On The Rise: Asiya Korepanova and Festival Baltimore

Interview by Tanya Levy (MGBH)

Piano Performer Magazine (PPM): Why did you choose piano as your profession?
Asiya Korepanova (AK): I was born into a family of musicians – a composer and a pianist.  With me being the only child, they did not want me to become a musician considering how hard it is to be one.  Watching my mother practice piano when I was barely 3 years old, I was trying to take her seat and “practice” as soon as she would leave the piano.  My dad, a composer himself, would listen to a lot of music.  I grew up in that environment watching him get emotional over different pieces, analyze them, and fall in love with them.  So, later on, when I was 6, I became obsessed with listening to symphonic music on LPs and successfully destroyed many records due to overuse!  At that point it was clear that music was something that I could not imagine myself without.  That was the beginning of my musical life.

PPM: Do you have siblings? Please, tell our readers about your family.
AK: I am the only child, and I wish I had a sibling. But I have two wonderful cousins, and there are people among my friends who are like family to me.

PPM: Do you compose your own music?
AK: I do. I was a double major in piano and composition back at the Central Music School in Moscow, where I was lucky to study with Moscow Conservatory’s legendary head of composition, Albert Leman (OBM). Composing from the early age helped me immensely as a performer and formed my views on a musical text in a very particular way.  It made me aware much more about the structure and inner details of a musical composition, and also gave me much more freedom in interpreting those details. I haven’t written anything for the full orchestra yet, but have explored different chamber groups and solo instruments.

I am also fond of writing transcriptions. It is in a sense a very specific way of interpretation, you are putting a piece through your mind, adopting it for piano, and becoming a co-composer, which brings this incredible feeling of belonging.  I am putting up my shorter transcriptions regularly as a part of my series “Midnight Pieces” on my YouTube channel, but my main works in this field are complete Rachmaninoff’s Cello Sonata and Richard Strauss’ Ein Heldenleben.

PPM: Please, tell us about the festival that you organize.
AK: Festival Baltimore is a wild dream coming true. I was always extremely interested in how composers’ styles evolve during their lifetime, and because of that it feels very special to me to hear or play a complete cycle of works of a composer, let’s say, complete Beethoven’s cello sonatas or Liszt’s 24 etudes. During the performance, you witness this composer’s lifetime passing through their music before your ears and your imagination. It was my dream to create a festival, where each concert would present such journey, and this dream came through.

The festival is based in a state-of-the-art Linehan Concert Hall on UMBC’s campus in Baltimore. Performing at this venue is a true joy – gorgeous acoustics and beautiful architecture along with comfortable practice and rehearsal spaces are very inspiring, and I am very grateful for the partnership with the UMBC Music Department.

This year, which is our second season, we presented programs such as Richard Strauss’ complete chamber works with piano; complete Robert Schumann works for viola, clarinet, and piano; complete Mendelssohn’ piano trios and sextet, and many more. There were incredible collaborations with great artists such as violinist Gary Levinson (MGBH), clarinetist Alexander Fiterstein (MGBH) and violist Michael Klotz (MGBH). We also included one-of-a-kind works, such as Bartok’s sonata for two pianos and percussion and George Crumb’s Makrokosmos III.  What is even more important, Festival Baltimore also includes an academy where students come for intensive workshops on pieces within a cycle.  Academy culminates in a filmed and recorded performance, and students can use the recordings any way they want. This year’s students performed complete Tchaikovsky string quartets and complete Rachmaninoff piano duos. I could not be happier about this endeavor.

PPM: Is there a piano piece that you can play and listen to every day and not get tired of?
AK: There are definitely many symphonic pieces like that – Mahler, Bruckner, Sibelius, and Brahms symphonies, works by Richard Strauss.

And, of course, I never grow tired of the Well-Tempered Clavier.

PPM: Please, name 3 living musicians that you would like to share a stage with in the future?
AK: Bernard Haitink (MGBH), Herbert Blomstedt (MGBH), and Andris Nelsons (MGBH).

PPM: What was your most memorable performance?
AK: I would say, debuting in Carnegie Hall’s Stern Auditorium with orchestra or performing solo on stage of the Chatelet Theatre in Paris were the most memorable. However, my experiences of performing in a prison, in public schools or with the State Svetlanov Symphony Orchestra on the street during the City Day in Moscow were as intense and fulfilling as those in the best concert halls.  But also, I think the most memorable performance for a musician is the one where he is able to fulfill his idea and say what he wanted to say at its maximum, without losing anything.  It is very hard to achieve, and so these performances stay in your memory forever, no matter what circumstances were surrounding them.

PPM: What was it like for you to work with Vladimir Spivakov (MGBH)?
AK: It was a wonderful time being able to step onto professional stage and travel to different countries to perform at a young age as part of maestro Spivakov’s Charity Foundation and later on, as a soloist with his orchestras “Moscow Virtuosi” and National Philharmonic Symphony Orchestra.  Through that orchestral collaboration I also was lucky to work with conductors such as Ion Marin, Hans Graf and Enrique Mazzola.

PPM: You have worked in collaboration with many prominent artists. What is your advise to those who are just starting to think of collaborating with others?
AK: I think it is really important to be able to listen and understand what your partner tries to express through music. Sometimes the ideas may be the opposite of yours, sometimes they match. In each case you need to have flexibility to adjust while still staying true to your own voice. Sometimes you also need to be able to convince your partners to adopt your ideas, and it takes sensitivity, ability to inspire and spark interest.

PPM: You have developed and performed several multimedia projects with your own poetry and drawings. Please, tell our readers about them: what was your inspiration and what they were all about?
AK: I have been drawing and writing poetry since a very early age, and it was always a happy activity for me.  I would usually get inspired towards the late night, and my parents would let me stay up seeing I was in the “zone.”

I have drawn some pictures for Divine Comedy, which I read at 7, wrote poems dedicated to some artworks of great masters that I loved, wrote romances to my own poetry, wrote poetry for Tchaikovsky’s “The Seasons” that the studio of my music school professor was performing. But it was only during my late teens that I thought of writing and drawing at the same time for something I played.

My first project, Euphoria after Liszt, is based on 12 transcendental Etudes (and I am actually about to expand it to 24 etudes, since last year I started to play the whole set in recitals). It includes a set of 12 poems and 12 drawings – one for each of the Transcendental Etudes.  It has been an incredible experience performing Liszt with projections of my drawings and narrating my poems before each etude.  That project was created in 2007, and since then I also treated the first book of Bach’s Well-Tempered Clavier and Tchaikovsky’s 18 pieces, op. 72 the same way. Bringing different art forms together benefits each of the arts and inspires each other.

PPM: Your first performance with orchestra was when you were 9 years old, wasn’t it? Please, tell us what you remember from that experience?
AK: It was definitely the most exciting day in my life at that moment. It brought a very strong sense of purpose as I also was performing my own cadenza in the first movement.  At the dress rehearsal, I was so mesmerized by the orchestral introduction in the second movement that forgot to enter my part! Thankfully, at the concert everything went smoothly, and I just thoroughly enjoyed the process of what would become one of the most intense parts of my musical upbringing. By now, I have performed over 55 different concerti with the orchestra and still have my dream list not completely fulfilled.

PPM: Are there any funny/interesting stories that you would like to share that happened during your performance? 
AK: Once I had a balloon from a graduation party the day before descent on stage from the ceiling right above the piano, while I was playing a very poetic piece by Tchaikovsky! It looked like it was staged, when it wasn’t.

Another time I had a stage light explode above the stage right at the last chord of the second movement of Prokofiev’s Second Concerto – it was so dramatic.

PPM: Please, tell our readers about the non-profit organization? What inspired you? When did you started? What is it all about?
AK: After winning the Nina Wideman (MGBH) Competition in Shreveport in 2012 I’ve got a line of performances throughout the country in 2013-2014 season. That’s when I was first asked to perform at one of the art schools during my tour, just as a visit. I was performing a challenging solo program at a time and seeing a huge crowd of kids thought that playing a highly energetic final movement of Rachmaninoff’s First Sonata would be fun for them to watch and hear. It turned out, they were absolutely stunned with the music and so I kept playing other serious pieces for them -–Ravel’s Ondine, Bach-Busoni’s Chaconne and such. The kids were coming up to me after this little performance telling me how there were bored at their piano lessons before because they did not find their study pieces interesting and how they now want to get back to playing. That was a turning point for me – I started asking organizers of my concerts at different places to let me play at local schools and continued playing “grown-up” music for them with invariably excited response. Last year, I started a non-profit “Music for Minds” to help me not only play for kids more, but also involve my colleagues in that. The non-profit also has a second role in running classical music festivals with unusual programming, open for children to listen to.  At Festival Baltimore, each of our concerts is free for kids up to 18 years old.

PPM: Please, tell our readers about your upcoming DVD release where you perform at Tchaikovsky birthplace.
AK: I performed 18 pieces, Op.72 at Tchaikovsky’s birthplace on his memory day, November 6 on the year of his 175’th anniversary.  The live recording of this recital is coming out as DVD.  I almost share the birthplace with Tchaikovsky, I was born just 25 miles away, so this connection means the world to me!

PPM: What does your performance schedule look like for this year?
AK: Overall, next season I am bringing Liszt’s 24 etudes back on tour through several cities in the US and working on editing and releasing my recording of the three Rachmaninoff piano sonatas featuring my transcription of the Cello Sonata. There will be a tour supporting the release as well.

Also, I will be returning to Miami Piano Festival with a program called “Heroes”: Beethoven’s Eroica variations, Wagner-Liszt’s Tannhäuser Overture and my transcription of “Ein Heldenleben” symphonic poem by R. Strauss. Besides that, there will be other recitals and performances with orchestras in the US, Canada and Russia and several chamber music projects, including the third season of Festival Baltimore.

For me, the season starts on August 17 at the Bargemusic Series in New York city. Full schedule is regularly updated on my website.

PPM: What do you enjoy doing during your down time when you are not in your work mode?

AK: I am often sleep deprived, so I love to catch up with sleep when I can. Reading is amazing, too, when you are not in a rush or on a way somewhere.  I love making things by hand, all sorts of DIYs – bead jewelry, knitting, sewing, and embroidery. Drawing is a passion, of course.  And I love cooking for friends!

PPM: What is your teaching philosophy and what methods do you employ in teaching?

AK: One of the hardest things is to teach a person how to listen to himself and understand what is missing/needs improvement.  In masterclasses, I often find musical and passionate people with completely wrong physical habits on the keyboard and the opposite – perfect technique with no artistic vision. I have discovered for myself that if you play a piece, it helps to know all the works that were written by that composer within five years of that work’s creation, and, preferably, all other works of the same key, and same genre.  That knowledge sometimes can teach you more than hours of tutoring – it informs your understanding of the style, phrasing, gives you interpretational insights, flexibility and ideas.  Diving into composer’s output also makes you feel like you almost know them, and you start making better musical choices intuitively.

I strongly believe musicians need to know music broadly and specifically.  Unfortunately, it happens more often than we want to think, that record collectors know music better than us.

