#93 Aglaia Koras concert pianist tells us more about her job and passion for classical music and her career as pianist (featured)

Written on:July 7, 2011
Last modified on: July 14, 2012 @ 6:51 PM
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Before you read on: This interview has broken our record of biggest interview.  The previous one was this one with 3669 words. Our interview with Aglaia Koras is as you see below 4099 words long and becomes our new record holder of biggest interview. This is also our first interview again published in 2 months time!

Word Count: 4099
Takes: 15 minutes and 39 seconds to read.
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Aglaia Koras is a female concert pianist who is around 40 years old and lives in Bethesda, Maryland. She has roots from Greece and preformed in 7 countries. Currently she plays at Carnegie Hall in New York. She is historically linked to Beethoven, Chopin, Rachmaninoff, and Cortot.
She started to compose and play the piano at the age of 3. Aglaia Koras studied at the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadlephia.
Visit here own website: Aglaia Koras Concert Pianist.

♪1.♪ Max Pen: How did you get involved so early at the age of 3 into composing and playing the piano? What is your earliest performance you can remember?
Aglaia Koras: There’s a special memory attached to that. When I was three years old, my father earned a large bonus and gave it to my mother to spend anyway she wanted. Mother wanted both a new piano and a fur coat but opted to buy the piano.

When I saw that beloved piano, it was love at first sight! I became totally fascinated by it. It became my best friend and most avid occupation from then on. We were inseparable; we never became unglued!
I began playing, without any instruction, every piece I liked that I heard
on the radio, television, in recordings and in live performances. I also began to compose my own music right then and there on the spot. My mother, who had been trained as an opera singer and pianist, became my first piano teacher. My aunt, who was skilled in composition and harmony, as well as piano and violin, helped me write down the pieces I had composed.
Soon, they sent me to the best teacher they could find, who told them I had great talent.

I was performing as early as I can remember. I can remember playing and performing before I remember doing almost anything else!

♪2.♪ Max Pen: To what music genres do you like to listen yourself, is classical the most in favor with you? To what classical music did you listen in your early years as pianist?
Aglaia Koras: Classical is my life. As a child, I used to listen to Chopin and Debussy each night before bed. I attended symphony concerts, chamber music concerts, operas, and poetry readings, in addition to piano solo recitals. There were always a variety of great classical recordings to listen to at home, not just piano, but symphonic, chamber music, ballet music, and music written for all all instruments, including opera and vocal recital repertoire, and I listened regularly and fervently to Wagner, Saint-Saens, Schubert, Beethoven, Heinrich Schutz, and many other composers. I listened to newly composed classical music, as well.

Yet, I also had an appreciation for other genres. Even as a child, I always listened to the music that was popular at the time. I liked some classic rock, rhythm and blues, soul, funk, jazz, and more. I read the lyrics and was moved by their messages.

♪3.♪ Max Pen: Did your taste to what you like to listen to of classical music change during the years you preformed, if so in what way? 
Aglaia Koras: An interesting question and a deep one.
I guess I’ve always kept on evolving as a musician. I’ve always had a curiosity for the music that was being composed during current times. When I studied at the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia, Rudolf
Serkin, my teacher, taught me to always listen to and perform contemporary (classical) music (ie 20th Century and, now, 21st Century music). “Because YOU are living NOW,” he would say.
I’ve always kept that in mind, and I’ve applied that advice to all sorts of new music. Curiosity and an open mind have kept me interested in listening to and performing what’s new and current through the years. I’ve given World Premieres at Carnegie Hall and other venues and US premieres at Lincoln Center and in many other halls.

As I developed as a musician, my tastes even in classical music became increasingly more refined and selective.



