Marianna Prjevalskaya, piano

World Piano Competition Winner, Marianna Prjevalskaya shares thoughts about Recording

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A pianist’s stunning win at a Major Competition held in Cincinnati reverberated through the international music cosmos with a singular, attached recording opportunity. The first place winner, Marianna Prjevalskaya, who had already put herself on the map as a globe-trotting recitalist of major import, added to her list of kudos with a notable recording of Rachmaninoff’s two sets of Variations. (Her previous disc release on Naxos, 2012, contains the works of Haydn, Scarlatti, Schumann and Zarate.)

Prjevalskaya’s most recent, Rachmaninoff-centered CD comes with an added perk of the pianist’s own inserted Program Notes that shed light on the form, structure, and musical essence of the two epic sets of Variations based on themes of Chopin, and Corelli.

Put in clear historical context, these Notes are a reflection of the performer’s dedication to communicating the composer’s intent through her well-conceived artistic lens.

Recently, I framed a set of interview questions around the pianist’s recording experience in Cincinnati, and how it compared to LIVE music-making.

1) You took on a great challenge when you decided to record two monumental sets of Variations composed by Rachmaninoff. How and why did you decide to select these particular works for a CD that was produced as part your first prize award in the World Piano Competition?

M.P. I have always felt that very special relationship with Rachmaninoff’s music. I should probably say that his music for me is like breathing, it is very natural, and at the same time so genuine.

I was about 18 years old when I first heard Variations on a Theme of Chopin. I was still a student in London, and I remember it left a tremendous impression on me. It was probably, at least at that time, one of the most beautiful compositions by Rachmaninoff I had ever heard. Instantly, I fell in love with the piece, and immediately started working on it. Some years later I performed it in major cities in Italy and in Salzburg in the big hall of the Mozarteum. After this tour, I decided to set it aside, but a few years later I realized it was a piece I would always return to. When I found out I would be recording a CD as winner of the Cincinnati World Piano Competition, I firmly knew I would record this set of Variations. The question was, what else would go together with it? As it happened, at this time I was working on Variations on a Theme by Corelli. Obviously, it was perfect timing. 


2) How would you compare the recording experience to presenting a LIVE recital?

Incidentally, in this regard, Pletnev and Perahia have both weighed in negatively about recording. Pletnev likens a disc revisit to perceiving his ugly reflection in the mirror. Murray Perahia expresses similar disdain for an interpretation that’s fixed in time and inalterable. He insists he would play nearly everything he’s previously recorded in a new and novel way, not stratified by CD and Mp4 technology.

Do you possess some of the same feelings about the recording process?

M.P. Yes, I would strongly agree with Perahia. Whenever I made a recording and would listen to it some months later, I would always feel that now I would play that passage differently! Or I would think: “Why haven’t I taken time here or there?” And the feeling would be quite unbearable because you can’t change it. It’s there forever!

In a live recital it is different, you share your interpretation of the score in the moment and then you’re finished–it is gone!

It was your honest and spontaneous interpretation, and you do not have the option of going back to redo it to the level you are satisfied. Performing on stage is creating in the moment, and that is what I love about a live recital. Recording, however, nowadays is different than what it was before. You cannot release a CD with wrong notes. We live in an age when everybody is obsessed with very clean playing, and that obsession is very stressful and unnatural, in my opinion.

3) How is preparation for recording different from that which applies to giving a recital? Is your concentration interrupted by retakes? Did you have more than one day to record nearly 52 minutes of music?

M.P. I had several days to record, but surprisingly we finished a bit earlier. Yes, I do think the concentration is often interrupted, and sometimes it feels like you cannot get into the right mood after repeating the same section several times. I also think that preparation for a recording is somewhat different. In my experience, I realized that some ideas that worked on stage in concert did not work for a CD. On a few occasions, I changed my interpretation of a certain passage or section after listening to my first take. This happens because very often what your ears hear is not what comes out in a recording, and you need to have a certain flexibility to adjust your interpretation accordingly.

4) Were there any big or unexpected surprises within the recording environment?

M.P. No, I don’t remember anything unexpected or surprising. I should say everything went very smoothly. I will be always immensely grateful to my team – producer, Elaine Martone and recording engineer, Chelsea Crutcher who made it a fantastic experience. I was greatly supported throughout our sessions together, and had the freedom I needed.

5) How do you adjust to a contrived, techno-supported setting without an audience to communicate with? (except for the producer and recording engineer)

M.P. For me it is similar to practicing in a room without an audience. When I practice, I dive deeply into music. I don’t care if there’s an audience or not, so that was never an issue, or at least that is what I think and how I felt. What is important for me is to maintain strong concentration for many hours. Nevertheless, I am pretty sure that if these works were recorded live, my performance would be different.

6) How did you select your piano? Did you have a choice of instruments to try before embarking upon this undertaking?

M.P. It was a Steinway grand that I had performed on during the Cincinnati Competition. I remember this piano pretty well and I liked it, so I was happy that it was available for the recording sessions.

7) I noted that you have a Naxos disc (2012) that was a maiden solo recording venture. You recorded the works of Haydn, Scarlatti, Schumann and Zarate. How did this particular experience compare to the more recent one.

M.P. It was definitely a very different experience. The disc was recorded in Jaen Music Conservatory. They had a wonderful Steinway and a beautiful concert hall with fabulous acoustics, however the team did not give me sufficient time to record all those works, and it was quite a stressful experience, to be honest. The fun part was that I was told the bells of the church next door would ring on every hour, and I had to manage to record between their ringing. In the end, it was not an issue, because eventually the bells were not heard, but I thought it was quite an unusual setting.

8) What is your overall preference: to record or present LIVE recitals? And why?

M.P. Of course, my preference would be presenting live recitals, because it is less stressful, and much more natural, and I can communicate with my audience, something that is really important for me. Being on stage is a very special feeling that cannot be experienced during a recording session even if you record on stage and not in a studio. But I also want to have good quality recordings published; so far, I have three, including Naxos CD released in 2012 and another album with works for violin and piano by Spanish Romantic composers that was released many years ago, in 2002.

9) I admired the detailed Program Notes you prepared which help the listener navigate through the many variations in each set. You have a thorough understanding of the music from a theoretical, harmonic, and structural dimension, and you’ve included historical context.

Did you approach the initial study of these variations with framing perspectives that you reveal in your commentary? 

M.P. I would say yes and no. There were many things I discovered while working on the Variations. It is like a two-way street, you discover from learning, and you also apply your knowledge while working on the piece. I also think that when I was younger I did not appreciate this music in the same way as I do now, and as I mentioned earlier, I started working on Variations on a Theme of Chopin for the very first time when I was much younger. I don’t think I perceived the structure in the same way, and I also did not work on Corelli at that time in order to realize how different these works are and how his language developed throughout thirty years.

10) The Variations seem to be well-ripened. Did your mother (your first teacher) mentor you on these variations, or were there other formidable teachers who did?

M.P. I had a chance to learn Variations on a Theme of Chopin with Alexander Toradze, and Corelli with Boris Slutsky. I am tremendously grateful for their time, their help, advice and inspiration. I also always play for my mother, and of course she had put her seeds into these works too.

11) What are your plans for the future as far as balancing LIVE recitals with recording?

M.P. Making recordings is not something I do very often, so most likely I will concentrate on performing concerts, and hopefully there will be another CD coming in the near future, I definitely have many ideas about what would be my next recording project.

12) How does your teaching expand your musical understanding, especially when you might be working with advanced piano students on this music?

M.P. When I teach, my concentration primarily is to expand a student’s musical understanding by sharing with them my knowledge and my experiences. We explore together the musical score and discover the treasures. It’s a mutual collaboration that works for them as well as for me.

13) Have you given any Masterclasses on these two sets of Rachmaninoff Variations, and do you plan any in the future?

