Can classical music be ‘hip’?

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 info@piano-yoga.com.

With love,

GéNIA

Are Russian piano teachers really that scary?

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 some people 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:

It’s now time for my piano practice…

Namaste,

GéNIA

With the upcoming launch of the first-ever Piano-Yoga® retreat in London, GéNIA reflects on her own personal retreats into the world of classical cruise-lining

I love going on retreats – there is something very decadent about them.  You forget about all the harsh realities and problems of life and concentrate purely on the subject that you love.  24/7.  On top of that, you also work on your well-being and everything is taken care of for you.  For a short period you get to feel like you don’t have a care in the world…

In the piano community it is more common to go on summer schools and masterclasses, where all the attention is focused on learning and meeting like-minded people, encouraging healthy competition and hours of practice…  And yet, I have found that in order to learn more, it is far better to create a holistic environment where you feel relaxed, safe and nurtured. You can be as competitive as you like, but it is not encouraged in this context.  Your ability to learn is therefore heightened and your creativity strives forward.

In my own case, I have found that appearing as a concert pianist on a cruise liner makes for the most wonderful sort of personal retreat.  While I’m there it gives me the chance to travel the world (which I love), eat healthily, go to the gym and spa as many times as I want, as well as keep up with my yoga and piano practice.  The only thing I need to deliver is up to 12 concerts with 6 different programmes, usually within the period of 14 days.  I don’t need to think about any practical issues, like grocery shopping or public transport, and with limited access to the internet my contact with the outside world is very much diminished.  I can choose how much I want to socialise, but with the status of the concert pianist on-board, no-one really expects to rely on your time.  This is my little heaven.   I usually do it 4 times a year – mainly in winter to escape the cold London climate (!)  – and I always travel to hot countries, as I like it hot!  Going on stage 12 times keeps me very grounded and prevents me from becoming too engrossed in what has to be one of the most hedonistic experiences in the world.

Photograph from my last cruise around the Caribbean

This is really where the inspiration for creating Piano-Yoga® retreats came from, with the hope of giving other like-minded pianists the possibility of experiencing the same blissful mix of creativity, nurturing and learning, all in one place.  The retreats have been a long time in the making, so we are now very excited that in 2011 they will finally become a reality, with two one-day retreats in London at Kings Place and Steinway Hall and one retreat in Cyprus at the Arte Academy (one-week retreat). The retreats will cover many areas related to piano playing through lectures and masterclasses, whilst working with the participants on their mind and body through yoga sessions specially designed for pianists. During the one-week retreat in Cyprus participants will be also be able to visit beautiful parts of Cyprus (excursions included) and stay in a beautiful hotel, with all meals provided.  The two one-day Piano-Yoga® retreats in London will give participants a chance to get a taster of the bigger retreat, while unwinding, relaxing and learning more about piano technique.

And after all, retreats are really what Piano-Yoga® is all about!  Because apart from the obvious benefits to your piano technique, what retreats offer is a slice of the whole lifestyle and philosophy for those who love playing the piano in a holistic way.

We are currently talking to a number of other venues in Europe and the USA about hosting Piano-Yoga® retreats for 2012 and beyond, so if you would like to have one in your area, please drop us a line.

Time for my yoga practice..!

Namaste,

GéNIA

When is the best time to blog: the blog about nothing

Who knows ….. personally I like early mornings as I can write without thinking of what is coming out on the computer (old fashioned paper does sound much better, but really is not what it is!)

Having your favorite cup of your favorite substance, playing your favorite music, surrounded by your favorite objects, if you bother to make an effort, isn’t this is the most pleasurable experience?

How to write about nothing and still write? Does nothing really exist? So many questions, so many thoughts, all passing by, sometimes holding for a few seconds, while the brain tries to figure out the correct spelling of a word…..

Is it better to write in the sunshine or on the rainy day? Depends how  melancholic or  upbeat one feels…..  Is it better to write facing your auspicious direction or trying to cultivate your best by putting oneself in the worst direction possible and still hope that you can produce something meaningful…

If you are reading this blog right now, I am deeply touched by your trust to spend a few minutes in my company …. Just to make it a bit meaningful for you here is the video from my latest performance of music by Max de Wardener: sometimes music speaks so much more then pages of words…..

