FEATURED INTERVIEW: LUCAS DEBARGUE – THE UNEXPECTED DISCOVERY

Interview by Alex Davydovich

 


PPM: What is your most prominent childhood memory?
LD: The first time I fell in love…

PPM: Which city and neighborhood did you grow up in? What was your childhood like?
LD: I had the chance to grow up in a house not far from the forest, one hour drive up north of Paris. I had a very happy childhood and had no special interest in music before I was 9.  I loved drawing, reading. I didn’t have too many friends, but the ones I had we very close ones.

PPM: When was your first introduction to classical music?
LD: Mozart, 21st piano concerto. I was 9 years old.

PPM: How did you transition to jazz?
LD: It was not a transition, but a very natural inclination to the world of jazz and improvisation when I was around 20, mostly due to the discovery of the music of Thelonious Monk (OBM).  Also, I met a guy in the conservatory who had a very strong harmonic sense. Thanks to him I felt the need to learn more about all of it.

PPM: Please, tell us more about your family.
LD: I have 3 little brothers.  My parents are divorced. My mother is a surgeon-assistant, and my father is a kinesiologist.  I have many wonderful memories of family meetings, when we were all 7 relatives playing together in my grandparents’ garden.

PPM: Which teacher (s) in school influenced you the most and in what way?
LD:  It was during the years between 2002 and 2005, the jazz band coach in Compiegne, who has now passed away.
During the same years, I had a gym teacher, who humiliated me terribly and made me realize what a poor team player I was.
My literature teacher, school year 2006-2007.
My harmony teacher in the CNSM of Paris, 2012-14.
And actually some others.  The ones who let the strongest impression on me were those who were first of all wonderful human beings.  Their personalities went beyond the codes and “limits” of their profession and so, they had the possibility to share their passion, which is the most important thing a teacher can do, I think.

PPM: Which books of your adolescence helped build your character?
LD: Kafka’s Metamorphosis. Dostoievski’s Crime and Punishment.  Balzac’s Illusions Perdues.

 

For me it has no sense to spend days repeating difficult passages.  Everything has to be clear in the mind, and for this a keyboard is not necessary.

 

PPM: Do you have a daily piano practice routine? If so, what is it like?
LD: Not at all.  My aim is to practice as less as possible. And when it’s unavoidable, to prepare my working sessions very precisely.  For me it has no sense to spend days repeating difficult passages.  Everything has to be clear in the mind, and for this a keyboard is not necessary.  It’s even better to not lose energy and time moving the fingers on a musical substance that is not yet well-learned.  Would an actor stage himself before knowing is role very well?

When I have a lot of programs like now (Scriabin’s (OBM) Prometheus, Ravel’s (OBM) G major concerto, Chopin’s (OBM) and Szymanowski’s (OBM) Solo Recital, Prokofiev’s (OBM) 2nd Concerto to perform at the same time, I need of course to check them everyday.  But I’m already prepared for a while: I couldn’t be in the situation of being not prepared few days before a concert.  Few days before, I only have the time to check if everything is set and maybe, find some new musical ideas.

I think it’s very important to learn some orchestra scores or string quartets and to read books to get more in touch with composers and their time.

PPM: Is becoming a celebrated pianist a dream come true or is it an unexpected result of a challenge that you took upon yourself by entering a competition?
LD: I cannot say it was a dream… I never dreamt to become a soloist.  However, I know that I am a musician for a long time, and this a very “real” feeling.  Maybe one should be careful with the fact that dreams, precisely because they are dreams, have a high chance of never realizing: one can get obsessed by his ambitions and lose many opportunities around.  Better to know what you need and cope with it for real as soon as possible, without allowing yourself to wait for too long.

Knowing that I was a musician and that music had to take the biggest part of my life, was the only strength that helped me achieve my preparation in such a big city like Paris where I was absolutely unknown and not very much supported by anyone.  I had no piano at home and my life to earn.  This was a very serious test of how important music was for me: to take the time to get lessons at 22 years old instead of being all over the place looking for a job, although it was quite necessary in my situation.

PPM: Which character traits are important for you to work on and which character traits do you appreciate in others?
LD: Concentration. Mental strength. Loyalty. Honesty. Deep sensitivity to art and nature. Not being scared about talking about difficult matters. Youth and freshness (nothing to do with age: I know a lot of teenagers or people of my age that are way more creepy, spooky or simply boring than my grandmother).

The time that many people of my age spend on Tinder, Instragram or listening to electro music (and all the variations on electro music with the drugs directly associated), is a time which fascinates me because I cannot find it or resonate with it in my own life.  I cannot even say I hate it : it’s just too far from me and what I love.  And this was already the case years before I made the Tchaikovsky Finals, even before I got the idea to prepare myself to perform.  I am passionate about the people my age and always eager to listen to their experiences, but I cannot bear being pushed to share these experiences with them.  I wouldn’t have the idea to present Shostakovich (OBM) 4th symphony as the “ultimate musical experience”  in front of a group of young people; even if it’s exactly what I personally think.  I keep it for me and for the ones who could understand my point.

In others I appreciate everything that can speak to me, and at the same time take me somewhere I don’t know and can feel curious about. I feel fed up by invitations to take drugs and “lose control”, and also politically correct and narcissistic conversations: it seems like I cannot make friends easily, so I remain loyal to the few I have!

PPM: Do you have a favorite place to travel to?
LD: Some places in France and Italy. Russia. I also loved visiting Montana during the Tippet Rise festival in 2016.

PPM: What was your experience at the Verbier Festival like this year?
LD: Very exciting. Frustrating in a way, because it was too short to enjoy all the aspects of it! But I should come back next year …

PPM: What jazz clubs did you enjoy performing at the most?
LD: Paris: Chat Noir at Pigalle, Hotel Shangri-La at Alma Marceau; Chicago – Showcase; Rio de Janeiro –  clubs in Lapa.

PPM: What is your favorite holiday?
LD: Hmm…. Christmas ?

PPM: Are you a night or a morning person?
LD: Both, but very much depending on the context…

PPM: What does creativity in music mean to you?
LD: “Creativity in music”  is just a pleonasm for me!  If a musician is not creative, so what is he about to do exactly?  I would say strictly the same about performers, composers, conductors, improvisers … Even though I put creation on an upper grade than creativity.  Creativity is almost a trait of character while creation needs a lot of work, patience, and will over it.

PPM: Which composers affected you the most as a person and a musician?
LD: When I was 15, Rachmaninov (OBM), Prokofiev (OBM), and Scriabin (OBM).  They’re still close to  my heart but not as much as before.  Also, Beethoven (OBM) and Shostakovitch (OBM).

PPM: Do you cook? What are some of your favorite foods? What are some of your favorite restaurants to go to?
LD: I would like to cook more, but one needs time for it … And my kitchen is too little in Paris. Favorite restaurants are the simplest. The best and the simplest, like the wonderful food you find in Italy.

PPM: Would you, please, share a few funny or just interesting stories that happened during performing life over the years?
LD: Once, right before the performance, I realized that I was wearing sport shoes.  Someone had to call my friend who was sitting in the hall to run to the car and bring me proper ones.

PPM: With music being your passion, what are your hobbies?
LD: I don’t really have that many hobbies.  Spend all day in a library, maybe?  Very seldom – Tekken on PS3 with a very good mate.  Hard time for the thumbs.  Bike with my father, but this is also very rare. Hiking.

PPM: What is your favorite sport to help you keep in shape?
LD: Running and Swimming.

PPM: Would you share your life philosophy with our readers?
LD: “Swing until death.”

