Who or what inspired you to take up the piano, and pursue a career in music?
I was born into a musical family and was surrounded by music all the time when I was growing up. Both of my parents are musicians, therefore it was assumed I would follow the same path. They only asked me if I wanted to play piano or violin, and I picked piano. Honestly, I never regretted my choice. I started my piano lessons under my mother´s guidance, and continued until I was 17 years old, when I began my education at the Royal College of Music in London, studying with wonderful Irina Zaritskaya.
Who or what have been the most important influences on your musical life and career?
When I moved to Spain with my family, I met the pianist Krystian Zimerman, and was inspired by his interpretations of Chopin’s Ballades and Concertos, and Liszt Sonata. I also had a chance to hear him live several times in my hometown in Spain performing with orchestra. He introduced me to music I had never heard before, and I was so stunned by its beauty that I was desperate to get those scores out and start learning. I think I sight-read everything we had at home, and it got to the point that my mother had to hide music from me, as I did not want to practice works she assigned. That was probably the time when I realized I wanted to devote my life to music. I always felt that knowing that pianist at that age was crucial for my development. Later, as I grew up, my attention shifted to other musicians. I admire Grigory Sokolov. I should not dare to say he is my influence, but he is the type of musician whose artistry resonates with me most. He fills each note with meaning when he plays, each silence has a meaning, and each note has its beginning and its end! Every single phrase is preciously delineated, well thought and deeply felt. His musicianship is so powerful that he takes control over you and is capable of hypnotizing you. He neither tries to impress, but remains authentic. I think his performances are transcendental experiences, at least for me, and he is an artist who speaks from his truest self.
What have been the greatest challenges of your career so far?
I think everybody has to go through some challenges, but personally I tend to be quite private about difficulties I go through. What I can share, perhaps, is that I learned how to remain true to myself no matter what others think of me and expect from me. I found it quite challenging because I am a vulnerable person. When you are surrounded by many musicians and participating in competitions, the pressure grows even greater. Very often your thoughts can be scattered around in your mind about other contestants, and whether the impression you left on the jury was positive or negative. With a bit of experience I realized that all these thoughts are very distracting, they separate you from who you are, and don’t let you express yourself authentically. Eventually, during my competition performances, I was able to attain the freedom I feel when I perform any public recital.
Which performance/recordings are you most proud of?
I am not sure the word “proud” is the most appropriate; I am a perfectionist and always feel I can do better. However, I would probably say that I am happy with my most recent album dedicated to Rachmaninoff.
Tell us more about your new recording…
The album features Variations on themes by Chopin and Corelli. I was dreaming about this project because Rachmaninoff is a composer whose music I find very close to my heart and my soul. I have to say that I had an absolutely awesome team: I was lucky to work with an amazing producer Elaine Martone, who was extremely supportive, encouraging and inspiring during the recording sessions. Chelsea VandeDrink is a fantastic recording engineer who did her work fabulously, and Anilda Carrasquillo created a booklet I could only dream about. I felt that it was a very strong team, and it was an excellent experience to work with these people, with whom I created a strong bond and most importantly, a lasting friendship. This CD was possible thanks to the Cincinnati World Piano Competition, which I won in 2013.
What is the particular appeal of these works by Rachmaninoff for you?
I have always felt a close relationship with this composer, and considered recording some of his compositions a long time ago, but then in my twenties discovered his Variations on a Theme of Chopin Op.22, a work that unfortunately is not often performed. I was fascinated by the incredible variety of moods and emotions Rachmaninoff reveals in this music, as well as by the way he transforms the theme throughout the composition, making it barely recognizable. It is a work with endless possibilities for a pianist to display his or her mastery.
I often think that composition’s fate grows from the roots. What I mean in this case is that the work had a very moderate reception when Rachmaninoff premiered it in 1903 in Moscow. The preludes Op.23, written during the same summer, enjoyed a bigger success, and his other major hits, like his second sonata, or the second concerto, for example, completely overshadowed this composition. Even though nowadays you may find a few recordings, I feel pianists are afraid of its length and that it might not be an easy piece for the audience. This set of variations lasts about half an hour, but isn’t the Liszt Sonata thirty minutes long? Any late Schubert sonata would be even longer! When I performed this work in the semifinals of Seoul International Piano Competition in 2008, one jury member asked me at the end of the competition why I chose this piece and told me that it is inappropriate for a competition, and that instead I should have played the second sonata. I made to the finals anyway, but am still puzzled why this composition is not appreciated. It is an actual gem in the piano repertoire!
Regarding the Variations on a Theme of Corelli I have to say that at the time I was making my decision what else would go together with Chopin variations, it happened I was working on Corelli variations, and thought both sets would work greatly together. Thirty years separate both pieces and they are incredibly different. The Corelli Variations exhibit a stylistic growth and some kind of a structural compactness: he expresses his ideas in a more concise way, somewhat similar to a mature person who prefers to speak less, but whose choice of vocabulary is very accurate. I do love this composition, but in a different way.
Which particular works do you think you play best?
Works that speak to me emotionally. But not necessarily has to be from the same period. I played Scarlatti sonatas that were very precious to me. I felt a particular affinity with Haydn Andante and Variations in F minor that I recorded for NAXOS a few years ago, for example. My attention usually shifts to different composers at different periods of my life. There were years when I felt too attached to Chopin, but thought I would never understand Schumann for his crazy and hectic romanticism. A few years later I felt I only wanted to play Schumann, and it was never enough of him. To name a few that deeply belong to my heart: Schubert Sonatas D.845 and D.959, Schumann F sharp minor Sonata Op.11, Brahms Intermezzi Op.117, Liszt Sonata, Debussy Preludes Book II, obviously Rachmaninoff, including the second Sonata, Prokofiev Sonata No.8 Op.84, among many others.
