On The Rise: Asiya Korepanova and Festival Baltimore

Interview by Tanya Levy (MGBH)

She was home schooled by her mother until she was 10 years old. Performed on stage with an orchestra when she was 9. She is a composer, a poet, and an organizer of the Festival Baltimore. Take a sneak peak into her world.

Piano Performer Magazine (PPM): Asiya, 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 would always try 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. My mother became my first teacher in music and arts and home schooled me until I was 10 years old.

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.” In Hebrew, Asiyah is the word that represents the physical dimension of the world, according to Kabbalah.  Korepanova is a popular last name from the region I am coming from – Udmurtia.

 Composing from an early age helped me as a performer immensely and formed my views on musical text in a very particular way.

PPM: Do you compose music?
AK: Yes, I do.  I double majored in piano and composition as a student of the Central Music School in Moscow, where I was lucky to study with the Moscow Conservatory’s legendary Head of Composition, Albert Leman (OBM).  Composing from an early age helped me as a performer immensely and formed my views on musical text in a very particular way.  It made me much more aware of structure and inner details of musical composition and gave me much more freedom in interpreting those details.  I 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 the piano and becoming a co-composer, which brings an incredible feeling of belonging.  I am putting up my shorter transcriptions regularly as a part of my “Midnight Pieces” Series on my YouTube channel, but my main works in this field are complete Rachmaninoff’s (OBM) Cello Sonata and Richard Strauss’ (OBM) Ein Heldenleben.

PPM: Please, tell our readers about your project – Festival Baltimore.
AK: Festival Baltimore is a wild dream coming true.  I have always been extremely interested in how composers’ styles evolve during their lifetime. Because of that, it feels very special to me to hear or play a complete cycle of works of a composer, e.g., complete Beethoven’s (OBM) cello sonatas or Liszt’s (OBM) 24 Etudes.  During the performance, you witness this composer’s lifetime passing through their music before your ears and your imagination.

The festival is based in a state-of-the-art Linehan Concert Hall on UMBC’s Campus in Baltimore, MD. Performing at this venue is a true joy.  Its gorgeous acoustics and beautiful architecture along with comfortable practice and rehearsal spaces are very inspiring.  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 (OBM) works for viola, clarinet, and piano; complete Mendelssohn’s (OBM) 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 (OBM) sonata for two pianos and percussion and George Crumb’s (MGBH)  Makrokosmos III.  More importantly, Festival Baltimore includes an academy where students come for intensive workshops on pieces within a cycle and the composers institute headed by Matthew Evan Taylor (MGBH), where composers learn to adopt to their musical language the old cycle forms such as suites, sonatas, variations and passacaglias.   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 (OBM) string quartets and complete Rachmaninoff piano duos. I could not be happier about this endeavor.

 

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 an 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 (OBM) Symphony Orchestra on the street during the City Day in Moscow were as intense and fulfilling as those in the best concert halls. I think the most memorable performance for a musician is the one where he is able to fully realize his vision.  It is very hard to achieve. So, these performances stay in your memory forever, no matter what the circumstances are.

Maestro Spivakov has always been a very inspiring figure, and probably every musical child in Russia dreams of meeting him and working with him.

PPM: What was it like for you to work with Vladimir Spivakov (MGBH)?
AK: Maestro Spivakov has always been a very inspiring figure, and probably every musical child in Russia dreams of meeting him and working with him.  He has a very warm personality and is quite open with people he collaborates with.  I first worked with him directly when I was 17 years old as a soloist with “Moscow Virtuosi” in a tour to Ukraine and Kazakhstan. I was amazed how he never made me feel that he was a legendary maestro and I was an aspiring young artist. Instead, it felt like a serious work of two musicians trying to convey the maximum joy from Mozart (OBM) and Haydn (OBM) concerti.  I had a wonderful time being able to step onto professional stage and travel to different countries to perform under his tutelage.

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.

I have drawn some pictures for Divine Comedy, which I read at 7.  I 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.

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.  It has always been a happy activity for me.  I would usually get inspired towards the late night, and my parents let me stay up seeing I was in the “zone.”

I have drawn some pictures for Divine Comedy, which I read at 7.  I 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.

By now, I have performed over 55 different concerti with the orchestra and still have many more on my list.

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: Yes, I was.  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 many more on my list.

PPM: Would you share a few stories that happened during your performances?
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.  The most amazing story happened about seven years ago,  after my performance of Rachmaninoff’s Paganini Rhapsody in Sarasota, Fl.  An older gentleman 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!

 They were absolutely stunned with the music.  So, I kept playing other serious pieces for them -–Ravel’s (OBM) Ondine, Bach-Busoni’s (OBM) Chaconne, and such.

PPM: Please, tell our readers about your non-profit organization?
AK: After winning the Nina Wideman (MGBH) Competition in Shreveport in 2012, I got booked for a series of performances throughout the country for the 2013-2014 season.  That’s when I was first asked to perform at one of the art schools during my tour.  I was performing a challenging solo program at a time and seeing a huge crowd of kids, I thought that playing a highly energetic final movement of Rachmaninoff’s First Sonata would be fun for them to watch and hear.  They were absolutely stunned with the music.  So, I kept playing other serious pieces for them -–Ravel’s (OBM) Ondine, Bach-Busoni’s (OBM) Chaconne, and such.  The kids would come up to me after the performance telling me how there were bored during their piano lessons because their study pieces were not interesting and how they wanted to get back to playing piano.  For me that was a turning point – I started asking organizers of my concerts 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 often, but also involve my colleagues.  The non-profit also has a secondary role of 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’s birthplace.
AK: I performed 18 pieces, Op.72 at Tchaikovsky’s birthplace on his memory day, November 6 on the year of his 175th anniversary.  The live recording of this recital is coming out as DVD.   I share almost the same birthplace with Tchaikovsky.  I was born just 25 miles away, and this connection means the world to me!

PPM: What does your performance schedule look like for this year?
AK: For me, the season starts on August 17th at the Bargemusic Series in New York City.  Full schedule is regularly updated on my website. 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’s Piano Sonatas featuring my transcription of the Cello Sonata.  There will be a tour supporting the release as well.  I will be returning to Miami Piano Festival with a program called “Heroes:” Beethoven’s Eroica Variations, Wagner-Liszt’s (OBM) Tannhäuser Overture, and my transcription of “Ein Heldenleben” Symphonic Poem by R. Strauss (OBM). 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 in June of 2019.

PPM: What do you enjoy doing during your down time?
AK: I am often sleep deprived, so I love to catch up with sleep when I can. Reading is amazing, too.  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!

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.

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 or 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.  As a result, you intuitively start making better musical choices.

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 become aware of their body and the way different muscles work.  I 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 type of work eventually shapes the interpretation.

 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: 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.

Classical music has unparalleled properties. Most of them quite far from the sense of pure “entertainment” – healing, inspiring, energizing, exciting, uplifting, fulfilling, and bringing wisdom, sense of time and beauty into one’s life.  My dream is to mesmerize as many people by classical music as humanly possible.

PPM: What is your dream as an artist?
AK: Classical music has unparalleled properties. Most of them quite far from the sense of pure “entertainment” – healing, inspiring, energizing, exciting, uplifting, fulfilling, and bringing wisdom, sense of time and beauty into one’s life.  My dream is to mesmerize as many people by classical music as it is humanly possible.

One thought on “On The Rise: Asiya Korepanova and Festival Baltimore

  1. What A TALENTED person! Pianist, composer
    painter, writer of poems, a a knitter, a baker, one who loves cooking for her friends.
    She debuted at Carnegie Hall, what more could one ask! She is truly touched by the hands of GOD!

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