PPM: Do you composer your own music?
LD: Yes. Since 2014 I composed 2 cello and piano sonatas – one little and one big; 1 violin and piano sonata; 1 piano trio (created in Moscow Dom Musiki, Sankt Peterbourg Mariinsky, and on September 29th in Paris, Vuitton Fondation); 1 concertino for piano, drums and string orchestra (created in June 2017 with Kremerata Baltica); 3 melodies for voice and piano; a set of Toccatinas and Fugues for piano “Variations chorales.” My first big piece for solo piano I am just working on now.

PPM: Are you planning a tour to the US any time soon?
LD: Not a tour per se, but I will be coming to the US with Martin Frost, Torleif Thedeen, and Janine Jansen to perform at Carnegie Hall on December 5th. It’s going to be a wonderful program – Messiaen Quartet for the End of Time (we just recorded it with Sony Classical, same team, should be released in November), Bartok’s (OBM) Contrasts, Szymanowski’s (OBM) Mythes
And prior to this,  I am very much looking forward to playing the program of my new album –  Schubert and Szymanowski – in Chicago on November 19th!

 

PPM: Thank you, Lucas! We are looking forward to welcoming you in the US.

THE PIANO DUO: INTERVIEW WITH ANDERSON/ROE

Interview by Tanya Levy (MGBH)

 

PPM: What gave you an idea to create a duo vs. perform as soloists? 

LIZ: We initially met at Freshman Orientation at Juilliard—we were actually living on the same floor in the dorm! A close friendship and mutual respect quickly developed, and when musicians are friends, the natural tendency is to play together.  The very first time we sight-read together there was an instant musical alchemy.  We gave our duo recital debut at Juilliard during our junior year; we had such an exhilarating time onstage and it was a resounding success with the audience, our friends, and our teachers. From that point onward, we felt inspired to continue our duo pursuits.  It also became clear that we shared the desire to energize and re-imagine the presentation of classical music.

GREG: Yes, it was absolutely electric the first time we ever read duo music together.  The music we were sight-reading was notoriously difficult to synchronize exactly, and we were perfectly together.  We weren’t even focusing on synchronization! That same innate sense of musical timing (or is it “mind reading”?) has followed us throughout our career; we rarely spend rehearsal time on the basics of ensemble.

I think the success of our duo is due to three factors: our friendship, this innate musical chemistry between the two of us, and our shared mission for music’s role in society.  We’ve now been playing professionally for 15 years. As great friends, we feel so fortunate to be making music together for a living.

That said, we still perform as soloists, and we’ve both released solo albums in the past couple years.

I think the success of our duo is due to three factors: our friendship, this innate musical chemistry between the two of us, and our shared mission for music’s role in society.

LIZ: Yes, our solo pursuits certainly continue to inform our duo approach: in honoring our individual artistic and personal identities, we find that our collaboration feels all the more dynamic.

 

PPM: How do you pick your repertoire?

GREG: Liz and I strive for variety in our programs — specifically, a musical diversity that reflects the variety of life.  Joyful and sad, profound and silly, aggressive and dreamy: we aim to capture it all. Although we perform a lot of our own arrangements, our programs almost always include some music written originally for two pianos.  We like the variety of style and perspective that these compositions offer our programs.

LIZ:  Because we value variety in our programming, we’ve pushed the boundaries of what can be performed in a classical concert: now it is totally natural for us to pair a masterwork from the standard classical repertoire with a contemporary pop hit cover.  These juxtapositions stem from our belief that great music is great music, regardless of genre, style, etc.  In that sense, we are not attached to labels; what matters about music is not what “category” it belongs to, but rather its impact—if it moves, excites, soothes, enlightens, or uplifts you. 

GREG: In the end, our aim is to captivate the audience with music of divine transcendence and wild, acrobatic pianism. We serve our music piping hot with an unhealthy dose of adrenaline, 2-4 servings of sexual tension, and a dash of the unexpected…

 

PPM: Where were you born and where did you grow up? 

LIZ: I was born and raised in Chicago. 

GREG: I’m from rural Minnesota.

 

PPM: What/Who affected your choice of becoming a musician?

LIZ:  From a very early age, I was surrounded by classical music, on the radio, through recordings, and in live concerts.  My family is full of music lovers and amateur musicians, so music always felt like such an essential part of life to me.  From my first lesson at age six, the piano felt so natural to play, and I was entranced by the instrument’s vast palette of sounds.

GREG:  I first started taking piano lessons when I was eight years old — my parents wanted my brothers and me to be well-rounded individuals, and we were all required to take at least three years of musical instruction.  I fell in love with the piano and classical music instantly, and from then on, I don’t ever recall feeling like there was a choice; I always knew I’d be a musician.  It felt so innate to me.

 

PPM: Tell us about your path to and at Julliard: what led you to this school and what was it like being a student there? 

LIZ: A pivotal event occurred when I was 13 years old; I won the IBLA International Piano Competition in Italy, resulting in concerts at notable venues like Steinway Hall in New York and Salle Cortot in Paris, which exposed me to the life of a performer.  In addition to my piano studies and performances, I was an avid academic student as well and seriously considered non-conservatory schools.  However, choosing Juilliard felt like the natural next step on the pathway to a career in music, and as soon as I arrived I realized how inspiring it was to be surrounded by such incredible artists and the galvanizing energy of New York.  I had an extraordinary experience due to my brilliant peers and teachers.

GREG: Before even auditioning at the school, I was inspired by the energy and enthusiasm of Juilliard students, and I knew that it was a world in which I wanted to be immersed.  My childhood teacher of 11 years, Kim Craig (MGBH), prepared me well for college.  She would work with me intensively for hours every week—sometimes as many as eight hours per week—and she would attend all of my out-of-state rehearsals, performances, and competitions.  This devotion made all the difference.  Not only did this afford us time to work in great detail, but also it provided incredible training for Juilliard, the concert stage, and life. 
 
Life as a Juilliard student was a bit magical, almost like being a student at Hogwarts.  We were living in a rarified world, devoting our lives to beauty, honing our crafts, and living and breathing music.  We were lucky.
 
GREG & LIZ: Here are a few of our favorite things about our time spent at The Juilliard School:
  • The palpable excitement and energy in the air
  • The colorful personalities of our classmates
  • The colorful personalities of the faculty
  • The massive, well-stocked, and browser-friendly library
  • The incredible performing opportunities offered to the student body
  • Raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens, bright copper kettles and warm woolen mittens 😉
  • The location: Lincoln Center!
  • The tight-knit, supportive community
  • The convenience of the dorms to the classrooms (you can wake up five minutes before class and still be on time)
  • The opportunity to meet awesome musical partners-in-crime
  • The location: Central Park, Carnegie Hall, Whole Foods, and great nightlife are just blocks away.

PPM: What was your first music video and what inspired you to make it?

LIZ: We had no promotional objective in making our first videos; we made them simply because we wanted to. (In fact, everything we do—our performances, arrangements, videos, recordings, social media, websites, writings, etc.—comes from our shared passion for creativity and adventure, and beyond that, to make classical music a relevant and powerful force in society.)   Both of us are highly visual people who like to delve into uncharted territory, so we were interested in exploring the artistic potential of classical music videos.  I grew up watching a lot of pop/rock music videos on MTV so I was particularly influenced by this aesthetic, but Greg (MGBH) and I have drawn inspiration from many additional sources: film, all forms of art, the music itself, and our own vivid imaginations!

GREG: We filmed our first music video (Piazzolla’s Libertango) in a classroom at Yale, where I was a student at the time. It was the only venue we could get into, and though a classroom doesn’t necessarily scream “tango!,” the misalignment forced us to think creatively.  We concocted a narrative in which I fall asleep during science class and daydream about a lustful interaction with my classmate…

PPM: Did you ever consider a profession other than a pianist prior to going to Julliard?
LIZ: I’ve always had broad interests (mainly in the humanities) so I did consider other professions, but in my heart I knew music—in any shape or form—was my calling.

