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Interview with pianist Florian Mitrea, teacher at Purcell School in London

Monday, 12 October 2020 , ora 10.03

Pianist Florian Mitrea became a teacher at Purcell School in London starting October 1st; the Romanian musician settled in Great Britain in 2008, collaborating with various prestigious institutions in the capital of England, including the Royal Academy of Music.

Shall we start by talking about the relationship you have with teaching? When did you start to be interested inthis field?

I've been teaching since I graduated from college, to be honest. I finished my master's degree in 2014 and I was offered a job at the Royal Academy of Musicalmost immediately. A temporary position, at first. I'm a permanent teacher now. I have a divergent activity, I would say, at the Royal Academy. I work with chamber ensembles, with pianists studying musicology or pianists from the jazz section and I have always been passionate about the educational side, so to speak, including the "Wanderer" project organized by Radio Romania in Bucharest. It is, in fact, a fructification of this desire to work with young pianists, because I am aware that there are a lot of gaps we can fill in the education of young people and I really enjoy sharing the experience with students, Ialmost feel like I become a better musician when I teach.

Over the years, you have also taught master classes at Purcell School in London. How did you develop this relationship with the institution?

Surely, Purcell School is involved in a rather large-scale festival, the Hertfordshire Festival, which is exactly the county I live in. It's a festival that trains great musicians every year, from Stephen Hall to Angela Kewitt, there are many great artists invited there and I was involved in this festival that even trains students from the Purcell school. I went to them for the first time, thanks to the festival with a master class, with a recital in which I sang, in addition to classical repertoires like Liszt's Sonata or Beethoven's Sonata, I also sang works of Composition students from Purcell School and then I met the school principal, the head of the piano department, pianist William Fong, and I was invited to compete when this position was vacant, and I am very happy that I can now be even more involved in the school's life. Itis only for two days a week, but it is a very dynamic place and two days are enough. It is a very dynamic school, a well-integrated school, so to speak, in an international energy. We have students from all over the world, from Asia, Europe, America and it is really quite a vibrant atmosphere, let's say.

How does the ideal teacher look like from your perspective?

What a complex question. It's very difficult. Surely, we must not forget, working with a musical instrument teacher is, first and foremost, a matter of a personal nature. The match of temperament, of attitude, between a student and theirmusical instrument teacher matters a lot, but of course, there are certain criteria that a teacher should meet, but I think they are all under the umbrella termto care. You have to care a lot about the student who was entrusted to you, because, after all,one can talk about an enormous responsibility. For example, at Purcell School we have children who come at a very, very young age. We are talking 11-, 12-year-olds. They come from China and the parents practically entrust them to the school and therefore to the piano teacher, they practically entrust the whole development of the child to you and then you have to constantly care, what happens to them, how they develop, whatmore you can do to help them. And secondly, this is also an issue which I am subjective towards and which I care very, very much for, I care very much for the very practical teaching, focused on fixing the problems. There are a lot of teachers, it happened to me too, Iwent to a master's course and we werevery vaguely being taught that our work should be beautiful, should be special, but the job of being a pianist is very difficult to articulate, very difficult to put it into clear words, and that's what I try to do in class, because the moment you give clear directions or clear suggestions you almost feed the student's self-confidence.

Obviously, you are much more prepared in this second field, but considering the first aspect, we are talking about children's development, how did the experience before teaching prepare you for this practical aspect of pedagogy?

I reckon I can answer this question very easily. I try to work with my students the way my teachersworked with me. I don't know, where I got such luck from, perhaps from the Providence, I don't know where this luck came from. I was extremely lucky to have some dedicated teachers, some teachers who were entirely dedicated to this profession. I entered the music high school very late. I come from a completely normal family, no one was a musician in our family, and there was no oneto help me study. I was practically the product of the Romanian music school and I was lucky, both at the George Enescu Music High School, by some teachers who really cared about me and instilled in me exactly the same attitude in my relationship with the teacher and further, in London, with the teacher here and at Imola with Boris Petrușanski, who is still my mentor, I learned what the old school of music means, I mean the old values, which are unchanged in the end. They are eternal. We cannot talk about a new school or an old school. It isthe good school or it is not the good school, after all. I simply learned what it means to workfrom my teachers and in the end I learned that if you care about the student, you are practically winning as well. In the end, it is just like in a saying from a colleague of mine from London: if you want to learn a song well, work with the student, because at that moment you perceive it from every perspective, you care about what it means to do well on stage and you ask yourself why certain things don't work out, why certain things don't work and, at that moment, when you look from the external perspective, you start to come up with answers and solutions.

In the current context, there have been countless debates in the public sphere about health safety in educational institutions, how will the classes at Purcell School take place?

On the school corridors they go only with a mask, at lessons, students have the option to wear a mask, if they want and there are some who feel safer, others prefer free discussion, so to speak, without a mask, especially to the little ones. It is ratherchallenging to communicate with a 10-11 year-old studentwhilst having a mask on your face, although they are very advanced in terms of instrument technique, in fact they are still children and then the conversation is with a man whose face you see, it matters a lot. The pianos are disinfected by every student. We keep in touch with the piano stores, Steinway, Yamaha, Kawai, which are still trying to find solutions to this problem. It is a problem indeed. There is no problem with the violin or other instruments where you play with your personal instrument, in regards to the instrument. This problem occurs when you share an instrument with ten other students or even more. We make sure that the students wash their hands thoroughly before and after the piano lesson and disinfect their pianos as much as the temperatures allow. We try to keep the windows open. Thank God, so far there has only been one suspected case of this disease at the Purcell School, but the result came negative and the school reopened. For now, God has helped us and we have not experienced this sort of problem.

Interview by Petre Fugaciu
Translated by Drangoi Ioana – Alexandra,
Universitatea din București, Facultatea de Limbi și Literaturi Străine, MTTLC, an II
Corrected by Silvia Petrescu