When I teach, I make students aware of their body and the way different muscles work, help them build independence of fingers and guide them in being attentive to the author’s text. After the basics are done, we proceed with working on the structure of the piece, understanding its shape and direction of different episodes. That work eventually shapes the interpretation.

PPM: What is your dream as an artist?

AK: My dream is to mesmerize as many people by classical music as humanly possible.  Classical music has unparalleled properties, most of them quite far from the sense of just “entertainment” – healing, inspiring, energizing, exciting, uplifting, fulfilling, and – bringing wisdom, sense of time and beauty into one’s life.  I want to make sure these things not to fade behind the newly acquired show business values adopted by the classical music world.

 PPM: What is your favorite food? 

AK: Oh, I love so many things!  I love complex baked multilayered pies, where you make your own dough. I enjoy doing it when I have time. When run short on time but still feel like baking something, I enjoy making oatmeal cookies, which I have a special recipe for.  I smash a banana into a puree, add 4 tablespoons of oatmeal, a tablespoon of flax seeds, a tablespoon of chia seeds, 2 tablespoons of pumpkin seeds, 4 dried figs cut in small pieces, 4 dried apricots cut in small pieces, some raisins, mush all that together, form little cookies and bake for 20 min at 350 degrees. The cookies turn out sweet and fulfilling.


PPM: Can you share an interesting story from the times that you travelled?

AK:  Once, after my performance of Rachmaninoff’s Paganini Rhapsody in Sarasota, Fl 7 years ago, an old gentleman who came up to me and told me that he was 98 years old and as a boy heard Mr. Rachmaninoff premiere this piece himself! I was fascinated!


PPM: What personal and professional qualities do you value in a person the most?

AK: I value curiosity, willingness and ability to learn and grow, ability to see situations from different perspectives, and consistency.  I value when people do what they do with love and dedication and cannot stand formality and attitudes like “I do not need to know/learn/try more, this is not necessary for me to be able to be okay.”  I guess I am a perfectionist!


PPM: What does your first and last name mean?

AK: Asiya is a Persian name and means “one who tends to the weak and heals them.” But also, Asiyah is a Hebrew word that represents the physical dimension of the world in Kabbalah.  Korepanova is just a popular last name from the region I am coming from – Udmurtia.

On The Rise: Interview with Luigi Carroccia

Interview by Esther Basha (MGBH)

Although he competed and won titles in many prestigious international piano events, this is not what defines Luigi Carroccia, a 25- year-old Italian pianist from Valle Marina.  He brings his own unique style into interpretations of well-known compositions through his multifaceted personality and character.  From his story we can see that an early start isn’t always a prerequisite for a successful career as a pianist.  

PPM: Please, tell our readers a little bit about your family.
LC: My mother dedicated her time to educating my brothers and me.  The most important values for her are family, loyalty and respect – so these are the values I grew up with. My grandfather was very passionate about music.  He learnt to play a lot of instruments by himself (clarinet, saxophone, accordion, piano) and later started working on fixing instruments and manufacturing accordions. He passed on his passion to my father who had an academic education in piano, but mainly played, and still does, the accordion. I have two younger brothers.  We are very close in age so we grew up together. Both of them studied music, one got his Bachelor’s in Clarinet, but started another career afterwards while my youngest brother will graduate soon in Accordion.

PPM: Where in Italy did you grow up? What was your childhood like?
LC: I grew up in a very small town in the south of Rome called Valle Marina. It is a place with a very small population and only a few stores. It is surrounded by mountains and is very close to the sea. For me as a child it was a wonderful place to spend my days there. There are a lot of vineyards and fields, so I used to take long walks, play soccer or wander in the mountains. The days where never long enough to play outdoors with my friends.

I actually started learning piano very late. I was about 13-14 years old. <…>  I started preparing my admission exam with him and in a shortly discovered I loved the piano much more than the accordion.

PPM: When and under what circumstances did you start learning piano?
LC: I actually started learning piano very late. I was about 13-14 years old.  I grew up in a musical family, but until then I only played the accordion. Later I decided I wanted to enter the Conservatory, and my father thought I would have a broader education if I studied piano.  I started preparing my admission exam with him and in a shortly discovered I loved the piano much more than the accordion.

PPM: What was the first competition you entered and what did it take to compete there?
LC: My first important Competition was the Busoni Competition in 2015.
Today pianists start competing at a very young age while I started when I was already 24. I really didn’t have much expectation because of this, but inside I knew I had my point of view to share. I prepared and practiced a lot before the Competition and when I passed the preliminary audition it was a huge accomplishment for me.

PPM: Who are some of your favorite composers?
LC: There are things about almost every composer that I really love. So, it is difficult for me to choose. If you ask me, whose compositions I love performing the most though, I would say Schubert (OBM), Chopin (OBM), and Scriabin (OBM).

PPM: Where do you live now and what is your typical day like?
LC: I still live in Valle Marina – my childhood town. I am not a morning person, so I like starting my day calmly with a nice breakfast and some physical exercise to wake up.
When I am not travelling, I spend my days practicing and listening to music. If I have the time, I love cooking and watching movies. I try to go swimming twice a week and when it’s possible, I enjoy playing soccer with my friends.

PPM: What was it like for you to participate in the Fryderyk Chopin Competition? What repertoire did you play?
LC: It was an amazing experience. Of course, there was lot of pressure, but the atmosphere was exciting. You could feel that the Competition is not only a piano competition, but also an important cultural and social event for the entire city. The public was so warm, and I really loved Warsaw.
The rules of the Competition required to play one piece from each genre, so I played some etudes, mazurkas, a waltz, a nocturne, the Polonaise op.53, Polonaise Fantasy, Barcarolle and Preludes op. 28.