GREG: I considered a career as a material scientist and was on the math and science teams in high school, but I always knew music was my world.

 

PPM: What were your favorite composers in your early teen years and how did your preferences change as you matured?

LIZ: I’ve always seemed to possess an innate affinity for lyrical and expressive music, so I would say I was drawn to the Romantics in my early teen years. I was also obsessed with Glenn Gould (OBM) at that time and thus loved Bach (OBM) from early on.  Beethoven (OBM) has been another consistent favorite, as well as the Beatles!  Over time I’ve developed a passion for chamber music, music of the 20th and 21st centuries, and music that is off the beaten path, like Britten’s Piano Concerto and Field’s Nocturnes (both of which I’ve recorded in recent years). From Messiaen (OBM) to Miles Davis (OBM), I’ve always had a diverse musical palette!

GREG: I’ve always loved exploring music of different genres and styles. In my early teens, I started going to libraries to check out music by composers of whom I’d never heard, and I’d sight read the scores at home. I remember my local library wouldn’t allow me to check out more than 45 books at once, and so I’d always have 45 library scores sitting beside the piano.  I carry that same sense of curiosity to this day!
That said, I’ve never fallen out of love with Mozart.

PPM: How often do you practice together and how much time do you practice separately?

LIZ: Honestly, we don’t have a discernible practice routine these days — our schedule has become quite varied and unpredictable.  While we’re on tour, traveling takes up much of our time; we also spend countless hours working on creative projects like our music videos and arrangements.  That said, we aim to practice as regularly as possible (ideally on a daily basis!).  As for duo rehearsals, we make sure to schedule a substantial period of time together immediately preceding our tours, and we try to take advantage of any rehearsal time on the road.

 

PPM: What is the process of a program preparation for you?

GREG: We devote ourselves obsessively to the planning of recital programs.  We believe that the selection of repertoire significantly affects the listening experience, and we work hard to take advantage of this. Obviously with our programs, we consider factors such as variety, cohesion, mood, our audience, etc., but we value the sequence of music and its effect on the listening experience: creative repertoire juxtapositions can especially help novice listeners hear music in a new light!  For example, when we pair popular songs by Schubert (OBM) and the Beatles (or even Taylor Swift (MGBH)!), we place Schubert’s songs in a new context, and audiences may come to realize how similar these 200-year-old songs are to the popular music of today.  Likewise, the dance music of Michael Jackson (OBM) isn’t so different from the popular dances by Liszt (OBM). Recital programming is just another avenue for us to realize our mission to make classical music a relevant and powerful force in society.


PPM: Back at the beginning of June you were hosting the webcast of Cliburn Piano Competition. What was this experience like for you?

GREG: Hosting the Cliburn Competition was an incredible, though taxing, experience.  We were so impressed with the pianism, and even more so, by the extent to which the 30 pianists shared their souls with their listeners (we went through more than one box of kleenex!). And from our point of view, we really appreciated the platform to further our mission; we were able to discuss, very specifically, just how relevant this repertoire can be in the 21st century to millions of viewers.

LIZ: It was also an exhilarating challenge to dive into the world of live broadcasting: it was high-wire act of timing, research, speaking, improvisation, diplomacy, and cooperation. (And fashion, naturally.) Instead of being in our normal element onstage, it was fascinating to be involved behind the scenes and to have the privilege of interviewing some of the most prominent figures in the classical music world.  The Cliburn and Medici TV teams were an absolute joy to work with (we felt like a family by the end!), and it was of course thrilling to actively engage with piano-lovers worldwide on a daily basis through our on-camera commentary and our social media feeds.

 

PPM: Do you have favorite performance venues?

LIZ: Carnegie Hall and Lincoln Center will always have a special place in our hearts, thanks to our Juilliard days. The legacy and energy of these venues are incomparable.

GREG: In addition to beautiful concert halls throughout the States, Asia, and Europe, we’ve also had a blast playing in more intimate venues: for example, we’ve put on shows in club-like spaces, and we also periodically present “musical mixology” concerts that feature craft cocktail pairings (created by yours truly!) with pieces of music.

PPM:  I would like to address an issue of worshipping musicians and composers that Greg mentioned during the Chicago talk.  This indeed has been one of the problems in classical music for centuries – blind reverence of the performer and the composer vs. enjoyment of classical music and using it as a tool for elevation of consciousness.   A musician, after all, is just a spiritual channel to the sound vibrations.   And depending on their level of spirituality, he or she is able to attract and produce high or low level vibrations reflected in the quality of music compositions.  What, in your opinion, is one of the ways to remove or, at least reduce, this “idolatry” element from the classical music tradition?
GREG: We want our audiences to be active participants in the concert experience.   An invested listener won’t be nearly as affected by blind reverence, since they’re actively making the music their own!   We created a “Listening Manifesto” (http://www.andersonroe.com/listening-manifesto/), in part to encourage listeners to invest themselves more fully in the concert experience and to deepen their enjoyment of the music.
LIZ: While we can and should acknowledge the superhuman achievements of great composers and performers, we must remember the underlying humanity of these individuals, and that their creative output is a powerful expression of our shared humanity.

PPM: With your performances, you are making the art of piano performance highly interactive vs. entertaining the passive listener.  From filming on college campus in Midland, TX to performing on the street.  How does the aspect of interactivity, in your opinion, affect the audience’s perception of music? 

GREG: We want our audiences to feel the music more deeply and more personally than ever before. We’re always asking ourselves, “How can we make the music come alive?” and “How we make the music relevant to our listeners?”
Bringing music to life involves far more than just “playing the piano.”  Many external forces affect our perception of music, from our listeners’ emotional state to the venue, in which we are performing.  With this in mind, we do our best to align these external forces in our favor.  Sometimes this means we choose to burn pianos in our music videos, wear provocative clothing onstage, compose fiery arrangements of pop music, or, otherwise, spice up the music listening experience.  But in the end, everything we do as artists is in service of the music we perform and our audience’s reaction to it.
LIZ: In this postmodern age, the audience is an essential part of the artistic experience.  We don’t create or perform in a vacuum; in a performance we’re shaping and responding to our environment and context, of which the audience’s active engagement plays a pivotal role.  And if you didn’t catch it before, be sure to check out our “Listening Manifesto” (http://www.andersonroe.com/listening-manifesto/)!

 

PPM: What are you looking forward to accomplishing this upcoming year with your piano performances?

GREG: We’re premiering several new works, including our very own Carmen Fantasy for Two Pianos and Orchestra and Danse Macabre: Bacchanal for Two Pianos, Percussion, and Violin.



PPM: Please, tell us about your CD recordings. Do you have any releases coming out?
LIZ: We do have a new release on the horizon!  We’re thrilled to be in the editing stages of our latest album – Mother Muse.  Mothers represent a whole spectrum of attributes, both mythic and uniquely personal: they can be forces of nature and nurturing, guidance and inspiration, patience and strength, and, of course, love: profound, fierce, unconditional.  Mother Muse features musical compositions that pay tribute to the diverse aspects of motherhood, from the sacred (“Ave Maria”) to the saucy (“Mrs. Robinson”), and everything in between.
GREG: In addition to the album coming out next spring, we have all-Mozart (OBM) and all-Bach albums, as well as an album of night songs arranged for piano duo (When Words Fade) and a DVD release of our music film, The Rite of Spring: A Musical Odyssey.

 

PPM: Do you have a favorite piano piece that you like playing together over and over? 

GREG: Brahms’ (OBM) Variations on a Theme by Haydn (OBM), which Brahms originally composed for two pianos, is noble and grand; it’s one of our favorite pieces ever composed, and notably, it was the first piece we ever performed together as a duo.  We’ve performed it hundreds of times since, and it’s never gotten old.

