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

Interview by Tanya Levy (MGBH)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

FEATURED ARTICLE: Benjamin Grosvenor – The British Romantic

One of the top pianists of today, Benjamin Grosvenor (MGBH) amazes audience with his sensibility and distinct character. The youngest all-time double winner of Gramophone awards, Benjamin has toured half the world performing with the best orchestras. During his visit to the US, we contacted him for an interview.

PP: Dear Ben, welcome to the US. How has your tour been so far? Do you have any unusual stories?
BG: I suppose the most unusual thing to happen on this tour was in Raleigh with the North Carolina Symphony. I was playing the Mozart (OBM) D minor concerto,  and, in the last movement, one of the bass players (MGBH) fainted.  There were two loud thumps: one as he hit the ground and one as his instrument hit the ground. We continued for a bar or two before those of us at front of the stage realised what had happened. It was all very concerning at first and a shock for everyone. Doctors were called from the house (there were a few in attendance). The bass player and his instrument were fortunately OK.  He had fainted after an extremely active day with golf and a 20 km bike ride. We took an early intermission and agreed to play the last movement afterwards.  Certainly this was a first for me.

PP: I have read that your mother (MGBH) was your first piano teacher. How is your mother’s teaching style different from your other piano teachers?
BG: My mother was able to act as an advisor throughout my early career, traveling with me to my concerts.  I am very grateful for the help and advice she was able to give. It was invaluable to have her ears in rehearsals and concerts.  When I began at age 9 with Hilary Coates (MGBH), and soon after with Christopher Elton (MGBH),  she was able to help me consolidate and build on what I had learned between lessons.  The other influence during my studies was Daniel-Ben Pienaar (MGBH), with whom I learned a great deal in our lessons, when we would discuss music and listen to recordings.

PP: You have played quite a lot of Gershwin (OBM). Why does his music attract you?
BG: I have always been attracted to this musical idiom since playing a number of pieces by the English composer Billy Mayerl (OBM) as a child. I appreciated the rhythmic exuberance if jazz and the uplifting nature of this music.  I would very much like to learn the piano concerto at some point in the near future.

PP: Why do you play? What inspires you in your piano performance?
BG: I play because I love music,  and because I love the act of communicating (or trying to communicate) the essence of that music to an audience.

PP: If you weren’t a pianist, what career would be your second choice?
BG: I’m not sure.  I decided that this is what I would like to do at quite a young age (10) and have been on that path since then. I suppose at times I thought I might like to go on to study English or Science,  but where it would have gone from there I do not know.

PP: What are your hobbies?
BG: I enjoy reading very much,  which encompasses a lot of things (I am currently reading Bleak House).  I enjoy acquiring knowledge on a variety of subjects and take a moderate interest in politics and current affairs.  I enjoy movies and comedy and have been trying to learn German,  though my progress in this moves in fits and starts as I find the time and inclination.

PP: Do you still practice scales every time before you warm up? What warm up exercises do you use?
BG: I actually don’t do much in way of exercises.  I will make sure not to jump straight in with something too demanding (as with anything else that is physically demanding a warm up is a good idea) but will usually use an appropriate passage from a piece I am playing.

PP: Is there a day in a week when you don’t practice and just rest?
BG: I met a conductor recently who takes a day off a week from music,  quite consistently,  and this does seem like a good idea in some respects.  I haven’t attempted it consciously myself, but life can become busy so that there are invariably days on which you find you cannot practice as much and when, on tour for example,  you might not be able to access a piano for very long.  What is important is managing time efficiently and working when you need to, so that you don’t have to so much at other times! I aim to have two blocks of about 4-5 weeks free from concerts a year when I learn new repertoire,  but also during one of these periods I try to have an extended period of time free from touching a piano. A vacation,  if you will..!

BenjaminGrosvenorAlbumsBenjamin Grosvenor Albums – Available on iTunes and Amazon.com

PP: What other pianists inspire you?
BG: I admire a great number of pianists.  Firstly, a number of pianist-composers through their writing, and I take a strong interest in historical recordings. It is fascinating to be able to hear people like Rosenthal play (OBM) – a towering figure who had direct contact with someone such as Liszt (OBM).  It is a kind of playing that is very different to that which we may be used to, but interesting to consider that this is playing much nearer in time and lineage to people like Liszt and Chopin (OBM) than we are now. I love Cortot (OBM),  Moiseiwitsch (OBM),  Hofmann (OBM),  Horowitz (OBM),  Schnabel (OBM), to name a few.  Some in certain repertoire more than others and some in certain works in particular.  They were all astounding artists with their own distinctive voice at the keyboard and then own strong personality.

PP: What qualities in a person do you find most essential?
BG: I like people who treat others in the way in which they themselves would like to be treated.

PP: What was the first music piece that you remember connecting emotionally to?
BG: I remember playing a piece when I was 6 called the Stegasaurus Stomp, which I very much enjoyed since I was going through a huge dinosaur phase! But on a deeper level,  I suppose it was perhaps the first piece of Chopin I played – a waltz – which had a mournful quality that I could feel but perhaps did not fully understand.

PP: Do you compose your own music?
BG: I tried this a little when I was younger,  but haven’t attempted for a while. I didn’t think I had any particular gift or talent for it.  I haven’t tried in a number of years,  so perhaps there will be a time soon when I can start afresh and see if my suspicions are reconfirmed.

I like people who treat others in the way in which they themselves would like to be treated.

PP: How did you feel when you first performed with an orchestra? How old were you?
BG: I first performed a Mozart concerto with a student orchestra when I was 11, but later that year I performed Ravel (OBM) with the BBC Scottish Symphony.  It is an exhilarating and exciting experience to have the body of an orchestra behind you and to be able to become immersed in that wonderful variety of colour and sound.

PP: How many hours a day did you practice when you first started piano vs. now?
BG: I’m sure when I first started it was very little indeed, less than half an hour a day.  It increased gradually over the years.  This is probably the question I get asked most frequently after performances.  I suppose the answer I usually give is six hours a day,  to which the response is often one of shock or surprise at that level of commitment.  It’s worth pointing out though that most people work for that amount of time a day and longer!  It is sometimes more than this however,  and sometimes less, and my advice would be not to focus on the quantity of practice.  It is the quality that is important.  One should practice intelligently.

PP: Does your wardrobe effect your performance? Do you prefer a suit or t-shirt and jeans?
BG: I do not think my wardrobe has an effect on my performance –  though when I was very young I had a ‘lucky blue shirt! I used to wear various coloured shirts for performances,  but now stick with a blue suit.  I enjoy wearing a suit for performances, and see them as special events that call for that kind of dress, but I have never worn tails.

PP: Do you have dreams about music?
BG: I dream about many things,  and occasionally music comes into them.  There have been times when I feel I have heard passages of what seems like original music in my dreams,  only to wake and find myself struggling to remember them after a few seconds.

PP: Do you meditate/pray before your performances?
BG: I try to clear my head before a performance,  but I don’t think if it counts as meditation.  At one time,  I used a technique where I pictured in as much detail as I could a particular country scene I remembered in my head,  which at the time I found helpful. I don’t find myself needing to do this any more, but think correct breathing is important and try to take deep breaths before going on stage.

PP: What feelings do you experience when you are on stage after a performance?
BG: I suppose it depends on the performance and how I feel it went!  Ideally, some degree of satisfaction at having done something that is extremely difficult to a standard at which I am at that moment contented and a sense of privilege in having it (seemingly)  appreciated by the
public. Of course, sometimes, exhaustion, but that usually comes after a short while.

PP: Do you do special exercises to be in a better shape to play piano?
BG: I try to swim or run when I can.  As pianists we can sit for a long time, so stretching is advisable.  I am very interested in taking up yoga and intend to have some regular lessons next time I have a stretch of time free from touring.

PP: Do you have pets?
BG: I have recently acquired a number of goldfish,  left behind by the previous owners of my house. Other than various goldfish and a stick insect (called ‘Sticky’) my family never had any pets as my Dad (MGBH) has allergies.

PP: What is the hardest music piece you ever played?
BG: That’s a difficult question,  as obviously different pieces are hard for different reasons.  I suppose, for a solo work one that comes to mind is perhaps the Liszt sonata,  for the immense physical and intellectual challenge of it.

PP: What are your Sundays like?
BG: Often not hugely different from any other day,  but with the bonus of not having respond to emails..!

It is an exhilarating and exciting experience to have the body of an orchestra behind you and to be able to become immersed in that wonderful variety of colour and sound.

PP: What is your favorite place to travel to?
BG: I enjoy visiting places for the first time of course,  but it is great to return to places where you may have met people and formed connections. For example,  I recently returned to Miami for the fourth time where I now know a few lovely people. Minneapolis/St. Paul and Singapore come to mind as examples for the same reasons – they are places a long way away, but where I have visited repeatedly over the years.  There are also cities I love to visit for the unique vibe of the themselves like Hong Kong,  New York,  San Francisco, etc.  I often enjoy visiting small towns as much as large cities  and am very fond of the countryside,  particularly, in my home country of England. I have had some wonderful experiences playing in churches and other small venues in villages up and down the country.

PP: Could you share some of your insights with our readers about the most valuable lessons that you have learned so far by being a piano performer?
BG: A lot of things I have learned have been too specific to me to be of use to anyone else. I think as a generalization relating to performance,  that when you go on stage,  you have to be fearless and give everything that you have.  It takes a great deal of courage to be able to do that.