Hello KaunasPianoFest - blogreaders! I’m Anne-Sophie and I’m writing this blog for you. I’m coming from Munich in Germany and I’m based in Nuremberg, where I’m studying the violin. This spring I’ve been in Vienna to study abroad. There I met Monika who invited me to run the Blog on the website of “KaunasPianoFest”. I hope it is informative and you enjoy it. This is my e-mail: if you want to write me.
July 16th, Tuesday
Q&A with Olga Kern
Today, on July 16, day 5 of Kaunas Piano Fest, we had the opportunity to have a Q&A session with pianist Olga Kern.
She was sitting on the stage with festival founders Monika and Robertas answering questions of the audience in a nice, casual atmosphere. There were more topics than time, Olga answered in an energetic and enthusiastic way.
This is the main content:
Self-Doubt: “My life wasn’t always sunny and bright. There are always doubts in a musicians life, but I love music. And I always had support from my family. Besides this, as normal in a musicians family, my parents made the decision, that i’ll learn piano. But when I played my first concert at the age of 7 and I stood on the stage, I knew: This is, what I want to do for the rest of my life.
© Lukas Niemancewicz
Balance: “It’s really important to find a right work life balance. Life is not only about playing an instrument, there are other wonderful things to pursue.
Music in her childhood: “Of course, it is easier to become a musician in a musicians family like I did - my mum was my first teacher. And I had lessons 3-4 times a week. Which is so important, when you’re young.”
How to approach a new piece: “Everything to know is in the score! The dynamics, the articulation, the music… I don’t recommend to watch recordings on youtube first, because it influences your own interpretation. I simply couldn’t do that, because there was no youtube when I was young.”
What to do without a teacher: “Of course, it’s not easy, to find the best way, how you should play it, without a teacher, but you should always ask yourself, what the composer wants. What kind of personal network does the composer have? What was the historical background?”
Managing stress: “Listening to opera calms me down and prevents from nervosity. Being 200 % prepared for the concert.”
Motivation: “That’s different for every person. For me, it’s a great performance from someone else, when I’m loving someone, when I have a walk in a great landscape. For younger people it’s often competition.”
Festival participant Leo from Estonia about the Q&A:
How did you like it?
It was just great! I took it really serious. I wanted to ask a lot more questions.
What do you find interesting about her as a musician and as a person?
I admire her strength. Her whole, fabulous career, the whole package.
What did you find useful about it?
That you can’t lock yourself for 10 hours a day. You need to go out and find your balance.
How do you balance yourself?
Coffee, family, friends, travelling to Italy and pictures of Huskys and Golden Retrievers.
© Lukas Niemancewicz
© Lukas Niemancewicz
Get to know the participants:
© Mindaugas Meilutis
Gabriele is 22, from Lithuania and is studying in London at Royal Academy of Music.
What did you play today in your lesson with Olga?
I played the first movement from second Piano Concerto from Rachmanninov.
What do you feel, when you’re playing the concerto?
Many things. There are so many intense feelings in the music: Drama, Love, Death - the whole life.
What makes the piece so special ?
There are a lot of special characters. It’s so hard to say, because it’s such a versatile piece. For me, it’s the harmonies and the melodies, which makes it very emotional.
July 17th, Wednesday
© Lukas Niemancewicz
Siril Valberg is 28, from Norway and studied in Norwegian Academy of Music in Oslo:
What did you play today?
I played Prokofiev Sonata No. 4.
What do you like about the piece?
I like the dark colour in the first movement, it has a completely different character than other pieces from Prokofiev I know.
I found it really impressive, what you played in the end of your lesson, which movement was it?
It was the third movement, it is really challenging. It requires a high level of technical skills.
What makes the festival special for you?
Everyone gets the chance to play a whole recital, not only 5 minutes, like in other masterclasses. I also enjoy the wide offer of lectures, it’s not only about playing the piano, we get a lot of input from different aspects in music.
Between lessons, dinner and concerts, I had the chance to interview the professors. Here is the first one with Petras Geniusas:
How is the atmosphere of the Kaunas Piano Festival so far?
It’s my second time here, it has a vibrant and youthful spirit. The organizers as well as the participants and the staff are very friendly. I only find good words for it.
You are a professor at this festival since the foundation.
How did it change for you since you started participating?
It simply expanded - we got our superstar from russia, Olga Kern, I was glad, to meet her again, because we’re studying together. And I also met more young and talented students.
What was your first piano festival like you participated in comparison of todays event?
There were much less opportunities to travel abroad when I was young. Some decades ago, it wasn’t common, to get lessons so easily with great artists. The possibility to take part of international festivals and masterclasses is kind of new.
But I was glad to study in the Academy of Music in Moscow, which is one of the best in the whole world.
The first time, I began to travel to play in competitions and give international concerts was in the 90s.
You are not only playing classical music, you have also projects with crossover, jazz and electronic music.