M.P. Not yet, and if I do, that will be dangerous I am afraid of teaching pieces that have grown deeply in my heart.

Thank you, Marianna, for your generous time and thoughtful answers.

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Samples of Prjevalskaya’s exquisite performances at the International Chopin Piano Competition in Poland. (2010)

Links:

The Pianist’s Website

http://www.prjevalskaya.com/index.html

My previous Word Press postings about the artist:

https://arioso7.wordpress.com/2014/07/03/awe-inspiring-playing-at-the-alaska-international-piano-e-competition/

https://arioso7.wordpress.com/2014/08/12/prjevalskaya-soars-as-a-world-wide-pianist/

https://arioso7.wordpress.com/2015/02/02/a-big-new-york-debut-recital-for-pianist-marianna-prjevalskaya/

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RECORDINGS with the performer as soloist

https://www.amazon.com/dp/B01G7QZVFO/ref=cm_sw_r_cp_api_hcnQybY0W8X3H

mariannas-rachmaninoff-variations-cover

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https://www.amazon.com/dp/B008DWFZVQ/ref=cm_sw_r_cp_api_2cnQybWADXQEM

mariannas-naxos-recording-cover

Lukas Debargue, piano

Run to hear Pianist, Lucas Debargue!

A rising young pianist who placed 4th in the grueling 15th International Tchaikovsky Competition, but earned special RECOGNITION by the Moscow Music Critics Association, scored a unanimous victory on stage at Berkeley’s Hertz Hall. (February 12th, 2017 at 3 p.m.)

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Without question, the 27-year-old French pianist, Lucas Debargue made an indelible impression on members of a full-house audience that included a diverse community of Classical music lovers.

Moscow Conservatory grads, local and international music teachers, piano students, and a stash of pianoforte mavens rose to their feet at the program’s conclusion, applauding for long intervals with interspersed “Bravo’s,” forming a loud choir of approval.

It was a visceral response to music-making that rose above the instrument, elevating itself to cosmic proportion. The pianist became a vehicle for the transmission of the composer’s ideals in his nuanced mosaic of impeccably sensitive phrasing that encompassed a diverse palette of tonal expression and colors.

In a journey through varied historical periods (Baroque, Romantic, Impressionist and Romantic Expressionist), Debargue’s expressive poetry synchronized beautifully with what belonged to each era. He possessed tonal flexibility; a repository of articulated and seamless legato, and sonorous chords that never slipped into offensively percussive attacks. In summary, he produced beautiful passage work, liquid trills, shimmering glissandi, and a wide dynamic range that served the highest musical ends. It was as if Debargue had carefully crafted various dialects of a common musical language to unify his program.

In essence, the pianist’s imagination had free-reign while it respectfully adhered to the composer’s intention in phrase peaks to climax and soulfully rendered resolutions.

As one concertgoer put it who stood on a long post-recital reception line: Lucas Debargue became a “co-creator” as he channeled the works of Domenico Scarlatti, Frederic Chopin, Maurice Ravel and Medtner. (The commentator turned out to be a Moscow Conservatory grad, married to a winner of a distinguished Piano Competition.)

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Following the maestro’s remarkable display of virtuosity wedded to pure poetry, I had quickly joined a stream of audience members who had poured into the artist reception area and had immediately shared their unabashed enthusiasm for the performance. Naturally, with a blog in gestation, quickened by my intensified excitement, I broke out the iPhone and filmed the pianist during his reflective moments. At one point he talked about how a composition must “mature” and ripen in the course of YEARS, echoing the inspired words of his beloved Russian teacher, *Rena Shereshevskaia.

I was so “overwhelmed” by the whole panorama of events that streamed out of an awe-inspiring concert, that my adult student who’d joined me for the occasion, preserved a safe distance from me– promising to come forth at the right moment to snap of few photos of her teacher in the presence of musical royalty.

