Hot off the presses and ready for summer, I’m excited to announce the CD release of pianist Inna Faliks • Reimagine: Beethoven and Ravel.
But before I reveal the mystery, please allow me to introduce the mastermind behind this monumental project, Dr. Inna Faliks.
For those of you who haven’t heard, Ukrainian-born American pianist Inna Faliks has performed on many of the world’s great stages in solo appearances and with numerous orchestras.
She is currently Professor of Piano and Head of the Piano Music Performance Department at UCLA Herb Alpert School of Music.
Dr. Faliks has been featured on WQXR(NY Classical Music Station), WNYC(NY Public Radio), WFMT(Chicago’s Classical, Folk and Jazz Music Station) and many international television broadcasts. She has performed in many major venues including Carnegie Hall, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, and Moscow’s Tchaikovsky Hall.
I might add that Dr. Faliks has also performed at local SoCal concert venues including The Wallis theater, Jacaranda Series, Broad Stage Santa Monica and beloved smaller venues such as Ronna Binn’s Classical Encounters home concerts and Classical Crossroads concerts at Rolling Hills United Methodist Church.
Dr. Faliks is also a Yamaha Artist. (For my students, a Yamaha Artist is a prestigious designation bestowed by Yamaha, by invitation, to notable musical artists, considered to be critically acclaimed in their instruments or genres.)
Her many impressive accomplishments, notwithstanding, I found Dr. Faliks to be warm and genuine, making this interview a pleasure.
How did I discover this great pianist? The same way I’ve had the pleasure and privilege of meeting other great musicians – through mutual musical friends’ Facebook and Instagram posts! (Eye roll) Yes, my blog continues to absolve me for my social media obsession. lol
So, when Inna announced her new CD on Facebook earlier this month, I immediately asked if she would like to be interviewed about it. Luckily, she accepted my invitation, despite her hectic schedule.
I hope you are inspired by Dr. Falik’s sheer tenacity and heroic innovativeness in producing an album of this complexity, facing down daunting challenges presented by the pandemic. And now, on to our interview!
LRW: As an art teacher, the cover art of a CD gets noticed right away. May I ask who designed your CD cover art? I love the type fonts. Was the designer hired by the record label or did you get to choose?
IF: Navona Records did a wonderful job designing a cover that both represents my tastes in art, my publicity photos, and a style that fits the music. It has glimpses of Paris (Ravel) and Vienna (Beethoven), and a sort of fantasia on their themes, as though they are bringing to life the word “Reimagine” which is the point of the CD.
LRW: Navona Records certainly did. The images of Paris and Vienna shimmer against the black background. “Fastasia” perfectly fits the “Reimagine” theme!
Real quick for my students – a “fantasia” is a musical composition with a free form and often an improvisatory style often based on several familiar tunes or composed of a mixture of different forms or styles. Read on to see how this comes to life in this fantastic CD.
You see, what Inna ingeniously did was to take Beethoven’s six Bagatelles Opus 126 and Ravel’s tryptich Gaspard de la Nuit and hired 9 different composers to create their own “fantasia” on the piece assigned to them. Just let that sink in…
To help bring the magnitude of this project into perspective, please enjoy this engaging 5-minute intro video crafted by the maestra herself including commentary from select composers on the CD.
LRW: Speaking of composers, may I ask who these nine composers are? Per your promo video, six UCLA colleagues represented Beethoven and three wrote in homage to Ravel.
IF: Billy Childs, Paola Prestini and Timo Andres wrote in response to the great Ravel tryptich Gaspard de la Nuit (which I actually recorded on my very first CD, Sound of Verse), one of the most difficult works ever written for piano and inspired by a set of symbolist poetry by Aloyisius Bertrand. Each of the Ravel responses are large works and profound new additions to the piano repertoire. They function as a stand-alone set on this CD.
LRW: Thank you for clarifying. Profound works, indeed. BTW – my hubby and I are huge fans of Billy Childs. (Barry was the OG piano teacher for Billy’s two kids, back in the day!!). I’m not familiar with the other two composers, though. I look forward to researching more about them. Who were the composers for the Beethoven Bagatelles? And if I may, why choose his Bagatelles op. 126?
IF: The Bagatelles are shorter works, “bagatelle” means trifle. I asked Peter Golub, Tamir Hendelman, Richard Danielpour, Ian Krouse, David Lefkowitz and Mark Carlson, all colleagues at UCLA, to compose responses to them. I feature the new work first, followed by the Bagatelle which inspired it. This creates a sort of layering which I hope will be delightful, fun and inspiring to the listener. I don’t want anyone to compare the new work to the Beethoven but, in a way, to see the new work as its own creation, and then get to know the piece that inspired it. Thereby, we are looking ahead, not backward.
LRW: I love the placement of the new piece ahead of its inspiration. It allows the listener to hear the original in a new unit of time. So what is the connection to Ravel’s Gaspard de la Nuit?
IF: Gaspard is another set – a bigger one – and it felt like a natural set of premieres, to complete the disc. Like the Beethoven, the original pieces are masterworks that create whole imaginary worlds. I believe that the new pieces do this, as well.
LRW: Indeed they do. Thank you for sharing the backstory on this. When did this idea first spark or did it simmer and develop over a period of time?
IF: This project has been in the works for 4 years…9 premieres is a lot of music – it takes time to write, to plan, to learn, etc. It was supposed to happen in March 2020 – but that was of course cancelled. So we did it, despite all, during the Pandemic in October 2020.
LRW: Indeed. Four years is a respectable amount of time to curate 9 premieres. How long did the process take, from composition to performance? Did you have any say in the composition process? Details, please.
IF: The Beethoven happened first. In fact I played some of them in a festival I curated in 2018. I let the composers do what they wanted. In a few cases, I made tiny suggestions that are more “cosmetic”. These composers all knew my playing and knew what they wanted to say, right away.
LRW: You curate festivals, too?! What a fantastic collaboration between kindred musical spirits of the highest caliber. A great meeting of minds. Because of COVID, your live recording sessions planned in March 2021 were replaced with a combo of audio and midi recording sessions on a 9-foot Yamaha DCFX Disklavier. For my readers, in layman’s terms, how did that work?
IF: To give your readers an idea of how the Disklavier works, here’s a video of me performing on the Disklavier at UCLA with simultaneous playback at the College of Music Seoul National University in Seoul, Korea. This shows well how it works.
LRW: This music technology is mind boggling. A little history tidbit, back in my CSUN college days (late 1970s), I temp’d an admin job in the engineering department at Marantz Superscope in Chatsworth, where they developed the Superscope Pianocorder Reproducing System. It used an ordinary cassette tape as a storage medium and played the piano directly from commands stored on the cassette tape. Yep, cassette tapes! In 1987, the Pianocorder Division was acquired by Yamaha where it was refined into the Disklavier of today. I feel proud to have answered the phones for the engineers who were at the cutting edge of this technology. 🙂 Enough of that. Please go on.
IF: Of course. It took many hours of work. I recorded the music, both audio and MIDI versions, at UCLA on the Disklavier Yamaha DCFX concert grand, while alone in the studio.
Then, the MIDI files were sent to MIDI editor Aaron Ross at Yamaha Artist Services in NYC who worked tirelessly over many Zoom hours, with me in LA sending the files, having the piano there play (by itself as Disklaviers do), recording the results, sending it back to me, editing, over and over, until the final product – a combination of audio recordings and MIDI work was done.
That was then re-recorded in NYC with the help of my audio engineer, producer, and longtime friend Joseph Patrych. The entire process was all was done on Zoom, as far as communication goes.
Here is a raw production video of Ian Krouse’s piece that I think your readers will enjoy.
LRW: I’m catching my breath. The ingenuity and expertise behind the production of your CD is superlative. A PhD should be awarded for this endeavor, alone…Love the raw footage. Thank you for sharing with my readers.
IF: My pleasure. Keep in mind, it had to happen during the pandemic this way. The CD became a pandemic project, because it happened, despite all odds. I am thrilled to be performing this amazing program in the coming seasons!
LRW: Indeed. I understand this is your fifth solo piano album. There are many labels out there. Why Navona Records? Did they approach you for the project?
IF: Navona Records has a strong reputation as a label that cares deeply for new music, and were highly recommended.
LRW: Good to know. Is this CD part of a series of upcoming similar collaborative albums or a standalone project?
IF: It is standalone, for now. I should mention that a month ago, another recording of mine came out on MSR Classics called The Schumann Project Volume 1. It features Clara Schumann’s G Minor Sonata and Robert Schumann’s Symphonic Etudes. That is a first volume of a multi volume set that will explore Robert and Clara.
LRW: I’ve recently been exploring piano solos by Clara Schumann for myself and my students. Wait. I recognize that album from a Clara Schumann Spotify search I did several weeks ago. Spotify served up none other than your piece! It was so lovely that I saved that very album on Spotify! Nice coincidence. More Clara Schumann works, please. 🙂 I’m wondering, with many concert halls still closed, would you happen to be planning a live stream event of some of these remarkable works? Maybe a YouTube video or a series?
LRW: Oh, yes. I remember seeing pianist Steven Vanhauwaert‘s recent FB and IG posts about it. You were featured in Part 1. Part II featured Steven and Mark Robson in Olivier Messiaen’s two-piano masterpiece, Visions de l’Amen. You had mentioned earlier about looking forward to live performances of these commissions. May I ask what are the plans so far?
IF: There will be an LA premiere at the Wallis Annenberg in Beverly Hills, definitely New York premiere, and multiple others. I prefer to save the complete performance for live events, though I have been featuring some excerpts in my Corona Fridays series.
LRW: The Wallis is a superb theater. Perfect choice. That makes sense. I’ve enjoyed several of your Corona Fridays installments. Thank you for creating these educational and engaging videos during the pandemic. As concert halls open again, how may my students, readers and I be kept informed of your concerts? Is there a mailing list we may subscribe to?
IF: Yes, the option to subscribe is right at the bottom of my website. You are also welcome to follow my artist Facebook Page and Instagram Page. And I am always happy to response to questions by email: Inna.email@example.com
LRW: Thank you. That is very gracious of you. One last question – where may my readers purchase your CD? Is it also available on music streaming platforms like Spotify, Apple Music, iTunes, etc.?
IF: Of course. Here is the link for purchasing the CD as well as streaming on Apple Music, Spotify and Amazon Music.
LRW: Perfect! So nice to have one simple link for everything. I’m excited for your CD release and upcoming concert performances of these remarkable original works. Thank you for all you do to keep beautiful and inspiring music alive in our culture. All the best to you and the composers on your CD.
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Pastimes For a Lifetime Art and Piano School is located in Valley Glen, California. 818-766-0614. School is open Tuesday – Saturday year round, except major holidays.