Yes, that’s true. But first of all, I was a Jazz-Listener. Later, I started modern jazz projects, improvising for example with pieces from Prokofiev and Debussy using jazz elements.
Actually I always played jazz as a hobby, but when I got to learn from some professional jazz musicians, we were teaching each other our professions and played concerts together and I even made money with it.
Are you enjoying this kind of music in your free time?
Yes, I’m a big fan of jazz. I’m listening a lot of contemporary jazz pianists like Jason Moran or Robert Glasper.
Do you have an idol?
It’s never only one. Imagine of an amateur in painting, who says: “I like Salvador Dali.” - It’s the only one he knows. But if you know Beethoven, Mozart, Horrowitz, Argerich… When you are a professional, you can’t decide one. I admire them all!
A non classical idol?
Probably Jesus Christ. (laughs)
Do you have some rituals before you’re going on the stage to play a concert?
I do some physical exercises to relax and feel down to earth.
I prepare myself more mentally, when I’m on an airplane or after waking up, I go through my pieces in my mind.
© Lukas Niemancewicz
18th July, Thursday
PORTRAIT- "Olga Kern special award"
Anna Szalucka is 27 years young, comes from Poland and studied at the Academy of Music in Gdansk, the University of Music and Performing Arts in Vienna and at the Royal Academy of London. Anna grew up in a non-musician family, her parents originally never thought about letting Anna get to know an instrument. In her childhood, Anna went to a kindergarten, which fostered children who did have and extraordinary talent playing music. One day, her parents received a letter from the kindergarten, proposing to send Anna to an audition for a music school specialized in providing standard school education but more importantly teaches music intensively also. Anna’s parents didn’t support this idea, of a “sowjet-like”- system. It was established to identify and encourage talented kids very early. Her parents rather decided to send Anna to a regular school. Additionally, Anna was supposed to attend a music school in the afternoon 3 to 4 times per week. It was there where she received her first piano lessons.
“Sometimes it was very hard for me, both of the schools were demanding, but when I was young, there was no distraction like there is today. I didn’t have a phone or a large group of fellow students, where I felt accepted or where I was belonging to”, reported Anna, “but later, when I went to the Academy of Music in Gdansk, I finally find myself more comfortable and surrounded with people I was connected to, like a big family.”
You surprisingly got a scholarship from Olga Kern, congratulations! What did you learn from her?
She has a really good observation, of the few things in my current piece - the “miroirs” from Ravel -, which are still in progress. So, we got through the piece very quickly. She also reminded me of going into myself in silence before I’m starting to play and imagine, which sound and which color I want to start with. I sometimes forget that.
Which color does “miroirs” have for you?
In the third movement “Oiseaux tristes” I imagine of an exotic forest, which is kind of muddy and has a thick floor, on which birds singing sad songs. It doesn’t happen very often, that I have a specific picture in my mind, the “miroirs” are really an exception, I better like colors, I enjoy the sound and playing with my imagination. This is also how I memorize, not harmonically analysed, but thinking of colours.
Are you participating in a lot of competitions?
Yes, I play in several international competitions. Recently I played in the Szymanowski Competition in Poland. I got into the finals and was invited to play with the orchestra.
Do you feel pressure from playing in competitions?
Of course, it is always a stressful situation and a big opportunity at the same time. If you win, you get a lot of money and concert engagements.
© Lukas Niemancewicz
How do you manage the stress?
Before I perform in a competition, I am playing this program several times in concerts, which I am organising for myself. So, when it comes to the competition, I’m mentally better prepared. For me it’s important presenting my music not only in a competition but also to public audiences. This way I enjoy my music and reach the audience at the same time.
Last but not least - interview with Fali Pavri about his indian roots, how he started playing the piano and competitions.
How do you like the festival?
I have been to many festivals, “KaunasPianoFest” is unique. It is amazing, how Monika, Robertas and Darius accomplish all the tasks to make the festival a success by themselves. They are doing an astonishing job. I think, the most important is, that everyone has the possibility, to play their whole program at a daily recital.
How popular is classical music in India?
In my early life not so much, mostly, you find classical music being applied in Bollywood-movies. But the interest of classical, western music is growing very fast, especially in Mumbai, where, for example, the Symphony Orchestra of India is based.
So how did it come, that you started to play the piano?
I started playing at the age of 11. I was lucky, to have a nice and competent teacher who studied in london. Until I finished school, I took lessons from her. When I entered university, I first of all studied chemistry. So, the piano and chemistry “fought” for my time. In order to graduate from university - which I did - the piano had to give a bit. Of course, I continued playing the piano. One day, I participated in a competition in India, called “All India Beethoven Competition” and I won the first place. Waiting for the award-winning ceremony I got into a conversation with the lady who was second. I asked her what she was planning for a next step. She told me that she decided taking part in an audition to apply for a scholarship awarded from the Academy of Music in Moscow, which covers the complete expenses. I was thrilled and enthusiastic about the opportunity. I participated in the audition and won the scholarship. This is how my music career started.