LIZ: I’d add the gorgeously evocative Rachmaninoff (OBM) Suite No. 1 and our cover of Radiohead’s “Paranoid Android” (in which we rock out!).

PPM: What are your hobbies outside piano?

LIZ: Music (listening, creating, singing) and silence, reading and writing, food and film, drawing and museums, traveling and exploration, nature and inspiration, the silly and sublime.
GREG: Playing piano, piano recital programming, hanging out, piano, film, reading, piano, astronomy, composing, design, art, piano, politics, music, hiking, mixology, cooking, wine tasting, traveling, playing the piano. Also: playing the piano.

 

PPM: Do you have siblings? Please, tell us a little about your family.

LIZ: I have two sisters.  I was fortunate to grow up in a family of music-lovers so they are all very supportive of my career. My mother’s side is particularly musical: my mother played the violin and conducted during her school days, and I have an aunt who is a cello teacher in Seoul and another aunt who teaches piano in the DC area.  Both of my sisters are also musically talented and became accomplished at their instruments: my older sister on violin and my younger sister on cello. 

GREG: I have two brothers: an older and a younger brother.  We had a wholesome upbringing in rural Minnesota, where we lived across from a farm.  My parents both grew up on farms.

 

PPM: What are your favorite places to visit?

GREG: It’s all about the food! 
LIZ: Yes! We love to visit (and perform in) places with access to delicious food, but also extraordinary history and culture: London, Tokyo, Rome, Montreal, to name a few. My personal travel favorites include Paris, the English countryside, Iceland, Hawaii, and Switzerland.
GREG: I’d add China and Spain… Plus, New Zealand is absolutely magical; in fact, we have a 10-city concert tour there next spring, and we can’t wait!

PPM: What cuisine/food/restaurant do you like the most?

LIZ: Virtually all cuisines.  Pasta, pizza, fruits and veggies, fresh fish, all kinds of tea, dessert.  A really
delicious brunch also hits the spot.
GREG: Unhealthy: pasta and cheese. Healthy: salads (with dark greens, please!), artichoke hearts, avocados, tofu. Mmmm.

 

PPM: What are your thoughts on classical music in the XXIst century?

LIZ: Classical music has been undergoing a significant shift in identity and presentation.  Since we started our careers over a decade ago, we’ve witnessed numerous changes, challenges, and developments within the industry.  Audiences desire a more personalized and less formal approach to the music.

We didn’t start with the goal to “change” classical music per se; from the beginning, we’ve aimed to be true to ourselves and to the music we love, which in turn allows us to create with freedom and communicate with sincerity.  In re-imagining music from the pop world, we’re not only striving to keep the genre relevant, but we’re also paying homage to composers like Beethoven and Liszt, who did something similar centuries ago with folk and operatic music.  We—and many of our contemporaries—find value in blurring the lines between genre as a reflection of our multicultural, heterogenous world, but also because great music transcends categorization.  To that end, we reap inspiration from the creativity and showmanship of pop and rock musicians, as well as the artistry of dancers, actors, visual artists, and more.

In doing all this, our ultimate intention is to channel the immensity of the human experience through music and to elicit a heightened sense of joy, curiosity, and wonder in others.  Classical music has the power to do that, and I believe that’s why it persists as a cornerstone of our civilization, no matter how much times change.
I think social media will continue to transform classical music in the 21st century.   The Internet makes classical music so much more accessible, whether it be through music videos, behind-the-scenes looks into musicians’ lives, or interactions with likeminded individuals.
GREG: I think social media will continue to transform classical music in the 21st century.   The Internet makes classical music so much more accessible, whether it be through music videos, behind-the-scenes looks into musicians’ lives, or interactions with likeminded individuals.
As we’ve said repeatedly, it is our mission to make classical music a relevant and powerful force in society, and our social media projects are naturally an important part of this mission.  Social media allows us to showcase the joyous, surprising, and life-changing potential of classical music to audiences far, far beyond the standard concert halls.  The content we create for social media—whether it be our music videos, listening tips, or cocktail recipes—ultimately serves our mission and amplifies the listening experience for our fans, but we’ve found that it enhances our performances as well, causing us to interact with our music from fresh and unique points of view.  We savor all opportunities to exist in the same creative space as the music we love so much!
Classical music is a creative, living art form, and we look forward to watching our successors adapt and transform the field to suit the needs of the 21st century.

 

PPM: If you were to conduct a reform in music education, what would be the one thing you would change? 

LIZ: I’d start with accessibility.  Music education should definitely be more readily available to everyone regardless of socioeconomic factors.  We both grew up with music education classes in our public schools, and I think music and the arts should be considered just as important as athletic programs here in the States.

GREG: Music (and all the arts, for that matter) is an amazing tool to help young people develop creativity and imagination—skills that are increasingly necessary in our changing world.  I want to see MORE music programs in schools!

 

PPM: Who is your role model and why?

GREG: I’m limiting my answer to purely pianists here, for the sake of brevity:

I greatly admire the spontaneity of the Romantic era pianists: Franz Liszt, Frédéric Chopin (OBM), Clara Schumann (OBM), etc.  From what I’ve read, their concerts were wild affairs, filled with surprises, destroyed pianos, new music, improvisations, and humor.

The list goes on… Shura Cherkassky (OBM) (I’d want to learn the secrets to his beautiful tone) and Ignaz Friedman (OBM) (because he’s awesome). Among my favorite living pianists is Alexandre Toradze (MGBH).  He becomes a dragon at the piano; he breathes inspiration and personality and fire!

LIZ:  There are too many pianists whom I admire, but I’m especially inspired by Alfred Cortot’s (OBM) imaginative and poetic approach to playing; Glenn Gould’s riveting iconoclasm and hunger for artistic expression beyond the concert stage; Martha Argerich’s (OBM) organic, instinctive, and mesmerizing connection to the instrument; and Grigory Sokolov (OBM)’s fascinating artistry and fierce devotion to this craft.

 

PPM: Would you share some funny stories that happened to you during your tours/performances/music video recordings?

LIZ: As you can tell from our videos, Greg and I can get very physical at the piano, especially while we’re playing four-hand music. Once Greg was a bit too physical; during a performance of our “Libertango” arrangement, he actually elbowed me in the face! I was dazed by the accidental blow, but I kept going; meanwhile Greg kept looking at me with this terribly guilty expression. Thankfully, intermission immediately followed, so I could ice my face before the second half!

Once Greg was a bit too physical; during a performance of our “Libertango” arrangement, he actually elbowed me in the face! I was dazed by the accidental blow, but I kept going; meanwhile Greg kept looking at me with this terribly guilty expression. Thankfully, intermission immediately followed, so I could ice my face before the second half!

 

GREG: Often our concerts sell out, and in such instances, the venues often add stage seating. In one very special performance, there were an additional 60 audience members seated on stage with us. While we were performing Mozart’s Sonata for Two Pianos, a young girl in the front vomited everywhere, including on the legs of the pianos! The audience gasped, and we had to take a break to clean up the mess.

PIANO ARCHITECTURE:
The Story of Bosendorfer Grand Bohemian

by Alex Davydovich (MGBH)

Once upon a time, a highly-talented musician, Ignaz Bosendorfer (OBM) had the fundamental vision to build a piano that would not only deeply satisfy the performer on a mechanical level, but would also inspire the audience with an exhilarating listening experience.

With this vision he attracted the attention of fiery young composer and artist Franz Liszt.  Known for his impulsive playing technique, Liszt (OBM) had wrecked nearly every piano made available to him, and thus required an instrument that could withstand his notoriously passionate virtuoso performances.

