World-renowned pianist Vladimir Viardo will perform in “the noble style” of Russian piano on September 21st at 1900 Building
Author Lana Yeager writes and edits for the Russian Kansas City section of The Russian America newspaper.
This Friday at the 1900 Building, one of the most outstanding pianists of modern times, Vladimir Viardo, will perform a concert of works by Schubert and Debussy and a Master Class centered on works by Liszt and Prokofiev. Viardo is a graduate of the Tchaikovsky Moscow State Conservatory. At 21, he won the Prix du Prince Rainier of the Marguerite Long-Jacques Thibaud Competition, and, in 1973, won the Gold Medal at the Van Cliburn International Piano Competition. He is a Distinguished Professor of Music at the University of North Texas, and a world-renowned piano professor and performer.
Mr. Viardo will play in Kansas City for the ICM 1900 Building Series, a program of Park University’s International Center for Music which offers a full season of faculty, student and guest performances.
It was my pleasure to speak to Maestro Viardo this September about his amazing life story and his music.
A visit from a Russian-American
After we greeted each other, Mr. Viardo asked right away, “Are there a lot of Russian-speakers in Kansas City?”
“Quite a lot!” I replied, “And since most of us are fans of classical music, we’re looking forward to your concert!”
The ensuing, relaxed conversation wove stories of a remarkable immigrant life with unique insights about creative practice and musical sensibility.
“Kid, come here!”
I was born in the Caucasus, in the village of Krasnaya Polyana, which is a famous resort now. It was the center of the 2014 Sochi Olympic Games, but it used to be a small village. This town has a special place in my heart. I was involved in building a church there, and I feel proud about that. And a local school gave my name to a small museum. In Krasnaya Polyana I feel humbled. My homeland is always in my thoughts.
While his travels to Russia usually take him to the major concert halls in cities such as Moscow and St. Petersburg, he returns occasionally to his hometown. He told me a lighthearted story about visiting Krasnaya Polyana after attending a music festival in nearby Sochi. Mr. Viardo was asked to attend a concert of non-professional musicians in Krasnaya Polyana and, just after the program master introduced him as a famous countryman, an elderly lady from the audience loudly said, "Kid, come here!"
And I was more than fifty years old. I approached the elderly lady.
“Was your mother a singer?” she asked, “Did she teach music?”
“Yes, she did!” I answered.
“Guess what? I nursed you when you were a baby. I even remember that you peed on my dress!” She was laughing.
Others in the crowd decided to make their contributions, too. “What do you do abroad? Come back home! We're going to build you a house here.” And, “Well, if you don’t come now, at least come back when you are very old, to be buried here, in the homeland.”
Mr. Viardo went on to describe his childhood and the influence of his mother and grandmother on his later career.
My mother was born in Sochi. She was a classical singer. With a group of performers, she traveled from town to town through the region, performing concerts. My grandmother was in jail for “political reasons,” as many other people were at the time. When she came home I was six years old. My grandmother is the one "to blame" for my taking up music: she made me play music for four hours every day. I cried; but even when I could, I didn’t quit music.
Although his grandmother was not a musician, she valued everything that concerned the arts. An understanding of the profound social value of artistic study was part of her family heritage and Mr. Viardo’s mother became a pianist and singer thanks to his grandmother’s efforts and her effect on the family. This family commitment to artistic study would direct his career.
When I turned fourteen — we were living in Zaporozhye at that time — my mother decided that that city was too small for my musical education. She bought a train ticket and sent me to Moscow. Lucky for me, she had friends at the conservatory. I stayed with the Naumov family and I entered the Gnesinsky College in Moscow, where Irina Naumova was my teacher. My next step was the Moscow State Tchaikovsky Conservatory, where Lev Naumov, a genius musician as well as professor, became my teacher. Sadly, Lev Naumov and Irina Naumova are already gone, but I am very close with their children and grandchildren. We are like family.
His mother’s decision to send him to Moscow and her contact with the Naumov family were decisive in launching Mr. Viardo’s career, and he relished remembering it. The following years spent touring the USSR were, of course, also crucial to his musical growth; however, they also brought political confinement to his art.
