A few minutes into our call, I understand that interviewing Argentinian pianist Ingrid Fliter can hardly be limited to talking about her. The conversation flows effortlessly, as even specific details about Fliter’s life and career become opportunities to shed light on musicianship and music education. From the very start of our talk, it is clear that the artist and her art cannot be separated – getting to know one implies becoming acquainted with the other. Interweaving life and music comes naturally to Fliter, who has been playing the piano since she was eight.

Ingrid Fliter
© Anton Dressler

Speaking of her early education, she remarks on the importance of a lively, musical home environment. “Music has always been a constant presence in my daily life,” she recalls. “Back when my grandparents moved to Argentina, early in the 20th century, it was common to have a piano at home. My father played it beautifully by ear, my mother sang opera. Neither of them was a professional, but it’s thanks to them that as a child I embraced music as a life companion.”

Taking after her father, Fliter too started playing the piano by ear, imitating what she heard. She describes this as a fun, stimulating approach for a kid, but also somewhat limited. “It was only a matter of time before I took up more disciplined, traditional lessons. Practicing was never burdensome to me, I didn’t feel pushed – in fact, I couldn’t wait to come back home from school to play.”

Our conversation spontaneously develops into a wider-raging musing on musical upbringing. “As parents, it is crucial that you observe if your kid is passionate about playing. The profession is so thorny as it is; without sincere, solid enthusiasm to drive you, you may end up regretting your choices.”

Such dedication soon bore fruit. Fliter started doing recitals almost immediately, and at the age of 17 – with the advice and help of Martha Argerich – she decided to move to Europe to continue her music education. She remembers this period of her life as extremely edifying, and by the time she got settled in her new home she began to receive public recognition: the early 2000s saw Fliter ranking high in international piano competitions, her second place at the XIV Chopin Competition being one of her most considerable successes. In fact, it is safe to say that the Polish composer has been close to Fliter’s heart since she first laid hands on a piano.

“I owe my first taste of Chopin to Arthur Rubinstein’s recordings. We often listened to them at home, and I remember being absolutely charmed. I grew up playing his works. I find they are the best possible school for young pianists,” she observes. “Approaching Chopin at an early age may not be the most obvious choice, but it is very beneficial. His scores challenge the performer to develop a personal, distinctive voice. Because of its percussive nature, the piano is not a naturally singing instrument – we, as pianists, need to bring out that quality and cultivate it.

“With Chopin, I feel that becomes imperative. Working on the right balance and dialectics between the hands, refining legato and articulation – everything concurs to produce a sense of fluidity, a narrative that’s told through sound.”

What’s more, Fliter is unwaveringly determined to debunk misconceptions about the composer: “I know Chopin is often thought of as an easy-listening composer because he sounds so beautiful and seemingly simple on the surface; but there are so many layers of depth to his music, a lesser-known side that I’m fascinated to explore.”

Ingrid Fliter
© Gary Houlder

While Fliter’s attention has often been drawn to Chopin, her curiosity for the complexity of musical language doesn’t stop there. As a pianist, she values a far and deep-seeing approach to any repertoire. She refers to music-making as a mutual exchange between performer and composer: “Sometimes, interpreters use what’s written as a mere prop for their needs. I feel that often hinders our appreciation of music, rather than enhancing it. Investigating what the author was trying to convey is crucial.”

However, this doesn’t mean one should disappear behind the score. Once again, Fliter’s esteem of a recognisable, individual voice is most apparent: “It is pointless to think performers shouldn’t add anything of their own. That’s what makes interpretation diversified and interesting. The balance is very subtle: we need to feel that we are somehow composing the music we play, that it inhabits us – a sensation that I guess is not so far from being possessed,” she jokes.

Ingrid Fliter
© Gary Houlder
Fliter’s commitment to music has rewarded her with a fulfilling career, which has brought her to perform in venues all across the world. After a halt due to the pandemic, she will be in Singapore this upcoming June for the 28th edition of the Singapore International Piano Festival. Established in 1994 by the Singapore Symphony Orchestra, the festival has since then gained worldwide recognition and is now a firm date in the diary of music lovers in Asia. Its intensive programme – which features four live recitals and four digital recitals by eight different pianists over the course of ten days – serves as a showcase for the performers’ talent. On 11th and 12th June respectively, Fliter will be giving a recital and a masterclass with a focus on the Classical and Romantic repertoire. The concert will also feature a diverse programme: opening with a Haydn sonata, Fliter will move on to Beethoven and Scarlatti, to then close with Schumann’s Symphonic Etudes. Having talked at length about Chopin, I ask her thoughts about the concert bill.

“The recital is structured in two halves: the first comprises the Haydn and Beethoven sonatas, which I find related in more than one way,” she explains. “We know Beethoven was a student of Haydn’s, but even more than that, I believe the two pieces are united through an underlying sense of humour. The characteristic lightness and vivacity of Haydn’s idiom are not in question; however, we are maybe less familiar with this streak of playfulness in Beethoven’s works. The piece I’m performing, the Sonata in E flat major, op. 31 no. 3, discloses this side of his personality, which still enshrouds the depths of his feeling and thinking.”

Pairing Schumann with Scarlatti may instead be less immediate, but Fliter is eager to elaborate on the logic behind the choice. “Over the past few years, I have grown close to Schumann. His peculiar, poetical sensitivity is something rare and valuable nowadays. While the term Etudes may evoke a unidirectional approach, there is a dramatic side to this collection that I wish to delve into – I will not reveal too much, but by choosing to include the posthumous variations in specific positions, I hope to draw the trajectory of a journey. In this sense, Scarlatti’s piece is a beautiful discovery: its somewhat archaic tone makes for a good introduction to the Etudes, leading the audience into the right state of mind.”

On her second day of participation in the Singapore Festival, Fliter will return to the piano, but as a teacher. Her approach to music education values the same qualities she seeks as a concert pianist: a distinctive personality, alongside a willingness to engage in a reciprocal conversation with the composer. In order to help students achieve that, Fliter tailors her lessons to each of them: “I’m convinced there’s no universally right method of teaching. When I meet a new student, I listen carefully and adapt to their needs. Of course, this is easier with regular students – masterclasses are more of a one-shot experience, like going to the doctor for a check-up,” she laughs. “But even then, it is essential to try and understand who you have in front of you, so as to provide a few suggestions that may actually make a change.”

Although Covid has not been easy on her – “Or on anyone, really” – Fliter’s positive, dynamic spirits don’t seem to have waned. Her ebullient vitality, so evident in her playing, assures that she looks at the future with curiosity. And while her artistry doesn’t stop at the piano – she also loves painting and the absolute freedom that comes with it – it is a safe bet that music will stay by her side, as it always has.

Click here to find out more about the Singapore International Piano Festival.

This article was sponsored by the Singapore Symphony Orchestra