At the recommendation of his friends, Liszt decided to select a Bösendorfer grand for his 1838 concert in Vienna. The audience was thrilled, as was Liszt, who was quite taken by the fact that he didn’t have to hold back his artistic energy, in large part due to the instrument’s durability and powerful, inspiring sound.

In 1839, the Emperor of Austria named Ignaz Bösendorfer “Imperial and Royal Piano Purveyor to the Court”—the first piano maker to be granted this honor. Numerous gold medals and first prizes followed.

As a result, Bösendorfer became famous overnight, as well as the instrument of choice for many concerts to follow. In 1839, the Emperor of Austria named Ignaz Bösendorfer “Imperial and Royal Piano Purveyor to the Court”—the first piano maker to be granted this honor. Numerous gold medals and first prizes followed.

Since then Bosendorfer has become one of the leading piano manufacturers in the world wowing the connoisseurs of art with its beautiful collector editions.

Here is the story of one of them – the Bosendorfer Grand Bohemian Piano.

 

 

The Bosendorfer Grand Bohemian Piano

 

In 2014, an American entrepreneur – owner of the Kessler Luxury Hotels – and an art collector, Richard Kessler (MGBH) who started his endeavor with piano in the second grade, was approached by a representative of a Bosendorfer Company. It was a surprise that he received that day.   He had no idea when he came to work that morning that he would be asked to create an artistic piano for the Bosendorfer Collection Edition.

Kessler Grand Bohemian Hotel in Asheville, NC

 

As he began to think about the project being the design of the Grand Bohemian Piano, he thought of three criteria that were important to him.  The first one was not to diminish or compromise of the instrument itself in any way.  The second criterion was that the design itself needed to be feasible.  And the third criterion, which was the fun part, was creating a piece of art that truly was the piece of art of beauty.  He wanted the Grand Bohemian Piano to be a complement to the instrument itself and to be truly a collector’s piece of art.

The design for the Grand Bohemian was inspired by pieces from Kessler’s personal collection, including a painting of a peacock and a special collection of bronze sculptures.

The design for the Grand Bohemian was inspired by pieces from Kessler’s personal collection, including a painting of a peacock and a special collection of bronze sculptures. Fascinated by the beauty and elegance of the peacock, and the ideal use of bronze for the base of the piano, Kessler selected these themes and works of art to cultivate inspiration for the design (1).

The next thing he needed to do was to choose the artist he wanted to work with for the design of the piano. The name that immediately came to his mind was Mr. Frank Castellucio (MGBH), an international artist of incredible talent.

Frank Castellucio describes the process:

“You begin with the sketches to come up with the design, and when you find something you like, then you create a scale model. And once you have your scale model, then you go ahead and you build a life size model. And from the life size model, which is in clay, you begin to make molds – you make the silicone molds and you pour wax to get duplicates. Once the duplicates are cleaned, you send them to the foundry. Then you get what you sent them in bronze. From that point, the bronze has to be welded and chased and the whole base is assembled.”

 

While Frank was doing all that work, and he was certainly intense about that project, Bosendorfer in Vienna were also busy at work.  They had to do all the design work on the specialty case itself, and that was done and completed as Frank was completing his work.

The pianos are crafted using an exceptionally high concentration of spruce—more than 80 percent, more than any other manufacturer.

The basis of each Bösendorfer Grand is spruce that is naturally dried by air and has proven to be the ideal tone wood.  The pianos are crafted using an exceptionally high concentration of spruce—more than 80 percent, more than any other manufacturer.  The four seasons, sun, wind and wide temperature differences gently prepare this wood for its final purpose – to resonate.   The Austrian spruce must be grown at a minimum of 800 meters above sea level guaranteeing a very dense and regular grain structure.   Harvested in winter, when the sap is at its lowest, it is subsequently quarter sawn for parallel grain.   Additionally, all of the bass strings are spun in our unique way. A steel core string is the basis for 1 or 2 layers of copper.  The carefully spun strings are a substantial element of the warm and sonorous Bösendorfer bass.   Each string is individually attached with a handmade loop. Over time this improves tuning stability and is particularly service friendly.  Bösendorfer is the only piano manufacturer that applies a detachable and independent Capo d’Astro in the upper register to assure most precise adjustment in the upper register guaranteeing the original Bösendorfer Sound for generations.

Once Frank was finished, and all the parts were sent to Vienna, they assembled all the parts to make the Bohemian Grand come alive.

“It is certainly exciting to be part of this and to see my part of the project being the base, being incorporated with a box. It’s so unlike any other project that I’ve ever done where I complete a whole sculpture. This sculpture is a combination of different artisans from around the world. It’s amazing,” says Frank.

 

“Bosendorfer started building pianos in 1828, which makes us the oldest premium piano manufacturer in the world. For such a project, we would never compromise in the acoustical setting of the piano. However, for the exterior, we have almost unlimited possibilities, and the Grand Bohemian piano is a perfect example of traditional craftsmanship and a magnificent design,” says senior product designer Ferdinand Brau (MGBH).

 

The unveiling ceremony of the Bosendorfer Grand Bohemian piano took place at the Imperial Hotel in Vienna, where both Mr. Richard Kessler and Mr. Frank Castelluccio were invited as the honorary guests.

In the US, you can hear the Grand Bohemian Piano at the Bosendorfer Lounge of Richard Kessler’s Bohemian Hotel in Orlando, FL.

And since there are only nine of these pianos made worldwide, I wonder, where did the other eight find their home?

 

 

References:

 

(1) https://www.boesendorfer.com/en-us/pianos/collectors-item/grand-bohemian

THE CIRCUIT: Verbier Festival – In The Heart of Swiss Alps

Interview by Alex Davydovich (MGBH)

In the early nineties, Martin T:son Engstroem (MGBH) had an ambitious idea to create a summer festival in the heart of the Swiss Alps, far from the major cities where most festivals take place.  Verbier had the intimate atmosphere he felt was necessary to encourage musical excellence, and at the same time be open to the world.  He imagined a festival with a resident youth orchestra and an academy where renowned artists would teach the next generation and audiences would have a wide choice of activities from early morning until late at night. In 1994, his vision became a reality.* Today, in 2017, it is much more than that – it is one of the hottest events for the who-is-who in the world of classical music.  

 

Piano Performer Magazine (PPM): What does it take to start a festival?
Martin T:son Engstroem (ME) : Starting a festival is very much learning as you go. There is no profession that prepares you for it. You have to know psychology, finances, organization, languages, music, and fund-raising – a little of bit of everything. And then you’ll need a big chunk of persistence. In addition, you have to believe in what you do. The first two years will probably go OK, but then it’s all about stamina.

PPM: Prior to organizing the Festival, you were a talent agent. Who are some of the artists who worked with?
ME: I worked with Germinal Hilbert in Paris from 1975 – 1987. I also worked with such artists, pretty much from the beginning of their career, as Giuseppe Sinopoli, Han-Na Chang, Kirill Troussov, Jonathan Gilad, Ilya Gringolts, Barbara Hendricks, Neil Shicoff, Jessye Norman, and Gino Quilico, to name a few.

Talent is God-given, but succeeding in life depends on what you do with it.  The one who makes it has an equal part of talent, discipline, and luck.

PPM: What is your secret formula in discovering talent?
ME: Trusting my intuition. There are thousands of young talented musicians, but you look for talent PLUS personality and charisma. Talent is God-given, but succeeding in life depends on what you do with it.  The one who makes it has an equal part of talent, discipline, and luck.

PPM: You used to work Deutsche Grammophon, didn’t you?
ME: Yes, I did. From 1999 till 2003, I was a VP of Artists & Repertoire. Thereafter, for 3 years I was a Senior Executive Producer and Head of Artists Development. I signed Lang Lang, Yundi, Anna Netrebko, Esa-Pekka Salonen and many others to the company. I was also instrumental in the signing of Yuja Wang, Daniil Trifonov, and Gregory Sokolov.  Although I am presently not on their payroll, we still work very closely together.

