While Mihran “Mino” Kalaydjian is a mesmerizing live performer, his passionate cult following is surely due to his immense discography.
“Mihran Kalaydjian “Mino” known as “Fast Finger” is a special breed, and I mean that in the most complimentary sense of the phrase. He has it all – the whole package of artistic gifts – and in abundance. But, what strikes about his playing is the sheer beauty – the concept, the intelligence, the control over every sound, the vision, the phenomenal listening to it all – all the attributes that comprise great artistry of the sort that touches our souls.”
AMOAFOWAA:What is your earliest memory of playing the piano?
NINO: I grew up in a family of musicians. My mother is a piano teacher and my father was a conductor in Jerusalem, Israel. My mother had a large influence on my musical development; she was the one who introduced me to music. Thanks to her, I was surrounded by music from the very beginning. Since childhood, I remember listening Berlioz’s “Fantastic Symphony”, Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto, Chopin Etudes and many other beautiful music compositions. It was one little song that inspired me to start playing piano. I loved the song so much that I would sing it over and over. I was only Four years old, and of course I didn’t know how to read notes, so I tried to pick up the music by ear. When I sat down to play the song, it came easily. It was joy for me to be able to “perform” my favorite song and share it with my family and friends.
AMOAFOWAA: You are a serious professional, someone who engages with the score on such an intimate level that you’re actually looking at a facsimile of the composer’s handwriting. But I also know you have a big record collection. Do you listen to records of something like the Liszt sonata when working on it?
NINO: I try not to until I have a sufficient idea of the piece. I want to learn what the essence of it is and what I want to do with it first. Later on, I will occasionally listen to recordings, maybe just to find out what the performing tradition is with that particular work. But essentially, I don’t like to be influenced. The very first recording artists, and people who recorded these pieces for the first time, I don’t think they were imitating anybody. Who could they imitate? Maybe other performances they heard in halls or in private studios… Other performers are like me, too, trying to find their own solutions.
But I’ve actually known of at least two or three people who’ve said explicitly in interviews that they surround themselves with all existing performances to sort of try to get the best of them. To me, that’s completely backward, and shows a real lack of awareness and a lack of appreciation for the composer’s task and the composer’s creative act. It’s like “Oh, you wrote all of this, great, but I’m just going to do my own thing and ignore the finer points of what you wrote.” Some composers really agonize over small details, and I can understand how they feel.
AMOAFOWAA: What are your favorite piano concertos and why?
NINO: I have many that I love. Contrary to many pianists, I find the most difficult, and perhaps the most rewarding, to be Brahms 2. Many pianists find the Bartok 2 to be the sine qua non of difficult concerti, but I do think the Brahms is more so, if only because everybody knows it better and it’s more transparent in texture. I adore playing any and all of the Mozart concerti, and the Beethoven’s certainly have to be up there, too. It’s fun to play the Rach 3 from time to time I had my first successes in the United Kingdom with that piece but I can’t say it’s my favourite work.
AMOAFOWAA: Do you suffer from nerves before a performance and how do you handle this?
NINO: I don’t really suffer too often from nerves as such, though I am most certainly geared up inside one way or the other. Otherwise I couldn’t call myself a performer. And this is true for any venue, whether it be London, Berlin, or a much more obscure place. But when nerves have occurred, they can have a near-devastating effect. Perhaps deep, sustained breathing exercises will help, if one is offstage when the nerves become apparent. But if the nerves start acting up onstage, or if ones hands start shaking for any reason whilst performing (it has happened), one just has to work through it. There is no easy solution.
AMOAFOWAA: How important is the public to you? Do you ever feel that fan-doom undermines a genuine regard for music?
