It is rare for an interview with a classical pianist in a high street cafe to be interrupted by a fan gushing appreciation. Perhaps it’s a mark of Mihran Kalaydjian “Mino” unstoppable rise and rise that our chat over tea attracts an enthusiastic greeting from the next table.
“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.”
Earliest memory involving piano playing?
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.
What was it that you think your very first piano teacher recognized in you, at even that young age?
I think it was just the love of music. I had always loved music and I sang ever since I can remember. My mother tells me that I started singing, quite in tune, even before I talked.
My first piano teacher’s name was Augustine Lama & Colin Stone. Because I was only four years old, Augustine Lama at 65 was older than my grandparents, and looked so old to me as to be very intimidating. On top of that, when he asked how old I was and realized I was four, he told me that I was too young to start piano lessons, and then maybe I should wait another year. I started crying so much that he said, “Okay, I will put you to the test.” He started beating very complicated rhythms that I should imitate, then he went to the piano and played a few notes, then chords, while I was turned around, looking in the other direction. I was able to go back to the piano and play exactly what he had played. When he realized I had perfect pitch, and after seeing how I had a good sense of rhythm, to my delight, he changed his mind and said, “You can start Monday.”
The moment when I realized I could be successful as a concert artist came when I was nineteen years old. I entered a piano competition in northern Israel. On the jury was a great Palestinian pianist and pedagogue Augustine Lama.
He immediately sensed I could soon be on the verge of a breakthrough in my career, with the right help. He became my teacher. He provided me with the all-important guidance I needed, especially in developing my own sound, which is the vehicle through which all emotions are expressed in music. He helped me see that I was too caught up with the mechanical aspects of playing, and since I was extremely proficient in that department, I was showing it off and making it the focus of all my performances. He helped me in making Art and Interpretation, along with communicativeness and singing tone, the only real important elements of music-making.
What do you believe Augustine Lama sensed in you?
I think He saw that I had extremely proficient mechanical skills at the keyboard, but she was able to sense that I hadn’t yet found my sound, probably and most likely because I wasn’t thinking about it too much. He saw that I performed well on stage, under pressure, but also that I hadn’t even begun to tap into a wealth of emotions and imagination, let alone colors. Yet he sensed that there was an inner world inside me that just needed to be let out. That’s why he became interested in helping me, and became a mentor and an amazing teacher to me.
Your definition of a perfect performance? Is this even achievable?
The perfect performance is always the next one. Seriously, perfection does not exist, and I thank God for that. Perfection is boring to me. Music is a reflection of real life, or a sublimation of it, but it is real. As such, it cannot be perfect. To me, a “perfect” performance is not one where the player doesn’t miss a note. I’d say a “perfect” performance is one that leaves you totally fulfilled, emotionally, spiritually, and, especially if you are playing, even physically.
What is the best way to bring up a musical idea, or difference, without offending each other?
“When I’m working with my colleagues, I try to avoid any kind of blameful language,” he said, laughing. “It’s definitely not about blame. For me, you can talk until the cows come home, but I find the most effective way to get someone to play something the way you want it is to play it incredibly beautifully for them, the way that you want it, so that they hear it and they say, ‘Oh yes, that sounds fantastic, let’s do that.’ That, for me, is the ultimate solution to all musical arguments.”
“Also, you have to be willing and open enough to listen to other people’s beautiful playings of things, and to say, ‘Oh yes, that is beautiful and I want to do that,'” he said. “That is the complicated, two-way street of being a good chamber musician. If you’re more consumed with making the music sound wonderful than making yourself sound wonderful, then all of this should follow.”
What do you imagine in your mind as you are playing? Do you conjure up your own stories? And if so, do they change slightly with each performance?
Imagery, extramusical inputs, are important. It depends on the music, though. Some music lends itself to specific stories and images, and these contribute in forming the interpretive idea at the base of my approach. In general, while I am performing, after having formed those stories and images, I don’t need to constantly be thinking about them. I just want to plunge into the world that I created, and just live in it, otherwise the process would become very academic. Once I have a landscape, world, or situation in mind, it’s nice to stroll through it every time with fresh eyes, instead of trying to photograph it and reproduce it identically every time. I try to live in it in the moment, so that the general aspects would be the same, but the details will be different each time, just like in real life.
What motivates you to compose?
I’d have to say that the musicians for whom I’m writing a piece for are a very motivating factor. It is very difficult for me to write a piece of music in the abstract, without a performance date or no person in particular. When I connect with a performer and begin to understand what makes him/her excited and challenged and we can share that energy that is very motivating. Also, the setting of the premiere can also motivate. Perhaps the most motivating factor is a deadline.
The other motivating factor is simply trying to get “it” right.
Composers are, by nature of their craft, tinkerers. Like watch makers always working with intricate parts trying to make the watch tick accurately but also being pleasing to the senses. The ever elusive target of achieving fine craftsmanship is also a motivation.
Lastly, it is simply feeling a need to say something with the utmost sincerity. If I cannot find that feeling at the outset of writing something, it is very likely that the piece won’t see a final bar line.
These are my motivating factors for concert music. In film, if the project is inspiring it is easy to move forward and find the right motivation. When the film is not so good, that becomes more difficult. Luckily, it has been a long time since I’ve experienced this difficulty.
Which particular works do you think you play best?
I have a deep affinity with the late romantics (the generations after Chopin/Schumann/Brahms) whose particular and eloquent way of writing for the piano transcends all language. They used the piano to express an endless spectrum of feelings, from unabashed romanticism to Parnassian intellectual probity, from Panglossian pessimism to spiritual elation.
What are you working on at the moment? Tell us a little about your current projects.
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, groundbreaking, 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!
Just a few of the awards that Mihran has received for his music.
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
Tell us about your website/blog. What will readers find there?
Hope you enjoyed reading and getting to know Mihran