‘I don’t take my musical legacy for granted’
Born in Argentina into a famous family of musicians, Karin Lechner is a third-generation pianist, sharing the passion and the vocation with her grandparents, Antonio de Raco and Elisabeth Westerkamp, her mother Lyl Tiempo, her brother Sergio Tiempo and even her prodigy daughter Natasha Binder. Lechner lives in Europe but loves coming back to Buenos Aires, where she will be playing Felix Mendelssohn Bartholdy’s Piano Concerto No. 1 tomorrow with the BA Philharmonic under the baton of Ira Levin in the season opening concert at the Teatro Colón. In an interview with the Herald, Lechner conveyed her vivid passion for music, life and Buenos Aires.
You were born in BA, spent part of your childhood in Venezuela before moving to Europe. Where do you call home?
Good question, because I’ve been living for many years in Brussels and I feel at home there, but when I come here I also feel at home. I feel my roots are here, I always miss Buenos Aires and I love coming back as much as I can but I can’t say there is just one home for me.
I suppose it may also depend on what you miss about one home while you’re in another.
Precisely! You know, the driver who picked me up from the airport asked me just that, what do I miss about Buenos Aires when I’m away. And I did not hesitate for a second, it’s not one of those questions where you pause and say, well, let me see… I miss the people, their warmth, their easy manners of communication, their penchant for open displays of emotion and affection.
What about Belgium, where you live now?
Oh, I’m not complaining about Belgium, I’ve adapted to the culture, I have friends and family there, my daughter was born there actually. But sometimes I miss this place. I can’t tell you how much I had been yearning to return to Buenos Aires. I’m also happy I’ll be seeing Buenos Aires more this year. I’m coming back at the end of May for my grandmother’s 100th birthday (pianist and teacher Elisabeth Westerkampf). We’ll have a big family reunion, I’ll be coming with my daughter, my brother Sergio Tiempo will also be here with his partner and their two children, nobody wants to miss this birthday.
Being born in such a famous family of musicians, having grown up and lived in different countries and being part of a larger extended family of world musicians, how do you reclaim you identity?
I’m a product of so many influences and such blending that it’s difficult to say… However, every time someone asks me where I’m from, I say I’m Argentine, there’s no doubt in my mind about it.
What about your daughter Natasha? Does she consider herself Argentine as well?
Well, she’s Belgian-Argentine, she was born there and her father is Belgian. But she speaks Spanish with a better Argentine accent than me; it’s amazing considering she has never actually lived here. You know, the other day she called me after I arrived, bursting with curiosity. And I told her, yes, Buenos Aires welcomed me with splendid sunny skies, I’m so happy to be here… And she listened for maybe 30 seconds and then started gushing, ‘Mum, how I envy you, how I with I was there with you!’ She adores Argentina. She’s going to kill me if I don’t bring her some dulce de leche when I go back (laughs).
You’ve often said theatre was your hobby. Do you still study?
Whenever I can, yes. I’ve started early as a television actress in Venezuela when I was a child. I did it for two years and it was serious work. Eventually I had to make a decision if I wanted to become an actress or a pianist and I chose the piano. Later I started taking acting lessons, first in London and then in Brussels, but I haven’t done anything for a while.
What made you want to act in a television programme at an early age?
Actually, it was all just one big coincidence. They were looking for a girl my age to cast in the show and one of my mother’s friends was an actress — who played my mother on the show. She was talking to my mother about the show and I was playing nearby and overheard and immediately screamed: ‘Ah, can I be the little girl in the show, can I?’ I remember that the day of the audition I was running a fever and my mother told me I wouldn’t be able to go, to which I replied resolutely: ‘Yes, I’m going. You’ll give me two aspirins and I’ll go!’
What did you find so fascinating about working as an actress?
Oh, that’s easy: I liked to feel I was part of a team. Being a pianist is a solitary profession, unless you’re doing chamber music. Acting was great for me because I worked with others, I found togetherness appealing.
