Yeoman Interview – Maya Irgalina

Pianist Maya Irgalina graduated with a master’s degree with distinction and International Artist Diploma from the Royal Northern College of Music (RNCM). She has won numerous competitions including Special Prize at the Sydney International Piano Competition and the RNCM Gold Medal, and made her debut performance at Wigmore Hall as a WCOM 2013 Concordia Foundation prize winner. Maya has a busy international recital schedule with highlights that include performances at Xinghai Concert Hall, Napier University and for the Chappell’s Lunchtime Conservatoire Concert Series in London. Recent concerts include performances with the RNCM Symphony Orchestra and an appearance with Manchester Camerata playing Mozart’s Concerto K488.

When did you start playing the piano?
My mum encouraged me to start lessons when I was five years old. She enjoyed playing the piano, but the real musical star of our family was my grandfather. He was an amazing singer, with a natural talent and passion for music. Although he never trained professionally, he became an example of a genuine musician for me.

Do you prefer recitals or concerto performances?
I love both. In recitals, the intimate atmosphere between pianist and audience is really precious. Sometimes in smaller halls I can improvise more, make spontaneous decisions while in orchestras you just can’t afford to be unpredictable; every note is crucial. It’s a much bigger responsibility playing with an orchestra, but when you overcome this natural nervousness, oh! The best experiences I’ve had on stage are performing with orchestras!

What pianists – or other musicians – do you like to listen to, and why?
When listening to the greatest, it can be an amazing learning experience – like getting a masterclass on Haydn from Grigory Sokolov or on Scriabin from Stephen Hough! It’s good also to step out of the piano world and listen to chamber music, symphony orchestras, singing, or non-classical musicians. I love to sit back and enjoy the music without knowing the piece inside out. And of course I especially like listening to my friends, as I can see how their personality shines through in their playing.

What is your favourite piece to play?
Eventually I fall in love with everything I play. I think that if you are unable to give at least ten reasons why this exact piece is the most amazing, inspiring or beautiful music ever created, you will not achieve the real artistry. The ability to convince the public comes with passion for the music, and there were examples when even though I did not like the piece to begin with, the more I played it, the more beauty I found. This happened with the First Piano Sonata by Carl Vine. I didn’t understand the piece when we were choosing the programme… intrigued, but not really interested. But the more I played it, the more inspiring it became. At the end this sonata won me the RNCM Gold Medal! My tutor said I looked possessed when I played it.

Do you get anxious before a performance?
Of course. I always get nervous, but it’s a case of letting go… I hope to mature one day, become stable and unshakable, to find the balance between strength and spontaneity, knowledge and happening. And still sometimes there can be a disturbing thought in the back of my mind: ‘Have I done all the preparations? Was it enough?’ Then I remember my teacher’s words ‘in case you dared not to prepare, you should dare to go on stage and play’.

Who (musician or other) has most inspired you?
When I was teenager I wanted to quit music, so my parents changed the teacher. The new teacher Tamara Markova succeeded in finding a way of dealing with me. For example, she would talk about the world of professional musicians, which was much more inspiring than just pushing me to play perfectly in exams. It was a bit of anarchy, I was finally free to choose any pieces, or not to play at all, but it returned my initial interest in music. At the age of 19, I entered the Academy of Music in Minsk to study with Lilia Ter-Minasian, and the real studies and discipline began. She managed to push and inspire me at the same time; gave me the confidence to keep going, keep achieving and helped to establish my own style. I would say that she is still the greatest inspiration for me.

What pianos do you prefer to play?
The ability to adjust to any piano is a vital skill for a pianist. Most of the time there is no possibility to choose, that’s why I am most grateful to the Yamaha Music Services for their generous permission to practice sometimes on their new Yamaha CFX pianos. These instruments are just magnificent – colourful and subtle in nuances, with rich tonal palette and endless sound.

What is your greatest musical achievement?
I am still thrilled with my performance of Samuel Barber’s Piano Concerto with the RNCM Symphony Orchestra, which you can see me perform on YouTube . I wish I could play it again with some orchestra. A fantastic concerto! I’m also proud of the CD I recently recorded of Emily Brontë’s musical library on her 200 year old piano in Haworth.

What are you most looking forward to this year?
I’m really looking forward to collaborating with other musicians more as I start my studies for a master’s degree in piano accompaniment at Guildhall . Events I’m looking forward to performing at include Rye Festival and a series of concerts in London and up North in Lancashire and Yorkshire.

How can readers find out more about you?
You can stay up to date with news at my website www.mayairgalina.com and see me perform at youtube.com/user/MayaIrgalina