PPM: What are your performance plans for the 2018 season?
LC: I am very excited I will be going to China for the first time. I am also very happy I will perform some chamber music, which I played very rarely until now.

The important thing for me is only to live intensely through every performance and give the best I have in that moment.

PPM: What was the performance that you were most proud of?
LC: Each one of my performances is different depending on my mood and inspiration, so I am not able to choose one, they just are very different. The important thing for me is only to live intensely through every performance and give the best I have in that moment.

PPM: What is the most complicated piano piece that you have not played yet, but would like to master?
LC: Right now my goal is to play all of Chopin’s etudes from op.10 and op. 25. I think they are very demanding mentally, physically and emotionally. So, it will be very challenging.

PPM: What are some of your favorite places in the city where you live?
LC: I am very lucky to live near the beach and the mountains.  These are my favorite places to recharge during periods of intense activity.

PPM: What inspires you in life?
LC: It depends on the periods. At the moment, I am reading about  and inspired by the stories of people who managed to overcome their limits or handicaps living great lives and achieving amazing results. However, I can find inspiration in many other ways.  Sometimes, listening to music, reading a book or watching a movie, talking to people, visiting new places or even from unexpected experiences.

PPM: Do you compose music?
LC: I don’t compose but in the future I would love to start.

PPM: Can you share any funny stories from your performances?
LC: It was summer and I was playing in a beautiful venue outdoors. In the middle of the performance a cockroach came out of the keyboard and started walking in and out from the keys. I had to finish playing expecting it to come out again every moment. Every time I think about it, I find it very funny.

PPM: Thank you, Luigi! We wish you luck in your future competitions!



On The Rise: Ivan Krpan of Croatia

by Tanya Levy (MGBH)

In this section we continue our tradition of promoting up-and-coming artists.  This interview features a young pianist from Croatia –  Ivan Krpan (MGBH) – a winner of the prestigious Bussoni Competition.  This young musician strikes the audience with his refined and sophisticated performance style.  
Here is a sneak peak into his life.


PPM: Please, tell our readers a little bit about yourself and your family.
IK: I was born in Zagreb – the capital of Croatia.  I have an older brother Martin and a younger brother Fran. Both of my parents are musicians.  My mother is musicologist.  She works on the Croatian Radio.  My father is a violinist. He is a professor at the Music Academy of Zagreb.  My brothers and I grew up surrounded with music, and all three of us started going to music school when we were seven years old (I started a bit earlier – when I was six).  Today Martin studies violin in Leipzig, and Fran studies cello at a local music school. Unlike Martin and I, he is very interested in sports and plays water polo.

PPM: Who introduced you to piano and under what circumstances?
IK: We had a piano at home, and my mother showed me how it works when I was a child. That’s how it all started.

PPM: What is music/classical piano education like in Croatia and how is it structured?
IK:  We have a very good music educational system in Croatia.  There are primary and secondary music schools that are separate from regular schools. They offer not only lessons in playing an instrument, but also a lot of music theory subjects.  Primary music school has a 6-year curriculum, and pupils learn to play an instrument as well as study solfeggio. In higher grades, there is also orchestra or choir. Secondary music school offers a 4-year program, which is more complex then that of a primary school. It consists of a many subjects, with the main one playing an instrument.  The rest of the classes are music theory, solfeggio, harmony, polyphony, chamber music, choir or orchestra, history of music, musical forms, and so on. One can obtain a comprehensive and well-rounded music education here in Croatia.  It can be very challenging to attend both regular school and music school, because there are a lot of subjects and not much free time for students.  The good thing, however, is that music schools in Croatia are not very expensive.  So, anyone who is interested is able to attend a music school. After secondary music school, there is Music Academy which is part the University of Zagreb. It is a five-year program.  After five years one can obtain a Master’s Degree. I am attending the last, fifth, year of Music Academy.

The good thing, however, is that music schools in Croatia are not very expensive.  So, anyone who is interested is able to attend a music school.

PPM: What competitions have you participated in so far? Which teachers have you studied with and who are you currently study with now?
IK:  I participated in many national and international piano competitions such as Mladi Virtuozi Competition in Zagreb, EPTA Competition in Belgium, Piano Competition in Encshede (The Netherlands), Chopin Piano Competition in Moscow, and Mozart Competition in Zhuhai (China).  The biggest competition I took part in was Ferruccio Busoni Competition in Bolzano. I had two teachers – Prof. Renata Strojin Richter (MGBH) in Blagoje Bersa Music School in Zagreb and Prof. Ruben Dalibaltayan (MGBH), who I am currently working with at the Music Academy of Zagreb.

PPM: In 2014, you won the 1st prize at the EPTA in Bruxelles. What was it like for you?
IK: I remember this competition because it was my first competition after I entered the Music Academy with Prof. Dalibaltayan.  So, that was significant for me.  During the competition I stayed with a host family, and that’s how I met Anne-Sophie Snyers (MGBH), her husband Edouard (MGBH), and their three children. They are really nice people, and I will always remember this competition because of them.  It was very good experience for me.

PPM: What musicians do you admire the most and why?
IK:  It’s hard for me to answer this question. A lot of people ask me about my favorite composers or musicians or music, and I always tell them that I cannot really say. That’s because I can’t choose one or two people, but I enjoy the array of composers out there. You can compare good musicians and composers to friends: one is this way and the other one is totally different, but they have their reasons to be who they are, and I appreciate each one of them, but cannot say who is better.  In fact, it is the diversity that connects them, so I enjoy getting to know all of them.

