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15 Questions to Grace Nikae

img  Tobias

Hi! How are you? Where are you?
Hello, I'm fine, thank you! I am in Holland, where I am currently based. 

What’s on your schedule right now?
I have my recital debut at Amsterdam's Concertgebouw Hall coming up this month, several concerts in Spain, and then recording sessions for my upcoming debut CD, Fantasies, that is scheduled for release in the fall on the Ars Harmonica label. Then I will be quite busy with recitals, concerti, and chamber music concert tours in Spain, France, Holland, China, and the US... 

If you hadn’t chosen for music, what do you think you would do right now?
I probably would have been either a doctor, a teacher, a writer, or a veterinarian. I have always had a very strong curiosity and interest in other disciplines besides music, and I always wanted to do something in my life where I could help people in some way.  

What or who was your biggest influence as an artist?
It is difficult to name just one person or event in my life. I believe all of the people and events over the course of one's life contribute in shaping the kind of person and artist one becomes. My great teacher, Alexander Slobodyanik, of course had a profound influence on my artistic development. Growing up, I was also influenced by the recordings of Richter, Horowitz, Rubinstein, Lipatti, and Gould. I have also been very much affected by the performances of Argerich, Perahia, Pogorelich, Kocsis, and Lupu, to name a few.  I have also been tremendously influenced by other wonderful musicians that I have had the fortune to perform chamber music with.  

What’s the hardest part about being a musician and what’s the best?
I believe the hardest part about being an artist is the continual struggle with oneself. The life of an artist is about the never-ending search to discover something -- a vibration, a sound, a color, a truth -- which lies beyond what is present and obvious. It means having a constant heightened awareness and sensitivity to the entire scope of life in order to shape our art. This involves an abstract battle of continually challenging and pushing oneself to question and explore outside the boundaries, to persistently think outside the "box".  It is a progression of examination and re-examination in order to reach the next level of understanding, a deeper level of illumination. Add to this the obvious daily challenges of balancing our energy between our art, the demands of our profession (constant travel, tight schedules) and our family, friends, personal life, maintaining our health, time for nurturing our own selves, and our own spiritual, artistic, and emotional growth, etc. and it becomes quite a hectic life! But the best part about being a musician is that I am privileged enough to be able to do what I love and believe in every day. In addition, I consider it a very important and vital role in society and in the development of humanity. I feel as though I am contributing to something that extends far beyond me. There is a great satisfaction and fulfillment in that.  

What’s your view on the classical music scene at present? Is there a crisis?
Yes, I do feel that we have now reached a point where classical music is in a very serious crisis. There are numerous factors involved, of course: the way society has changed into a very fast-paced and results-oriented one, something which greatly conflicts with the time-investing. abstract, and long-term commitment of an artistic life; the lack of quality cultural education in order to continue the nurturing of future music lovers and concert-goers; the separation that has come between performers and living contemporary composers; the inability of the classical music world to continue to evolve and take risks, sticking instead to traditional formats simply because that is the way it has always been; among many others. But the main problem, from which all of the economic and social issues stem from, is the rapidly growing belief that somehow the arts are not a valuable and vital part of society. And this problem is reflected both in the public (audiences, presenters, music business and managers. governmental policies) who perhaps do not have the kind of artistic cultural education needed in order to be able to recognize how best to support the sustaining of the arts, as well as in many of the current performing artists themselves, who do not recognize the important responsibility they have in their life as an artist. If an artist does not believe with all of his self that what he is doing, that the music that he is performing, that the concert that he is giving, is something that is an integral part of human life, a crucial and priceless means for human expression and communication... if the artist himself does not take responsibility for his role in contributing to the development of the human condition, how will the audience know? How will the public ever appreciate what music can contribute? In America, the crisis has existed for awhile now, and I believe that musicians, concert presenters, and institutions there are quickly starting to figure out ways in which to continue to bring classical music alive to children, audiences and communities. In Europe, I believe the crisis is just now really starting to come to the forefront. It is interesting because I think Europe is having more of a difficult time in dealing and adjusting to the crisis, because of the very fact that most of the classical music tradition has emerged from here. There seems to be a belief that since classical music has been around for so long, it will continue to do so no matter what -- I sense there is quite more resistance to the idea of changing. But society and times have changed, and I believe that the "traditions" of classical music have also to be reexamined and to change as well. There is too much of a separation and gap between society and the arts -- and it is up to the classical music world and artistic community to start discussing how to address it, and to find the courage to change and evolve. 