PPM: So, having worked in the industry did help in attracting talent to your festival?
ME: Yes. Prior to starting the Festival, I already had a pretty important address book. I invited one of my best friends – Avi Shoshani (Secretary General of the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra) to join me, and together we covered most of the artists we wanted to come to our first event.

PPM: Under what circumstances did you meet Evgeny Kissin, and how did you convince him to be part of the Festival?
ME: It was Avi who brought Zhenya to Verbier. He loved it from the very first year and has been back 19 times (out of 24 Festivals).

PM: Who handles talent at Verbier?
ME: I myself am responsible for all the artists performing at the Verbier Festival. I also work closely with the artists in putting together the programs.

The atmosphere at the Verbier Festival is very warm, and we welcome music lovers with open arms.

PPM: What types of sessions take place at the Verbier?
ME: Every day we have 4 paying concerts, 3 free student concerts, plus another 20 free events including open rehearsals, Master Classes, “meet the artists” talks, etc. The atmosphere at the Verbier Festival is very warm, and we welcome music lovers with open arms.

PPM: Who are the typical attendees of the Verbier Festival?
ME: Our audience is very eclectic. The sheer fact that we are in the mountains and in a tent eliminates those who just want to dress up and show off their latest jewels. Our audience is younger than that of most classical music institutions. Our festival attracts the locals who would normally never go down the valley to see a classical music concert.

PPM: How did the idea of the Academy come along?
ME: Through working with my artist friends and challenging them to new collaborations. Since its inception, the academic part has grown enormously, and we now have 300 music students between the ages of 13 and 30 studying between 3-5 weeks each summer pending the course they have chosen.

PPM: How closely do you work with the Music Director of the Festival Orchestra? What decisions are you involved in?
ME: I have worked extremely closely with both James Levine and Charles Dutoit. Creating the right programs for our young orchestra musicians is key to its success. You need to schedule challenging repertoire – not only technically, but stylistically and musically as well. Maestro Dutoit has given “Master-Classes” in French repertoire having conducted Pelleas, Damnation, which will stay forever with these young incredible talented musicians and give them a base of how to interpret French music.

PPM: Where do the Festival volunteers come from?
ME: Lausanne Hotel School, music students, children of our public or children of our musicians.

PPM: You studied Russian at the University. Why?
ME: I have always been fascinated by the Russian culture – writers, painters, composers, and musicians.  That culture has accompanied me since I was a young kid. I starting traveling to the Soviet Union from the age of 16 and still go back 3-4 times a year. My spoken Russian today is not very good, although I can get around.

PPM: What character traits does a person have to possess for you to be comfortable to do business with him or her?
ME: As a person, I am pretty open and curious. If I like someone, I will be his best friend, but I f I don’t trust someone or feel that he is not truthful – that person has lost me.

The crazier the world becomes the more we need things that speak to our senses.

PPM: In your opinion, what does classical music give to the world and where is its place in the future?
ME: Classical music makes peoples lives richer. Music, Theater, and Literature are there to make us more complete and more harmonious as human beings. As parents, we owe it to ourselves to challenge our children to reach further and give “culture” a chance. They might not like it at that moment, which is OK, but they will appreciate the gesture later in their lives and, perhaps, will come back to it. The crazier the world becomes the more we need things that speak to our senses.

 

References:

* https://www.verbierfestival.com/en/about/history/

 

The Art of Piano Performance:
Oleg Pereverzev – From Kazakhstan with Music

Interview by Tanya Levy (MGBH)

When I found Oleg’s (MGBH) performance videos on such shows as Ukraine’s Got Talent, The Minute of Fame, and Britain’s Got Talent, I experienced mixed feelings.  The intellectual classical snob in me wanted to say, “Oh, no!”, but in my heart I truly rejoiced as I watched his performances.  I also thought to myself, especially after the comment of one of the judges who criticized him so harshly at The Minute of Fame, “Here we are, whispering in dark corners about the demise of classical music and how a young generation is not so interested in it so much as the older generations used to be, and here he is – this young, brilliant, creative musician who is offering at least a partial solution to this problem, and we are throwing stones at him.  A little hypocritical…”  All these thoughts inspired me to learn more about this pianist.  

Piano Performer Magazine (PPM): Dear Oleg, at some point, trying to do what you did you experienced criticism from the classical piano watch dogs.  They just didn’t understand what motivated you. And I am sure, some people are still raising their eyebrows and wrinkling their foreheads.  Is it hard to be different?
Oleg Pereverzev (OP): With my performances I wanted to show that music can also transfer information that can feed your heart and soul.  I didn’t just want to come out on stage and play the well-known compositions of Chopin and Bach.  There are many people doing this already.   I wanted to create an exciting show where the audience could feel my soul.  I wanted to affect the hearts of people not only through music, but also through special effects.  And I think I was able to achieve it.  I receive letters from many people around the world – some of them started listening to classical music, others started improvising.  The process of communicating with my audience and connecting to it is very important to me. I constantly work on it.

I didn’t just want to come out on stage and play the well-known compositions of Chopin and Bach.  I wanted to create a show….

PPM: Please, tell us about your family.  Who created an environment for you to study piano?
OP: My mother was a doctor, and my father was in the military.  I have a sister, who became a doctor just like our mother. Everyone in our family loves music, but no one, except for me has formal music education.  It was my mother who instilled love for classical music in me.  She would always buy music magazines and vinyl records.  Thus, I would always hear the sounds of classical piano in our house as I was growing up.  Once, when I was six, I attended a concert of the legendary Svyatoslav Richter (OBM). I remember the dark music hall, complete silence, and then… music…. As a child, it made an indelible impression on me.

PPM: Please, tell us about your classical piano background.
OP: I went through all the stages of formal classical music training: seven years of music school, four years of music college, five years at the Kazakh National Conservatory , and two years of post graduate training. Then I had my apprenticeship at the School of Music and Theater in Hannover, Germany with a piano duo “Genova and Dimitrov.” (MGBT)

I loved going to music school.  I would come up with all kinds of stories to skip classes in my regular day school to practice piano every chance I got.

PPM: What was it like for you to be a piano student in a music school of a post-Soviet space?
OP: Those were still Soviet times – 1986 through 1993.  I loved going to music school.  I would come up with all kinds of stories to skip classes in my regular day school to practice piano every chance I got.

PPM: How did you get an idea for your first creative performance?
OP: Do you mean the video where I play two pianos at the same time? Here is  the story.  I created a YouTube Channel, and to attract the attention of the audience, I started thinking of what I could do that no one else had done before.  That’s why I had to find a cat, had to drink coffee, and, finally, to play the most technically challenging piece “The Flight of the Bumble Bee” in Rachmaninoff’s (OBM) arrangement.  And the video became tremendously popular. That year – 2011- it got 460,000 views.

PPM: Please, tell us about that moment when you looked at your piano and decided – let me try to play backwards and see what happens.
OP: After the “Flight of the Bumble Bee” video I had to come up with something new.  And that was the video where I play piano backwards.  It was very challenging.  Both my arms and my back hurt.  It was very uncomfortable, but I managed to accomplish it.  Two weeks later I recorded the video where I played an excerpt from the 2nd Hungarian Rhapsody by Franz Liszt (OBM).

PPM: In one of your videos you play “Fur Elise” backwards – starting from the end and ending at the beginning, which turned out pretty good, by the way.  How and why did you get the idea to do that?
OP: There is a joke where a student brought his own composition to an exam in a conservatory.  When the student was asked whose composition it was, he answered, “I just copied the composition of my teacher backwards. That’s it.” When I was thinking of my next video, I thought of this joke, and it inspired me to take Beethoven’s “Fur Elise” and play it backwards.

