For world class pianist Andreas Haefliger there are two very important influences in his life – Beethoven and Kung Fu.
The martial art has, he said, not only vastly improved his piano playing, but also helped him focus on his life and achievements.
His fascination with Kung Fu came from watching the 1970’s television series, Kung Fu, starring David Carradine as Shaolin monk who fled from China to the American Wild West after the death of his master.
However, despite this sparking a life-long interest in the martial art, he only began studying it when he reached his forties. “I have been doing Kung Fu for 15 years and it is integral to my life.”
Whilst he trains an hour a day on its physical techniques, he lives and breathes Kung Fu 24-hours-a-day, seven-days-a-week. “It shapes my thinking and it gives me laser sharp focus on what I want to achieve. It heightens expression and I love that aspect of it.”
Indeed, it is this “focus” that has helped him become a more accomplished pianist. “Kung Fu is in everything I do, including my piano playing. It heightens my senses and helps me with my movements. Thanks to Kung Fu I can play my music both softer and louder. It’s something that is very important to me.”
Born into a distinguished Swiss musical family in Vienna, Haefliger was four years old when he first took up the piano. “My hands are suited to it – they are the right shape – and there is a connection with my brain. It works for me.
“My father was a classical singer and I always knew I wanted to play classical music,” he said. And whilst there isn’t a composer that he wouldn’t play, there is one whose compositions he pays daily – Ludwig van Beethoven.
Haefliger, whose favoured instrument is a Steinway, will be playing two of Beethoven’s works when he opens the 27th Harrogate International Sunday Series.
“Beethoven pushed the boundaries of human expression and his music is filled with it. My constant challenge is in finding that expression, and when I do, I love it.
“This is something that I will endeavour to do all my life; it is this expression that shapes the way I play.
“If I had the chance to meet Beethoven I would say to him, ‘thank you’! think that is the most honest thing I could say because of what he has given us musically. In a relatively short period of time he wrote so many pieces in so many different styles.”
Next year is the 250th anniversary of Beethoven’s birth, and Haefliger – described by critics as a “complete Beethovenian” – intends to make the most of this opportunity.
“To celebrate, I will be playing him as often as possible. And on any day when I don’t hear Beethoven being played, I shall play Beethoven. For me, every day is a celebration of Beethoven’s life!
“Of course I will be playing Beethoven in Harrogate. I have chosen a sonata (No. 30 in E Major, Op.109) and Fantasia in G Minor. Both are exciting pieces. People want to hear Beethoven, so how could I refuse?”
He will also be treating his audience to Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition. Although originally composed in 1874 for solo piano, it became better known in orchestral form, particularly as arranged by French composer Maurice Ravel.
But when not playing in concert halls around the globe, what does he do in his spare time to relax? “That’s easy – Kung Fu! However, I do enjoy reading – serious novels, funny novels and biographies. I’m currently reading The Glass Bead Game by Hermann Hess.
“I am now getting interested in the world of pop – the sounds and shapes of different music. I have begun listening to Billie Eilish and I like the way she interprets the songs.”
Haefliger, who lives in the Swiss mountains, is a keen advocate of introducing classical music to children. He too visits schools where he plays the piano and speaks about the music and the people who wrote it.
“I have had young men and women come up to me in the street and say ‘you came to my school, and because of you I am now a classical musician’. That is very pleasing and quite satisfying.
“To get children to listen to classical music they have to have an interest in it. The key for me is getting them interested.”