Did this experience as an actress help your musical performances?
Oh, yes, when I did Federico Jusid’s Tango Rhapsody with my brother Sergio Tiempo. This is a piece Jusic composed for us and it involves playing and acting as well.
Talking about the duos with your brother Sergio Tiempo… You’ve also collaborated with your brother Federico Lechner. Since you enjoy working together with others making music, do you consider yourself a musician rather than a pianist?
Yes, definitely. If someone asks me what I am, I always say: musician. I’m not comfortable with the ‘pianist’ label. Yes, I play the piano professionally but there’s more to it than that. Alright, I’m a pianist because I was born into a family of pianists and it was only natural… I remember, when I was a child about 4 or 5, I was visiting a friend and they were showing me the house, here’s the living room, here’s the bathroom… And when the tour ended, I was confused and had to ask, ‘But where’s the piano?”
You said you became a pianist because you were born into the profession. Do you see yourself doing something else?
Actually, no, I can’t see myself doing anything else. I could work in theatre but music is my vocation. I’m just beginning to realize that I’m so lucky to be doing this, so lucky to have been born into a family that made this possible. I’m truly fortunate and I know now that my musical legacy cannot be taken for granted.
In an interview with your brother Sergio Tiempo last year, he told me that, onstage, you become a projection of what the audience knows and imagines about you and that builds up the magic of music. Do you agree with him?
Hum, I would have to say I don’t, I’m sorry for my brother (laughs). In my case, I’m myself onstage, I’m not someone else. You can bring me a piano here in this cafe or on a street corner or you can watch me playing at the Colón.
You’ll be playing Mendelssohn’s 1st at the Colón . How was this concerto chosen?
Well, Diemecke asked me what I wanted to play and told me to send him a list of options. I offered to play Brahms, Gershwin, Beethoven, but he said none of my preferences matched the Buenos Aires Philharmonic repertoire for this season, and so I asked him to suggest something else. Diemecke got back to me and said it could be one of Mendelssohn’s two. I had played the 1st concerto but was unfamiliar with the second and so I decided to have a better look at it. I have to say Mendelssohn’s 2nd is very strange. I understand why nobody’s playing it — yes, it does have two lovely themes, but it lacks unity, a sense of cohesion…
So far, you’ve been a granddaughter, a daughter and a sister of musicians. Now you’re the mother of a prodigy. While some may ask if you influence your daughter, I’d like to know how she influences you, as a musician.
Oh, thank you for that question. She is such a huge influence for me! We have very different temperaments, you know? I look at her and I don’t see myself — or how I used to be at her age. I have to discover her all the time and I admire her tremendous mental agility, she learns so fast… I must confess she’s my favourite critic. Before coming to Buenos Aires, I played Mendelssohn’s 1st on two pianos with a friend and I asked her to listen. And then she texted me, in English, because she goes to English school now and she’s going through a phase of speaking English all the time: ‘Mum, you’re an extraordinary pianist, I was very touched.’ I loved her feedback and I believe listening to me helps her as much as listening to her it helps me, it’s a wonderful mutual discovery.
Speaking about influences, you belong to an extended family of musicians which includes Martha Argerich, Nelson Freire, Daniel Barenboim.
Oh, yes, it truly is a family and a very stimulating one at that. For instance, I was in Berlin in September, Daniel invited me because I’m increasingly interested in working as a conductor. I spent six days with Daniel and Martha, you surely remember everybody talking about their concert together last year. Actually, if you look at that picture of them (she points at the Colón’s promotion poster for Daniel Barenboim and Martha Argerich’s concert in August), I was with them when that photo was taken. They are so sought after that we had to sneak to have a quiet dinner, and actually more than once they made me feel I was a little girl all over again. Martha is my neighbour in Brussels, but I don’t get to see her that much and then in Berlin, all of a sudden, it was like going back in time to when I first met them.