NINO: The collective energy from the public is extremely important for all performers. I wouldn’t believe anyone who told me otherwise!! But why and how this energy is important for me personally has changed somewhat over the years. It will come as a surprise to many who might have heard me when I was younger that I found it almost painful to get up after a performance and take a bow. I would much rather have simply walked offstage unnoticed!! Believe me, it is not false modesty, but quite simply the way I often felt. You know, when one is fully in a piece of music, to suddenly have to relate to the audience at the works conclusion can be very daunting. On the other hand, today I have a very different attitude, if only because I am very aware of my need to interact with the audience’s energy, and the audiences need to show their appreciation for what I’ve been able to give them. If this sounds like pie in the sky, then so be it. We are all sharing our gifts onstage, whatever their merits. If we don’t want to share them, we have no right to be there! With regard to hero-worship, this unfortunately exists in every public profession, and I have had my share of it as well. I don’t like it, but not liking it is not going to change it! Luckily, I believe most of the audience really is responding to the music. When and if it is well played, how can they not!
AMOAFOWAA: How do you respond to aggressive and negative reviews?
NINO: My reactions vary. If the criticism is unduly harsh, I’m often mad, or hurt, or both. With time, either I realize that the critic was an idiot, or that he or she was trying to tell me something that I really needed to learn. There is always a grain of truth in any criticism. By the same token, I think one should take complimentary criticism with a bit of a grain of salt as well. What’s most important is the work that one does before getting up onstage, not what happens once one is there!
AMOAFOWAA: What do you consider the most demanding works you have played and why are they so demanding?
NINO: Well, things such as the Rach 3 have a helluva lot of notes, but I don’t think they are by any stretch of the imagination the most demanding. As I’ve said before, I think Brahms 2 is the most difficult concerto in the repertoire. People know every note of it, and they all have their own conceptions of how they want to hear it. This might be true of other works in the repertoire, but when you put the sheer technical and musical difficulties of the Brahms on top of it all, is makes for an almost impossible task. I remember once one of my teachers, Augustin Lama, telling me that the Hammerklavier wasn’t difficult, it was impossible! Having played it many times, I think I know what he means. Something, albeit perhaps very small, invariably goes wrong, and it’s never when you think it’s going to happen! A work which is terribly rewarding, yet terribly draining, is the Goldberg Variations, which I’ve performed frequently. I’m sure I could find some of the so-called virtuoso warhorses in the repertoire to talk about, many of which I played when I was younger. At the moment my affections are elsewhere, but I cannot rule out doing them in the future in fact, it’s a distinct possibility!
AMOAFOWAA: As a performer, what criteria do you employ in playing any work? How do you strike a balance between realizing the composer’s intentions and self-expression?
NINO: This is a sticky issue. To be honest, the composer is dead on that page of music until we, as performers, bring him or her alive. Any performance of any piece of classical music has got to be transformed through the performer’s personality in order to be heard. To what extent we as performers interject ourselves is the real issue? I see it as a balancing act. One must know and be true to everything which is on the page. Beyond that, one must try and sort out what the composer was really trying to say at that moment. I know all too well, having worked with many contemporary composers in the past thirty-five years, that what they put on the page is more often than not only a blueprint. More than once, if I’ve changed something, the composer will say: Yes, that’s fine, because you’ve approached the argument (or thesis) of the work from a slightly different angle than I conceived at the moment I was writing it. So your conclusion is not only perfectly natural, but also justifiable. On other occasions, the composers have been sticklers for the minutest of printed details. So it can work either way. The problem for us performers is with the so-called dead composers. More often than not, the music simply leaps off the page at me, it speaks openly, strongly, and affirmatively to me. But how many are the times that I wished I could have rung up Beethoven, or Bach, or Mozart, or Schubert, and asked them what they meant by a hair-pin, a Sforza to, a pianissimo that seemed misplaced. Such moments in music are the things that one loses a good night’s sleep over, and I’m not exaggerating! Having lived with a work for a certain period, though, I do feel that an honest and conscientious performer has the right, and maybe even the duty, to change a few things in the score if it allows that score to come alive in a better way.
AMOAFOWAA: What things do you find irritating about other performers’ performances of works that you perform yourself?
