An Interview with Anastasia Rizikov
by Neapolitan Connection staff
At the tender age of 16, prodigy pianist Anastasia Rizikov has already
taken the classical music world by storm by winning several adult category
international piano competitions, being presented in an Atlantic Canada
tour, a debut at Carnegie Hall, live radio performances and interviews on
Classical 96.3FM, and will release a CD on the NAXOS label in spring of 2016.
She has been an avid supporter of The Neapolitan Connection Concert Series
since 2012, and recently starred in Neapolitan Connection's production,
Anastasia Rizikov at the CBC in November 2015. We are very grateful to
Anastasia for taking time out of her busy schedule for this special online
NC: How did your life as a musician begin? Were you inspired by anyone in particular to begin playing the piano?
AR: My Grandmother, Maia Spis, a professional pianist, was definitely my inspiration. As a toddler, I grew up listening to her play, and watching her teach her students. Perhaps it was the latter that pushed me towards my first lesson- I, too, wanted to be taught.
Around the age of around late four or early five (I don’t remember), I creep downstairs to her studio as I hear the last student finish his lesson. I walk into her classroom and tell her frankly, “Grandma, I would like to be your student”. I plop down on the piano bench placing my favourite children’s book on the music rack, eager to learn (to my shock and horror, the book was quickly removed). After teaching me a few notes, Grandma, exhausted from a day’s work, finishes the lesson promising that we shall continue tomorrow. But I am not satisfied, and ask, “Is that all you’re going to teach me?!” Grandma says our first lesson lasted an hour and a half, and the lessons preceding it were no shorter, and hence we progressed at top speed. I was impatient to achieve my ultimate goal- becoming a concert pianist.
NC. What do you love most about your career as a concert pianist?
AR: More than anything in the world, I love music and playing piano, and to be
able to share my interpretations with my audience is an exhilarating feeling.
NC: Where have your musical travels taken you so far?
AR: I am very lucky that my profession takes me all over the World, and I have
performed all over the US, including states like New York, Michigan, Illinois, Washington,
and many others; Canada, including all of the Maritime provinces and Quebec; as well as
European countries like Russia, Ukraine, Italy, Spain, Poland, France, and soon to be -
Switzerland! Unfortunately, I do not have time to sight-see during these musical travels,
as I am focused completely on my performances; however, I have time to taste some of
the local cuisine (something I am always interested in) and meet some people, and that
gives me a great impression of the countries I go to, which is why I perform differently everywhere.
NC: How do you manage to balance an academic life with a serious performing career?
AR: After passing Grade six, I became homeschooled. Currently, I am enrolled in a homeschooling program called the Independent Learning Center. I love the amount of freedom it gives me- I am able to practice old and learn new repertoire without the hectic schedule of a high-schooler being a burden.
NC: You recently performed the Rachmaninoff 3rd concerto in Laval, Quebec. What was that experience like for you?
AR: Performing Rachmaninoff’s 3rd Piano Concerto in Laval was a very memorable experience. Though the amount of time to learn it was very limited (4 months), I gave it my utmost attention- I wanted to fully understand what Rachmaninoff had to say in this piece (and during those 45 minutes he certainly said a lot). It changed the way I approachthe piano and music. Collaborating with conductor Alain Trudel was very organic, and our characters as well as understanding of the piece were very akin (of course, you always know you’re in for a great time when you’re working with Alain!). I can only describe the experience as nothing short of magical.
NC: In your opinion, is Rachmaninoff's 3rd concerto the most technically difficult work you have ever played?
AR: Certainly, this piece is one of the most difficult in my repertoire, but it is hard to say whether or not I have played some that were even more difficult. The piece requires a monstrous amount of stamina and power, a vast technique to begin with, and a deep musical understanding in order to create a great performance, and I can feel the immense imprint on all three aspects this piece has caused to my playing. But the interesting thing about Rachmaninoff and his compositional style is that, because he was a brilliant pianist, he wrote in an awfully comfortable way. When you are taken completely by the music, you don’t focus on the difficulties…
NC: You recently won the Jaén International Piano Competition in Spain. Can you relate some of your experiences?
AR: As it always is with competitions, the competition in Jaen was trial on endurance. Three rounds totaling two hours of music, as well as an additional final concerto round with orchestra takes the life out the musicians. But having the support of my Grandma made the experience much more palatable, and I was able to focus entirely on my repertoire. Stress was a surpassing factor, but I was surprised to find that I was actually quite relaxed on stage. The key was to believe that this was just another concert.
NC: Congratulations on your acceptance to the prestigious Verbier Festival this summer in Switzerland!
How long were you there?
AR: I was in Verbier through the very beginning to the very end -
all three weeks- for the Verbier Festival Academy.
NC: Did you perform any piano recitals while in Verbier?
AR: I did not be give any solo recitals there this year (though that is the
ultimate goal!), but I worked with young string players on Fauré’s Piano Quartet
No. 1 in C minor, Op. 15, which we played on the closing dates of the festival. I
also received masterclasses from renowned pianists like ArieVardi and András
Schiff, and I made friends (and music!) with many wonderful young musicians!
I am excited just writing about it!!
NC: At the age of 16, you have already accomplished so much musically, and still have a very long life ahead of you. Do you see yourself also pursuing new interests in other areas?
AR: Though I have never seriously considered it, I have always been very fond of art- ultimately visual art and fashion- and have worked on those two things in my spare time, which I scarcely have, and this makes it very difficult to focus on things other than music. If I pursue my goal of becoming a concert pianist, that spare time will become even scarcer, unfortunately. But who knows what the future will bring?
Here is Anastasia playing Scriabin's Etude in D Sharp minor, Op. 8: