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Beautiful minds" - Interview with pianist Angela Drăghicescu
Soloist, teacher, and acclaimed chamber performer, the musician gives us some insights into important moments in young musicians' careers - and beyond.
You started studying the piano at the age of 4. How do you remember important moments in your career? What helps you make professional decisions?
I am one of the lucky cases I can say. In fact, I don't think I'm the only one who can attest to the fact that all the decisions I've made in my career so far have been influenced by an extraordinarily high passion for and enjoyment of making music. Some decisions were that were very difficult to make. At one point, I remember that I didn't know if I wanted to continue with the piano, because it's a very difficult instrument and a difficult career... Not having many landmarks around me, because my parents weren't musicians by profession, and then we were all very happy to make music... This remained like a mantra in my life: to always count all the important moments and the pleasure that music brought to my life. I remember that it started with the teachers I had, how dear they were to me, and how much they loved what they did. I just let the music take me wherever it took me.
Writer George R.R. Martin said there are two kinds of authors: architects and gardeners. Architects plan their story in detail from the beginning, and gardeners plant the seeds of the story - an idea or a character - and let the story take its natural course. Do you think this categorization can also apply to the way we make career decisions?
Of course. It depends a lot on each one. It depends on the structure of each person. None of the methods can be criticized because a person can only plan beautiful things, but it depends a lot on each one. Here I remain consistent with this idea; and I think that in music especially and necessarily there must also be this "flower garden" as we would say, which grows not necessarily because of what water you use, that is, from somewhere above, other elements come that cannot always be controlled. Everything that happened in my music career I saw it in a way like the faith you have in God or any other being; namely, I wanted to do good, I wanted to bring light, not always having the guarantee of turning out exactly what I set out to do. I leave myself in the hands of a supreme force. The duty I had was that the seed I planted with the best intentions.
Do you think the artist has certain duties towards the public, maybe even towards society?
Surely. It's a question I've been asking myself a lot lately, and I'm glad you asked it. In general, an artist must be very honest with his art, and with his audience. He is an interpreter of the composer's wishes and must filter as honestly as possible what, for example, Beethoven or Brahms put on paper. I think these days, above all, it must be driven by ambition, to reach the hearts of the public. I believe that in a way, lately, we have lost this message, this invisible line from the artist to the listener's heart. It must become a mission again because we do it for ourselves as artists, but especially for our audience. We are out there creating for outsiders.
In this sense of authenticity... Do you think it has become a secondary priority for young performers or society in general?
I think in a certain way, yes, because these days we live in a society where there is, what in English is called "instant gratification", that is, an automatic reward, which also comes from social networks and the media, which are very normal. The world is always progressing in technology and then I think there is no longer necessarily this effort to find, to be as inventive, as inspired as possible, as an artist, actually, that is the word, to find other formulas and then, I think this generation is experiencing a lack of effort, a lack of effort that you have to put into being creative in everything you do. The moment something comes quite simply you don't think about 12 other formulas to do something, and other things also don't develop the same way. On the other hand, this generation is also much more inventive in other ways and more creative in other ways. How now, for example, a website or social networks are used... They are extremely useful. The priority of where creativity is and how it should be applied has changed a bit.
How do you think a career today for your students' generation differs from the careers of previous generations, in this case, the generation of your teachers?
Without sounding like criticism, today's career, in my point of view, is largely a career of how much exposure there is online. For example, there are people I know who very good musicians are, but who got or had a career based primarily on the number of likes they got, and how much exposure they got on social networks, and media. That is not a career made with the experience that our teachers had who were primarily driven to bring the purest quality of the product they had. When I say product, I mean the way they sang, and their performance. So, they didn't have these networks and then everything was based on the quality of the performance. That is not necessarily necessary today, because concert halls must sell tickets and then popularity speaks more for itself. That's what I really want from today's generation, to have had, in an equal way, this managerial, entrepreneurial side, but based more on the quality of the singing, the quality of the interpretation, and not necessarily on exposure on Facebook or Twitter.