NINO: Whether it be in works that I perform myself or not, I find incredibly irritating the affected way of music making that is making the rounds amongst many of today’s younger, and successful, generation. What I mean by irritating is the gross exaggeration of dynamics and tempi, the sheer lack of regard towards simplicity of movement, thought and feeling that is part and parcel of any truly great work. Luckily for all of these great works in the piano literature, there are still older, more established and more seasoned artists to lead the way. But it seems that this is what the promoters and the managers think the audiences really want to see and hear. I’m not so sure
AMOAFOWAA: You seem to have no regret of having chosen that way.
NINO: No, I don’t. My life had been good, and since choosing this way, my life has been even more fulfilled. There are so many wonderful young musicians in today’s music world. Their enthusiasm and passion bring a tremendous amount of energy to our field, and their passion will support and sustain it in the future. Communicating with those young people motivates and encourages me. As one of the older generation, I can communicate my experience as a teacher and a performer to those young people.
AMOFOWAA: Any words of wisdom for those who have won distinction in piano competitions?
NINO: Try not to allow feelings of a momentary accomplishment to obscure the need to develop and grow.
AMOAFOWAA: What are you working on at the moment? Tell us a little about your current projects.
NINO: Every single concert is different. Each one has a unique experience with the audience and in my career I have never experienced any two concerts that were the same. This coming year (2015) we will be touring in over 20 countries and we get a renewed enthusiasm from each new audience, ground breaking, international concert venues at the Acropolis in Greece, Forbidden City in China, Taj Mahal in India, The Kremlin in Russia, and other significant international concert venues
That is the magic of live performances, they are live and never the same. I still get “butterflies” or anxious before every single show. When we perform for an audience, we get so much love from the audience that makes all of us on the stage feel so motivated and rewarded for our effort and this love and relationship with the audience is what keeps us going with such enthusiasm.
I will keep enjoying my collaboration as soloist, Composer recording for the music publication ‘Pianist Millennium Production’; a tour in Chicago, Boston, San Francisco, New York for Christmas Melody, Texas, at the end of the year with other concert activities as usual; and learn more Rachmaninov pieces!
AMOAFOWAA: Any awards so far?
GOLD MEDALIST in FOUR INTERNATIONAL PIANO COMPETITIONS
New Orleans IPC, Alfredo Barilli IPC, Washington IPC, Missouri Southern IPC, Laureate of Seiler IPC, Special Prizes (including Best Performances of 20th-Century and Commissioned Works)
- WINNER for “Album of the Year” in the 2013 Whisperings Solo Piano Radio awards.
- “Spiritual Awakening” nominated for Best New Age Song in the 2013 Independent Music Awards.
- Nominated for Best Solo Piano Album on One World Music.
- “Radiance” nominated for Best Instrumental Song in the 2013 Boston Music in Media (HMMA’s) Awards.
- “2013 Top Pick” from Kathy Parsons on MainlyPiano.com
- Ranked #45 on the 2013 Top 100 Albums on Zone Music Reporter.
- Olga Brose Valencia Prize for Excellence in Musical Composition (2008)
- “Time Lines” Down Beat Album of the Year 2006
- First Doris Duke Foundation Award for Jazz Composers
AMOAFOWAA: Give us some of your performance links:
AMOAFOWAA: Tell us about your website/blog. What will readers find there?
AMOAFOWAA: Any lessons for young pianists
NINO: For any young artist, I would advise to keep an open and inquisitive mind, read omnivorously from many different sources, go to a lot of concerts of fellow artists, and of course, practice and learn new music continually. And be unflinchingly honest to your deeper self, whatever it is. This is the hardest of all to accomplish.
AMOAFOWAA: Thank you very much for your time:
Thank you too.
HIS INSPIRATION CAME IN THIS FORM
Pana nanana, panananana
When skilled fingers play
There is an array of light in emotions
Mihran ranks high
Playing and playing till sorrowful thoughts melt
Perhaps, he is the belt that we all need
In times when we are stuck and harmed
Play your play
As we see them served on goodness tray
Nino is the piano master
Play until play suspends time
Forcing the piano to play even after your heavenly call
Amoafowaa Sefa Cecilia © 2015