Friday, 24 May 2019 09:00

Turning Up the Heat: Natasha Paremski is bringing two nights of Russian flame to Muskegon

Written by  Dana Casadei
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Even though Natasha Paremski has played Chopin’s Piano Concerto no.2 around 100 times in concert, that doesn’t mean it’s gotten any easier.

In fact, quite the opposite.

“It gets harder because you set a precedent with every performance,” said Paremski, who is performing the piece with the West Michigan Symphony Orchestra this month. “Then it just becomes more and more of a challenge for yourself to sort of carry onstage your history and make it better.”

On the other hand, she also gets to discover more each time she plays the piece, which was actually the first concerto Chopin wrote, even though it was published second. It may have taken her only a few days to memorize the concerto, but to learn it and really absorb it has taken years, and she’s not done yet.

“With a piece like that, it’s so improvisatory that you find different perspectives with every performance,” she said.

Plus, audiences consistently react well to it.

“The beauty of it is just so colossal in a way that people are really drawn to it,” she said. “I love having that feeling onstage where I know the audience is loving the music so much, and I love just being a part of that performing experience.”

It’s a piece full of romanticism, written when Chopin was just 20. Paremski described it as being like a youthful crush. It’s innocent, but also full of breathtaking melodies, leaving audiences enraptured by the music.

Paremski knows that feeling well. When she first heard the Chopin piece as a child, she was blown away by it and couldn’t wait to learn it. She always has been an eager learner though. Paremski remembers being about two — living with her parents in Moscow — the first time she “played” the beat-up old upright they had.

“I crawled up to it and started banging on it,” Paremski said. “By age three, my mom had enough of that and she took me to proper piano lessons.”

From there it has been a bit of a whirlwind. At four, she studied piano with Nina Malikova at Moscow's Andreyev School of Music before going to the San Francisco Conservatory of Music to continue her studies. That was followed by studying with Pavlina Dokovska at Mannes College of Music in New York.

She’s won countless awards during her career, including the Gilmore Young Artist prize, the Prix Montblanc in 2007, the Orpheum Stiftung Prize in Switzerland, and in 2010 the Classical Recording Foundation’s Young Artist of the Year.

Since making her professional debut at nine with the El Camino Youth Symphony in California — and her debut with the Los Angeles Philharmonic at 15 — Paremski has played all over North America and Europe. In between all of that, she’s managed to record a handful of albums, including two with the Moscow Philharmonic Orchestra.

Speaking of albums, Paremski released her most recent this year, spanning Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition and Fred Hersch’s Variations on a Theme by Tchaikovsky, the latter of which was written specifically for her by the jazz pianist.

Paremski said she’ll be performing Pictures at an Exhibition at her solo recital on June 8 at the Block, a small venue attached to the back of the West Michigan Symphony’s office. The evening will have a program full of very visual and programmatic pieces, such as Bach’s Chaconne in d minor and Ravel’s Gaspard de la Nuit.

Meanwhile, Slavic Fire, WMS’s closing concert for the season that features Chopin’s concerto, will include two other pieces as well. Borodin’s Polovtsian Dances are incredibly lively Russian pieces from the composer’s opera, Prince Igor. Then, Shostakovich’s Symphony no.5 is a staggering 45-minute masterpiece when played in its entirety. It’s a work of triumph, rebellion, sorrow and anger, which reportedly received a half-hour ovation when first performed in 1937 in Leningrad.

“I’m very excited to be in Michigan and present my album,” said Paremski, who noted these concerts will be her first time performing with the WMS.

When asked about how she’s evolved as a performer since that first professional performance, she chuckled.

“How long do you have?” she said. “I think in every single way. I’ve grown up as a person, as a musician, and am still, hopefully, growing and evolving.”

Slavic Fire
West Michigan
Symphony Orchestra
425 W. Western Ave. #200, Muskegon
June 7, 7:30 p.m., $22+

Natasha Paremski Solo
The Block
360 W. Western Ave., Muskegon
June 8, 7:30 p.m., $25+

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