♪4.♪ Max Pen: In what way do you try to make sure when you have to preform for a audience large or small you are always preforming a 100%? Have you had the feeling 1 or more times after you are done and the audience is applauding that you could have done it better? 
Aglaia Koras: I always try to remain by myself as much as possible on the day of a performance so I can concentrate and conserve energy.
I bring tremendous training by the best in my field to my performances and a wealth of interpretive knowledge. I also have a natural technical facility that was developed very young. My musicianship has been finely honed, and I am a passionate and sensitive performer. By some mysterious force greater than myself, when I perform, I become lifted into another world. The greatest moments I’ve had during performances have been when I’m just playing the music, oblivious to everything else.

I think a serious artist always aspires to greater heights. I do a lot of thinking about that later on, after the performance is over.
But I thoroughly enjoy and appreciate the audiences’ ovations as they happen and live totally in the moment to enjoy and experience it all fully!

♪5.♪ Max Pen: Is the atmosphere and the audience at places you preform in different countries the same or are there some differences? Name the concert hall or place you prepared to preform and when you were done the audience amazed you with happiness, enthusiasm, appreciation of your play,…? (As in you never expected the audience would react like that or some of the people in the audience.)
Aglaia Koras: Audiences are ALWAYS great, all over the world. I have some unique memories.

I’ll never forget my debut, soloing with the San Francisco Symphony. The conductor turned to me and let me lead the orchestra! It was a phenomenal experience. Afterwards, the orchestra itself gave me a special ovation- the string players tapped their bows on their music stands, which is a special sign of admiration for the soloist.

At Carnegie Hall, the audience goes into joint rhythmic claps to get me to perform encores. That’s always so heartwarming!

While playing at Alice Tully Hall, Lincoln Center, a man from the box shouted “Brava” immediately after the middle movement of Beethoven’s Sonata Opus 110. And later, he shouted Brava again, right after the conclusion to Mussorgsky’s “Pictures at an Exhibition.” That was such a powerful memory.
Also, at Lincoln Center, the second I’d finished playing a piece by Prokofieff, a man leapt to his feet with others, clapping and laughing like he’d just been dazzled with a great piece he’d never heard before.
I loved it! This was right in the middle of the program.

I’ve heard people cry often during my performances, and people have told me I’ve moved them to tears. This has happened both in huge halls and smaller venues.

After a powerful performance, where the audience had been instructed not to applaud until the entire movement was over, I often hear a unified echo of flow voices mouthing “Brah…vo……” sweeping through the hall.

In Iraklion, Crete, I started to play in a small museum. By the time I finished, the hall was filled. People had heard me and walked in from the streets. That was truly gratifying.

When I was a child, my mother brought me to assisted living facilities to perform. Residents were so appreciative, and I learned so much from their life stories. I remember a young woman who lived in assisted living. She had been in a car accident that had left her unable to pronounce words. But she could cry out. And when I played, she cried out with joy as loudly as she could to let me know she loved it.

♪6.♪ Max Pen: Have you ever been ill on the day you have to preform at a concert hall or place? Or when you had to preform didn’t go on that day?
Aglaia Koras: Sure, I’ve been ill now and then on performance days, but I’ve always performed anyway! I’ve performed with fever and chills and bad colds. I’ve even performed just after being in an automobile accident.
Sometimes there’s a death, a separation, a misfortune, some sad news to deal with. But the show must go on, even when things get tough!

♪7.♪ Max Pen: You made your debut at the age of eleven with the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra, how important was that event for you in your life and how much was depending from your performance towards your future career? Do you still remember much of that day and how it went? 
Aglaia Koras: It was a very memorable and important day in my life. My entire class came to watch the performance. I had such pleasure, it was such fun, playing together with so many instruments, answering back and forth with them, and being given the space to actually lead them! The orchestra musicians lauded me by giving me the ultimate ovation: the string players tapped their bows on their music stands, which is a sign of reverence and deep respect for the soloist.
That’s an ultimate reward, when acknowledgments come from the stage itself.
It was a turning point in my career; it was considered an important feat. It led to other engagements and meetings with other musicians. It was a milestone performance. But most of all it remains with me in my memory.