Have a lovely day,

GéNIA

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Is Piano-Yoga really new?

So many people, when they hear the words Piano-Yoga think: ” well, another trendy new system”, or,  “all this new age holistic nonsense” (the classical music purists) and on a more positive side “well, finally, someone came up with the way of playing the piano which is simple, easy and natural”.

But what’s interesting is that there is one idea that unites all these people, with their rather different attitudes, as they believe that Piano-Yoga is a new unorthodox system of playing the piano.

But is Piano-Yoga really new?

Piano playing methods and techniques have existed for at least a few hundred years, and yoga has existed for much longer. Originally, yoga was a philosophy, the exercise of thought, which later developed into many other branches, with some embracing the physical practice, now so popular in the West.

However, as every philosophy covers thoughts about creation, through various processes, understanding those on a multidimensional level can easily be applied to other aspects of life, be it parenthood, work, personal development ethics, building a house, working on one’s physical state or playing the piano. Playing the piano particularly benefits from applying yogic principles, as it is a discipline that requires a combination of thought, emotions and physical manifestation. Without these three ingredients, the performance would not be complete. This is what makes it so close to yoga, the combined practice of philosophy and it’s manifestation through the physical exercise.

It became apparent to me that there was so much that piano techniques could draw from yoga: ability to concentrate, ability to control the technical work, consistent work on one’s body and thought. For example, intelligent stretching of the hands and fingers increases people’s ability to play a much wider repertoire and increase their strength. There is no “heavy weight” exercises required and no hours and hours of practicing. You just need to be in a right frame of mind, doing the right thing at regular intervals.

This is why I was so delighted with the latest review from Nadia Lasserson, from the  EPTA Professional Piano Magazine, who at first was very sceptical of the method. As the secretary of the European Piano Teachers Organization in the UK, Nadia represented the thoughts of many piano teachers in the UK and I really had no idea what she would think about the method. I met Nadia and gave her a two hour session at the piano, explaining the method. I then did not hear from her for almost a year! I started thinking that she found the method not even worthy of mentioning, until one day we received the review in the post:

“It really does work . . . Many ailing pianists have been helped with this unorthodox and unusual method . . . All teachers should try it”.

 

I was really thrilled, as, of course, personally I knew that it does work, as it has been a foundation of my life and playing for many years. It was really rewarding to hear it from someone who never came across the method before and was not very inspired by the idea in the first place.

By this time we also had another fantastic review from Nancy Lee Harper from  EPTA Piano Journal: “This is a book for a lifetime of healthy piano playing! … This book gets 5 stars from me!”

 

To give everyone the opportunity to get to know Piano-Yoga we are holding various events from the end of 2010 through 2011:

Date: Sunday 12 December 2010

Event: Workshop on “Piano-Yoga®: Transform your hands : A Complete Ten Week Course of Piano Exercises”

Location: Schott Music Concert Hall, 48 Great Marlborough Street, London W1

Admission: Free to all members of EPTA who register in advance. There would be a small number of tickets available for non-Members, Please enquire @ richard,mcdonald@piano-yoga.com

Registration: Please email Richard McDonald, the Administrator of Piano-Yoga and GéNIA MUISC on richard.mcdonald@piano-yoga.com or call on +44 (0)20 72269829

In spring 2011 we will be holding a Piano-Yoga retreat at Steinway Hall in London as well as a one week Piano-Yoga retreat in Cyprus. The details of both events will be released shortly.

Please stay tuned for more information, news and updates.

Meanwhile you can:

Read Nadia Lasserson’s review in Piano Professional on Piano-Yoga book here

Read Nancy Lee Harper’s review in Piano Journal on Piano-Yoga book here

Look inside the book here

Read on tips, articles, back release exercises @ the free members section of the website here

Quickly download the book as eBook or get a paperback here

With all the warmest wishes,

Your Piano-Yogini friend,

GéNIA

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from Kings Place to Media Advert

Lovely concert at Kings Place the other night – I was thrilled to be performing music by wonderful composers Max de Wadener, JS Bach, Buzoni, Siloti, Debussy, Cage & Bartsch whilst having an audience of fantastic musicians and composers, including (to name a few): Gabriel Prokofiev, Patrick Nunn, Will Dutta, Richard Harris, Jamie Telford and Hayden Parsey. Thanks to all of you for your creativity and for being such an inspiration!

