melissa Moore. At Tippet Rise, we celebrate the synergy of art, architecture, music, and nature, out of which we weave our identities. The Tippet Rise podcast explores these connections. Today’s episode, produced by Naomi Lewin, features Pedja Muzijevic, the newly appointed Artistic Advisor of Tippet Rise.

MUSIC: Robert Schumann: Carnaval, Op. 9

PEDJA MUZIJEVIC: I’M PEDJA MUZIJEVIC.

NAOMI LEWIN: First name P-E-D-J-A; last name M-U-Z-I-J-E-V-I-C.

PEDJA: MY LEGAL NAME IS PREDRAG, BUT PEDJA HAS ALWAYS BEEN MY NICKNAME.

I WAS BORN IN BOSNIA, OR I SHOULD SAY I WAS BORN IN YUGOSLAVIA, WHEN IT WAS STILL YUGOSLAVIA. IN SARAJEVO. AND I WAS OBSESSED WITH MUSIC. WE HAD SOME RECORDS AT HOME, SOME 45s, AND 33s AND 78s, AND I WAS FASCINATED WITH THE SOUND OF PIANO. SO I ASKED IF I COULD PLAY AND MY PARENTS OBLIGED. THEY GOT THIS TURN OF THE CENTURY VIENNESE PIANO. YOU KNOW, IT WAS FORMER AUSTRO-HUNGARIAN REPUBLIC, SO THERE WERE THESE REMNANTS OF OLD PIANOS.

SO I STARTED PLAYING, AND I LOVED IT. MY PARENTS LEFT ME TO MY DEVICES AS FAR AS MUSIC. THEY JUST SAID YOUR MAIN SCHOOL SHOULD NOT SUFFER, AND THE REST – YOU WANT TO PLAY, GREAT. SO I DIDN’T FEEL ANY PRESSURE, FOR WHICH I’M VERY GRATEFUL IN HINDSIGHT. THEN AT SOME POINT, MY PIANO TEACHER SUGGESTED I SHOULD GO ELSEWHERE AND CONTINUE MY EDUCATION. AND SHE WAS VERY KEEN ON ME GOING TO SOVIET UNION. THIS WAS LIKE LATE 70s, AND IT WAS THE ONLY THING MY PARENTS SAID NO. BECAUSE AT THAT TIME, YOU KNOW, LIFE IN SOVIET UNION WAS NOT EASY. THE FOOD WAS LIMITED, AND MY PARENTS FELT IT WOULD COMPROMISE MY HEALTH.

NAOMI: Remember that food comment. It’s a recurring theme for Pedja Muzijevic.

PEDJA: SO, I ENDED UP GOING TO ZAGREB, WHICH IS NOW IN CROATIA, AND I DID MY ACADEMY THERE FOR FOUR YEARS, WHERE I STUDIED WITH A WONDERFUL TEACHER NAMED VLADIMIR KRPAN, WHO WAS A SORT OF DISCIPLE OF ARTURO BENEDETTI MICHAELANGELI.

MUSIC: Claude Debussy: L’isle joyeuse

NAOMI: One of the greatest pianists of the 20th century. During that time, there was a huge event in Muzijevic’s hometown of Sarajevo: the 1984 Winter Olympics.

PEDJA: MY MOST DISTINCT MEMORY OF THE OLYMPICS IS THAT EVERYTHING WAS OPEN 24 HOURS. ALL THE STORES, ALL THE RESTAURANTS. AND IT WAS THIS CITY THAT TRULY NEVER WENT TO SLEEP, AND THAT WAS EXCITING. OF COURSE, WINTER OLYMPICS ARE WAY BETTER ON TELEVISION. JUST THINK OF IT STANDING IN A COLD SPACE OUTSIDE, WHILE SOMEBODY WHIZZES BY YOU ON SKIS … PROBABLY BETTER ON TELEVISION.

NAOMI: Pedja Muzijevic wanted to continue his studies abroad, but there was just one problem – O.K., two problems: He came from a Communist country, and he had no money.

MUSIC: Robert Schumann: Novelette, Opus 21, #8

PEDJA: I’D HEARD OF THIS SCHOOL IN PHILADELPHIA CALLED THE CURTIS INSTITUTE, WHICH WAS FREE BECAUSE IT WAS ALL SCHOLARSHIP. IN A KIND OF A FLUKE, I WAS HIRED TO PLAY FOR A BALLET COMPANY IN SPLIT, AND I MADE ENOUGH MONEY TO PAY MYSELF A PLANE TICKET. AND I CAME AND AUDITIONED AT CURTIS. AND I DIDN’T KNOW ANY BETTER, SO I DIDN’T AUDITION ANYWHERE ELSE. SO IT’S COMPLETE DUMB LUCK THAT I GOT IN.

