The Winner of 2003 International Web Concert Hall
Tell us about your musical background.
Ilia: I started playing the piano when I was four; I remember trying to
play songs we sang in the kinde-rgarden at home. My parents noticed that I was able to
pick out the melody by ear, and once they had me played for my teacher, she was very
impressed and suggested that I start taking piano lessons. I still remember my first
appearance on a stage at six. It was fun for me and I felt quite comfortable on the stage.
My piano teacher then said, "this kid is born to play on stage". Few years
later, I won numerous first prizes at local piano competitions and was on The National
Television in Bulgaria few times. At ten, I was accepted at The National High School of
Music in Sofia, then The State Academy of Music, where I met Vely.
Vely: Music has always been with me. My Dad is a professional guitarist
and my Mom being a singer in her earlier years. They worked together in a group, so I
guess the talent and love for music I have, had been passed down to me. When I was a
child, I remember myself singing and dancing all the time. Every time we had guests at
home, I was the attraction of the evening doing my entire song and dance
"repertoire", which to my parents was enough that I'll become an artsy person
later in life. So at four I started taking piano lessons. Obviously my eager to study
music was so much that to play only one instrument wasn't enough. I wanted to play the
violin too, however, then, there was no opening in the violin class. Perhaps God's will
came into play, as back then and now, the piano is the love of my life and I can't imagine
myself living without it! The only way I see myself existing in this world is through the
music, and playing piano duo with Ilia, my partner and friend.
MOL: How did you started playing as a piano duo?
Winning The Grand Prize at
The International Piano Duo Competition in Tokyo, 1998
|It was back in 1995 when we first met and became part of
each other's lives. At that time we were classmates at The State Academy of Music in
Sofia, Bulgaria. We had a wish -- to do everything together. No matter what, we wanted to
do it together. As a matter of fact, it was a quite possible to really do every single
thing together, except one - to play and practice together, since we were just two solo
pianists studying at two different piano classes. Luckily, one day, our professor of
chamber music Jenny Zacharieva came up with an idea to team us up as a piano duo and send
us to an international competition. After winning First Prize in a competition in 1997, we
decided to go ahead and enter more contests worldwide. Then, competition after
competition, award after award, we winded up playing professionally as a duo, and best of
all, we had our wish fulfilled! Step by step we discovered the magic of the piano duo,
which has become our passion, our mission in life!
MOL: Tell us about your
|We've had the great fortune to work with one of
the best teachers in this field. We've studied in different countries, therefore, be able
to obtain mastery from all major piano schools worldwide - the Russian-Bulgarian,
German-Austrian, French, Italian and American. While working towards our Bachelor's degree
in Bulgaria, we used to work with most professors at our Academy because we wanted to get
as many different musical opinions and ideas as much as we can. Our teachers include
Stella Dimitrova, Tedy Nestorova, Jenny Zacharieva and Dimitar Kozev.
M-me. Janine Reding, Monaco
With Prof. Goetzke in Hannover, Germany
|In 1997, we went to Monte Carlo to study privately with
Janine Reding of the famous of the past, Reding & Piette Piano Duo. We'll never forget
our multi-hour lessons at Madamme Reding's in Monaco. She was all about duo-piano playing,
very tough, and passionate about music; she made us believe in ourselves, and our future
as a team.
Later in 1999, we continued our studies as one of the first officially admitted piano duos
at the Musikhochschule in Hannover, Germany, where we studied with Bernd Goetzke, regarded
as one of the last pupils of the great pianist Arturo B. Michelangeli. There we learned a
lot about accurate touch and refinement -- characteristics for the German piano school. We
greatly appreciate everything Prof. Goetzke has done for us.
Since 2003 we've been studying with the world-renowned pianist and
pedagogue John Perry at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles, where we
were the first piano duo officially admitted in a higher music institution in America. Mr.
Perry has enormous power of touching people's hearts, and we feel so honored and
privileged to study with such an amazing person and musician, as he is.
Prof. John Perry, Los Angeles, CA
MOL: Family influence in
your choice of musical career...
Ilia: I am so grateful to my family who supported me so generously in
every bit of my life. I owe so much to my Mom and Dad, and especially my Grandma; they
were so devoted and have dedicated much of their lives for me.
Vely: I feel the same towards my parents and I thank them so much! God
MOL: About your practicing strategy...
As a duo, we practice our individual parts first. We work on sound productivity, finger
activity and movements of the arm, musical phrase, expression, and meaning of the part.
Then, we put together both parts and work on the whole musical picture overall, unifying
every single musical idea. We sometimes teach one another and always help each other a
MOL: Do you like any other forms of art?
We love all kinds of arts. We've got paintings in each room of our home, even in the
kitchen. Whenever we have some free time, which it rarely happens, we love to read books.
We read about people, people's biographies and real life stories. For instance, one of our
favorite books is David Weiss' Sacred and Profane' about Mozart's life -- a very inspiring
book, which Vely read three times! Mozart is one of our favorite composers (and he is an
Aquarius, same as Vely's zodiac sign). We listen to music a lot, too. It inspires us.
MOL: What do you do for hobby, if any? What do you do in your free time?
Free time? Are you kidding? Well
we often do Internet researches on different topics.
We love going out in the nature, go hiking in the mountain, have a picnic barbeque in the
park, go to the beach or just do any sort of outdoors activities. We are all about
sightseeing; after a concert, we try to arrange an extra day off, and then go out, look
around and try to feel the atmosphere of the city we've played in.
MOL: In your opinion, what are the characteristics of a good
That would be an interpretation that is natural, touches your soul and inspires your life.
A good performer is the one, who puts a lot of heart and energy into a piece; one who is
able to achieve a unity of body (physical technique) and soul; one who understands
composer's musical language, ideas and style. In piano duo playing, the difficulties are
even doubled. Here we have two people, two different personalities that have to play and
think like one. This type of ensemble is something very special and unique, and it
deserves a broader promotion and support by both, audiences and managers around the world.
MOL: Who are your favorite pianists?
We admire Michelangeli, Horowitz, Glen Gould and Claudio Arrau. We've got a collection of
their video performances, documentaries and live concerts, and often get inspired by these
great pianists and interpreters.
MOL: Do you have to change the style of your playing because you are now playing
Duo piano playing, of course, differs than the solo approach. In duo playing, we have two
inseparable parts that are construct that complements each other. They express their own
emotions and individuality, but most importantly, they are parts of a whole. It is just
like conversation between two people. Phrases and lines drift through one another, and
create the feeling of a music dialog between two artists on the stage.
In this sense, our job as pianists is doubled, so to speak; we not only need to refine our
own parts, but also shape them together so it can naturally blend into the whole musical
picture. So generally speaking, there is a slight change of what a solo playing is, but it
is mainly a change determined by the number of performers in this group. This way, we make
transition from soloists to "Duetists".
MOL: How about practicing strategy
did you have to alter your practicing
strategy because of duo playing?
Playing duo helped us to better understand the meaning of music, and consequently, the way
we practice every day. As we mentioned earlier, we first practice individually -- always
aware of what the other has to play -- and then we get together and practice as a team.
MOL: In your opinion, what is the key factor(s) in piano duo playing vs. solo
In our opinion, there are lots of advantages in piano duo playing vs. solo playing, but
here we'll point out just few of them:
1. If a duo consists of a man and a woman, it represents the way God created us on Earth.
To us, this is the most natural representation of our mankind in the field of music and
2. Two is always more than one! Not only spiritually, but also technically speaking, the
capacity of two is organically more than one. The sound spectrum is much broader this way,
and the variety of colors is virtually unlimited, sometimes even comparable to an
orchestra sound. It opens a whole spectrum of world of further possibilities and different
kinds of expression, which makes it much more passionate and touching people's hearts.
3. To practice together is much more fun than having to practice on your own.
MOL: Some people feel that the demand of
classical music is diminishing. However, we can all see that the number of classical
concerts have been steadily increasing, especially in Far-east. What is your opinion on
this? Do you feel that the trend of classical music is shifting from Europe to North
America and now to Far -East? At the same time, we have witnessed dramatic increase in the
numbers of Asian musicians at all institutions as well as the prize winners in various
International competitions. Share your thoughts on classical music demand and the global
shift. Maybe just focusing on Piano playing only
It is very true that the interest in classical music is decreasing, but the number of
concerts still keeps the same. Deep in their hearts, people know and understand the
importance, historical meaning and deep tradition that classical music brings with it. At
the same time, they see what direction today's world is going to -- a road full of
immorality, greed, and insecurity amongst all. Trying to stay away from it, by attending
concerts people want to sense something real, something strong that has been standing out
for centuries and will still be strong in the years to come.
As far as your second question, we can't really say that trend of classical music is
really shifting from Europe to America or Asia. It is just the fact that the number of
concerts has slightly increased in the Far East and the U.S. over the past few years.
Unfortunately, there are a lot of budget cuts for music programs and art events in many
parts of the world, and music institutions now need to struggle and find their own ways to
support themselves. It is true that many Asian musicians win competitions and consider
studies abroad, especially in Europe where all traditions come from, or the United States
where there are a great number of renowned musicians teaching from all around the world.
They get to study in a creative atmosphere, develop their artistry and skills, and on top
of that, they instinctively use their "Asian precision" they are famous for.
Having all that and working hard, it wouldn't be a surprise if such a person enters a
competition and gets to win. It is just simple as that
The bad news, however, is that even if one gets to win a lot, prize after prize, award
after award, it is not a guarantee that he/she will make it as a performing artist. This
is a very tough business and it takes such a hard work for a talented young musician to
make a career today. You should not only be a good interpreter and have luck, but also be
a good promoter yourself
MOL: Tell us more about John Perry's
teaching technique. What do you mostly like about his teaching? His strengths?
Musicianship? How long have you studied with him?
We've been studying with Mr. Perry since fall of 2002 at the University of Southern
California in Los Angeles. He is an extraordinary musician and totally dedicated to his
students. With a very little touch right on the spot, he shows you the way to another
world of music mastery and piano art. Having gone through the refinements and work on
every little detail when studying with Prof. Goetzke in Germany, now studying with Prof.
Perry, we mainly focus on phrasing and the musical picture overall. We are lucky to have
the good fortune to study with renowned world-class musicians of such a high caliber.
MOL: Do you integrate any other art forms to help you to conceptualize and prepare
for the music you are about to practice?
May be sometimes ballet, eurhythmics or dance. If a phrase is flowing and blends naturally
with a particular movement or dance, then it sounds much more natural and organic by
itself. We often compare our phrases to specific movements or spiritually try to picture
it in our minds.
MOL: Where do you live now?
We live in Los Angeles, California. We absolutely love California, its nature, cliff
beaches, palm trees, snowy mountains and mostly its all-year-round warm weather. It's
definitely one of the most beautiful places on Earth! Best of all, it reminds us so much
of our native Bulgaria ...There are so many concerts and things to do in L.A., it is
sometimes hard to choose what to attend.
MOL: How do you see your music career in the future?
First, we would like to maintain good health, have energy and be strong. Then, we would
like to be able to entirely focus on our performing career as a duo, and make every effort
to promote and support this unique type of ensemble. We have lots of plans and dreams to
fulfill, and hopefully all of them will come true. We will keep working hard towards
achieving our goals, and accomplish our mission in life!
MOL: What musical advice would you give to young gifted pianist/Piano Duo today?
To open their minds, broaden their knowledge, work hard and strongly believe in their art.
Never give up and keep working towards achieving your goals! www.tosheffpianoduo.com
MOL: On be half of
MusicalOnline, we would like to thank you for your time and we wish all the success.
MusicalOnline on August, 2003