Pianist discusses the spiritual elements of performance
The Santa Clara
October 5, 2017
On Sept. 30, professor Hans Boepple of the Santa Clara music department gave a piano performance for both the university and the greater Santa Clara community at the Recital Hall. His performance featured pieces from the renowned composers Bach, Franck, Rachmaninoff, and Chopin.
Professor Boepple grew up in a musical family. His mother, a renowned violinist, introduced Boepple and his brother to the piano when he was four. At the age of 10, he and his 12 year old brother performed Saint-Saens’ “Carnival of the Animals” with the Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra.
Since then, Boepple has played with a variety of reputable orchestras and conductors. He is also an honored Steinway International Artist and has had live performances broadcast on NPR and Voice of America. Since 1978, Boepple has been working with and inspiring student musicians at Santa Clara. Many of those students have gone on to win state, national and international awards.
On Monday Oct. 2, I sat down with Boepple to discuss some of his influences and decisions for the performance, as well as his experiences as a professional musician.
Ethan Beberness: So what influenced your decisions when putting together this set?
Hans Boepple: When you play a recital, you don’t necessarily want to play all one composer— although that can be kind of interesting—but hopefully a varied set of pieces that have different styles. The Bach and the Franck are, to me, very spiritual pieces. They have to do with sort of higher things. The second half are more sensual things—the Rachmaninoff and the Chopin. They’re more from the heart, more from just human feelings and impulses.
EB: How do you separate the spiritual from the sensual when you’re listening to a piece?
HB: My feeling is that a person’s response to a piece of music is utterly subjective. But, to me, [Franck’s piece] is really the story of a young novitiate who is having a spiritual crisis. And in the chorale, in these beautiful chords, there’s this revelation that goes on. This assurance comes through to him. And in the fugues there’s this sort of fighting certainty on his part that the chorale gives rise to, and there’s a triumph at the end. It ends in B major. And then the Bach is just amazing. It’s one of my favorite pieces written ever, really.
EB: If you had to pick a favorite composer, would it be Bach?
HB: Well, when I’m playing Brahms, Brahms is my favorite composer and when I’m playing Bach, it’s Bach. When I’m playing Chopin, it’s Chopin. Of course, that’s a very strange way to answer your question, but it’s a little like asking a chef, “What’s your favorite dish?” You know? But I think, as of this morning, if I had to choose one, I’d go with Chopin.
EB: Do you tour anymore?
HB: Well, I play concerts when I’m asked. I’ve never, ever had an agent, and I’ve never written to anyone asking, “Can I play there?”
EB: It’s funny you say that, because I was actually going to ask about being a commercially successful pianist.
HB: Well, I don’t know what that means exactly. Does it mean supporting oneself entirely on performing? I don’t know how many people do that, actually. Even some people who you think would will tell you they can’t because there’re a lot of expenses involved. And I’ve never been interested in that, actually. I never wanted to be a touring player and I never liked traveling all that much. I love teaching and I have a family with three children.
I think people who tour have burning desire to do so. It’s just not something that was of interest to me.It’s not the most important thing. Music is important, but not performing. I don’t particularly like to perform, frankly. I don’t like being all nervous. I’m serious. I don’t like being upset like that. I’m not a natural performer at all. It takes everything I have to get out there and play. And so, why would I want to play a lot? I think, working here at the university, and this is my 40th year here, it’s created a balance that I absolutely adore. I just love it—the teaching and the playing and the service to the school. All of us here, this department, we have a particularly active faculty. I can’t think of anybody on our faculty who isn’t an active performer. I think if you, for instance, just go to nearby colleges, you’ll find that it’s really unusual. Maybe some of the faculty were performers once, but they don’t do it anymore or they don’t do it much. But, this department encourages [performance] and it’s part of the culture here that we all play.
EB: That’s cool. It keeps you guys active in the community.
HB: It does, and it keeps the juices alive. And also, I think, it adds credibility to us as musicians that we do what we teach. We actually get out there and do it. So, to some degree, we can model what we teach.
EB: Is that why you’ve stayed at Santa Clara for so long? Why’d you come teach here in the first place?
HB: Well, to make a living!
EB: But you could do that at any number of universities.
HB: Right, but do you know how many people applied for my job? Eighty. And that’s common. So it’s not like one is asked all the time. Yes, I was offered a few times, a few other jobs, but I wanted to live here, in the Bay Area. My wife grew up five miles from here, so this has always been something of a dream. I’m one of the happiest people here on campus!
EB: You seem like it!
HB: I start phased retirement next year and will start to wind things down, so to say.
EB: Do you think you’ll stick around the area and the university through your retirement?
HB: Well, the phased retirement can go as many as five years. It’s a type of contract that one agrees to. I would imagine, even after that’s all said and done and I’m officially not involved I’ll still care very much and go to concerts. I have a very nice relationship with the university.
Faculty recitals at Santa Clara are put on voluntarily by Santa Clara faculty at no cost to the school. All proceeds from ticket sales are donated to the university as a whole, not just the music department.
*This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity
Contact Ethan Beberness at email@example.com or call (408) 554-4852.