Interview by Esther Basha (MGBH)
The 21st Century has brought us many piano child prodigies from all over the world. A young Israeli pianist, Yoav Levanon’s (MGBH), however, with experience of performing at Carnegie Hall at 7, prefers not to be labeled as such. After an interview with Yoav, I understood why. His answers are full of insight and maturity. As one music critic referred to him as a “big artist in a small body.” Now, it is your turn to discover Yoav Levanon.
PPM: What is your life like in Israel?
YL: I live in Israel in a small village, a peaceful environment, where farmers cultivate the land. Around my house, I hear the birds singing, and I can just walk between strawberries and oranges, water melons and avocados. Just name the time in the year, and I will tell you what we have around my house. I have a very supportive family and a lovely cat Archibal. I have friends among school mates and other musicians. Some of my musician friends live abroad and meet with me during masterclasses in Europe.
I practice each and every day. I play long hours. I know what I want to achieve and when my practice is more effective or less effective.
PPM: When and with whom did you first start learning to play piano? How many hours a day do you practice? Do you practice every day? What is your practice routine?
YL: Ever since I remember myself, I have always played piano. Professionally, with a piano teacher, I started just little over 3. I knew how to read notes and rhythm before I knew all the numbers…. I practice each and every day. I play long hours. I know what I want to achieve and when my practice is more effective or less effective. I do not have to watch the clock. The most important is to listen to myself and to obtain the sound and music that I feel inside. Practicing for me is more than just to play what’s written and by following the teachers. I have a vision for each piece that I must achieve. When I achieve it, I feel that I express something that is special, unique for me and my vision of the piece.
PPM: Do you have a favorite composer? Who is it and why?
YL: It is very strange, but I lately noticed that almost all my favorite composers have the letter “H” in their names: I like Chopin (OBM), Bach (OBM), Beethoven (OBM), Brahms (OBM), Schubert (OBM), Schumann (OBM), Mendelssohn (OBM), Tchaikovsky (OBM), Rachmaninoff (OBM)……… but I also like to play pieces by Liszt (OBM), Debussy (OBM), Frank (OBM), Scriabin (OBM), Bartok (OBM), Prokofiev (OBM), Kapustin (OBM) …… I am always intrigued by new pieces that I play. I am amazed by the beauty, the wisdom or the feeling and/or complexity. So many beautiful pieces and great composers to admire. I probably have to grow up until I may answer this question fully. Or, maybe, they are all great and I never pick just one as “favorite” trying to avoid being “unfair” to others.
I like to fly remote controlled helicopters and drones. I like reading. When having some more time – work on my Lego robot and Arduino kit, an electronics platform for making interactive projects.
PPM: What are your hobbies?
YL: I like to fly remote controlled helicopters and drones. I like reading. When having some more time – work on my Lego robot and Arduino kit, an electronics platform for making interactive projects.
PPM: How often do you travel?
YL: I travel for masterclasses and performances. I learn from my parents that they get a lot of proposals to perform in different countries as well as to participate in masterclasses and competitions. We speak about such opportunities. We pick up very few that can contribute to advancing me and enriching my professional experience. Both Mom and Dad support me on my travels. More often I am accompanied by my Mom.
PPM: Which performance was your favorite so far and why?
YL: My performance at the San Carlo Theater in Naples, Italy. I love the Chopin concerto no 1. It was amazing to perform it with maestro Daniel Oren (OBM) in front of a fully crowded and magnificent theater. I was invited to perform as an adult artist (under highly rewarding contract). I had admiring audience that was captivated by the music and amazing critics after the performance.
I would be nervous if I am pushed to play when I feel that I am not ready. Therefore, I always care to prepare myself to the point that I am satisfied, before any performance. When on the stage, I take the time, before the start of the performance, for quick, silent, “mind” rehearsal that help for concentration and shift into the music smoothly.
PPM: How do you feel when people compliment about your performance?
YL: The feedback of the people is an important reward after a performance. I had many occasions when people were coming to shake my hands with tears in their eyes after the concert. This is the highest reward – I knew that I touched their inner feelings and made them happy.
PPM: Do you play other types of music besides classical? Do you write your own music?
YL: I like to hear classic music, opera and jazz. Yet, I do concentrate on classical music. Being focused on classical music performance, beside my love to the different pieces and composers, gives me the opportunity to best master the piano.
I compose my own music, for my personal joy, but I have not yet recorded any of it.
PPM: Do you ever get nervous before a performance?
YL: I am lucky that I always liked the stage and performing in front of audience. I would be nervous if I am pushed to play when I feel that I am not ready. Therefore, I always care to prepare myself to the point that I am satisfied, before any performance. When on the stage, I take the time, before the start of the performance, for a quick, silent, “mind” rehearsal that helps concentration and shifts me into the music smoothly.
It was amazing to play at 7 at the Carnegie Hall in New York.
PPM: What countries have you traveled to with your performances so far? What has been your favorite traveling experience?
YL: I played in the US, Hungary, Italy, and Israel. I enjoyed all performances and traveling. It is so difficult to point out a specific one……let me think… It was amazing to play at 7 at the Carnegie Hall in New York. And it was a unique experience to play with the Franz Liszt Orchestra at the Europe’s biggest synagogue in Budapest….And the tour in Israel with maestro Vladimir Spivakov (MGBH) and the “Moscow Virtuosi,” not to mention the latest performance in the most beautiful San Carlo Theater in Naples, Italy. Every one is a sweet memory and can be the favorite one :).
PPM: Do you play any other instruments?
YL: I have natural opera singing capabilities. Some people that hear me think that I take part in singing and opera performances. I can also demonstrate beatbox complex rhythms performance. As a whole, my voice is my second instrument.
PPM: What do you hope to accomplish in 5 years?
YL: To be able to best perform each piano piece and join the elite club of top piano performers.
PPM: Do you have a joke or a funny story to share?
YL: Oh, I have plenty curios stories, also from the young ages… here are a couple of them…
Once when I was 5-6 years old I was asked to perform for some guests. When everyone was seated and ready to listen to the “concert,” I insisted on turning down the lights claiming that: “As I feel it, this piece has to be played only in the darkness.” They asked me what I was going to play. It was the Nocturne by Chopin in C-sharp minor. The the audience’s surprise, I played it almost in a complete darkness. A few years later I learned the definition of “Nocturne” – “a musical composition that is inspired by, or evocative of, the night”.
Once I ate the piano…. literally…
Once I ate the piano…. literally…
When I just turned 5, I won my first National Piano Competition, and my teacher gave me as a present a tiny little grand piano. It was a real piano – with the keys, and legs, and everything, but, it was made of … black and white chocolate. I kept it for a while and finally ….I had to eat it. (So, I ate it).
Since then, I can truly say, that I play, live, breathe and …(sometimes even) eat the piano.
And also, I have pretty funny story that happened to me just lately, at my last stay for playing concert in Italy.
I had to play two concerts, day after day. After my first concert I ran to a restaurant to grab my lasagna before they would close. The waiter, who already recognized me from a day before, asked about my father who was missing. Along with my lasagna, the waiter brought the San Carlo season’s program, saying, “You, probably, do not like classic music, but, you should join your father as there is a great music in the theater.” When he opened the brochure to show me the great music events that are scheduled, he saw my picture all over the second page. We could not stop laughing when he was telling the story to everyone in the restaurant……..it was hilarious.