When Georgian-American pianist Natalia Kazaryan was 10 years old, she won the Balys Dvarionas International Piano Competition in Lithuania, and the event made her realize she could make this passion into a career. It also gave her international recognition, which resulted in invitations to perform and study in Europe and the United States — her ticket out of the Republic of Georgia, where the economy was in tatters following the collapse of the Soviet Union.
As a child, Natalia would practice up to 8 hours every day, while other children played outside, and the hard work early on contributed to her confidence and the feeling of belonging on stage. As a student at Juilliard, where she earned her bachelor’s and master’s degrees, she did her work in the afternoons and late at night, keeping her evenings open to attend concerts and opera performances.
“Hearing great artists set the bar high and inspired me to continue refining my art,” she said.
Life is a little different now than those days, as Natalia is a new mom and has been enjoying time with her son, but she stays committed by carving out hours every day to maintain and expand her repertoire, especially as she prepares for the recital of all-female composers at the Smithsonian on August 11.
Steinway Series Performance, Smithsonian
Natalia is presenting a series of programs featuring great works by female composers, including a newly commissioned work that she will soon premiere. She will perform a Steinway Series recital on Sunday, August 11, at the Smithsonian American Art Museum that will feature works by Clara Schumann, Amy Beach, Fanny Mendelssohn, Lili Boulanger, Joan Tower, and Grazyna Bacewicz.
“I want to honor and bring to the fore the composers who paved the way for future generations of women to pursue their skills and talents,” she said. “I am using this opportunity to showcase works that have not been performed as often as their artistry deserves—because women composed them. They also represent a wide variety of styles that showcase the range of women’s compositional creativity across time.”
One way she finds inspiration off stage is reading literature, especially poetry, which helps her to achieve a deeper understanding of the music that is often inspired by it. Recently she has been reading a book about groundbreaking female composers by Anna Beer, which inspired her not only to play their music, but also to write articles and make videos to share their stories of success despite long odds.
“I like to share this knowledge with the audience before and during the performance, helping audiences connect better with each piece and its context,” she said. “I feel a strong sense of purpose when I perform – whether it is to share a beautiful experience with an audience of music that they know or to introduce them to new works. I feel transported when I perform, and it is an indescribable feeling of joy.”
One of Natalia’s long-term projects is to perform and record Messiaen’s Vingt Regards sur l’Enfant-Jésus. She has a special affinity for French music, which resulted in spending three years living and studying in Paris, being the first Juilliard student to participate in the Carla Bruni-Sarkozy exchange with the Paris Conservatoire. She later won both a Fulbright Grant and a Harriett Hale Woolley Scholarship to Paris to continue her studies, with a focus on Messiaen’s work. Her work during this period with Michel Beroff, one of the foremost authorities on the music of Messiaen, inspired her quest to tackle the Vingt regards sur l’Enfant–Jésus.
“Immersing myself in the culture that created the music that I love and studying where many of the composers themselves learned composition, gave me insight into a deeper understanding of the works,” she said.
Supporting Music Education
Natalia supports music education organizations, especially ones that bring classical music to young people who otherwise would not have access to quality instruments or opportunities to perform on stage. She has donated to Mr. Holland’s Opus, an organization that provides instruments to public school classrooms, and she has been getting involved in the DC youth orchestra.
“Music is an important creative outlet for young students, and there are piles of evidence that it has positive impacts on their life from social skills to academic performance,” she said. “I also think that expanding kids' connection to classical music at a young age plants a lifelong seed that will bring them, their family, and friends to help fill the concert halls in the coming decades.”
During the next decade, she hopes to train the next generation of pianists, bringing what I have learned in the United States and Europe, in addition to performing concertos, solo recitals, presenting unique programs. She also wants to teach the students how to speak to an audience, an important step in making them feel connected to the music and the artist.
“It is important to teach children to appreciate music from a young age and do it in a way that will be fun, rather than intimidating and stuffy,” she said.
Learn more about Natalia and her upcoming performances on her website.