You can compare good musicians and composers to friends: one is this way and the other one is totally different, but they have their reasons to be who they are, and I appreciate each one of them, but cannot say who is better.

PPM: What are your performance plans for the 2017/2018 season?
IK:  There are a lot of plans for this season. First of all, I have a concert next week in Zagreb with my girlfriend Paula Ropuš who is also a piano student at the Music Academy. We play a piano duo. In December, I will play Liszt’s Concerto No. 1, also in Zagreb. In February, there will be few recitals in Italy.  In March, I will play at the Edvard Grieg Museum in Norway. In May, I will give few performances in South Korea.

PPM: What is your favorite place in Europe and why?
IK: My favorite place in Europe is Zagreb. I love that city not only because it is my home, but also because it’s really beautiful.

PPM: What was it like traveling to China? What cultural differences did you find most surprising?
IK: First of all, it was exhausting.  It was really a long flight and a big time difference. But I am glad that I was there, because I learned a lot. The cultural differences are quite significant, so there were a lot of strange situations with people there. In general, Chinese were very precise – so precise in everything that I had a feeling they are always scared that they will make some mistake.  In Croatia, everything is a lot more relaxed.

PPM: Do you have any sort of ritual before you go on stage?
IK:  I don’t do or say anything special before I go on stage. However, I always take time to prepare mentally, and I always try to achieve the same thing: to be relaxed and to clear my mind. I can never fully achieve that, but I try get as close as I can.

PPM: What’s your favorite cuisine?
IK: My mom’s, of course. 🙂

PPM: What are some of your favorite books?
IK: I read a lot, so it depends on what am I interested in at the moment. I am interested in many things. Sometimes, I read old literature, for example, epic poems.  Sometimes, I read about religion or history. Sometimes, I read about art or music. Nothing specific that I could mention here though.

PPM: What other things do you love besides playing piano?
IK:   I love going on nature walks.

PPM: Who are the people you admire the most and why?
IK: I admire the people I learn from. That would be my parents, my professor, and my girlfriend. I admire them for one reason – they showed me how to live and how to love.

PPM: What was is like to prepare and participate in the Busoni competition?
IK: The Busoni Competition was a big challenge, but it was also a joy.  It was the biggest competition I participated in and it was exciting – after all, it is one of biggest piano competitions in the world. The competition lasts for two years: first is preliminary round and then there are four rounds the following year. The repertoire requirements are very demanding. You have to play lot of music pieces –  the preparation process is not easy.  During the competition I stayed with a host family. My hosts were Eva Bernhard (MGBH), her daughter Ana Lea (MGBH), and her husband Franz (MGBH). They are beautiful people.  The time spent with them was really a joy for me.  All in all, I learned a lot during the Busoni Competition, and it gave me a lot of opportunities to play abroad.

PPM: What languages do you speak?
IK: I speak Croatian and English.

PPM: What do you like to do on Sunday afternoons?
IK: Every Sunday is different. Last Sunday, I played piano. Sometimes I go for a walk or go out with my girlfriend.

 I think that art in general has to be spiritual, because it is a way to express oneself.  A way to express not only one idea, but the whole story of life with all its diversity.

PPM: How is music connected to spirituality in your life?
IK: Music is a very spiritual thing for me.  I can say that music has a central role in my life, because it somehow stands in the middle and connects everything that I experience.  I think that art in general has to be spiritual, because it is a way to express oneself.  A way to express not only one idea, but the whole story of life with all its diversity.  So, I think that an artist’s job is no less but to give himself or herself to others.  This is the most beautiful thing there is. You can also look at it from the religious perspective, and you will find a lot of similarities.

PPM: What affects your repertoire choices?
IK:  I always try to play music that I feel connected with. Sometimes, when it’s not the case then I play works that I am interested in and during the process of practicing I make a connection with that music, so in the end it’s always about the connection and about love.

PPM: Do you have a career dream?
IK: My dream is to play, explore music, and enjoy the process.

PPM: Thank you, Ivan! And may God help you fulfill your dream.



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On The Rise: Interview with Zlata Chochieva

Interview by Esther Basha (MGBH)

She instinctively knows how to touch the audience with her delicate, sophisticated, yet powerful manner of performing some of the most technically complex classical pieces.  When I first heard Zlata (MGBH) at the Miami Piano Festival, I thought to myself, “She is very special.” Maybe because of the way she performed the Chopin (OBM) Etudes, maybe because of the way she gracefully carried herself on stage in a princess-like manner, or maybe because of a little bit of both.  Zlata’s sophisticated personality is intriguing, and her performance style points to genuine authenticity.  She plays with sensibility and class.
With this interview we took the opportunity to learn more about her and her work.


Piano Performer Magazine (PPM): Please, tell our readers a little bit of yourself and your family.
Zlata Chochieva (ZC): I was born in Moscow. My parents are Ossetians from Tskhinval, South Ossetia.  They moved to Moscow when they were young.  So, I grew up in Moscow, having absorbed Russian culture in all its glory.  However, I also feel the Ossetian blood in me that I inherited from my ancestors.  My Mother is a pianist. My Father was a TV man who was also extraordinarily musically gifted.  I have an older beloved brother, to whom I owe my introduction to music. It was his piano lessons that gave me the first impressions of the sounds of music.  I wanted to play piano like him, and my parents became my supporters in this difficult matter.  They helped me, gave me faith and hope, and inspired me for any creative achievements.

PPM: Who named you Zlata?
ZC: My mom gave me this name. Zlata is a Slavic name, quite often used in Bulgaria, Serbia, and Bosnia. My mother liked this name, and I have no complaints about it.

 Blind imitation destroys creativity, but unadulterated individual expression, which a great artist can provide us with through his pure art, enriches and teaches us.

