Name: Kenny Broberg
Occupation: Pianist  
Nationality: American
Recommendations: I would recommend anything by Nicolai Medtner, who I think is a very underrated composer. I am also a big fan of art films; a few of my favorites are “The Seventh Seal” and “Persona” (directed by Ingmar Bergman) and “Andrei Rublev” (directed by Andrei Tarkovsky).

If you enjoyed this interview with 2021 American Pianists Awards winner Kenny Broberg and would like to know more about his work, visit his official website.

When did you start playing your instrument, and what or who were your early passions and influences? What was it about music and/or sound that drew you to it?

I started piano when I was 6 years old. We had an upright piano in the house, and I fell in love with classical music at a very early age, particularly opera.

I actually started on the violin first, but I gravitated towards the piano, and that quickly became my main focus.

For most artists, originality is preceded by a phase of learning and, often, emulating others. What was this like for you: How would you describe your own development as an artist and the transition towards your own voice?

I never try to play something in a way just to be different or to “have my own voice”, not because I don’t think that individuality is important, but because my goal is simply to accurately and honestly portray the composer’s intentions.

What I do work on a lot is to develop my inner ear - the concept or image in my head for each piece. The more specific the better; I think that this approach creates an individual sound.

How do you feel your sense of identity influences your creativity?

I’m sure that any artist would agree that the two things are obviously connected; our sense of who we are or who we want to be influences pretty much every decision we make in our lives.

For me personally, I feel like I have been lucky to have a lot of positive musical influences from people of many different cultures or backgrounds. Evaluating ideas from different perspectives rather than just being trained in one school of thought has been helpful for me in many areas in my life, not just music.

What were some of your main challenges when starting out as an artist and in which way have they changed over the years?

I have had the same challenges as everyone else, but sometimes the challenges have ended up being strengths.

I never studied at any of the big music conservatories, and did not take a normal route to having a career as a concert pianist, but I had incredible luck finding the right teachers, and that after all is the most important thing.

The biggest challenge currently is navigating the pandemic; I think the current climate is especially challenging to all of us musicians who are still at the beginning of our careers.

Tell me about your instrument, please. How would you describe the relationship with it? What are its most important qualities and how do they influence the musical results, including your own performance?

I love the unlimited possibilities that the piano represents. The piano has the ability to imitate so many different sounds and instruments; you can be a singer, or a full orchestra, and everything in between.

How would you describe your approach to interpretation? Where do you start and how do you develop your view on a piece, what are some of your principles and what constitutes a successful interpretation for you?

Of course it all starts with the score; all the keys to the music are in there. But then there are often different traditions of how people play things that you have to take into account and evaluate.

I also like to learn as much about the composer and the time they were living in as possible. I think there are so many intangible factors in music; you can’t describe it, but you know it when you hear it.

Collaborations can take on many forms. What role do they play in your approach and what are your preferred ways of engaging with other creatives?

I like both playing solo concerts and collaborating with people onstage, whether it's chamber music or with a full orchestra. It’s important to me to do all of those things, and to try to find a good balance between them. In a way, you’re always collaborating when you’re playing someone else’s music!

Take us through a day in your life, from a possible morning routine through to your work, please. Do you have a fixed schedule? How do music and other aspects of your life feed back into each other - do you separate them or instead try to make them blend seamlessly?

My schedule varies a lot based on whether I am on the road for concerts or if I’m at home in Kansas City.

Either way, it definitely involves a lot of music! I don’t feel the need to separate music from the rest of my life, because it is just a natural part of my life.

Can you talk about a breakthrough work, event or performance in your career? Why does it feel special to you? When, why and how did you start working on it, what were some of the motivations and ideas behind it?

I think that being in the Cliburn competition was a breakthrough for me.

It ended up leading to a lot of great opportunities, but the most important thing for me was that I learned I was capable of performing under pressure. I had never been in a competition of that calibre before, and I wasn’t sure how I would react to the experience, but it ended up being very positive.

There are many descriptions of the ideal state of mind for being creative. What is it like for you? What supports this ideal state of mind and what are distractions? Are there strategies to enter into this state more easily?

For me, I think it’s a mixture of a lot of different things; as intense a focus as possible, trying to open up creatively, listening to yourself, and having the confidence to express yourself onstage.

But at the moment, I’m really trying to focus on music itself, and conveying the composer's intentions as accurately as I can.

Music and sounds can heal, but they can also hurt. Do you personally have experiences with either or both of these? Where do you personally see the biggest need and potential for music as a tool for healing?

Music, and art in general, have an amazing ability to heal. I certainly wouldn’t say that any music has hurt me! But it has helped me through the difficult points in my life, and that is at least partially why it exists; to help us express and understand our lives.

Art can be a purpose in its own right, but it can also directly feed back into everyday life, take on a social and political role and lead to more engagement. Can you describe your approach to art and being an artist?

It is true that music and politics are linked because composers are writing about their lives and their experiences. My job is just to play it!

A big social trend currently is to incorporate more works by females / minority composers. I am happy to oblige, for there is plenty of good music.

What can music express about life and death which words alone may not?

If I could express that in words, then the statement wouldn’t be true, would it?