The winter edition of ‘What’s On’, the calibrated performance venue Kings Place’s quarterly magazine, features a full page Q&A with GéNIA where she is asked about her love of the piano, how yoga has informed her playing and her performances at the Out Hear event and with Max de Wardener in 2014.
The International Arts Manager Magazine, the only business magazine for the performing arts worldwide, has an in-depth article on GéNIA and how the Piano-Yoga® method came into being. Below is a snippet of what they had to say and a link to the entire article.
The Piano-Yoga concept developed naturally, initially out of necessity for me to stretch my hands. My teachers had advised me to avoid repertoire written for large hands, such as Rachmaninov’s Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini. Unsurprisingly, I became obsessed with the piece and wanted more than ever to perform it. Faced with the refusal of my teachers to coach me on the piece, I looked for other opportunities. The chance came when I was invited to perform with the National Symphony Orchestra of Ukraine. Asked what I would play, I said: ‘Rachmaninov’s Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini’.
You can read the entire article on the International Arts Manager HERE.
You can find out more about Piano-Yoga® on the last Certificate Course at Kings Place in Novembmer HERE.
Last night I went to Lang Lang’s concert at the Royal Festival Hall, where the audience were clapping between the concerto movements as they didn’t know they weren’t supposed to! The people sitting next to me were eating chips with 3 different types of dips whilst listening to Chopin’s Piano Concert No. 2 and the members of the orchestra actually danced during the performance, in which manner they left the stage, followed by a massive roar of applause and standing ovations… There were no signs of death; only celebration! People were there because they loved the music, and Lang Lang…
Yet there is a popular belief in modern society that classical music is dying out. There is talk of empty concert halls, and the idea that the classical music community is losing touch with reality, partly because of the common interpretation of classical music as elitist – chosen by, and only appropriate for, the ‘prepared ear’…
OK. But if we look to literature, do we say that Tolstoi or Balzac or Jerom K Jerom are no good any more because they are old fashioned? Surely even though you don’t read them on a daily basis, you can still appreciate the quality of their mastery. So where does this attitude to classical music come from?
Perhaps it would be good to reflect on why music was invented in the first place. Why do so many love music, and have it as a part of their lives? Because it allows us to dream, to release emotions, to change our mood, to go deeper into our own state and to get to know ourselves better…
Many argue about whether classical music is purely old-fashioned, or whether it can still relate to modern society. In recent years there have been many attempts to make it more sexy and less stuffy, which younger generations of performers donning jeans and leather jackets on stage, and even tales of classical pianists following in the popular music tradition of attending ‘rehab’.
My theory is very simple. First of all, lets go back to why music is so important – why it is a part of many people’s lives and is played in so many households on a daily basis. Often, people don’t sit around and listen to it; music is sometimes played while they are doing other things like cleaning, exercising, having friends for dinner. This music is not analysed; it is simply there to elevate or complement the mood… It works on, and affects, emotions. People can relate to it, to its sounds and moods; it makes them feel better.
One of the reasons classical music is not so popular these days (and the main one in my opinion) is not so much because of the complexity of some of the compositions, but because of the ‘perfection’ in the style of the performance these days. If you listen to the old recordings from the first half of the 20th century by Cherkassky, Horowitz, Cortot, Moriz Rosenthal, Eugend’Albert, were they perfect? Of course not! Were they always rational in their interpretations? No. Were they predictable? Usually not. And that is what made them so interesting. Sometimes Chopin didn’t sound like Chopin, but who cared?; it stirred emotions, stimulated interest and curiosity. Today only the top artists attract this kind of attention, and although some of them appear to attain perfection – which is admirable and really appreciated by musicians – their playing often leaves amateur listeners cold. When it comes to lesser-known pianists, very often their interpretations are similar, where the aim to become note-perfect makes their music more refined, but at the same time more predictable.
Why has this happened? Most likely because of the demands of the record industry, where it has become possible to make any performance note–perfect. Anything less has now ceased to be acceptable. In fact, it has developed into a ‘perfection’ competition, where the purest sound is not contaminated by any external noise (which is considered to be a disaster!). But in real lif, performance is not quite like that. When Horowitz released a recording of one of his concerts, which started with a few wrong notes, the producers asked for his permission to amend it – but he refused! In this day and age this would be unacceptable. This is why in international piano competitions the winners are often very virtuosic pianists, admired for their stamina and inner strength. Those who are weaker, less traditional and not so note-pristine don’t usually win; but often those pianists who connect more with the audience do stir up endless debates…
I remember being at one of the late Pogorelich’s concerts where he played Chopin’s Preludes. He changed everything, his interpretation was totally unexpected and he kept me sitting on the edge of my chair. It felt like Dostoevsky on the keys. I have never heard Chopin played like that – it was an unforgettable experience. A few days later I was reading a review of this concert and poor Pogorelich got completely slated. ‘How could Chopin be played like this?!’ But for me that was one of the most amazing concert experiences of my life. While listening to his playing my emotions and the whole world were turned upside-down.