PPM: Who were your role models as a child and a teenager?
ZC: My parents – both then and now.  And yet, I try to see myself beyond imitation and comparison. Unfortunately, a nowadays profession of a musician dictates different rules which is, of course, our choice – to follow or not follow… Everything is subject to strange laws: we live in an era of competition in every sense.  People devour themselves and, sometimes, others around them…  All this destroys individuality, without which existence of a true artist is impossible. It’s so important to find your own voice in art, your face in this world.  Blind imitation destroys creativity, but unadulterated individual expression, which a great artist can provide us with through his pure art, enriches and teaches us. For me, an example of such artist was and still is Vladimir Horowitz (OBM).

PPM: What is your dream as a pianist?
ZC: I want to be able to express as much as possible through the piano, and better yet – beyond the scope of this instrument.

PPM: Who are some of your favorite composers of the past and the present?
ZC: Mozart (OBM) and Rachmaninoff (OBM). To me, they have always been more than just composers – they’ve been my best friends.  Not just because of their music, but also because of who they were as individuals.  Rachmaninoff is my favorite though. In my world, he is the greatest pianist of all time – nobody who can come even close.

I never have a goal of memorizing music. It comes naturally to me – the same way people become friends.

PPM: You have a beautifully recorded CD titled “Chopin – Etudes Complete” where you play a complete set of Chopin’s Etudes. You frequently include the Etudes in your concert repertoire.  How long did it take you to learn and memorize these?
ZC: I never have a goal of memorizing music. It comes naturally to me – the same way people become friends. Ten years ago I choose Chopin’s Complete Etudes as part the program for my graduation exam at the Moscow Conservatory. And a few years later I decided to record them, but for a different reason.  My goal was to overcome any technical difficulties by means of music only, and to create poetic sketches showing the real meaning of the title “Etude.”


I like the recording process. It’s very different from a live performance, but it has its own magic, I think.  You play for the microphones, and they are your strictest judges.

PPM: What is your process of recording an album?
ZC: I like the recording process. It’s very different from a live performance, but it has its own magic, I think.  You play for the microphones, and they are your strictest judges. Being in the recording studio leaves you completely alone with music. You don’t feel the breathing of the audience. Instead, there is complete silence. It’s just you and music.
When I record, I always play by memory – you need to make music become yours…

PPM: Do you have a daily routine?
ZC: I had a lot to do with a routine when I was a child. When I grew up I felt that I wanted to somewhat play with my time, to make my day and work a bit more spontaneous. But when my work and travel schedule becomes demanding, I have to admit of becoming a slave of a routine.

I have a deep appreciation for jazz.  Not only I get inspired by it, I also learn from it.  I admire great jazz players sometimes more than anyone else.  Jazz is a pure art in its natural flow and freedom.


PPM: What CDs (of performers other than yourself) do you have in your car?
ZC: To be honest, I don’t keep my own CDs in my car. And it’s quite a torture for me to listen to myself… I try not to listen to classical music, because I get quite distracted and can’t pay attention to the road. I have deep appreciation for jazz.  Not only I get inspired by it, I also learn from it.  I admire great jazz players sometimes more than anyone else.  Jazz is a pure art in its natural flow and freedom.


PPM: Do you collaborate with other musicians?
ZC: Yes, I play lots of chamber music. For me it is an inseparable form of performing art. Recently I started playing a piano duo with a pianist Misha Dacic (MGBH), whom I admire enormously, and this collaboration brings me a different perspective on piano and its potential.

PPM: Would you, please, share a story from your performance tours?
ZC: I feel very lucky to have a chance to travel over a huge, very diverse, but beautiful country – Russia. One of my favorite parts Russia is Siberia. Once I had a series of concerts in Novosibirsk and in-between rehearsals with the Novosibirsk orchestra, I was offered to join a group of musicians and organizers to go to a private aerodrome and fly a small plane. I dreamt about it for a long time, and suddenly my dream came true. I had my first flying lesson and flew up into the skies. And since the owner of this private aerodrome is the biggest admirer of Chopin (and I was lucky to be playing Chopin concerto # 1), he offered to give me complimentary lessons.  I would love to go back and practice more.  It’s something what makes me feel time and space in a completely different way. Unfortunately, one can’t feel it by being a passenger of a big Boing or Airbus…

PPM: Under what circumstances did you start teaching? What is it like for you to share your knowledge with others?
ZC: Some years ago I moved to Salzburg to study with Professor Jacques Rouvier (MGBH) at the Mozarteum University.  A year later, he offered me to become his assistant, which was a big honor. And now, after having taught for four years, I can say that it makes me happy to have what I call “a friendship” with young and talented musicians. They are all very different, and they have their own world.  I teach them, and they teach me as well, because any kind of musical collaboration gives a different perspective. It’s an extremely interesting growth process.  It is simply amazing to be a witness of a process of “becoming an artist.”

PPM: What is your favorite city in the world?
ZC: New York. It is definitely one of the few places in the world where I feel free.

PPM: What affects your choice of performance wardrobe?
ZC: I must admit that an artist’s look is important. To me it’s one of the ways of showing respect to an audience. However, in my opinion, eyes shouldn’t distract ears in any way… Everything should act and collaborate together hand in hand with music.