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And so the icing on the cake amounted to a gush of praise that did not falter. Candidly, I confessed that I’d heard Gilels, Richter and Ashkenazy as a child growing up in New York, but that Debargue’s playing by far, had moved me the most.

lukas-and-me-front-view

So, Run, Run, Run to hear Lucas Debargue by first checking his website for a list of his scheduled recital appearances.

http://www.lucas-debargue.com/

IMPORTANT LINK (From the blog “Slipped Disc”)
“The French pianist who caused a sensation at the Tchaikovsky Competition has given his first in-depth interview to Bertrand Boissard, at Parlons Piano.

*”Among other topics, he discusses his Russian teacher Rena Shereshevskaia; his two years working at a supermarket till, his preference for learning Prokofiev by ear and his favorite pianists of all time, singling out among French artists the little-known Marcelle Meyer.”

Read the full, in-depth interview here.
Ismene Brown has generously created an English translation:
http://ismeneb.com/blogs-list/2015-other-stories/150724-parlons-piano-with-lucas-debargue.html

piano, Romantic era

Two Romantic era piano lessons are wedded beautifully together

Why not pair Mendelssohn and Chopin in a harmonious duo.

Two piano lessons transmitted over the Internet were framed by the same period expression: mellifluous melodic threads against relentless rocking motions in the bass. A Boat song and Nocturne respectively swayed in TWO, requiring an examination of recurring bass line arpeggios that frequently spanned beyond the octave. These enlisted a ROTATIONAL approach for a smooth, seamless rendering while preliminary BLOCKING techniques acquired a sense of distance and transit.

Rotations, in particular, discouraged twisting associated with thumb shifts. And traveling through various harmonies in arpeggiated form, developed a pupil’s awareness of bigger GROUPINGS of notes as they moved through a horizontal landscape. Finally, infusions of dips and swells through various DESTINATIONS nourished well-shaped lines along with an awareness of harmonic rhythm and cadential sequences.

It was uncanny, though quite predictable that both lessons, one to London, the other to Australia, would form a happy alliance providing a dual opportunity for two students to grow their artistry by watching the other practice in similar framing modalities with a resonating SINGING Tone. (Don’t forget supple wrists and relaxed arms)

Here’s how each lesson unfolded:

To Sydney, Australia

Mendelssohn Venetian Boat Song in F-sharp minor, Op. 30, No. 6

You Tube Video Description
Published on Jan 18, 2017

“We worked on phrasing in slow practice tempo; smooth transit of broken chords in Bass (using rotation)- Feeling a sense of TWO beats per measure. (Duple Compound meter) Shaping and SINGING lines; understanding HARMONIC relationships that influence phrasing; voicing and balance; relaxed, measured trill practice.”

Chopin Nocturne in E minor, Op. 72, No. 1

To London, England

Video Description:

“Romantic era phrasing; Think in TWO impulses per measure; Use Rotations for relentless Left Hand broken chords; Enlist blocking techniques in this regard; Play with a SINGING tone legato; Be aware of harmonic rhythm or harmonic progressions/cadences as they influence phrasing. Work on shaping lines and balancing voices. Observe dynamics and use various weight transfers to realize them.”

Uncategorized

A musical journey through a Chopin Waltz in glowing terms

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A particular composition that’s explored during a piano lesson can afford a multifaceted examination of phrasing. In this beauty-seeking musical cosmos, no singular focus will necessarily supersede others. Instead, a panoply of framing cues or prompts can nourish well-shaped phrases and lines.

As I uploaded a lesson video today, I found myself summarizing a journey through Chopin’s Waltz in B minor, Op. 69, No. 2,that invited specific “terms” in its “Description.” These provided a retrospective outline of what the student and teacher had aesthetically striven for in Romantic era framing.

The following headings were thematic and redundantly drawn upon.

“Phrasing,” spacing, think “groups” of notes, harmonic rhythm, choreography, destination, arm, hand and wrist flexibility, singing tone, singing pulse, mental imagery, mood framing–Three different sections, with individually defined “mood-sets.”

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Often pupils think in terms of vertically driven “right notes,” which make horizontal, sculpted lines an impossibility. This is why the recommendation to play “groups” of notes is often the best antidote to “NOTEY,” undirected phrasing.

Tightly curved, or over-arched fingers that are cut off from a warm supply of relaxed energy coming down the arms through supple wrists, present additional barriers to limpid musical expression. These rigid, preconceived hand positions, constrict phrases, and inhibit the ins-and-outs of well-shaped lines.

To play the Chopin Waltz in B minor, for instance, with anything short of hand/arm/wrist/finger flexibility will preclude the release of an unabashed “singing tone.”

“Harmonic Rhythm” awareness, influences phrasing. Cadences suggest tapering while modulations both expected, and unexpected, infuse music with “emotional” shifts that are intrinsic to sensitive phrasing. In this regard, the B minor Waltz has a particularly poignant transition from the key of B minor to B Major, when the Trio Section begins in measure 50.

Likewise, pokey THUMBS, that are not folded into a well-breathed line of “spaced” eighth notes might literally eviscerate any semblance of smooth musical flow.

“Mood-setting” is another important ingredient of expressive playing, that fleshes out AFFECT and EMOTION. It prompts an understanding of what the music is “saying.” (“Mental imagery” partners nicely with mood framing.)

If the composer is “sighing” down, as in the opening section of the Chopin Waltz, through redundant descents of eighth notes, against a Tonic and Dominant underpinning, then Harmonic Rhythm and the direction of notes combine to create a mood picture with infused “emotion.”

Adding in note “destinations,” groupings, and a singing pulse to an archive of musical awareness, creates a “layered approach” to practicing and growing a composition in the short and long-term.

“Choreography” or the motion of the arms/wrists/hands is dependent upon the phrase and its particular contour. The middle section, for instance, of Chopin’s Waltz has a dance-like character that requires a loopy, or “rotational” set of motions.

Today’s lesson certainly captured much of what was laid out in specific terms under the Video DESCRIPTION, and it was mutually beneficial to mentor and student.

piano, piano instruction, piano teaching

What we learn from our piano students

Mentoring is a perfect complement to a life-long musical journey that includes practicing, growing repertoire, and accruing insights about the multi-dimensional aspects of artistic awareness. And what better way to enhance the development of a teacher, than to have a regular opportunity to assist students in their unique growth process.

From our seat away from the piano, we have a dual perspective, objectifying our relationship to a particular composition through attentive listening infused with an analysis of what might work to un-constrain a phrase, or nudge it toward the liberation of physical encumbrance.

It’s a big responsibility that has a willing partner to the whole undertaking: the pupil, who is no less than a full participant in a mutual journey of enlightenment.

Many of our piano students ask pivotal questions about fingering, harmonic progressions, rhythmic flow, the singing tone, phrasing, structure, and we have the obligation to provide the underpinning of sound foundational learning through our responses. It means we need to peel away our own process of musical assimilation, and frame it in cognitive, affective and kinesthetic terms.

In the two-way learning transaction a pupil might suggest an alternate fingering that for him/her seems more natural for a particular hand which invites a mentor’s reconsideration of what might have worked all along in theory, but needs adjustment in practice.

Flexibility is a big component of teaching because students of all levels and abilities require that we reject the one-size-fits-all approach to mentoring, and instead, tailor a curriculum to meet individual needs.

In one particular lesson that transpired a few days ago, the student asked riveting questions that required my demonstrations of weight transfer in the opening measures of Chopin’s Nocturne No. 20 in C-sharp minor. She was also curious about harmonic modulations, and the geography of her hands in various tricky measures.

Such inquiries required a careful set of responses that fed a layered-learning foundation we had both enjoyed over the years; It came with a common nurtured language that needed my elaboration/modeling to grow an improvement. Yet, the very fact that I had to deeply ponder each question, and devise a particular route to help the pupil, grew my own musical insights and understanding. Still, the process would not preclude my altered consciousness in response to a student’s experimentation.

We are fortunate to dwell in this ever-evolving cosmos of aesthetic expression; to be on the giving and receiving end of an unfolding musical relationship that is mutually satisfying and progressive.

It’s all the more reason to Thank students after each lesson for what we continue to learn from them.

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Chopin, Frederic Chopin, phrasing at the piano, piano, piano blog, piano blogging, piano instruction, piano lessons, Shirley Kirsten

Phrasing at the Piano: Direction and Destination

Often I query my students about the “destination” and “direction” of phrases within a particular composition. Naturally, my questions are a reflection of a need to clarify what arrivals are significant in the transit of notes.

Part of this exploration encompasses the awareness of sub-destinations that are on the way to the peak or climax of a phrase. In addition, bundled into the journey is a framing singing tone, that requires a supple wrist, with a natural, unencumbered flow of energy through relaxed arms into the hands and fingers. (Needless to say, attentive listening is at the heart of sensitive playing, and “singing” helps to clarify shape and contour of lines)

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Today, two pupils were grappling with essential elements of beautiful, well-shaped and directed phrasing as they respectively rendered a Chopin Waltz and Nocturne.

The Waltz in B minor, Op. 69, no.2 and the Nocturne in E minor, Op. 72, No.1 were both noteworthy for challenging the individual player to examine phrase relationships and the influence of harmonic rhythm, voicing, melodic contour, innate rhythmic flow, dynamic variation, nuance and more.

Mood-setting and changes that occurred in various sections of these compositions were also pivotal to fluid renderings.

In both these examples below, “destination” was a particular lesson focus.

Chopin Waltz in B minor

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Chopin Nocturne in E minor

(Videos are edited for teacher demonstrations)

Chopin, Frederic Chopin, Irina Morozova, piano, piano instruction, The Special Music School

Music and Words Revisited in Chopin’s compositions

In a lifetime, a few flashing moments of inspiration may guide our musical journey, deepening our understanding of a composer and his music.

In this nostalgic universe of enlightenment, I treasure a precious parcel of wisdom imparted by gifted pianist/teacher Irina Morozova at the Special Music School in Manhattan, 2014. In a private sitting with an icon in the world of mellifluous phrasing and heaven-on-earth renderings, I absorbed her convincing, poetic alliance of words and music in the Chopin literature. The initial introduction that encompassed the Rondo No.2, Op. 16, was a desired segue way to a phrase-centered discussion of the composer’s ethereal Nocturne in E-flat, Op. 9, No.2.

At this juncture in the Fall, 2014, I’d been studying the “nocturnal” composition, having struggled with various phrase marks, that if literally obeyed, would seem to impede a long musical line, with sub-gestured lifts of the hand.

Morozova’s ideas and demonstrations that were pertinent to my introspective process, became embedded in my consciousness, growing over time in a memory bank, to be drawn upon in a re-learning sequence of Chopin Nocturnes, Mazurkas, and Preludes.

Knowing the challenges my adult students face in their individualized creative journeys through Romantic era piano literature, I thought a timely revisit of the pianist’s treasured epiphanies in the attached video would be a valuable source of learning and inspiration.

NOTE: Morozova’s understanding of words and the breath in alliance with tasteful rubato, requires supple wrists relaxed arms, and a natural application of weight transfer.

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A sample of Irina Morozova’s Chopin-rendered musical poetry.(The composer was wedded to the opera in his embrace of Bellini)

Chopin Mazurka, Op. 63, No.3

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My own growth spurts in interpreting Chopin have been nursed along by my long-time, East Coast friend whose playing and mentoring are powerful influences upon the greater community of students and teachers.

Chopin Mazurka in G minor, Op. 67, No. 2

Chopin Nocturne in Eb Major, Op. 9, No. 2

LINK:

http://www.kaufmanmusiccenter.org/lms/faculty/irina-morozova/