Some feel there is no need to record classical music any more, that it’s all been done before. What do you tell them?
I don't believe that is true, because I believe that great music is something that is beyond this "product" oriented mentality. Just because someone has recorded a piece, does not mean that everything that could be said about that work is done. Of course not! What a great piece of music can say is infinite and transcends time, because it is a reflection of human life. And for every unique individual voice that has existed and will exist in this world, there will also be a unique and different way of expressing that voice. A piece may have been recorded many times before, but each artist who records it is a different human being, with a unique voice that deserves to be heard. An artist who records a piece today, and another artist who records the same piece a hundred years from now, will have very differing interpretations, and it is important to have the opportunity to hear both. Furthermore, one artist may revisit and record the same work again years later, and it will also be different. The music and the interpretation will have evolved, because the artist will have evolved and the recording will reflect all of the emotional and mental joys and challenges which have shaped and colored his life. All of this is to be treasured, because it is the very example of the beautiful and infinite wonders of art.  

What constitutes a good live performance in your opinion? What’s your approach to performing on stage?

I believe a good live performance is where communication or understanding has been achieved between the performer and audience. Conviction is a key word for me. If I hear a concert, I want to be convinced by the artist, by his interpretation, by his voice. I may not necessarily agree, but if I am convinced, if I am carried along with his emotional journey through the music, if I am moved, if I am touched or enlightened  in some way -- then I believe this is a good performance. This is what I aim to achieve in all of my own performances -- to reach the audience in that moment, and have them experience with me what I see and feel and understand in each piece of music. But therein lies the very paradox of what we do as artists -- a performance is an act of creation within a particular moment, and can therefore also be affected by so many factors which we do not have control over: physical, mental, emotional, a bad hall, a bad instrument, etc. But perhaps in the end, this is the whole beauty of art -- the desire to communicate one's beliefs and ideas with strength and conviction, and yet being ever reminded of the fact that we are human and vulnerable.  

What does the word “interpretation” mean to you?

Interpretation for me means the intertwining of living and recreating. I immerse myself in the music in order to recreate and understand what emotional odyssey the composer wanted for us to undergo... and then I must live it within me in order to bring it to those who are listening, so that they may live it as well.  

True or false: It is the duty of an artist to put his personal emotions into the music he plays.
Both true and false. To perform a piece of music, an artist must believe in every note in order to convincingly communicate to the audience. Therefore, in order to believe in it, an artist must deeply feel and experience it for himself -- the music must become his own. However, this is always colored and tempered by the underlying intentions and desires of the composer.  

True or false: “Music is my first love”
Absolutely true. Music has been a part of my life since the day I was born, and I have been seated at the piano exploring all of its marvels since I was 9 months old! I cannot imagine one day without it --- it has always been woven into the very fabric of who I am.  

True or false: People need to be educated about classical music, before they can really appreciate it. 
Both true and false. I think a great performance, in and of itself, is already an educational experience. A great performance can illuminate the human experience -- it can teach and  enlighten the audience to discover something deeper within their own selves, as well as inspire and enable them to reach higher in their own life. The way children respond to their first classical music concert is a remarkable example of this. I am always struck by how natural their response is, without being colored by any preconceived notion. It can be a very life-changing and revelatory experience for them.  At the same time, a cultural education, I think, is very important. Not simply because it can create more knowledgeable and appreciative classical music audiences (although this is true), but because it is vital for society's continued general development. Art goes around everything, and interconnects with all aspects of life -- a quality cultural education would open up and broaden many dimensions of human existence. 

You are given the position of artistic director of a concert hall. What would be on your program for this season?
I would envision a program which uniquely combines both the music of current contemporary composers as well as the music from the past. An important idea for me is context -- new contexts in programming and new pairings of different kinds of music can shed revelatory light on music that we may have already heard thousands of times. Creative programming which stimulates a fresh perspective is an important criteria for me, and very much influences my programming choices on my own recitals as well. Another aspect I would like to explore is linking the music experience to other kinds of literary, visual and performing arts as well. A key element for me would also be the implementation of outreach residencies, conferences, lectures, and other kinds of educational programs in order to create a closer connection between artists and communities, and ensure the nurturing of the next generation of music and culture lovers.  

What’s your favourite classical CD at the moment?

My goodness, that is too difficult to answer -- I have many! 

Have you ever tried playing a different instrument? If yes, how good were you at it?
I have always been obsessed with other instruments. I love working with singers, and I have also always been very envious of string players who can bring their beloved instruments with them everywhere, and who perform literally embracing and holding their instrument close to their bodies. I did finally play the violin for a few years in my school orchestra, but let's just say that I realized I was much more suited for sitting in front of the piano keys!

Homepage: Grace Nikae

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