PPM: You did a commercial for BeeLine, a Russian cell phone company.  Is it hard playing piano in the air? What was your experience like filming it?
OP: We actually shot two versions. The second one, where I am in the air, turned out to be more successful and more visually appealing.  It was very scary to play piano in the air.  Since I didn’t have aerial training, I kept thinking, “Oh, no.  Something’s gonna happen now.”  So – yes – I was very frightened.

PPM: What is your dream as a musician and an artist?
OP: I wish that all people had an opportunity to be exposed to beautiful, high quality music.  Today there is a lot of bad music out there, and, somehow, people allow themselves to be exposed to it.  Of course, everyone has their own opinion and their own taste.  However, in general, there is a lot of garbage.

Every aspect of a pianist’s work is a big job: working on your spirituality, developing business relations, giving performances.

PPM: Is it hard to earn a living as a pianist living where you are?
OP: It’s hard to make money no matter which profession you choose.  I doubt that all pianists lead a luxury lifestyle.  Every aspect of a pianist’s work is a big job: working on your spirituality, developing business relations, giving performances.  Writing your own compositions also takes an enormous amount of effort.  There is a lot to accomplish.  That is why it is very hard for an artist to focus on making money.   A good example would be Rachmaninoff as a pianist.  While he made money as a pianist, but didn’t compose anything.

PPM: Are you planning to tour some time in the future?
OP: In the near future, I definitely plan to do tours. For now, I try to perform at least once a week.

PPM: Please, tell us about your CD albums.
OP: My first album is called “Classics For All.” In this album, I play the most famous pieces of Bach (OBM), Mozart (OBM), Beethoven (OBM), Schumann (OBM), Schubert (OBM), Chopin (OBM), and Liszt, to name a few. There are 21 tracks in the album.
My second album called “Dudarai” is dedicated to Kazakhstan, where I was born, grew up, and received my education.  Here I play Kazakh folk songs in my own arrangements as well as five of my original compositions.
My third album is still in my head. That’s what I am working on at the moment.

Oleg Pereverzev’s Album “Dudarai” is available on Itunes: click the image above to see the album

 

PPM: Besides being a pianist, you are also a composer. Please, tell us more about writing your own music. What is the process like for you?
OP: When I was a student at the conservatory, I got familiar with the music of contemporary composers.  They would ask me to play their music. And I was very interested in it.  I started composing my own music back when I was a child, but then I stopped.  At the conservatory, I felt inspired to start composing again.  I would compose in the style of Chopin (OBM) and Rachmaninoff.  Today I compose in a neo-classical style.  One of my musical inspirations was Yiruma (MGBH), a Korean pianist and composer.

PPM:  Do you have a family of your own or is music taking all of your energy right now?
OP: I don’t have my own family yet, but I have my sister and my father, who both live Russia.

PPM: Who are some of your favorite composers – classical and contemporary?
OP: Oh, the list is quite long.  Every composer that I studied affected me in his own way.  Today I can listen to Shostakovich (OBM), tomorrow – to Badalamenti (OBM), and the next day – Morricone (MGBH).  I listen to a lot of music and love almost all composers.  I am not talking about avante garde here – this is absolutely not for me.

PPM: What made you choose a career of a professional pianist?
OP: It’s a hard question.  When I was thirteen, my father asked me – what are you going to do next? I answered him, “I will continue my piano studies.” And that’s how it went.

PPM: Where do you live and how often and where do you travel?
OP: I live in Alma Ati, Kazakhstan. I like it here very much out here – the nature is beautiful, the city is small.  Recently, I had a chance to live in Los Angeles, CA and see what life like is out there.  It was a very interesting experience.  I try to travel as much as I can. In the past, I have also visited Turkey, China, Germany, and Holland.

PPM:  Has a music piece ever made you cry? If so, which one?
OP: Music is a reflection of feelings.  One can start crying hearing Beethoven’s (OBM) Moonlight Sonata, for example.  It’s about what it’s in your heart.  And if the music touches your heart, it will make you cry.  I enjoy music videos.  If the visual component matches the music – it’s genius.

Today’s time is characterized by demise in many spheres of society  – music, economy, politics … And, certainly, it is not a good thing.  However, the cycles are such that there will always be a peak and demise. And it is through these cycles that humanity evolves.

PPM: Why do you think young people are not so interested in classical music as the older generations?
OP: In my opinion, music was at its peak in the 19th and 20th century.  Today’s time is characterized by demise in many spheres of society  – music, economy, politics … And, certainly, it is not a good thing.  However, the cycles are such that there will always be a peak and demise. And it is through these cycles that humanity evolves.

PPM: Where do you draw your inspiration from?
OP: … from nature walks, travelling…. For a musician it is very important to travel.  Sometimes it happens that a melody comes to me in my dream.  I try to remember it and write it down afterwards.

PPM: Are you planning to perform in the US in the near future?
OP: Once I performed in Glendale, CA where I played my music as well as the music of other composers in my original arrangements.  I would definitely love to perform in many different cities and music halls.  I very much enjoy doing it and am open to invitations.

PPM: Tell us, please, about the piano duo “Vivat.”
OP: My friend and I decided to form a piano duo.  We started working and sent an application to the Taneyev (OBM) Chamber Music Competition in Moscow.  We got accepted and won 3rd prize among the piano duos.  This competition was very important to us – we worked very hard and, as a result, reaped the fruits of our labor.  During the same competition, one of my compositions “Kazakh Rhapsody” was awarded a Tchaikovsky prize.  My friend and I performed together a lot. I created many piano arrangements for our duo.

PPM: Do you have an agent or a manager?
OP: I have an administrator, who helps me handle all my performances.

PPM: What is your favorite Kazakh food?
OP: I love pilaf. There is a folk saying: How many kinds of pilaf are there? As many as there are towns in the Middle East.

PPM: What’s your plan for the next 5 years?
OP: To find new ways in wowing my audience.

PPM: Thank you, Oleg.  We are looking forward to be wowed!
OP: My pleasure.

Generation Z: Interview with Brandon Goldberg

Interview by Tanya Levy

He plays piano with utmost passion and excitement, and his smile is contagious to anyone who catches it.  Brandon Goldberg (MGBH), an 11-year-old Floridian, a gifted jazz piano player, has conquered the hearts of many, including mine.  Will he win yours, too?

PPM: Please, tell us about your participation in the TEDx. Did you have to practice your speech a lot? Did you have help writing it or did you do it yourself?
BG: My mom made me write the speech by myself. She said, “Just tell your story.”  So, I went to my room, and I wrote it down. Then, she helped me organize my thoughts and put it all together. The whole TEDxYouth@Miami experience was great – all the kids selected to participate would meet at the Cushman School every Saturday morning for several months to rehearse in front of each other.  Arvi Balseiro (MGBH), Principal of the Cushman School, and Lisa Herbert (MGBH) would give us feedback on our speech. They did it in such nice a way that it gave everyone the confidence to present in front of a big audience. At first, some of us were nervous, but at the end, everyone memorized their speeches. They helped us become better speakers and it was fun getting to know the other kids.  On the last practice day, they brought in the red circle that TED is famous for, and we all had to practice speaking and staying on the circle.  It was fun.

PPM: How did you first start composing music?
BG: I first started composing music when I had an idea and I wanted to develop it.  I really wanted to express my thoughts.  I asked my parents for some manuscript paper and then I just went from there.  Soon enough I started using Sibelius and Finale, and eventually I started using Logic Pro X to record.

PPM: Did/do you study classical piano with a teacher?
BG: Yes, I currently study classical piano with Paul Posnak (MGBH), a retired professor from University of Miami Frost School of Music.  He is a good fit for me, because he can teach classical and also appreciates other genres of music.  He’s best known for his note-for-note transcriptions of Fats Waller and George Gershwin (OBM) Improvisations.

PPM: Who was your first piano teacher?
BG: Well, my first unofficial piano teacher was a Russian lady, Ina (MGBH), who lived around the corner.  I think I was three or four, but I was too young to stay focused. Then I worked with, Rosa Rabinovich (MGBH), a teacher at our elementary school for a little while. Eventually, I switched over to Mila Vaserstein (MGBH), when I was five years old. I studied with Mila for about three years.
My first Jazz teacher was Markus Gottschlich (MGBH). He taught me a lot and introduced me to Wendy Oxenhorn (MGBH) at the Jazz Foundation of America. I’ll always be grateful to him.

PPM: Does anyone in your family play piano?
BG: Not really.  My mother took piano lessons when she was younger for about 5 years, but she she stopped playing.

PPM: Do you have any siblings? If so, do they play an instrument?
BG: Yes, I have a younger sister, Aubrey (MGBH).  She’s more into sports, especially gymnastics.  She’s really good at gymnastics and dance.

PPM: You speak eloquently in from the audiences.  How is speaking in front of people different from performing?
BG: Thank you.  Speaking in front of people is different because I use words to share my experiences and my story.  I try to choose my words carefully to make sure I get the right message across.  With performing, it’s more fluid and spontaneous.  I really try to inspire people through my music.

My first introduction to jazz was through an old Rat Pack Movie that I watched at my grandparents’ house.  I became somewhat obsessed with the Rat Pack and everything about them…

PPM: Who introduced you to jazz and what was the first jazz song that you learned?
BG: My first introduction to jazz was through an old Rat Pack Movie that I watched at my grandparents’ house.  I became somewhat obsessed with the Rat Pack and everything about them…how they carried themselves, what they wore.  Then I started watching old concert videos of Frank Sinatra (OBM) with Tony Bennett (MGBH), Ella Fitzgerald (OBM), and many other singers from the Great American Songbook era.  There was one Frank Sinatra concert with Oscar Peterson (OBM) on the piano and that was it – I just loved the sound of jazz, and it excited me.  From there, I listened to the Oscar Peterson and Bill Evans (OBM) collaborations with Tony Bennett and just kept listening. I would probably say the first standard I learned was “Fly Me to the Moon”.

PPM: Tell us about meeting Tony Bennett and Joshua Bell (MGBH). What was special about meeting those men and what did you speak to them about?
BG: I’ve been lucky enough to see Tony Bennett in concert four times – and I’ve been able to meet him after each show.  There’s always a long line of people to meet Mr. Bennett, so we don’t really have time to talk.  I wish I could really spend some time with him and play the piano for him.  It would be a dream come true to accompany him.
I got to meet Tony Bennett’s whole band once.  They were really nice, and each band member autographed the set list for me. That was really special.
I met Joshua Bell briefly after his performance at Tanglewood.  He encouraged me to keep playing. My parents also met Joshua Bell at a YoungArts event in Miami (I wasn’t there).  He told them the story of how, when he was little, he used to put rubber bands on the knobs of his dresser drawers to create different sounds.  My mom shared that story with me, and I even put that into my TEDx speech.  It inspired my theme…everyone has their own instrument; you just need to take the time to find it.

People always tell me I’m an old soul.

PPM: Do you feel your age or do you sometimes feel older? Do you have older friends? Do you have a preference of having friends your age or older?
BG: People always tell me I’m an old soul.  It’s hard to know what an older person feels like, but sometimes it is easier to connect with older kids and adults, especially if we can talk about music.  I have friends my age and a few older friends that I play music with.  To me age is only a number, but I am only 11 so I may need some more life experience.

PPM: Do you go to school or are you home schooled?
BG: I go to a regular school. Next year, I’ll be going to a performing arts middle school.

PPM: What are your favorite subjects to learn?
BG: I like Math because the numbers and equations relate to music.
PPM: What are some of your most memorable performances?
BG: I have a few… Definitely the time Monty Alexander, one of my heroes, surprised me for my 10th birthday and invited me onstage at Jazz at Lincoln Center to play “Fly Me to the Moon” with his band. That was awesome.  I also got to play at the famous Apollo Theatre at the Jazz Foundation of America’s A Great Night in Harlem.  I was invited there to honor McCoy Tyner (MGBH) as he received his lifetime achievement award.  That was really cool.  There were a lot of amazing musicians performing that night – Dr. John (MFBH), John Batiste (MFBH), John Mayer (MFBH), just to name a few.
Recently, I played at another Jazz Foundation of America event in Los Angeles at Herb Alpert’s club – Vibrato Grill.  I got to meet Patti Austin (MGBH) and the amazing Merry Clayton (MGBH), who sang “You Are So Beautiful to Me” while I accompanied her on the piano.  That was impromptu and really fun! I also met the one and only –  Mr. Quincy Jones (MGBH). That was cool.
Harry Connick Jr. (MGBH) was also pretty great.  It was nice talking to him – I feel like he understood me and it was really fun to jam with him on the piano. His band was really great, too!

I like Frank Sinatra, because he used his voice as an instrument. The variation and his phrasing of the lyrics and songs was like an improviser playing with the melody.

PPM: Why do you like Frank Sinatra (OBM)?
BG: I like Frank Sinatra, because he used his voice as an instrument. The variation and his phrasing of the lyrics and songs was like an improviser playing with the melody.  I always like the arrangements that he sang that were done by Quincy Jones and Nelson Riddle (OBM).

PPM: Do you have other kids pianist friends?
BG: Not really, but I do have a good friend that plays guitar really well.  I also have some friends that are in high school that I like to jam with.

PPM: Does your family take road trips? If so, where do you go?
BG: Sometimes we drive to Disney World or Universal Studios, since we live in Florida. We like go to the Berkshires in the summer for our family vacations and we’ve gone skiing the last few winters, but we fly to those places.

PPM: Do you have pets at home?
BG: No, but I would love a dog. My sister and I have been begging for a dog.

PPM: What are your responsibilities at home?
BG: I make my bed, keep my room clean, do well in school, and practice piano.  I work on composing and playing in my Dad’s office at home, so he is always telling me to clean up all my wires, instruments, and cases.

PPM: What do you do on weekends?
BG: I have my classical piano lessons on Saturdays, and we’re usually busy with events or performances.   I usually have homework to do on the weekends, but if we have free time, I like to swim or just hang out at home, compose music, and play on my Fender Rhodes vintage keyboard.  If there is a jazz concert or a show in town, we try to go to that.

PPM: What is your biggest dream?
BG: I want a successful career playing and making music.  I want to record and play my own compositions along with the top artists in Jazz.

My favorite book to read and re-read is Herbie Hancock’s (MGBH) autobiography, “Possibilities.”  My mom says that it may not be age appropriate, but it’s really interesting.

PPM: What books do you like to read?
BG: My favorite book to read and re-read is Herbie Hancock’s (MGBH) autobiography, “Possibilities.”  My mom says that it may not be age appropriate, but it’s really interesting.
I got to meet Herbie Hancock after a concert he did in Miami. He was so kind and inspiring.  We talked about music, and he autographed my book and album covers.  He wrote some really nice messages to me.  He’s amazing, and I really look up to him.

PPM: Do you speak any foreign languages?
BG: I can understand Russian and speak it a little. My mother was born in the Ukraine.

PPM: Have you travelled outside the US? If so, what was the trip you enjoyed the most?
BG: The only time I’ve been out of the US was on a cruise to the Caribbean we took with my family.

PPM: Do you like to be funny and make people laugh?
BG: I like to make people laugh, but that seems to mostly happen unintentionally.

PPM: Do you have any recorded CDs?
BG: Not yet, that is my goal in the next year or so.