I worked at the Moscow Conservatory and was a soloist in the Moscow Philharmonic. I traveled all over the USSR. For 11 years, I was not allowed to travel abroad, as was the case, indeed, for many others, for example, the cellist Natalia Gutman, and Sviatoslav Richter, the legendary pianist. Then, I left Russia to work in the USA.
The Noble School of Music
Rigorous traditions of classical music and piano training are ingrained in Russian culture, and Mr. Viardo and I spoke about that as a cultural contrast with the United States. He emigrated to the US in 1989.
In Russia, there are stylistic schools that belong to specific regions. Is there an American school of classical piano performance? No. In Russia and the former USSR, large cities such as of Moscow or St. Petersburg were always considered to be unique cultural centers. Piano “schools” of Russia and the former USSR differ from each other — Moscow, St. Petersburg, Kiev. I’m even able to guess by ear which school a pianist represents. There is one thing in common for all the schools of Russia and the USSR, though: they are noble. Even in remote areas of the US, it is known that Russian training in performance skills is the best, and this is because of its traditions. Russian schools took the best of the world’s principles of musical creation and teaching methods. There is a joke: “What makes an American conservatory? It is when the professors are Russians and the students are Chinese.” This is true at my school, too! And, a performance school is not only the learning process, it is also how the pianist creates music on-stage. The beauty of every school is love, and how we as professors promote love for the art in our students.
V. Viardo with students
Today, I played as never before!
We are lucky that Friday’s Kansas City performance will include a Master Class, allowing us a glimpse of Mr. Viardo’s instructional expertise. But while he is renowned in his role as Distinguished Professor, he also knows the freedom inherent in great performance, and wishes it for his students.
[...] Yes, there are concerts when I play “as never before.” During my best concerts... I can't even describe what I’m doing. I can't explain. It’s like someone is guiding me. A blessing of the unknown — this is how I can name it.
I want to share a story about my student Ivan Sokolov, who is well-known in Moscow. We were working on one Prokofiev Sonata for a piano competition. The student and I conquered every single note. At the performance, he played beautifully,... but the opposite of what we had done during preparation! After the concert, I asked, “What did you do? It was incredible!” "I don't know," he said. I hugged Ivan.
This is what I am talking about: when you are not you, and you cannot explain what happened. This is what I call true creativity. I use this technique with my talented musicians. I ask them to play five-six variations of the same music. It's like changing the accent in the phrase I love you, I LOVE you, I love YOU – the meaning is different every time. I never know how my students will play on stage, where their musical impulse will be. Going on stage, I do not know how I will play today. I never know. Of course, the basics of the music are one thing, but the state of my soul is different. What affects it? Many things. Everything affects it!
Vladimir Viardo on Schubert and Debussy
On September 21st, Kansas City will be able to hear where the state of his soul leads Vladimir Viardo as he plays Schubert and Debussy. He reflected briefly but richly in our interview on what he hears in these composers.
Schubert is brilliant! His music comes from pain and from the fear of death: he had an unhappy life, and maybe that's why he expressed those feelings. But that pain in Schubert’s music is generative, not destructive. This is the beauty of Schubert.
Debussy includes hidden citations in his compositions, allusions to the music of other composers, but he is all the while an innovator. He was a pianist at the home of Nadegda von Meck, Tchaikovsky's patroness. He was impressed by Khovanshchina, the Mussorgsky opera. Debussy was influenced by Mussorgsky, who didn’t follow strict compositional principles, and in fact, didn’t know them. So, Russian culture played an important role in his music, but Debussy was very creative in his allusions to these influences.
Mr. Viardo is looking forward to sharing his experience with Schubert and Debussy with a Kansas City audience when he plays this week: “I hope my listeners in Kansas City will feel my love and admiration for the talent of the composers whose music I will play.” I encourage classical music fans in Kansas City to experience the unique performance by one of the world’s great piano masters, this Friday at 1900 Building.
V. Viardo (third from left), First Lady Betty Ford (center)
and Mrs. and The Honorable A. Dobrynin, USSR Ambassador to the US (at right)
The only voice of ancestors is in our selves...
