Interview by Esther Basha (MGBH)
She instinctively knows who 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.
by Esther Basha (MBGH)
I met Fabio 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. Below is the transcript of the original video interview.
PPM: 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!