What to do you think, what percentage of the indian population is listening to classical music?
This a tiny number. The population of India is more than a billion. So, the percentage will be almost nothing. But as I said, the interest for classical music is developing quickly. I am going to India every year, to play concerts, and so do a large number of other famous classical musicians. And there are live broadcasts from concerts from the “Metropolitan Opera” or “Covent Garden” just to name a couple.
Around the world, india is one of the biggest participants in the movie industry. Are you watching movies in your free time?
I’m not watching Bollywood-movies, but sometimes, I’m using “Netflix”. My kids keep me informed, about what’s good and what’s not.
What is your favorite series?
I liked “homeland”, “the crown” and “line of duty”.
If you’ll be born again, would you become a musician again? Or could you imagine of other options?
That’s an impossible question… But yes, I would do it all over the same. I’m very lucky with the choice I made. I always took part at interesting projects with interesting people. I was traveling a lot. I have wonderful kids. I am very thankful.
Of course, I would change a few things, maybe I would have worked harder. I would be more focused on playing the piano in my youth.
Do you have any advice for young pianists, which are unexperienced beginners in competitions?
Go to competition only when you are perfectly prepared! Do not ever play pieces, which will overwhelm you because they are too difficult. You always have to show your strongest capabilities.
It is also important, to realize, that competition is sort of a game, because of its subjective judgement of the jury. It’s not like sports: The fastest runner will be the best. Time can be measured. This is also why you shouldn’t take it personally. And it is not only about competition, it is a lesson about life: If you want to be a long-term musician, especially a solo performer, you have to understand, that there are people who don't like your musical interpretation. You have to cope with rejection. If you are too sensitive that you can not cope with it, you might do something else.
© Lukas Niemancewicz
19th July, Thursday
Dear reader, you are wondering who took all these beautiful photos included in this website? Get to know Lukasz, the photographer and also jazz and classical pianist. Lukasz is 23 years young, studied the piano in London and started to earn money with his photography a few years ago.
How did it come, that you started with photography?
At first, it was just a hobby. One day, my parents bought a professional camera nobody in my family was using it except me, so I brought it to London to take photos in my free time. The photography was step by step catching my interest. So I started reading books and articles on photography , which taught me how to become a professional photographer. For a while I was in touch with a photographer from the “National Geographic” magazine, who gave me feedback on my landscape and wildlife pictures.
An instrument like the piano takes a lot of time. But it wasn’t simply enough for you?
I wouldn’t say it like that, but I am a curious person, I want to experiment about, try new artistic stuff and I am always looking for new things to discover.
What is the next for you to discover?
I definitely want to try windsurfing.
What do you like about photography?
I like reacting to what I see, and noticing little details through the camera. For example during a concert, when someone has a really emotional face, I like to catch this situation on a photo.
Your job at “KPF” is shooting photos of people. You told me, you are rather shooting landscapes. Did you change your mind?
At some point in my life, I realized, that people interest me the most. The wide variety of their emotions, how their brain works, how they are related to each other. It is just fascinating. Keeping this in a photograph is very satisfying.
How was it to take pictures from the “KPF-people”?
Every time it was very different: Some people are kind of shy, some have already ideas, how to pose and feel comfortable. One notice, who did it the first time and who already did several shootings. One difficulty was, to get the people to look natural all the time. If you tell them to stay natural, they automatically stopped, because they were trying harder. Anyway, there were only very good results. I liked a lot to get to know the person better in a face to face conversation, which wasn’t easy to have, because for almost the whole time we stayed together in larger groups.
Does music and taking pictures have something in common for you?
Yes, of course. In both ways I can free my personality and my sensitivity. Both are creative acts that produce art. I put my heart in my music and my photos. The difference for me is, that pictures are more spontaneous, you have to react to what is given from the person in front of the camera, in music there is more planning involved, you are thinking more about it.
Can you react with spontaneity in concerts?
I think you react more to the inside of yourself and in photography more to the outside.
Do your photos have a personal style?
I am not sure if I’m the right person to answer this question. I would rather leave that to other people looking at my pictures.
Do you feel more as a musician or more as a photographer?
I feel more as an artist. I’m up in the clouds. When I was in high school, I didn’t consider myself as an artist. I was more into science, which still interests me. For example, I am reading a lot about technology. Later, I started doing artistic stuff, I started drawing, writing prose and poems.
I try to put myself not into a frame and to stay open.
What do you think about the “KPF”?
I think, it is very unique. Not many classical music events are like this, Robertas and Monika care a lot about how the people feel here. For me, especially the idea of playing only duets in the final concert, rather than solo pieces, is unique, because it encourages the feeling of community. In a pianists’ life, this feeling gets lost very often. I think, during this festival, the participants reached what life is about: to support each other, to be kind to each other to have a good time together. Classical music industry life can be really harsh. It is wonderful, that events like this exist, where you can live in this kind of world and still be around decent people.