Bulgarian-born pianist Tania Stavreva is one of a new breed of self-sufficient young classical musicians. Following the lead of their pop music counterparts, they are taking their careers into their own hands – in Stavreva’s case, hands of great skill and power, attached to a deceptively diminutive form. Her recent program at Tenri Cultural Institute of New York included two short self-penned works of rumbling, percussive intensity betraying a spirit not hobbled by any need for over-delicacy.
In line with her interest in championing composers from her native land, Stavreva fearlessly segued her own “Rhythmic Movement” into a piece of the same name by noted Bulgarian composer Pancho Vladigerov. His “Rhythmic Movement” moves in the characteristic 2-2-2-3 rhythm of some Eastern European music, which I’m seeing more and more often in
concert and “crossover” music in various genres – on violinist Lara St. John’s new album Shiksa, for example, and on jazz bassist Georg Breinschmid’s Double Brein.
Stavreva’ dark energy was impressive in Alberto Ginastera’s “Ruvideo et ostinato, Op. 22,” another percussive work that she played with Horowitz-esque animation, nearly throwing herself off the piano bench at the end. Gil Shohat’s miniature “The Scream,” though uninspiring in itself, led into another original piece in which Stavreva improvised on the piano’s inner guts with electric flair and colorful musicality.
Wisely, she inserted into the center of the program a few works in a more romantic style, starting with Chopin’s relatively rarely performed Etude No. 1 in F minor, whose snakelike melody and four-against-three rhythm she carried off nicely. Two short pieces by Federico Mompou were sensitively played with a Chopin-esque romanticism.
Two highlights came at the end. Bulgarian composer Veselin Stoyanov massaged that above-mentioned 2-2-2-3 rhythm into lyrical spiderwebs of sound in his “Prelude” from “Three Pieces for Piano in 9/8.” And in the closing showpiece, Vladigerov’s delightfully creative “Variations on Bulgarian Folk Song ‘Dilmano, Dilbero,’ Op. 2,” Stavreva displayed her wide interpretive range and smart, flashy technique on variations that suggested a broad spectrum of styles: Rachmaninoff, Chopin, jazz. (Even a hint Liberace!) After a series of short pieces, the Variations also gave the pianist a chance to show she can deploy sustained creative energy through a more extended work.
Stavreva believes a short, intermission-less concert held in a small space such as an art gallery, with a small audience and lasting not much more than a set by a band in a rock club, is a good way to appeal to a young audience not very familiar with classical music – or, just as important, with the atmosphere and habits of the concert culture in which it’s performed in our time. She’s not the only one, and it’s sure worth a try, especially with trendy venues open to concert music popping up too. (Here in New York, for example, joining Manhattan’s City Winery and Le Poisson Rouge is Brooklyn’s brand new National Sawdust.) I suspect it’s symbiotic: as more young performers set out to make their own way, more venues will become available for stylish new presentations of new music.
In any case, whatever your neighborhood, if there’s an art gallery around the corner there’s more and more chance you’ll find it giving fresh meaning to the term “chamber music.”
Tania Stavreva will have a new album coming out in 2016. In the meantime, you can find her concert schedule on her website.