A violinist told me afterwords, “You have a manly touch.” I know she meant it as a compliment, but,in my mind, even at that young age, I remember wishing such distinctions wouldn’t be made musically about the sexes. If music is the “universal language”, shouldn’t it also be held above sexual and other stereotypes as well?

♪8.♪ Max Pen: How do you feel each time before you go on the stage or spot to what the whole audience is watching? The biggest and smallest audience you have preformed for so far?
Aglaia Koras: I always feel that I have a great responsibility ahead of me, and that’s it’s important to try and relax enough to stay focused. I need to stay totally alone for a while before the concert and concentrate.
Serkin used to come backstage and say “merde” to me just before I performed. (“Merde” means human excrement in French). He said it to remind me that everyone goes to the bathroom, so I shouldn’t ever be too nervous before an audience and that when I perform, I should forget everything and just PLAY.
The largest audience has been several thousand in a concert hall and the smallest…hmmm..I guess around 100 people in a capacity mansion.

♪9.♪ Max Pen: Do you have high expectations of yourself? (When you preform,practice, anything involved with being a pianist…)
Aglaia Koras: Oh, yes, I always have tremendously high expectations. I think that most of us musicians find we never quite live up to our highest expectations because we keep raising them. You know, I think that’s good.

♪10.♪ Max Pen: How would you tell people who are not a pianist what the job is like? Do you recommend young students to follow the tracks that lead to becoming a pianist?
Aglaia Koras: I would tell them there’s nothing more exhilarating and there’s probably nothing as difficult in quite the same way, either. It requires real sacrifice on many fronts, and it’s a lifetime investment. It’s a real balance, personally, to be sensitive to the music but not to allow that same sensitivity to discourage you, either.

I would encourage young students to learn as much as they can and study hard with the best teachers. I would encourage them to get as much general education as possible across the board, along with their piano training because you never really can have too much education. Also, I’d tell them to listen to poetry readings, chamber music, vocal and orchestral concerts, operas, and performances by all instruments… and then let it unfold if they really feel the calling.

♪11.♪ Max Pen: When did you feel to cross the point you never expected to reach in your career?
Aglaia Koras: When I won international competitions and toured as a result of them.
When I graduated from the Curtis Institute of Music.
Thanks to the endowment of that great school, I had become a total musician, and I felt a part of the musical universe of real musicians.
And, when I began performing regularly at Carnegie Hall. This was something I’ve always dreamed of doing.

♪12.♪ Max Pen: For many pianists its a dream to preform in Carnegie Hall, did that count for you to? What has it been like preforming there? When you first preformed there what came into your mind? (examples: A very big experience, much more then I expected it would be like, nice audience, big hall,etc…)
Aglaia Koras:
It’s very exciting. Indescribable. It’s a rite of passage. The audiences have always been exceptional. The pianos are always fantastic. It’s a real tie-in with the history of that long line of great artists of the past, and I’ve always been mindful of this special sense of being part of that history whenever I play there. When I first performed there, I remember loving the piano!

♪13.♪ Max Pen: Your mentor was Gina Bachauer, how did she become your mentor and what do you remember about her? (Character,method of teaching,etc…) What is the most important lesson you learned from her and will never forgot?
Aglaia Koras: I’ve been very fortunate in my life. A British conductor whose orchestra I had soloed with, Harry Newstone, told me that he wanted me to meet and play for Madame Bachauer and that he would introduce me to to her.

Bachauer was a large, elegant woman, with darting black eyes and a sense of humor to match. My earliest memory with her was of me as a very young child being wrapped in her big mink coat in the front seat of my father’s car as we drove from the concert hall where she had just performed to her hotel room. Her husband, British conductor Alec Sherman, was watching tv in the next room. My mother and aunt sat on the bed at Bachauer’s hotel room while I played for her.

She told everyone right then and there that I had great talent and that I must go study immediately at either the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia with Rudolf Serkin or at the Julliard School with Ilona Kabos, who was Bachauer’s coach.

“It must be done,” she said, adding that she herself would hear me from time to time and advise me on my career.
“There is nothing I can say to criticize your playing in any way,” she said.
“What can I do to thank you?” I asked.
“Someday,” she said, “when you’re older, you will play in a concert, and I will come and hear you. That will be my reward.”

Immediately, she arranged for me to play in New York.
I played for Bachaur’s coach, Ilona Kabos. As Kabos heard me, she danced around the room!
My mother wouldn’t let me leave home so young, but I kept pushing, and within three years I succeeded in leaving home and became a student of Rudolf Serkin and Mieczyslaw Horszowski at the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia. (I had been accepted at Juilliard also, but unfortunately Kabos had died in the meantime).

Bachauer became a sort of musical fairy godmother to me. She was absolutely instrumental in furthering my career, and her sudden, premature death caused a great void in my life, musically and emotionally.





After she died, I performed a concert in her memory,and audience members still remembers tears pouring down my cheeks as I performed.

Musically, she insisted on a beautiful sound. “Sometimes, we have to caress this piece of wood,” she would say. (meaning, of course, the piano keys).

The most important lessons I learned from her personally, apart from the music, were to be persistent and also to be warm and supportive to young pianists.

Here’s one of her great quotes about how to become a concert pianist:
Play the piano,” she said. ” Play for anyone who will listen. And if no one will listen, then play to the stones.”

♪14.♪ Max Pen: Is it hard getting noticed in the whole community of pianists and how is the competition to one and an other?
Aglaia Koras: One has to have tremendous persistence, faith, and strength over a period of many, many years. You have to love music enough to devote your life to it, regardless of the outcome.
Because of the number of pianists, there is great competition in the field.
Connections help, no doubt. But I always feel that fame is merely “the icing on the cake.” It’s the art itself that keeps you going. You have to live for the art itself. ” Vissi d’arte…”

♪15.♪ Max Pen: How did it influence your passion towards your job knowing to have connections that are historically linked to Beethoven, Chopin, Rachmaninoff, and Cortot? Do you feel to have a connection to them in anyway? 
Who has shown you support and increased your motivation and passion towards doing your job and what classical pianists do you get influenced by alot? 

Aglaia Koras: It made me feel very, very thankful, on a daily basis, to the Curtis Institute of Music for the opportunity to study with such greats as Rudolf Serkin and Mieczyslaw Horszowski on full scholarship. (Horszowski’s teacher was Leschetizky,who had been a pupil of Carl Czerny, a student of Beethoven). Horszowski’s mother also studied with Mikuli, a pupil of Chopin.

And I was always very, very grateful to my mentor, Madame Gina Bachauer, whose teachers were Rachmaninoff and Cortot.

I truly do feel I have a connection to Beethoven, Chopin, Rachmaninoff, and Cortot through the spirit of my teachers.

No one showed me as much selfless support as Madame Bachauer.

Rudolf Serkin motivated me musically by just being with him in a room.
He was a great musical mind who would approach interpretation like a phenomenal conductor.

Mieczyslaw Horszowski motivated me musically AND emotionally. “I like the way you play because you make the music beautiful,” he would say.
He knew how to get a student to play her best sometimes, in the beginning sessions, he would just sit down and play together WITH me!

♪16.♪ Max Pen: What do you think of people saying Classical Music is only for old or older people. Not for young folk, teenagers? is it true, what do you think is the thing causing not to many teens to listen to classical music?
Aglaia Koras: I think sometimes it’s the way classical music has been presented to some people that has turned them off before they have even listened to the music.
Familiarizing people with the stories that lie behind the classics and the composers who wrote them greatly enriches the experience of listening to a classical concert. Presenters can learn to do this in a modern, vibrant,
personal way rather than just by a lecture or through program notes. There are even humorous stories to be told!

Audiences who become familiar with classical music and the stories behind the melodies stand to enjoy it more. In Europe and other countries, classical music is a daily way of life. I’d love to see that happen in this country, as well.