 I love forests as I feel time is different there – it flows organically and doesn’t put pressure on you. Nature has it’s own music created by wind, birds, trees, and leaves…

PPM: How do you connect with nature?
ZC: For me nature is the most powerful inspiration together with experiences that life presents to us … I enjoy walks as a chance to connect with nature, which is so important, but quite difficult in our modern epoch.  I love forests as I feel time is different there – it flows organically and doesn’t put pressure on you. Nature has it’s own music created by wind, birds, trees, and leaves…

PPM: Where does God fit in your life?
ZC: In the world’s beauty, love, and hope.  In its meaning.  Life without faith, which we can call God, or Spirit, or anything you choose, is pointless…

PPM: Do you compose your own music?
ZC: No, unfortunately… Or … maybe…. fortunately? When I start thinking about composing something by myself, right at that moment the music of Bach (OBM), Schubert (OBM), Schumann (OBM), Tchaikovsky (OBM) jumps into my head, and then I ask myself, “Why?” And next minute I start sight-reading Tchaikovsky’s operas…  I’m more interested in improvising and transcribing. I would like to devote more time to it.

PPM: What character traits do you admire the most in people?
ZC: Honesty.  Modesty.  Ability to look at people beyond their status, nationality or religious background.

PPM: As individuals, we all have to grow, whether we like it or not.  Some grow through their own conscious efforts and others through the push of the circumstances.  What kind of person do you aspire to be ten years from now?
ZC: A better one? At least not worse than now, at least…

PPM: What architectural style do you like the most and why?
ZC: Art nouveau. It drives me to another galaxy. I love Russian wooden architecture and Russian orthodox churches.

PPM: What are some of your favorite foods?
ZC: Peruvian. I was first introduced to Peruvian food when I came to Miami to perform in the International Miami Piano Festival. I hope to have a chance to visit Peru one day…

PPM: What repertoire are you working on at the moment?
ZC: I’m focusing on the repertoire, which I’m going to record for Piano Classics label in September. It will be Rachmaninoff’s transcriptions, Variations on the Theme of Corelli (OBM) and his Second Sonata in the first 1913 year version. This repertoire inspires me enormously.  And it’s going to be the best summer for me, because I will be surrounded by something, which I call “worthy of living for”.

PPM: Name three things that make you happy.
ZC: To see my loved ones healthy and smiling. To help people and any living creature with whatever they need or with whatever makes them feel happy and more fulfilled. To play the music of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Sergey Rachmaninoff.


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On The Rise: Interview with Fabio Martino

Interview by Esther Basha (MBGH)

I met Fabio Martino (MGBH) at Aventura Performing Arts Cultural Center during the Miami International Piano Festival. His performance style was impressive, intriguing, and very original. So, I felt compelled to interview him and share his story with our readers.


PPM: Fabio, how did you get involved with the Miami International Piano Festival?
FM: This is a very interesting story. In 2010 I won the BNDES Bank Competition in Brazil.  There were videos of my performance online. Miss Brodsky found these videos and, I think, she was impressed with what she saw.  So, I’ve got an invitation to come to this concert series in Miami.  The first time was in 2012 where I performed a solo recital.  We liked each other very much from the very beginning.  In 2014, Mrs. Brodsky invited me to come back and perform at the Aventura Concert Series – Sundays at 5.  My performance was very well received by the audience.  And this year, I was invited again and honored to open the Festival.

PPM: So, let’s go a little bit back in time ….. where did you grow up?
FM: Sao Paolo, Brazil. I lived in Brazil until I was 19 years old and then moved to Germany.  I started playing piano when I was five years old. We used to listen to classical music – LPs and CDs.   My grandmother had an upright piano and used to teach her students at home.   So, this is the way I got in contact with classical music.

PPM: Was she your first teacher?
FM: She has never been my teacher, actually. But she advised my mother to find a teacher for me.  At the age of five, I had private teachers, and then in 1997 I was accepted to a very good school where I studied with professor Armando for 11 years. Later, in 2011, I moved to Germany to go to the university. I studied there for six years and graduated.  And now I take the time for myself to learn and discover the piece.  Everything that’s behind the score: the notes, the life of the composer.

PPM: Do you have any siblings? Can you tell us a little bit more about your family?
FM: Yes, I have a sister. At that point, when I was five years old, she was having classes with my grandmother. Maybe I was jealous (laughing)…. I also wanted to have classes. We love each other. Eight years is a big difference, but now we are much closer because we are both adults.  She is a doctor, she still lives in Sao Paolo with her own family.  Every time I come to Brazil for concerts, she along with my whole family enjoys coming to my performances.  My mother also used to play the piano.  So, I do come from a musical family. She is not a pianist though. She has taught college level math. My father is an engineer with no music background.


I always loved to perform in public. My teacher in Brazil used to say that I played better for an audience than I played for him in class (laughing)…


PPM: What was your first public performance like?
FM: I was six years old. I always loved to perform in public. My teacher in Brazil used to say that I played better for an audience than I played for him in class (laughing)… I like contact with the audience. This is something very special and very important.

PPM: So, were you nervous when you went on stage?
FM: I am always a little bit nervous when I go on stage, but I like this feeling.  It’s the feeling that makes you feel alive.

PPM: How old were you when you participated in your first competition?
FM: It was in 1997. I was nine years old, and it was a magical experience.  I went there to play, and I won.  And I used to participate in many competitions. Up until now, I won more than 20 international and national piano competitions.

PPM: So, are you used to the process of competing by now?
FM: Yes, but I wouldn’t exactly call it competing. It was more like learning the repertoire that you are going to play at the competition and practicing the piece in order to have a chance to perform it there and let’s see what happens. But the work is very competitive; it’s just the way it is. There are a lot of pianists, so you have to be and play the best you can. And I think I have done so well, because I have always played with love and my emotions. It has always been the Fabio Martino way of playing.

