THE ART OF PIANO PERFORMANCE: Anna Sutyagina

Interview by Alex Davydovich (MGBH)

The Art of Piano Performance is a category in Piano Performer Magazine that features pianists who show outstanding creativity and imagination in engaging audience and presenting musical pieces in innovative ways.  
Anna Sutyagina (MGBH), a German piano performer, amazes with her vision, desire, and ability to break the mold of traditional presentation of classical music.

PP: Dear Anna, from reading about you, I know that you studied at a school in the United States. What is the difference, in your opinion, between the mindset of an American and European piano performer/teacher? What about the difference in the feel of the audience?
Anna: The biggest difference is that in Europe the mindset is to preserve the tradition and in USA it is more to find your own way of interpreting the piece. My German teachers would always say that XY would play it better and would give me a reason why I couldn’t play this piece. American teachers were more concerned about my individuality. I also like the feeling “you can do it!” The best book that I am still consulting from time to time was The Musician’s Way – A Guide to Practice, Performance, and Wellness by Gerald Klickstein (MGBH). I just love it! It was my “university” for learning about piano performance!

PP: What made you choose Germany as your home?
Anna: It was by chance. I had a student job as an interpreter for Fraunhofer Institute in Munich. It was my first exposure to Germans and German culture. My German colleagues were very nice, and we connected very well. I liked their way of working. “DAAD” exchange program scholarship was my luck – it gave me a chance to study in Frankfurt for one year, and I fell in love with this country.

PP: In your performances, you use a mixed media approach combining sound with color and textures. What is the idea behind it?
Anna: I love to be creative with my performances. There are so many great musicians who offer “pure music only” approach. When I go to concerts, I search for something unusual. There are film music concerts with the videos on the screen, but listening to a Beethoven (OBM) solo recital of Hammerklaviersonate visually enriched through the use of color, laser textures, and unusual effects is way more exciting!

PP: Can you, please, tell our readers about your Concerti Series?
Anna: The idea of Concerti Series came to me last year as I was trying to design a concerto program that would appeal to broad audience. I was going through the catalogues and could see that the usual program format would be maximum 3 composers per recital with the emphasis on larger works. This works perfectly for the big halls, but not for concerts that are more intimate. My Concerti Series tell a story. I would like to give the context for better listening and guide the audience through a 70-minute musical journey. Concerto Sentimentale is a musical journey through the world of emotions. Concerto Amoroso is a love story told by the grand piano. Concerto Misterioso is, perhaps, the most unusual program that takes listeners to discover mysteries of the night.

Concerto Sentimentale is a musical journey through the world of emotions. Concerto Amoroso is a love story told by the grand piano. Concerto Misterioso is, perhaps, the most unusual program that takes listeners to discover mysteries of the night.

PP:What is Münchner Klassik Salon?
Anna: Münchner Klassik Salon is a music company that puts together music concerts 4 times a year. We organize concerts in Munich Steinway Hall for about 100 people. Our motto is “search for old and new beauty ideals”. The idea is to offer the audience of Munich something different from traditional concert format. Two concerts are a combination of vocal and instrumental music. There are about 10 performing musicians of different nationalities, levels, and even genres. We can perform an operetta piece right after a Bach choral, and our audience loves it!  Other concerts are themed theatrical music performances like Henry Miller (OBM) in Paris; Ernest Hemingway (OBM): People in the Stream; Madame Pompadour (OBM): Game of love and power and others. We work with the theater group Post It Productions and a Stage Director Jörn Mensching (MGBH).

PP: You made beautiful videos featuring your piano performances. One of my favorites is your interpretation of Moonlight Sonata. Can you comment on the space suit and the dog? What is the story behind the video?
Anna: When searching the Internet, I was surprised to see that the Moonlight Sonata is the most recorded composition. I was going through 200 videos of it and then the idea came to me: instead of recording one more piece, why not do a persiflage, something satirical? And make fun of the title that was not even given by the composer himself. So, immediately, my imagination took me to the Moon with Neil Armstrong (OBM), and, because fantasy has not limits, I took a Laika (OBM), a Soviet space dog, with me. When I play Moonlight Sonata, I feel the sadness – as if I am playing it on the Moon, missing the Earth. I wanted to express the longing and sadness through my performance…

PP: How do you choose your repertoire? What makes you connect to a performance piece?
Anna: Choosing the right repertoire is, perhaps, the most important part of a pianist’s job, and it is always a challenge. I have experienced it many times in competitions. Playing the right repertoire is part of winning a competition. In a free market economy your repertoire choice will decide if you are booked or not.  To be able to earn a living as a pianist, you need to have at least 2 solo recital programs and 1 piano concert in store to start you going. It is a special thrill in playing at premieres:  nobody played it before, there is no tradition, you have absolute freedom to do whatever you love – the luxury of your own interpretation! I only play the pieces I can connect to. There must be a mixture of following: I can play it, I love listening to this piece myself, it tells something about me, and, more importantly, I can incorporate this piece into my programs that will be liked by audience. I try to change the perspective and always ask if others would love to hear me play it. What can I give to this piece to make it sound “mine”?

Playing a right repertoire is part of winning a competition. In a free market economy your repertoire choice will decide if you are booked or not.

PP: What do you envision the role of classical music to be in the 21st century, and how do you see its transformation?
Anna: The role of classical music is changing. I am very concerned about the average age of classical music concertgoer. Every time I see it, I get aware of the task we, musicians, have! It is up to us to define the role of the classical music in the 21st century. We cannot play the same repertoire, in the same impersonal way, in the same halls! I think the trend is going back to home concerts where classical music will be part of the social ritual to be enjoyed with the friends.  There are more and more salons popping up throughout major cities of the world.  This occurrence reflects a desire for individualization.  I also see classical music thriving on the Internet. It is becoming more accessible with, finally, having a chance to be explored and enjoyed by masses.

It is up to us to define the role of the classical music in the 21st century. We cannot play the same repertoire, in the same impersonal way, in the same halls!

PP: What do you think are the ways to engage younger audience in classical music?
Anna: The best ways would be to show them that classical music can be not only beautiful, but is also fun! Schools can help, too, by organizing “classical music days” from time to time or offering more classical music within their school curriculum.  Music can be used for memorization, consolidation of the learned material or as relaxation. There are so many ways!  It is important for us, musicians, to get creative.

What thought would you like to share with your fellow piano performers?
Anna: Always stay creative and search for new ideas.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *