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 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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