NAOMI: Well, not quite dumb luck. Pedja Muzijevic is a terrific pianist, with a highly inquisitive mind. He went on to the Peabody Conservatory in Baltimore, and then to The Juilliard School in New York.

MUSIC: Madeleine Dring: Trio for Flute, Oboe and Piano

PEDJA: I DECIDED TO STAY IN NEW YORK BECAUSE I, LIKE A LOT OF PEOPLE, FELL IN LOVE WITH NEW YORK. AND THEN OF COURSE THE WAR HAPPENED IN YUGOSLAVIA, SO IT WASN’T EVEN AN OPTION TO GO BACK. LOOKING BACK I REALIZED THAT I WOULD HAVE NEVER GONE BACK TO YUGOSLAVIA. BUT IT WAS NOT AN OPTION.

AND IT WAS FOUR REALLY TOUGH YEARS, BECAUSE I HAD VERY LITTLE COMMUNICATIONS WITH MY MOTHER AND SISTER, BECAUSE THERE WERE NO PHONE LINES. THERE WAS A JOURNALIST IN ASSOCIATED PRESS WHO WAS A FRIEND OF A FRIEND WHOM I NEVER MET. I WOULD FAX LETTERS TO VIENNA, TO THEIR OUTPOST IN VIENNA, AND THEN THEY WOULD GO INTO BOSNIA EVERY FEW WEEKS, AND THEY WOULD TAKE THESE LETTERS, AND IF NOBODY AT THE CHECKPOINT DIDN’T SEARCH THEIR BAG OR TAKE THEM AWAY, THEY WOULD DELIVER THEM, AND THEY WOULD TAKE LETTERS OUT. YOU KNOW, SOMETIMES IT WOULD TAKE THREE OR FOUR WEEKS. SO IT WAS TOUGH – IT WAS VERY TOUGH. IT WAS AMAZING. I MEAN PEOPLE DID WHAT THEY COULD.

NAOMI: As his career unfolded, Muzijevic became known for programming that thought outside the box.

MUSIC: John Cage: Sonatas and Interludes: Sonata V

PEDJA: I ALWAYS THINK OF MYSELF AS A NON-PIANIST PIANIST. LIKE PIANO IN AND OF ITSELF HAS VERY LITTLE INTEREST TO ME. I’M MORE OF A CHARACTER ACTOR, ACTING THROUGH PIANO. I’M VERY INTERESTED IN NARRATIVES THROUGH MUSIC. DON’T CALL THE HOSPITAL – DON’T LOCK ME UP. I KNOW THAT THERE IS NO SPEAKING THERE, BUT MUSIC DOES CONVEY SOMETHING, AND IT’S THE ABSTRACTNESS OF THAT NARRATIVE THAT INTERESTS ME.

I LOVE BOTH OLD AND NEW MUSIC, AND I DON’T ACTUALLY – OR I TRY NOT TO PUT ANY DIFFERENCE IN IT, WHETHER SOMETHING IS STANDARD OR CONTEMPORARY. I FEEL THAT PUTTING THEM NEXT TO EACH OTHER ENHANCES OUR ENJOYMENT OF BOTH SIDES, BECAUSE THEY KIND OF PINPOINT OTHER THINGS THAT OTHERWISE MAYBE WOULD NOT BE AS APPARENT.

I WAS ASKED BY TRICIA BROWN TO PLAY CAGE “SONATAS AND INTERLUDES” FOR A PIECE THAT SHE WAS CHOREOGRAPHING. AND WHEN I HEARD THEM AND STARTED WORKING ON THEM, I ABSOLUTELY FELL IN LOVE WITH THEM – WITH THE JUST SORT OF QUIRKINESS, AND IMAGINATION, AND JOY OF DISCOVERING DIFFERENT SOUNDS. THERE’S SO LITTLE BAGGAGE. IT’S NOT LIKE BEETHOVEN SONATA WITH LIKE SEVEN MILLION RECORDINGS. SO I HAD THIS IDEA TO INTERTWINE CAGE WITH QUOTE UNQUOTE “STANDARD MUSIC.” AND I MADE THIS KIND OF PROGRAM IN WHICH I COMBINED DIFFERENT MUSIC.

MUSIC: Domenico Scarlatti: Sonata in F, K.17

THE FIRST AND EASY PARTNER ARE SCARLATTI SONATAS. BECAUSE CAGE AND SCARLATTI SONATAS ARE IN A VERY SIMILAR BINARY FORM, MEANING THERE’S PART A THAT GETS REPEATED, AND A PART B THAT GETS REPEATED.

AND WHAT INTERESTED ME, IF ONE WAS WILLING TO HEAR EVEN A BIT OF IT IN PROGRESSION, HOW AFTER A WHILE, YOU COULDN’T TELL WHAT WAS QUOTE UNQUOTE A “NORMAL” SOUND. BECAUSE SOMETIMES YOU WENT BACK AND FORTH IN TWO MINUTES. OR IN ONE MINUTE.

MUSIC: Franz Liszt: Bagatelle sans tonalité (Bagatelle Without Tonality)

AT THE END OF THE DAY MY BASIC QUESTION IS WHAT IS A CONCERT, AND WHAT CAN CONCERT BE?

NAOMI: The answer to that question involves an enormous amount of planning.

PEDJA: PROGRAMMING SOLO RECITALS, I ALWAYS FEEL LIKE I’M GIVING BIRTH. YOU KNOW, I TORTURE MYSELF FOR A LONG TIME. IN THE YEARS PAST, IT WAS ONLY ABOUT WHAT WOULD MAKE SENSE FOR THIS PLACE, AND YOU KNOW, SOMETIMES WHAT HAVE I NOT PLAYED THERE? SO I WOULD GET MYSELF IN THESE RIDICULOUS SITUATIONS WHERE I WOULD PLAY SIX DIFFERENT RECITAL PROGRAMS IN TWO MONTHS.

NAOMI: When Muzijevic is not planning his own performances, he might be working on ones for Tippet Rise, or for the Baryshnikov Arts Center in New York City, where he serves as artistic administrator. His association with Michail Baryshnikov dates back to the 1990s, when he toured with the dancer and his White Oak dance project.

PEDJA: FOR WHATEVER REASON, WE BECAME VERY GOOD FRIENDS RIGHT AWAY. IT WAS LIKE INSTANT FRIENDSHIP. WELL, WE WENT TO SOUTH AMERICA FOR NINE WEEKS, HAD EVERY MEAL TOGETHER. AND THEN, WHEN HE DECIDED TO BUILD THE ARTS CENTER, MISHA ASKED ME TO PROGRAM SOME CONCERTS. AND IT WAS AN INCREDIBLE TREAT TO HAVE A CARTE BLANCHE.

MUSIC: Richard Wagner, arr. Franz Liszt: Isoldes Liebestod (Isolde’s Love Death)

TWO THINGS I’M PASSIONATE ABOUT, THAT I’VE BEEN LUCKY ENOUGH TO BE ABLE TO DO AT BARYSHNIKOV ARTS CENTER: ONE IS A SALON SERIES, AND THE OTHER WAS BASICALLY CONCERT AS THEATER. I’M VERY INTERESTED IN WORLD OF INTERDISCIPLINARY COLLABORATIONS WITH MUSIC, AND I HAVE ALWAYS WANTED TO HAVE LIKE A MODERN VERSION OF A 19TH CENTURY SALON, WITH TABLES, AND WINE, AND AN HOUR OF MUSIC IN AN INFORMAL ATMOSPHERE.

NAOMI: For Muzijevic, music is never simply music.

PEDJA: WE ALL HAVE VERY STRONG REACTIONS TO MUSIC, BUT YOU CAN’T REALLY PUT YOUR FINGER AND SAY, “OH THIS PIECE IS ABOUT LITTLE MARY GOT UP IN THE MORNING AND THEN WENT OUT.” IT’S NOT THAT SIMPLE. AND YET, THIS IMAGERY CAN BE VERY CLEAR.

MUSIC: Erik Satie: Les trois valses distinguées du précieux dégoûté (Three Distinguished Waltzes of a Disgusted Dandy)

AS YOU WORK ON SOMETHING, TO ASK YOURSELF FOR REACTIONS. IS IT DAYTIME, OR IS IT NIGHT TIME? IS IT MOUNTAIN, OR IS IT RIVER? AND SOMETIMES THERE ARE CLEAR ANSWERS, SOMETIMES THERE AREN’T. BUT THERE ARE SOMETIMES WE FEEL, OH THIS IS OUTDOORS. AND THEN YOU IF YOU THINK IT’S INDOORS, THEN YOU THINK, O.K., WHAT KIND OF A ROOM? AND IT’S A GAME I PLAY WITH MYSELF, JUST TO – YOU KNOW, IT’S A KIND OF A BACKGROUND GAME.