Mikhail Tarkovsky, 1979
This is an interview by Lana Yeager with Natalia Tarkovskaya, who speaks about belonging to the renowned Tarkovksy family, a lineage that continues to produce talented Russian artists.
On September 19, 2018, Tivoli Cinemas in Westport will screen Stalker, by Andrey Tarkovsky. Tarkovsky’s name is a symbol of an era in Russian movie making, a stylistic current that makes Time the main character of every movie. Andrey Tarkovsky created a new language for cinema, one that interprets life with such purity that life’s imperfections become beauty.
Recently, I spoke to Natalia Tarkovsky, a visual artist and writer who is the great granddaughter of the renowned Russian poet, Arseny Tarkovsky, and the grandniece of Andrey. Natasha’s father, Mikhail Tarkovsky is a well-known Russian poet and writer.
LY: Natasha, it is very nice to talk to you after our recent graduation from the Gorky Literature Institute. It is interesting that we studied together for many years but didn’t have the time until now to exchange our stories. What can you tell me about yourself?
NT: For me, it is always difficult to tell about myself. I can start with a standard biography. I was born in Moscow, have two graduate degrees in the humanities and an associate degree in fine arts. As a child, I traveled a lot to central Siberia. My parents worked there. After school, I went to Italy for art college, but I had to return to Moscow. It was a challenging time for me and my whole family back then: my mom was diagnosed with cancer. She wanted me to stay in Italy to continue my education. I couldn’t. I came back to Moscow.
The next page in my life is at the Gorky Literature Institute, studying poetry, and the Russian State University of Humanities, for theater criticism. And I never stopped drawing. Poetry, theater and fine arts: this is what I love. I also want to say that I love to travel. It is how I connect with my inner self.
LY: You are a very creative person. Did your famous relatives influence your creativity? And if so, how?
NT: This is a very interesting question. First, I was interested in drawing, and saw it as my life and my future profession. Even though I loved literature, I never thought that I would get into that sphere. I always wanted to have my own way, without influences and interconnections with my relatives who were writers: Arseny Tarkovsky, Andrey Tarkovsky and my father Mikhail who by the way graduated from the same Literature Institute as you and I. But I was artificially pulling myself away from something that was already a part of me. It was meant to be that I would study literature.
LY: You are involved with different types of art. Which one is more significant and valuable for you?
NT: For many years I've been trying to choose, but I realized that I cannot stay with only one. What is most intriguing for me is to blend different arts in one and create my own synthesis. It is a combination of word, image, color, movement, voice. From there, the dimension of performance and performative theater with the fusion of poetic imagery is born. This is the project that I dream about.
LY: Do you feel a burden of responsibility because you have a "loud" last name? Sometimes, it seems that the descendants of famous people are trying to prove that they are as talented as their famous relatives. Have you tried to prove that you are you and not they?
NT: For a very long time, I was afraid to express myself openly in writing. I always wanted to find myself in a different medium, something different from the others, and not to live in the mindset of competition. At one point, I realized that all of this was just in my mind. Despite my last name and the achievements of my great ancestors, I have my own path, my life and my journey. Don’t take me wrong; it is very important for me to preserve the cultural values of our family dynasty. I cannot describe it well, but I feel connected with my relatives not only by blood, but also in soul. Perhaps it is my primary responsibility to convey and share the inner values that I have inherited from my talented ancestors
LY: Tell me about your grandfather, the poet Arseny Tarkovsky. What relic from his life surprises you the most?
NT: I love my Great-grandfather’s poetry very much. As a child, I saw him only a few times. Unfortunately, I do not remember those days, but we have photos of him and me. I experience a connection with him through the imagery of his poems. I recognize myself in his work. I know that it is not only a genetic link, but also a spiritual one. Poetry for me is basically a window, a portal to another, higher reality. My Great-grandfather’s poetry helps me see that. I read his poems and feel them, I recognize myself in them. Please understand me, I do not dare to compare myself with the poetic level of my Great Grandfather.
What surprises me... Probably the combination of Arseny Tarkovsky’s life story and the level of his talent. I am always fascinated by the way in which life turns affect someone’s art, how the power of human spirit transfers into creative work. What surprises me is how the essence of time continues through the family, in my grandmother Marina, his daughter, and my dad, his grandson. In each of us I see the continuity of one heritage.
LY: Can you share an unusual or surprising story about the director, Andrey Tarkovsky?
NT: I only know about Andrey from stories of my grandparents. I read a lot of books about his work. I am fascinated by the story about creating the movie, Mirror, which is an autobiography. It contains footage from real life. In the background of the scenes, you hear the voice of Arseny Tarkovsky reading poems. For me, all this together is like hearing a confession. Watching it, I witness a sequence of confused memories, and see simultaneously with the eyes of a child and an adult. I've always wondered how it was for him to make such films. In them, there is an incredible inner flair of the director’s mind, and the courage and strength to follow an artistic idea. It is exceptional. Andrey shows the magic of cinema. This is not about control and mechanics. This is about the internal movement of the soul, which is read between the lines, in the background of scenes, beneath images.
LY: You already know that soon in Kansas City the Tivoli Cinema in Westport will be screening Stalker by Andrey Tarkovsky. How do you understand the creativity of Tarkovsky? He's better known as a filmmaker, but he is a poet and a theatrical director. What's his main talent for you?
NT: True, he had many, different talents. For me, Andrey Tarkovsky is the movie director. I love rich, slow motion footage, the psychology and drama shown in his cinema, always very discreet, and almost ascetic. I also drown in the depth and simplicity of his films.
N. Tarkovsky with her parents
LY: Tell me about your father, Mikhail Tarkovsky. He is the grandson of the poet Arseny Tarkovsky and the nephew of Andrey Tarkovsky, right?
NT: Yes, he is. My father lives in Siberia. He chose the road of solitude and almost escape from the big city’s influences, and the opinions and expectations of others. Dad writes prose about the life of the Russian people of Siberia. His writing is about a Siberian village, its everyday life, simple but very challenging at the same time. Perhaps he is looking for connections to his spiritual and folk roots. For me, he's always just a dad. And then, he is a writer and a researcher.
LY: Now it is time for you to speak without questions. Feel free to share your thoughts.
NT: My grandmother, Marina Tarkovskaya, and my grandfather, Alexander Gordon, both wrote interesting memoirs. Marina was Andrey Tarkovsky’s sister. My grandpa was a movie director as well, and also a classmate of Andrey, his brother-in-law. My grandpa is an example of incredible kindness and nobility for me, and sometimes it occurs to me that he had a big burden — to be a director next to Andrey Tarkovsky. My grandpa, Alexander Gordon, has always devoted his life to the family, and now he writes memoirs about Andrey. One day I hope to write a book about my grandpa and his work as a film director.
N. Tarkovsky (at left), Grandmother Marina (center), the sister of Andrey Tarkovsky, and Mother of Mikhail Tarkovsky
LY: What did you wish for our readers and the viewers of the Andrey Tarkovsky’s film, here in Kansas City?
NT: I am very glad that Andrey's films are shown in other countries. When I was in college in Italy, I went to see Tarkovsky’s Andrey Rublev. I was surprised that most viewers neither understood nor connected with the story. Scenes describing Russia of the 15th century for a foreigner are sometimes too difficult to comprehend. At that moment, I realized that to “tune in” to this type of movie, viewers should be prepared. It is not an entertaining cinema, but instead it is an art that requires internal work and reflection. Not everyone loves slow cinema-thoughtfulness and cinema-meditation.
LY: Thank you, Natasha, for your sincere conversation. I look forward to watching the movie by the great Russian director Andrey Tarkovsky when it screens in Kansas City on September 19, 2018. I am preparing myself to tune in to this unique cinema from my homeland.
September 15, 2018
Images: Natalia Tarkovsky family archives
Join the event: Stalker by Tarkovsky at Tivoli Cinema on September 19 at 7 PM.
co-hosted by Svetlana S. Yeager and Russian Cultural Association "Russian House of Kansas City"
The Russian version of the interview in the Russian America newspaper, the Russian Kansas city section.