Fearless 25-year-old pianist Natasha Paremski moved to America when she was eight years old, but she insists that it wasn’t because she was an amazing keyboard prodigy. Instead, it was due to a combination of factors: her father, a computer scientist, had the opportunity to work in California’s Silicon Valley; and their native Russia was in the throes of many difficulties following the fall of Communism, and so was an easy place to leave.
Paremski’s thrilling playing is featured on her recent CD that finds her performing Brahms, Gabriel Kahane and Sergei Prokofiev, the Russian composer to whom she finds herself drawn again and again. Prokofiev’s masterly Piano Sonata No. 7—which Paremski brilliantly plays on her CD—is also on the program of her July 30 recital at La Poisson Rouge, now the go-to place for “cool” classical concerts in Manhattan’s West Village.
In addition to Prokofiev, Paremski will also play a new piece by jazz pianist Fred Hersch, Variations on a Theme of Tchaikovsky, along with more familiar works by Tchaikovsky, Brahms and Chopin. Joining her for the concert opener, Astor Piazzolla’s Grand Tango, is her good friend, violinist Philippe Quint.
Paremski recently spoke about her passion for Prokofiev, the other music she’s playing at her recital and how she sees her role as a classical artist.
Kevin Filipski: Your performance of Prokofiev’s Piano Sonata No. 7 is so scintillating; is it the centerpiece of your performance at La Poisson Rouge?
Natasha Paremski: Unfortunately, I won’t be doing the whole thing. Lame as it may seem, I’ll play only one movement. It’s difficult to decide which one to play, because the 3rd movement is flashy and crazy, but the 2nd movement is the core of the piece, it summarizes the whole piece beautifully. It’s such incredible and human writing—it’s harrowing, like one of those dreams you have where you’re running away desperately. It’s a really painful movement, so frightening to hear. You come face to face with death, it’s so beautiful and poignant.
KF: Most experts see Prokofiev and Shostakovich as the two poles of 20th century Russian music. How do you see them?
NP: For me, I hesitate to view Shostakovich as an example of ‘Russian’ music. A lot of people do that with him, he is seen as such a martyr. He was oppressed, blah blah blah—they were all oppressed. Prokofiev for me sums up the Russian spirit more than Shostakovich, whose music is a reflection of what was going on—as opposed to Prokofiev. Music is at the core of the tragedies of that time, with people being taken away during the night, and Prokofiev’s music is almost a diary of that time as opposed to reacting to it. With Prokofiev, we see what’s happening—this is the truth. It’s a raw chronicle of the time.
KF: Talk about the new work by Fred Hersch you’ll be premiering.
NP: At the heart of the recital is the New York premiere of Fred Hersch’s Variations on a Theme of Tchaikovsky, which he wrote for me. It actually took him a long time to write because his health was deteriorating: it was very scary, when he started approaching the work, his health took a turn for the worse and he fell into a coma. It’s a miracle he’s still alive, but thanks to fate he woke up and now he’s performing a full jazz concert career, which is another miracle. He plays better now than he did before. He’s a rather prolific jazz pianist and I look up to him, so for me it was a no-brainer to commission this piece from him. He decided to write variations based on a Tchaikovsky theme because we both have Russian heritage which connects us, along with Tchaikovsky’s music. It’s a really cool set of variations that has a traditional classical flavor, a strong Bach influence, a tango, ragtime, and explores a lot of different characters. In his playing and composing, he has a vast color palette, and he explores that in his variations.
KF: What other works are on the program?
NP: I didn’t want to start with Fred Hersch’s Variations, but instead warming up to them: and what could be better to start with than Piazzolla? I didn’t want to do an all-solo recital this time, it’s so much fun to play with friends, so I asked Philippe Quint, an amazing violinist, if he wanted to do a piece with me. It’s an arrangement for violin and piano of Piazzolla’s Grand Tango, originally written for cello. It leads into the Variations, then we’re going to an arrangement of Eugene Onegin’s Lensky aria, then the Prokofiev sonata, then—so it’s not all Russian music—I’ll do some Brahms and Chopin.
KF: You love playing classical music. What’s your view of the artist’s role in these days of iPods, streaming and YouTube?
NP: As I see it, our duty as musicians is to chase away the fear that people have of classical music—that it’s too cerebral or whatever. But to me, it’s simply gorgeous music that moves anyone who hears it, and you can’t allow yourself to let fear come between you and the music. My responsibility is to show people that it’s approachable.
Pianist Natasha Paremski
July 30, 2012
(Le) Poisson Rouge
158 Bleecker Street, New York, NY