Arts & Culture

Russian-born pianist to perform with Wichita Symphony in Tchaikovsky program

Natasha Paremski
Natasha Paremski Courtesy of Andrea Joynt

Natasha Paremski started playing piano before the average child is able to write her name. And at the age of 9, she made her professional debut.

Paremski, a world-renowned pianist, will make her Wichita debut next weekend when she performs Tchaikovsky’s “Second Piano Concerto” as the featured artist with the Wichita Symphony Orchestra. Her performance, part of the “Virtuosic Tchaikovsky” program, will be the first of the night, followed by the orchestra’s rendition of Rachmaninoff’s “Symphonic Dances,” conducted by Daniel Hege.

Born in Moscow, Paremski moved to the United States when she was 8, and her musical career took off not long after.

At 15, Paremski played with the Los Angeles Philharmonic and recorded two discs with the Moscow Philharmonic Orchestra. Her first recital album, released in 2011, reached No. 9 on the Billboard Traditional Classical chart.

Hege, who will be working with the 28-year-old Paremski for the first time, is impressed by her technique and musicianship.

“It’s not just fireworks of her fingers and her dynamic pianism, but it’s really her ability to bring it off musically,” Hege said. “That’s what is the best. She’s really the whole package that way.”

We caught up with Paremski on the phone while she was between rehearsals in Spokane, Wash. She spoke about her connection to Tchaikovsky and her undying passion for the piano.

Q: Do you have a strong connection with Tchaikovsky’s work?

A: I adore Tchaikovsky. When I was growing up, and of course growing up in Russia, one of the first things that every child is handed is the “Children’s Album.” It’s this beautiful collection of little, short pieces. So growing up I played the “Children’s Album,” I played “The Seasons,” and I always dreamt of playing the “First Piano Concerto.”

Of course, now I’ve played it super frequently, and I did the BBC documentary on Tchaikovsky and that was a whole lot of fun.

Q: How do you feel about performing the “Second Piano Concerto”?

A: It is quickly becoming one of my favorite concertos. It’s not played very often, obviously, it’s sort of overshadowed by its older sibling, the “First Piano Concerto,” but I think this piece is just as beautiful, just as exciting, if not even more so. The virtuosity, especially pianistically speaking, is off the charts compared to the first. It’s far more challenging; the themes are really beautiful. It’s just really gorgeous, you know. People can expect to absolutely be taken on an awesome journey. You know, dare I say ... right now, at this moment, I prefer it to the first. Can I say something so blasphemous?

Q: Did you have any other hobbies or passions as a child besides piano?

A: I really did spend about 10 hours practicing every day. Four hours on a school night and 10 on the weekend. And on the weekends, there was also music conservatory. But my mom did actually put me into swimming, and so I swam a lot when I was growing up, and I’m so grateful that she did that because it kind of got me moving instead of just literally sitting for hours at a time. But as far as having a lot of friends, I had no friends growing up. That’s a fact. I didn’t have friends until I went to music college, and it was almost like a culture shock because I was kind of unsocialized for such a long time. It was a really amazing, eye-opening experience.

Q: You have played in venues much different than traditional concert halls. What do you like about the variety?

A: Some of the most rewarding concerts I’ve played have been in refurbished airplane hangars or little towns with a grand total population of like 100 people. Those are some of the most rewarding concerts. ... The concerts that touch me the most are the ones that I play for people who are not exposed as often to this kind of music. I think that’s some of the most beautiful experiences. You go there, they have this little Yamaha, which half the hammers have been eaten by a mouse, and you sit down and you play Chopin, and these people just break into tears. These people come with such an innocent plate to the concert. It’s just pure, honest emotion that they experience, and the music moves them. And that to me, I think, is the heart of what we do.

Q: What do you like to do with the little free time you have?

A: I have a big love affair with my couch. Honestly, what I really love to do is I love to cook. I love being able to escape the piano sometimes and be with my friends. If I have the opportunity, I love to go somewhere and be surrounded by nature. That’s why I love Alaska. I go there every summer. I love the hiking and going out fishing, and I love to do yoga, and I just like to explore as many things as I possibly can that don’t involve, you know, high-impact wrist sports.

Q: Do you wish you had more time to pursue other passions?

A: Nothing is ever going to be as great of a passion to me as playing the piano and being a musician. Nothing will ever surpass that. The fact is ... and I’m very grateful to say, this leaves very little room to pursue anything else full time. But I love dabbling in whatever I know, and the little I know about it. ... I love that my core existence is getting to play music. It’s incredible.

Wichita Symphony

What: “Virtuosic Tchaikovsky” featuring Natasha Paremski, piano

When: 8 p.m. Sat., 3 p.m. March 13

Where: Century II Concert Hall, 225 W. Douglas

Tickets: $19-$57, 316-267-7658 or wichitasymphony.org

Also: Pre-concert talks begin one hour before the concert and are free to all ticket holders.

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