I won several very important international piano competitions. For example the competition of the BNDES bank, the biggest Latin American piano competition.  At that time, it was back in 2010, I was then 22 years old, the prize was $48, 000 US Dollars. In the final round I competed against a Japanese pianist who was 28 and a Russian pianist who was 29.   It was a really high adrenalin experience for me. But it was very nice and also very important.  Just one year later, I won the Piano Competition organized by The Association of Arts and Culture of the German Economy, a very prestigious international competition. With the prize money I won I was able to buy my first piano.  My Steinway.  That was a dream come true.


I think I have done so well, because I have always played with love and my emotions. It has always been the Fabio Martino way of playing.


PPM: When I watched you perform, I could not help noticing a… pantomime. You were laughing, you were smiling, you were looking everywhere around you.  It was the first time when I saw a piano performer with such rich facial expressions and such a wide emotional range. And it wasn’t just unusual, it also was very entertaining.   I was looking for something more than an ordinary performance. Your performance style, with your interpretation, an added emotional play made the performance extraordinary.   What goes on there when you talk to all those invisible people and who is it that you talk to?
FM: (Laughing)… Well, actually, I have no idea… When I play, I am in a kind of trans.  I feel like I am in another world being in a deep and profound contact with music. And the things that happen just reflect the way I am feeling the music at that moment. And that’s why it sounds so natural because I am not inventing or trying to invent something; this is the way I am feeling at the moment. And if this is a true feeling, the audience will be able to connect to it.   So, for example, when I played Chopin, I tried to feel the dance.  As I was going through a search process, I saw how people danced the mazurkas, I saw how they danced the polonaise.  And, so I started to think how Chopin would feel that [in order] to compose it.

PPM: So, were you imagining a ballroom full of people dancing?
FM: Of course.

PPM: And Beethoven… what did you imagine there?
FM: Well, Beethoven is one of my favorite composers. He was a genius who revolutionized music in the way of thinking and the way of composing. He demanded the best from everyone.  And that is why I appreciate Beethoven and his music.  It touches me very much. His “Appassionata” is like a psychodrama – changing moods from very aggressive and hard to very soft, delicate. It’s an angel vs. demon. A very complex story… But you can only understand this piece if you read about Beethoven and his story. What he composed before and after that. The context is very important. Otherwise, you don’t have fuel for your imagination; you don’t have a very good solid base.


When I play, I am in a kind of trans.  I feel like I am in another world being in a deep and profound contact with music.


PPM:  How do you get connected to the audience and what’s the difference for you between playing solo performances vs. playing with an orchestra?
FM: I love to play for the audience. It’s all about the exchange. Exchange of moods, experiences, feelings, and energies. This is what happens when you play for an audience. And when you play with an orchestra, it’s an energy exchange between everyone: musicians from the orchestra, conductor, public, and pianist.

PPM: Does it matter what you wear during a performance? You have such an appealing romantic image with your curly hear, a beautiful tuxedo, and a colorful bow tie. Will the audience ever see you in jeans?
FM: No (smiling), the audience is not going to see me in jeans. I always wear my tuxedo, and it’s the way I feel comfortable playing. And it’s a kind of respect that I feel for the audience, for the music, for the composer. I feel very comfortable this way. Ever since I’ve been a child, I’ve always worn my bow tie. And I’ve always tied it myself.

PPM: How many bow ties do you have?
FM: A lot. A whole collection.


It’s all about the exchange. Exchange of moods, experiences, feelings, and energies. This is what happens when you play for an audience. And when you play with an orchestra, it’s an energy exchange between everyone: musicians from the orchestra, conductor, public, and pianist.


PPM: Let’s talk about Fabio Martino – the person. What do you do when you don’t play piano?
FM: I go on walks in the forest with my dog. Her name is Wanda, and she is a springer spaniel. She is so sweet. She sleeps under the piano. She loves to listen to music. Sometimes she sings with me. Every time I am done, she knows that this is the end of the last page. So, once I am finished she comes up to me to get petted.

PPM: Where in Germany do you live?
FM: I live in Karlsruhe, in the south of Germany, very close to France, between Stuttgart and Frankfurt.

PPM: What do you like to eat? What is your favorite food?
FM: Oh, my. I eat everything. (Laughing). Too bad… I need to be more careful. I like eating out in a nice restaurant, but I also like to cook.

PPM: What is your specialty?
FM: I cook both German and Brazilian food. There are two dishes I like to cook. One of them is called feijoada. It’s a typical Brazilian dish with black beans and meat inside. I also enjoy cooking moqueka. This dish is from Bahia. I cook it with coconut milk, tomatoes, and paprika. And you eat it with rice and bananas. It maybe sounds strange, but it’s very delicious. I have a sweet tooth, also. Normally, after a performance, I eat a piece of cake.

PPM: Do you have an agent or manager?
FM: I have a Personal Manager in Germany that takes care of all my contracts and financial matters, and I am the one who stays in direct contact with theaters, conductors, and orchestra directors to handle performances. It’s a bit more work for me, but it makes me happy, because I love to stay in touch directly with the people.  I have representation in Mexico as well.

PPM: So, what’s next? What performances are coming up?
FM: I have a lot of work to do because the next season is fully booked and I´m happy to play 11 different Piano Concertos with Symphony Orchestras in Brazil, China and Germany. Among others Beethoven Nr. 1 and Nr. 5, Mozart in C Major, Rachmaninov Nr. 1 and Paganini Variations, Prokofiev Nr. 2, Villa-Lobos Nr. 5, Gershwin´s Rhapsody in Blue, Ravel G Major, to name a few… I´m very happy and proud about this!

PPM: Thank you for the interview, Fabio, and we hope to see you again soon back in Miami.
FM: Thank you!



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