NAOMI: At Tippet Rise, the magnificent Montana outdoors is always in the foreground.

MUSIC: John Cage: In a Landscape

PEDJA: BECAUSE OF WHAT TIPPET RISE IS PHYSICALLY – IT’S THIS BEAUTIFUL LANDSCAPE – I REALLY WANTED TO PLAY JOHN CAGE “IN A LANDSCAPE,” WHICH IS THIS SERENE NOCTURNE.

NAOMI: Paradoxically, Muzijevic considers “In a Landscape” to be indoor music. But since the seats in the Olivier Music Barn – the performance hall at Tippet Rise – face a giant window, the outdoors is also present. Another indoor/outdoor work on his Tippet Rise program takes its title from an ancient instrument named for Aeolus, Greek god of the wind.

MUSIC: Henry Cowell: Aeolian Harp

PEDJA: A PIECE BY HENRY COWELL CALLED THE AEOLIAN HARP, WHICH I PLAY ENTIRELY INSIDE THE PIANO. IT’S EITHER STRUMMING THE STRINGS, OR PLUCKING THE STRINGS. IT’S A SHORT PIECE, AND IT ALMOST SERVES LIKE A LITTLE SORBET.

NAOMI: Another reference to food.

PEDJA: ALWAYS. EVERYTHING IS ABOUT FOOD.

MUSIC: Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach: Sonata in g minor, Wq. 65/17

HERE’S THIS CARL PHILIPP EMANUEL BACH SONATA. WHAT WOULD I LIKE TO HEAR AFTERWARDS? WHAT KIND OF FLAVOR?

MUSIC: Enrique Granados: Goyescas: “Coloquio en la reja”

AND THAT’S KIND OF LIKE COOKING, WHERE YOU OPEN THE CUPBOARD, YOU THINK: OH, THYME, I THINK A LITTLE THYME WOULD WORK HERE. TO ME MUSIC IS ALSO ABOUT TASTES.

NAOMI: The food analogies don’t just extend to his own programming. Muzijevic thinks arts presenters should wake up and smell the locally roasted coffee.

MUSIC: Michail Glinka: Trio pathétique

PEDJA: I AM FASCINATED BY THE PATH THAT FOOD CULTURE HAS HAD IN THIS COUNTRY IN THE LAST 15 YEARS – HOW FOOD HAS BECOME THIS “THING.” YOU KNOW, WE USED TO GO OUT, GRAB A BITE, AND GO TO A PERFORMANCE. NOW WE GO TO DINNER, AND THAT’S THE PERFORMANCE. WE SPEAK OF CHEFS, OF RESTAURANTS OPENING AND CLOSING, OF WINES, AND THIS AND THAT. AND I WONDER IF WE IN PERFORMING ARTS CAN LEARN SOMETHING FROM THAT, TO POSITION OURSELVES IN A WAY THAT FOOD HAS POSITIONED ITSELF IN THE SOCIETY?

I TRAVEL SO MUCH FOR WORK, AND VERY OFTEN, ESPECIALLY DURING THE SUMMER, I WILL STAY IN PLACES FOR LONGER, SO I’LL GO TO A GROCERY STORE, I’LL BE IN A HOUSE WHERE I CAN COOK. AND IT’S AMAZING IN THE LAST 10-15 YEARS WHAT YOU CAN FIND IN SMALL PLACES. AND IT HAS CHANGED DRAMATICALLY, AND IT’S ALL ABOUT AWARENESS. SO MY QUESTION IS: HOW CAN WE RAISE THE AWARENESS THAT PERFORMING ARTS ARE SOMETHING THAT IS NICE? IT DOESN’T CURE CANCER, SADLY, BUT IT DOES MAKE LIFE RICHER, AND HENCE PERHAPS BETTER.

MUSIC: Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach: Rondo in A, Wq. 58/1

SO I’M INTERESTED IN HOW CAN WE POSITION OURSELVES IN SOCIETY TO OFFER THIS, BECAUSE WE’RE SHARING THIS AMAZING TROVE OF GOODIES THAT HAVE SURVIVED FOR A LONG TIME.

NAOMI: Muzijevic says that’s exactly what’s happening at Tippet Rise.

PEDJA: WHAT CATHY AND PETER HALSTEAD HAVE DONE IN MONTANA IS AMAZING, BECAUSE IT’S SO PARTICULAR. IT’S PARTICULAR WHERE IT HAPPENED, AND HOW IT HAPPENED, AND WHAT IS THE SPACE, THE NATURE, THE FOOD. IT’S A FULLY CURATED EXPERIENCE, AND THAT’S SOMETHING THAT REALLY INTERESTS ME BOTH AS A PIANIST, AND AS SORT OF A THINKER ABOUT CULTURE, IS HOW IT’S NEVER JUST THE ONE THING. SO WHEN YOU THINK OF A CONCERT IN NEW YORK, I ALWAYS THINK OKAY, DO I EAT BEFORE? DO I EAT AFTERWARDS? WHERE AM I? WHAT IS OPEN? AND HOW LONG IS THIS THING? SO THEY’RE VERY BASIC QUESTIONS, WHICH I THINK WE ALL HAVE TO THINK ABOUT, BECAUSE THAT’S HOW WE WILL ATTRACT AN AUDIENCE.

MUSIC: Robert Schumann: Carnaval, Op. 9

NAOMI: But at Tippet Rise…

PEDJA: YOU ARRIVE, AND YOU LOOK AT THE ART – THERE ARE LITTLE CARTS TO TAKE YOU AROUND TO LOOK AT SCULPTURES. THEN THERE IS DINNER, THERE IS FOOD, AND THEN THERE’S MUSIC. SO IT’S INSTANT COMMUNITY. BECAUSE NOTHING IS ISOLATED. MUSIC IS NOT ISOLATED, ART IS NOT ISOLATED, FOOD IS NOT ISOLATED. AND THEN THERE’S A TALK – THERE’S A PRE-CONCERT TALK. IT’S ALL DONE INCREDIBLY UNPRETENTIOUSLY, AND INFORMALLY, BUT IN THE BEST WAY, WITH THE HIGHEST CRITERIA. PETER AND CATHY LOVE MUSIC, AND LOVE NATURE, AND THE WAY THEY WENT ABOUT SHARING IT IS REALLY EXEMPLARY. I CAN’T THINK OF ANYBODY ELSE THAT HAS SUCCEEDED IN THAT, KIND OF VERY QUIETLY. IT JUST SORT OF HAPPENED. I WAS SO INSPIRED WHEN I CAME BACK LAST YEAR, JUST BECAUSE IT WAS ONE OF THOSE LIKE – YEAH, THIS HUMANITY IS A GOOD THING.

TIPPET RISE HAS BROUGHT MUSIC TO A PLACE WHERE THERE WAS MAYBE NOT AS MUCH MUSIC BEFORE, IN AN INCREDIBLY AFFORDABLE AND GENEROUS WAY. AND I THINK THAT IS SUCH A HUGE THING. I HAD THIS FAMILY COME AND SAY HELLO AFTER MY RECITAL LAST YEAR, AND I SAID TO THEM, “ARE YOU LOCAL?” AND THEY SAID, “YES, WE CAME LAST YEAR TWICE, AND THIS YEAR WE GOT TICKETS FOR THREE WEEKENDS.” AND I SAID, “WELL, WHERE DO YOU LIVE?” AND THEY SAID, “WELL WE LIVE 200 MILES WEST.” AND THAT’S OF COURSE LOCAL IN MONTANA, BECAUSE IT’S JUST A DIFFERENT PERSPECTIVE. WHICH MAKES ME LAUGH, YOU KNOW, NEW YORK PERSPECTIVE, HOW SOMEBODY FROM UPTOWN WILL SAY, “OH, LET’S NOT GO TO EAST VILLAGE – IT’S TOO FAR!” IT WAS SO TOUCHING TO ME BECAUSE THEY WERE SO INTERESTED IN THE MUSIC.

AND I THINK THAT IS SO MEANINGFUL. NOT THAT IT’S NOT MEANINGFUL TO HAVE MUSIC IN PARIS OR NEW YORK, BUT IT’S WONDERFUL TO SPREAD IT ELSEWHERE. BECAUSE THERE’S NOTHING LIKE A LIVE EXPERIENCE. YOU CAN LISTEN TO RECORDINGS, AND THEY’RE WONDERFUL – YOU KNOW, ONCE STRAWBERRY IS FROZEN, IT’S ALWAYS FROZEN. THERE’S NOTHING LIKE A FRESH ONE.

NAOMI: For Pedja Muzijevic, it’s always about food. And music.