How do you make your repertoire choices from season to season?
I feel that every time I go through a difficult internal process before I make my repertoire choices. I always play what I want, what I like most and what I feel is right for me at this moment. What it means is that for some reason, on some kind of subconscious level, a particular piece rings my doorbell. It happens when I constantly hear this music in my head, and it does not cease until I take the score and start learning it. It is as though the piece was being chosen by itself, asking to be played. I find it very interesting. And what is even more surprising is that I usually never misunderstand the signal. If I feel the need to play a particular composition, it means I feel something very special for it, a very strong emotional connection. I should probably say I am lucky, because I usually build my own recital programs, however I wish I had the same freedom to choose concerti I want to play with orchestras.
I have also had other experiences. I forced myself to play something that did not seem the right choice, and all of a sudden, when the work began, I realized that I made a huge discovery, a work that I never thought I would enjoy became one of my favourites.
My former teacher Boris Berman told me one day: “Try to learn to love a piece you do not like.” At that time I did not understand how that was possible, I neither wanted to try. I guess now I know what he meant.
Do you have a favourite concert venue to perform in and why?
I can name several venues where I felt particularly good. A concert hall in Malaga, Sala Maria Cristina was a very special venue where I played all Schumann recital. I loved their Steinway, and the decoration of the hall and its acoustic were very inspiring. I enjoyed immensely performing at Weill Hall in New York, as well as remember wonderful experiences performing at the Mozarteum in Salzburg and Minato Mirai Hall in Yokohama.
Favourite pieces to perform? Listen to?
This questions is partially related to my choice of repertoire. I prefer to perform works that are emotionally intense and that speak to me most. Compositions I choose to play become my favourite pieces to perform. I do like listening to music, in fact I only listen to classical music, and I should probably feel ashamed that I do not listen to anything else. It all depends on my mood. One day I might want to hear a Baroque ensemble, another evening I want to listen to Schubert’s Lieder or Brahms, or may be Haydn’s symphonies.
Who are your favourite musicians?
If we talk about living pianists, I would name Grigory Sokolov, Murray Perahia, Mitsuko Uchida, Radu Lupu, Evgeny Kissin, András Schiff.
What is your most memorable concert experience?
I have several. I will never forget my experience performing Brahms d minor piano concerto with Kazufumi Yamashita and Sendai Philharmonic Orchestra in the final round of Sendai International Piano Competition in 2010. It is an exceptionally rare experience when you feel that the orchestra, conductor and yourself blend into one organic whole, and music drives you with its force somewhere beyond reality. And I give thanks to this conductor for making me feel that way. A similar experience occurred performing Chopin e minor concerto with Stamatia Karampini, she made me to forget that I was not playing alone, and with Chopin that is really dangerous, because the conductor and the orchestra have to be constantly alert, Chopin´s rubato is unpredictable and too fragile to foresee. I have also enjoyed tremendously performing with Roberto Trevino and Cincinnati Symphony, and with Carlos Prieto and David Danzmayr and Louisiana Philharmonic. My solo memorable experience was probably my Weill Hall debut and a recital I performed in Baltimore with Schubert A major Sonata D.959, a work I have a very intimate connection with; in fact all Schubert occupies a very special place in my heart. I am not sure what happened that evening, but I was watching my hands and thought I am witnessing my own playing. My intensions were shaping phrases with no effort, and music was being created in the moment. That state of mind is not something you can experience every time you go to play on stage.
What do you consider to be the most important ideas and concepts to impart to aspiring musicians?
I think the most important advice I would give is to stay true to yourself, avoid being influenced by others and do not give up.
Where would you like to be in 10 years’ time?
I am not sure I can answer this question. I like the idea of not knowing what is ahead in my life. I have learned not to rush things, and that everything comes at its right time. I try to enjoy living in the present moment.
What is your idea of perfect happiness?
To feel internal harmony and see my family healthy and happy.
What is your most treasured possession?
The ability to feel and understand music.
What do you enjoy doing most?
Playing the piano.
What is your present state of mind?
I feel pretty balanced and in peace with myself.
Marianna Prjevalskaya’s all-Rachmaninoff CD is available now. The recording features two works for solo piano: Variations on a Theme of Chopin, Op.22, and Variations on a Theme of Corelli, Op.42. (Fanfare Cincinnati FC-008) Marianna Prjevalskaya plays Rachmaninoff
Born to a musical family, Marianna benefited from early lessons with her mother from age six, her principal mentor for more than eleven years. She continued her studies at the Royal College of Music in London with Irina Zaritskaya and Kevin Kenner. In 2003 Marianna moved to the United States where she joined the Toradze Piano Studio at Indiana University. She also holds an Artist Diploma and Master of Music from Yale School of Music, where she studied with Boris Berman. Currently Marianna is a doctoral candidate at Peabody Conservatory of Music where she studied with Boris Slutsky. At diverse festivals, she has studied with renowned pianists such as Liliya Zilbernstein, Emmanuel Ax, John O’Conor, Leon Fleisher, Choong-Mo Kang, Richard Goode, Peter Frankl and Piotr Paleczny, among others.