Emanuel Rimoldi on Qigong

World Exclusive Interview

Born in Milan, pianist Emanuel Rimoldi first studied in the Conservatory of his home city with Vincenzo Balzani , and then studied at the Tchaikovsky Conservatory in Moscow with Elissò Virsaladze from 2009-2015. He is presently continuing his doctorate specialisation at the Hochschule für Musik, Theater und Medien in Hannover with Arie Vardi. In addition to his official studies, he has completed a series of master- classes with famous pianists such as Dina Yoffe, Boris Petrushansky and Vladimir Askenazy.

Emanuel has won several international competitions in Italy including the ‘Ettore Pozzoli’ in Seregno and the ‘Città di Cantù’. In 2013, he won the 1st prize at the “Top of the World” international piano competition held in Tromso (Norway), and in 2016 he won the Grand Prix and the ‘Ivo Pogorelich Prize’ at the first Manhattan International Music Competition.

Emanuel’s performances have lit up stages from the Carnegie Hall in New York to London’s Wigmore Hall, and from the Tel Aviv Museum of Art to the Great Hall of the Tchaikovsky State Conservatory in Moscow.

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Prior to his last performing trip to the UK, Emanuel very kindly wrote an insightful guest post for Pianodao, following on from which we got chatting and I found that he is a keen practitioner of taichi, an interest which coincides with my own interest in ‘piano qigong’.

I am delighted that Emanuel agreed to talk about the impact his taichi practice has had on his development as a pianist in this world exclusive interview for Pianodao.

The Interview

AE: Emanuel, at what age did you develop an interest in qigong and taichi, and how did you develop your practice of these?

ER: I began to practise taichi only recently, about four years ago. But before I discovered it, I was very interested in oriental culture and philosophy, from Zen and Daoism to the Bushido, the samurai life. I found in it a lot of common aspects with the life of the musician.

An example of this transferability between arts and our approach to musical life is the book written by the famous Japanese samurai Myamoto Musashi around the 16th century (the Book of the Five Rings) where he explains the art of using a sword. It is clear how many things he can teach, as a warrior, to a musician: he uses the sword as a pianist is using the piano. The approach to his art – it’s not for killing the enemy (or the listener), but to find the way to refine the character, the soul; and in the musician’s case, the approach to the instrument and music.

When I began to practise taichi I was faced with some problems and interesting parallels which also exist in the piano playing. In some cases, I just noticed them, confirming what I was doing on piano. In other cases, I noticed things I knew already but which I was doing unconsciously. And in few cases, it helped me to find some new solutions.

Can you tell us about the ways in which you feel taichi or qigong have specifically helped you as a pianist and musician?

I find that all introspective arts – from the martial ones to those such as painting, sculpture, or even the “art of tea”, of flowers, of gardens – have in common with the musician’s life the idea of the research of the truth – which is, as the Japanese say, within the details. I believe that this truth can be realised in many ways, but the objective of any “artist” is the same.

So when I go to taichi, I do not just learn some movements which are beneficial for my body and my physiology, but discover or rediscover keys of understanding for piano playing. This is exactly the same as looking at a painting or reading a book to understand how another artist represents a problem or a subject.

But let’s be practical … I think some of the aspects which are interesting for a musician are, for example, the general relaxation, the subdivision of the different parts of the body (the fingers, the arms, etc), and the continuity of the movements. This continuity, in music, can be clearly seen as a note, which is always the product of the preceding sound, and at same time the essence of the next one.

This is also applicable to the idea of silence, of the pause and the emptiness, which is full of life and connects everything. So, just as in music the pauses are as important as the notes, in taichi the movements are a continuous alternation between tension and relaxation … between the full and empty … the calm generates movement and the opposite …

This vitality is based on the Daoist philosophy and symbol of the yin yang – which, by the way, Pianodao uses in such a nice way on its avatar with the 2 notes …

Some time ago, practising the Bach Chromatic Fantasy and Fugue, I was experiencing this coexistence of two elements in the relation between the dynamically heavy in the low register and a more “leggiero” and lightness in the higher registers. And I thought – how interesting, that in taichi also the tensions and heaviness are constantly on the low part of body permitting the higher part – nearer to the sky – to be lighter.

This dynamism is also evident in the connection which exists between the center and rest of the body: taichi, being a martial art, needs this in order to use the famous “power without power”, without tension, and making each movement a consequence of the direction the center gives.

In music, the sound is produced in the same way … and I would like to share one short anecdote about it. Some months ago, I was speaking with Pogorelich after our first lesson. We basically worked in an oasis of meditation on the sound, searching for its center. And after three hours of work, I told him that the same result I got with him was the sound I was having at the piano last summer, after a couple of hours of an intensive and calm looking at a Zen garden in a Kyoto monastery. That deep sound, sincere and simple, sometimes, I get again after practising taichi.

What special advice would you offer to the pianist who wants to experience these benefits?

I just think that is important to know what we do when we are on the piano and why we do so, from both physical and of course mental and cultural points of view.

Taichi and qigong offer good advice, which works for musicians as for any other discipline. The capacity to be mental flexible, to move phrases with rubato while remaining in tempo, are of course essential. This multi vision of the same composition, different interpretations, has a philosophical basis in the inner research of perfection – in both life and music, and which is not for each person the same.

This cooperative aspect is also evident also in the taichi. For example, we must approach the tuishò (the form for two) where each person interprets movements with their own force and body, but must adapt to the other’s vision. This is not unlike chamber music, where the parts can be interpreted very differently between different musicians and instrumentalists.

For these and many other reasons I think qigong and taichi and any other kind of martial art or meditation discipline should be included in the musician’s education.

What are your views about breathing while playing and performing at the piano?

I think that is interesting how in many martial arts, just as in taichi, the opening movement as an attack requires us to breathe out – and also the opposite to that, where the defending movement needs the practitioner to inhale. I tried to experience this method playing piano, finding the correspondences with the lines of the melody and harmonies – but I found the results were not very natural.

But of course, for any musician the idea of breathing is essential both in the music, where there is an obvious analogy with the phrases, pauses, and physicality.

So I believe in the idea of keeping a constant breathing during the performance, because in some moments, such as difficult passages or long phrases, it is possible otherwise to create tension. And when it’s happening there is no control. So, ideally, a constant breath makes the blood and energy flow, and from the physiological point of view there is more sensibility, musicality, and freedom to think about the music and forget about problems. It’s indeed essential to free the mind inside the music.

How to do it well, I don’t know! With time, with experience on stage etc … But something which is helping me to sometimes relax the breath is this: paying attention to the feet. In taichi I’m often asked by my excellent Italian teacher Giampiero Farina to relax the feet during the practice of the form, because as he says, from there comes the basis of relaxation, which then moves to the shoulders and then to the center with the breath. So it’s happened to me the same way sometimes at the piano – even if does not sound so appealing for a pianist, to relax the sound thanks to the feet and from the posture it’s coming from.

Lastly, I would like to add that there are moments in which the idea of the music invites us to stop the breath, or tensions, even with aggression and ugliness. Because all those aspects exist in life and in music as well!

Emanuel, thank you so much for taking the time to talk to us about this fascinating subject!

For more information about Emanuel Rimoldi, visit his website here.

And can there be any better way to end this article than by sharing this beautiful video clip, in which Emanuel has combined footage he took from a flight into London with a recording of his performance of the Liszt/Verdi Aida transcription from his 2017 Wigmore Hall recital:

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Published by

Andrew Eales

Andrew Eales is the author of HOW TO PRACTISE MUSIC, published worldwide by Hal Leonard. He is a widely respected piano educator and published composer based on Milton Keynes UK.