In this sense, I would quote Arthur Rubinstein who advised musicians not to study more than three to four hours a day. On the one hand, he considered that there is concentration limit, and on the other hand, musicians also must live their lives to have content, as you say, to express in their music. How current do you think this vision is?
It is as current as possible. In many interviews that I watched with Itzak Perlman, he said the same thing, that he doesn't suggest that students spend more than three hours on the violin because, at some point, the repetitive study of the same thing starts to work in -kind of against you, you are no longer productive. But one of the things that Rubinstein mentioned, which is very important, is that we really don't have life experience; it doesn't give us life experience if we stay in this place all the time, I mean studying too much. This is important because each artist must also have a baggage of knowledge, and experiences that make him as close as possible to a score. It is impossible at some point not to pass Beethoven or the composer you are approaching at that moment and pass it through the prism of your experiences. A more tender passage cannot but make you think of a more impressive moment in life; without this complexity of feelings, of experiences, you cannot reach certain subtler layers of depth, and I think that is why it is very necessary.
How do you advise your students to avoid the feeling of burnout that many young people have today, and how do you avoid it?
I think the most important thing is to remember that our mission is to bring as much light as possible, in the sense of as many positive things as possible, not necessarily to balance out the negative things in our lives, but so that it becomes a personal mission. Indeed, I also went through these moments with my students, right now I am discussing exactly this topic, and how to avoid this burnout. The most important thing is to tell them to stop a little and think about how they could change the world around them through the most positive things, for as much light as possible, through as much inventiveness and creativity as possible. So, in other words, what projects can I do, what thoughts can we replace - negative ones with positive ones. If for five concerts you didn't make, how many smaller ones can you make? I always try to balance that and detach as much as I can from the things that keep you in one place, stagnant, because they bring stress and anxiety. We live in this world where we have the phone in our hands and without the phone, we have anxiety, and we must do as much as possible to prove that we are successful. Success must be redefined. I heartily advise the youth of today to redefine their career at any time. If some things didn't work out for you then find another way. Redefine what success means to you and then you won't have that feeling of burnout, because there will always be something that inspires you.
You are a chamber music teacher. This field is a collective enterprise, however, which implies plurality. In this sense, how do you prepare young students to reach common plans, for example in careers?
It must be diplomacy. There must also be communication, as much communication as possible. And then automatically that creates a positive space where people can express their ideas. I also urged my students to understand that chamber music is fundamental, especially for today's musicians, to the complete formation of a complete musician; in chamber music, in fact in music, as Daniel Barenboim said, we have an equal footing, there is no voice more important than the other, we come from this prejudice that we are still on the same plane and we have to express our ideas in a way that doesn't make the other person feel inferior in any way. Because in music as in life, you must be as respectful as possible. Also, the fact that at the end of it all, our goal is to make better music, as close to it as possible, and to make a better product as much as we can. That must be the priority and then if the priority comes to the music, I think things are arranged a little easier. In our piano and chamber music department, the most important thing is communication and how you communicate. And that's how we solved many things.
Interpretatively, how do you resolve inconsistencies of opinion between two or more students in the classroom, in the sense you mentioned earlier, of authenticity, of musical "sincerity"?
A good leader, from my obvious point of view, gives a voice to everyone, that is, a man who thinks, a collective of people is behind the success of a person, an enterprise, and whatever; and I treat my students with the respect that they each have an individual voice, each must express their point of view. The moment a man is heard, he is a respected man, he is a man who feels valued, and that was the first thing I did in class: I explained to them that I really wanted them to express their point out of sight and to think constantly, not to let an element just stay locked up there. For example, if we discuss Beethoven's birthdates, we can think further about other things that happened in the composer's life. And because we gave them that support, to be heard, to feel that their opinion mattered, that dissipated the conflict, in general. They are also in another generation who are even more independent driven so to speak, they are very wary of anyone who tries to change their point of view, and this is a very good thing, that they develop their personality and especially in music, but for me, that was really a very good solution and then people felt very welcome that they could speak their mind without being judged and without being given bad marks.
Translated by Georgiana Carmen Rădulescu,
University of Bucharest, Faculty of Foreign Languages and Literatures, MTTLC, year II
Corrected by Silvia Petrescu