♪17.♪ Max Pen: You say to spent your time preforming and “passing on the gift” to the next generation. In what way do you do that? Do you mean to teach your style, exp., techniques to others? (As those people being your students.)
Aglaia Koras: Once again, a profound question.
Just as I am keeping what I learned alive by performing and teaching, it’s essential that I inspire others to keep it alive, too, either by performing themselves, by studying music, or by attending concerts.

I am lucky to have some wonderful students whom I love very much. I can inspire my students, other professionals in masterclasses, as well as audience members so that “the gift will be passed on.”

♪18.♪ Max Pen: Which people should be mentioned that got you to this point? Who’s support was vital to you and your career?
Aglaia Koras: British conductor Harry Newstone, for introducing me to Gina Bachauer.

Hands down, Gina Bachauer for her support and role in my early career development until her untimely death.

The Curtis Institute of Music, the institution that made it possible for me to get the world’s greatest education in my field totally tuition-free.

My teachers for being so fantastic.

My grandfather and father for being so supportive.

♪19.♪ Max Pen: Is Classical music more then just music for you?
Aglaia Koras: It’s my life. Without it, I’m a “fish out of water”. I could not live!

♪20.♪ Max Pen: Are you still learning new things in your career? What has been the hardest piece you played? And the play you find to be your best performance so far?
Aglaia Koras: I’m always learning new things, daily. Not just new repertoire, but I find new ideas even within the scores of pieces that I’ve been performing for years. That’s the beauty of classical music.

As far as the question “what have been the most difficult pieces I’ve played” is concerned, I need to add the words “at the time.”
The most difficult pieces I’ve played, for me, at the time I was learning them have been the fugue of the Sonata, Opus 26 by Samuel Barber and Prokofieff’s Piano Concerto No. 2.
I once threw the sheet music of the Barber across the room and stamped on it when I lived in New York! That’s when I knew it was time to put it away for a bit and tackle it again later. (Interestingly enough, it worked out beautifully after giving myself three months of “rest” from it).

It’s hard to say what my best performance has been thus far.
I have luminous memories, one melding into the other, of music “spilled”,
of piano keys caressed and thunderous cadences triumphant. Of expressing something real and heartfelt to the people in the audience.
In short, what a way to live!!!

♪21.♪ Max Pen: In what way do you see your career developing further? (If you had to think,wonder,guess, or even know a bit…)
Aglaia Koras: I’m “reaching for the stars” while enjoying each precious second of life every day.

“Where do we go from here?” I’ve reassessed this at many points in my life,
and that question brings up memories for me.
I remember the time that Serkin asked me that at right after I had finished playing Beethoven’s Sonata Opus 110 in his studio in Vermont.
He asked me what repertoire I saw myself planning to specialize in in the future years. After much deliberation and difficulty in even beginning to answer this question, I realized over the years that artists go through changes. Life brings changes, whether we like them or not. Some are welcome, and some are not. The challenge of the artist, for me, is to keep growing and persisting as a musician, no matter what “hand” life may deal you.

I see myself performing even if, by some misfortune in the future, it should become physically impossible to do so – like Rubinstein and Horszowski, performing at Carnegie Hall with only periferal vision.

I also see myself making more recordings. There’s so much to express.

And I would like to make a difference, as a musician, in the lives of others. I have some concrete ideas about how to do that.
I think about Madame Bachauer and how she helped young artists.
She would seek out talented young pianists in each city she performed
so she could hear them and try to help them. And that greatness came out in her personality as well in the grandeur of her playing.

It all boils down to THE MUSIC. The music is eternal.
What an incredible way to spend a life!

Thanks for your time put in doing this interview with me. I really enjoyed making the questions and reading what you replied on them. This is really a interview of top quality, that I’m very proud of having done. I hope everyone has a great read and learns more about the pianist Anglaia Koras. -Max Pen

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