Meanwhile I was really thrilled to learn that the piece that I commissioned with Hayden Parsey almost 8 years ago was re-produced by the composer and is currently being used in the new advert campaign for the Girl Guides where they tackle the problem of eating disorders for young women and girls:

“Girlguiding UK calls upon the Prime Minister David Cameron to introduce compulsory labelling of airbrushed images to help combat the rise of eating disorders and shape a generation of self confident girls and young women.”

Watch the trailer here

Which brings us to a question: “How much should art influence society?”

Now time for another cup of coffee…

Namaste,

GéNIA

xxx

My Inspirational Collaboration with Max de Wardener

My first collaboration with Max de Wardener took place when Max made a remix for John Richards’ “Suite for piano and electronics” that has been released on the Nonclassical label. The first time I actually met Max face to face was after my performance at the Cargo nightclub celebrating this release!

That was the beginning of the beautiful friendship and long-term collaboration. Since then, we have been working together on various piano solo and piano & electronics pieces. The challenging rhythmical approach of Max’s music, coming from an electronic background with the preciseness of computer generated rhythms, wrapped with the beautiful tunes inspired me to develop my playing further.

The 18th of October concert is yet another milestone in our collaboration. Premiering 3 new works by Max and ranging from the complete stillness to the vivid hypo mood of the dance scene, the music takes the listener through various “states”, enhanced by pieces of Bach, Cage, Debussy, Tanaka, Skempton and Bartsch,

Films, made by award winning video artists Ravi Deepres and Quolla, who are both long-term collaborators, accompany some of the music.

Promising to be “a chilling night” this Monday’s concert will hopefully set you in a good frame of mind for your week ahead.

Here is our programme:

1st SET

  • Max de Wardener Bees
  • Karen Tanaka  Techno Etude No. 1
  • JS Bach / Buzoni  ‘Ichruf zudir, Herr Jesu Christ’, Choral Prelude for Organ, BWV 639
  • Bach / Ziloti  Prelude in B minor (from the Clavier Buchlein für Wilhelm Friedemann Bach) BWV 855a
  • Max de Wardener  Two short pieces for Peter
  • JS Bach   Overture from French Overture (Partita) in B, BWV 831
  • John Cage  In a landscape
  • Max de Wardener  Remix of the Remix by (visuals by Quoyola)

INTERVAL (20 minutes)

2nd SET

  • Nik Bartsch   Modul 13
  • Max de Wardener  Water
  • Le vent dans la plaine, No. 3 from Book I (Debussy Prélude)
  • Bruyères, No. 5 from Book II (Debussy Préludes)
  • Howard Skempton  Reflections 1-5
  • Max de Wardener  Lusitania (visuals by Ravi Deepres)
  • Max de Wardener  Until My Blood is Pure (visuals by Ravi Deepres)

It will be lovely to see you all there in the beautiful building of Kings Place.

Here is a little preview:

GéNIA plays Max de Wardener

Big hug,

GéNIA

GéNIA plays the music of Max de Wardener

Date: Monday, 18 October 2010, 8:00pm

Place: Kings Place, 90 York Way, London N1 9AG

Tickets

From Steinways to Kings Place

Dear All,

Big thank you to all those who came to my Steinway Recital last night.

It is always nice to see the a packed house! I am also very grateful to Steinways for making it possible for us to do a launch of my latest album with the music by Gabriel Prokofiev called “Piano Book No.1″.

Now, to the next thing! The recital of music featuring composer Max de Wardener, wrapped in gentle Debussy, deep Bach (also Bach/Ziloti and Bach/Buzoni), simple but profound Skempton, dreamy Cage and inspiring Nik Bartch. Accampanied with specially made films from London’s leading multimedia artists, including Ravi Deepres and Quayola.

The concert is on Monday, 18th of October, at 8pm at Kings Place, London (5 minutes from Kings Cross Station) http://www.kingsplace.co.uk/music/out-hear/max-de-wardener

Looking forward to seeing you there and sending you the vibes that will, hopefully, start you on the good pace for the week ahead!

With love,

GéNIA

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GéNIA's Blog

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