So why not go back to basics, to the raw art of piano playing that allows for the unpredictability of interpretations, emphasising the full spectrum of piano sounds, and accepting that it is OK to come up with a completely different interpretation as long as this can be delivered on a professional level? To show you what I mean, here is an example of something that really moves me: Stanislav Neuhaus playing Scriabin’s Etude Op.8, No. 12. It is not note-perfect, but it has that fire and originality that makes it unforgettable experience:
So to finish off, whilst some argue whether classical music should be put to rest, it is very much alive and kicking, like life with all its ups and downs. I can admit that some classical music traditions (like the total silence of the concert pianist during performance, or not allowing the audience to clap between movements), can be quite restricting, but if we can get past them, it would allow us to see the real music and its never-ending beauty. Lets embrace it rather than push it away and enjoy the discovery of how much more happiness and pleasure we can have in our life when classical music is a part of it.
If you have any thoughts on this issue, let me know at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Recently, I had a number of friends reporting that when they mentioned me to their friends the reaction was usually something along the lines of: “Is she really strict?”; “How scary is she?”; “Is she nice!?”
When this happened the first time, I thought that particular person had probably just had a bad experience with a Russian piano teacher, and I didn’t give it a second thought. However, when one of my student’s friends was shocked on meeting me (I think he was expecting to see a big 60-year-old babushka), that got me thinking… Another time, a student of mine invited me to come and celebrate his birthday (in a club, of all places), and when we were on the dance floor one of his friends asked, “And where is that piano teacher of yours? I knew she wouldn’t show up!” So I just had to introduce myself once again…
Why do English people find us, Russian classical musicians and teachers, so intimidating? I just had to write about this, to get to the bottom of this myth. When I ask, some say that it’s because Russian musicians are famous for having the best technique in the world, and Russian teachers are therefore feared for the big demands they make on their students, expecting them to ‘practise 8 hours a day’ (my grandmother used to say, “Four hours in the morning and four hours in the evening”), and for placing them under considerable pressure to achieve the best possible results.
I believe the word ‘Russian’ also still makes somepeople think about Soviet times, when Russian people appeared on TV or in public with stony faces, devoid of any sign of a smile… These popular beliefs combined have conspired to create the scary ‘dragon’ image of a Russian piano teacher.
It’s true: being Soviet during the Soviet Era meant distrusting your colleagues in fear that you may be reported; there was no suggestion of original ideas unless they were in line with Communist Party ideology (which was extended to science and art as well as economics and politics); and if you didn’t want to support the Communist Party openly (I personally never went on a single demonstration, even when it was compulsory), at the very least you had to keep quiet.
But times have since moved on…. Now there is a new generation of Russians who were allowed to leave when the iron curtain came down, brought up in the times of Perestroika and Glasnost. I remember preparing my school history homework only to discover that everything had changed since the previous night and what we had learned was no longer applicable… The history teacher didn’t know what to teach us as the Soviet Union and its neighboring countries were dramatically changing.
Having said that, there were good things: you were expected to be good at everything you did (Dance, Music, Maths, etc.) and the standards were extremely high. Just to give you an idea: some of the Maths syllabus from year 10 at my school covered the same topics that were on the first-year Maths programme at University! So, when our generation suddenly gained the opportunity to leave our homeland, whilst many of us sincerely wanted to leave behind all the bad things of Soviet Russia, we continued to cherish and bring forward many of the old traditions, including the quality and integrity of our work.
As teachers, that doesn’t make us unfriendly, cruel or unreasonable; we simply try to teach to the highest level of our ability. Russians sometimes have a reputation for been too straightforward and not very diplomatic. Perhaps… But if you can accept this and get past it, you may be surprised to find a genuine interest and enthusiasm for conveying knowledge to a student to help them realise their full potential. In my memory, my Russian piano teachers (Sergei Yushkevitch, Victor Makarov and Regina Horowitz – although the latter was my great grand mother), never counted the hours when they were teaching; they gave me and many of their other students as much time as was required to teach them, whether it was one hour, three hours or five… The goal was to educate the student however long it took.
Amongst the most famous teachers in the world who were either Russians or taught in Russia using Russian methods were: Anton Rubinstein, John Field, Alexander Villoing, Anton Door, Theodor Leschetizky, Vassili Safonov, Alexandre Siloti (the teacher of Sergei Rachmaninov), Heinrich Neuhaus (teacher of Richter, Gilels and Lupu),Alexandre Goldenweiser (teacher of Bashkirov, Berman and Nikolaieva), Konstantin Igoumnov (teacher of Ashkenazy, Davidovich and Feltsman) and Felix Blumenfeld (teacher of Horowitz)to name a few. They were all famous for their principles and total dedication to music and education. Some of them were stricter then others, but they are all warmly remembered by their students all over the world. I know many current Russian pianists who are both performers and teachers, and I wouldn’t associate any of them with the word ‘Scary’. Here is an interview with the incredible Russian virtuoso pianist Boris Berezovky, who is the one of the most modest people I have ever met:
So what do you you think – are we, Russian Piano Teachers, really that scary? The only way to find out is to be open-minded and try a few Russian piano teachers…
As for me, you can judge for yourself! : ) Take a look at the clips on the Piano-Yoga® Education Youtube Channel:
Better still, come and meet me in person on the 15th May at Kings Place in London at the next Piano-Yoga® retreat: