Under the direction of President Irina Nikitina, Musical Olympus provides a rare opportunity to listen to winners and laureates of international competitions. This year’s program features saxophonist Ashu, 2008 First Prize winner, “The International Salon de Virtuosi Career”, New York, performing Ibert and Piazzolla; cellist Christoph Croisé, 2010 winner of Grand Prix, The IBLA Foundation Grand Prize Competition, Ragusa, Sicily, performing Tchaikovsky; tenor Mario Chang, 2011 First Prize winner of The Francisco Vinas International Singing Competition, Barcelona, Spain, performing Puccini and Verdi; and pianist Alexej Gorlatch, 2011 First Prize winner, The ARD International Music Competition, Munich Germany, performing Beethoven, with Stilian Kirov conducting the Musical Olympus Orchestra.
Playbill Arts.com had the chance to speak with each of these young talented performers about their role as upcoming superstars in the classical music world.
Q: Congratulations on being selected for the Musical Olympus Festival! How does that make you feel?
A: Alexej Gorlatch - I’m glad to play at Carnegie Hall again, where I have given two solo recitals before. This time I am very much looking forward to meeting and performing with the orchestra which is new for me and with the very interesting conductor Stilian Kirov. I am thrilled about the opportunity of getting to know the other musicians and also the kind and very supportive people of the Musical Olympus Foundation, who make this great event possible.
A: Christoph Croise - It is a wonderful feeling to play at this gala concert of such a great festival in the legendary Carnegie Hall. I am so much looking forward to it and I am sure it will be a great concert with an incredible atmosphere.
A: Stilian Kirov - It is really wonderful to be a part of the Musical Olympus Festival! I consider it of a great privilege to perform in one of the most prestigious concert halls in the world and I am particularly excited about the opportunity to make music with some of the most distinguished young musicians from all around the globe. It is always extremely rewarding for me to meet new friends through making music together and I am very much looking forward to our concert at Carnegie Hall.
A: Mario Chang - I feel very honored and grateful for the invitation to Musical Olympus Festival because it is very important for us, as new artists, to have the opportunity to be presented with orchestra at important stages around the world (like Carnegie Hall), and to have the exposure we need to develop in this career. Ms. Nikitina and all her staff are wonderful, supportive people; they trust in your talent, and that motivates me to keep giving all the best I can. It’s a wonderful experience to be part of this.
A: Ashu - Musical Olympus is truly one of the most amazing organizations I’ve ever performed for. Getting to perform concertos at their festival last year in St. Petersburg, Russia was one of the most enjoyable musical experiences I’ve ever had, and now getting to perform at Carnegie Hall is tremendously exciting. To be able to perform where all my musical influences growing up have once performed is a huge honor and absolute thrill.
Q: Was there a defining moment or breakthrough when you decided that you would dedicate your life to music?
A: Alexej Gorlatch - In my case, there wasn’t any defining moment, rather a steady progress which kept and still keeps me interested. One inspiring aspect for me is the connection I can establish with the audience through music.
A: Christoph Croise - My fascination for music started, while i was playing the first tones on a flute at the age of 3. Than it continued when I started playing the cello, my favorite instrument, at the age of 7. Since then I always wanted to be a musician, playing on big stages, and now my dream comes more and more true. First hearing my current teacher, Alexander Neustroev in a concert was a next milestone that encouraged me to become a musician, because his playing was just inspiring and touching.
A: Stilian Kirov - Since I was a child, I was always fascinated by the fact that music tells you stories even without the use of a single word. I found this absolutely fascinating and inspiring. I have never imagined that I could do anything different than music in my life and I feel blessed every time when I am performing. It is really great when your true passion becomes your profession. A: Mario Chang - When I was 13 years old, a friend gave me a Placido Domingo recording of ‘Pagliacci’ and ‘Cavalleria Rusticana’. When I saw he singing ‘Vesti la Giubba’ with such passion and emotion, I understood in my heart that it was what I wanted to do the rest of my life.
A: Ashu - When I was in high school I started listening to the great classical soloists – people like Pavarotti and Heifetz. It was then that I became enamored with classical music and what is possible as a soloist. Of course, people would always say “but you can’t do that on the saxophone.” I think sometimes you just have to believe in yourself and ignore what people say. I soon after started doing competitions and once I got a taste of performing it all became very clear to me what I wanted to do, and I knew I had to find a way to make a solo career. For me, there is absolutely no feeling in the world like performing and the connection with the audience.
Q: Any specific classical music recording that you couldn’t live without?
A: Alexej Gorlatch - There are many breathtaking recordings, oftentimes you stumble upon them in a moment you least expect to… if I had to name one, it would be Vladimir Horowitz playing Bach-Busoni, the "Nun komm der Heiden Heiland" chorale. Different recordings of Horowitz performing this piece exist, each striking with individual expression but sincerity and authenticity. A: Christoph Croise - I love the old recordings of the Russian cellist Daniil Shaffran, especially with compositions by Shostakovich, Prokofiev and Tchaikovsky.
A: Stilian Kirov - There are so many inspiring recordings that it is very hard to outline one or two of them. However, I was always fascinated by Leonard Bernstein's recording of Tchaikovsky: The Complete Symphonies. I always found the depth and passion of Bernstein's interpretation and music making absolutely outstanding and very inspiring.
A: Mario Chang - I can listen to Pavarotti and Sutherland’s historical recording of Donizetti’s ‘Lucia di Lamermoor’ all day long. Also, Debussy’s ‘Clair de Lune.’
A: Ashu - I’ve always been drawn to musicians who are able to convey such a sense of personality - of who they are - in their playing, that when you listen to them, you feel like you know them. People like Pavarotti, Heifetz, Callas, Gould, Horowitz, just to mention classical soloists. I suppose for me it’s more about the musician and their approach, rather than particular recordings.
Q: Stilian, as the conductor, what do you recommend that the audience listen for in each piece? What moves and interests you?
Stilian: We have a very exciting and extremely diverse program. I believe that every single person in the audience can find something in each piece that relates personally to him or her. For me each piece that I perform is my favorite and the opportunity to share the joy of music with the audience is always very rewarding and inspiring.
The wonderful thing about music is that it can provoke different emotions that every listener will perceive differently. The music gives you the freedom to experience and interpret every sound through your own imagination. There is only pure energy and the listener can create his or her own images and colors. This is the reason why the feelings that music provokes are so strong and sincere. My advice to the audience is just to open their hearts, relax their minds and enjoy our musical journey together.
Q: Alexej, what was it like to be the winner of the 2011 ARD International Music Competition?
Alexej: I have won several international competitions in my life, but the success in Munich was quite special for me. Perhaps this is because Munich was the first place in Germany I moved to at the age of 3 years from Ukraine, where I learned the German language and the Bavarian culture. This competition opened up new opportunities for me, which I am very grateful for. Winning such an important competition not only brings happiness, but also a great responsibility.
Q: Christoph, how does it feel to be the youngest performer in the Musical Olympus Festival?
Christoph: For me, this fact is a great and special honor. I hope I can make the audience feel all the different moods of the Rococo-Variations I will express, so the people can feel and hear my feelings for the music.
Q: Mario, can you tell us about your experience in the Metropolitan Opera’s Lindemann Young Artist Development Program?
Mario: Being at the Lindemann Program is the best thing that ever happened to me. I have the opportunity to do what I love, to learn from the greatest productions and artists of the world, to meet wonderful people, to study with the best coaches – like Ken Noda, John Fisher – who I admire a lot, and live “THE MET” experience. This opportunity is without any doubt, like a dream come true and will change my life completely.
Q: Ashu, can you talk about what it is like to be a classical saxophonist? Have you encountered any obstacles?
Ashu: To me the saxophone is an instrument capable of such tremendous beauty and expressive power. It can sing like a voice, emote with such emotional intensity, play with the utmost subtlety and sensitivity, effortlessly project in the largest of halls, and can handle the most virtuosic music with utter ease. Also, it has a mainstream popularity that makes it perfect for attracting new and broader audiences to classical music. If a concert presenter is ever initially hesitant, that quickly changes once they hear what the instrument is capable of. Ultimately, of course, it’s about the music and what one is able to convey to the audience. I feel truly lucky to get to do what I love, and to get to perform as a concert saxophonist, that I just try not to ever take it for granted.
Q: Irina, can you tell us a little about how you chose these young performers?
When I first heard Christoph Croise’s performance, my impression was as of a fearless skier, rushing down a mountain, risky, but not falling down. He is very creative person and fearless cellist. Mario Chang, tenor, reminded me of famous Italian singers, with great potential. Regarding Alexej Gorlatch, winning the First Prize at the ARD competition tells for itself. The ARD is one of the most authoritative competitions in the world, as well as according to the competition rules they can award no First Prize, when it is not necessary.
First Prize is awarded to truly outstanding performers (those who demonstrate creativity, technical skills, and physical and physiological training - combination of necessary components for a competitor). Ashu is a charm, his soul and body perform when he plays saxophone, with fantastic energetics and shining in his eyes. He impresses even those who may be skeptical of classical saxophone, transmitting the music itself. Stilian Kirov is a very elegant conductor, and a swift, sensitive musician, seeking big and new repertoire.