Five years ago Irina Vasilieva dreamed up the Cappuccino Concerts series, a brainwave that has since become an integral part of the Perth concert scene. What began as an opportunity to give performers a professional platform has been embraced by Perth audiences. The concerts are set in intimate venues like bookstores, cafes, music shops and invariably sell out. This week Cappuccino Concerts presents a unique Mother's Day concert featuring music from Women of Note. I thought it was time to get to know the Russian pianist who is recreating the tradition of chamber music in Perth.
What music gets your heart racing?
Oh, it depends on the mood I am in! Most of the time it is the music I am preparing for my recital. So usually I am getting obsessed with it as I fall in love more and more with what I am about to play. If it is in between recitals and just ordinary day then it can be Rachmaninov concerto quite often or something jazzy that's on radio playing at the moment. When in doubt - Russian rock always wins too :)
What calms you down?
Reading bedtime stories to my children and holding my daughter's foot as she falls asleep.
What do you sing along to?
I'm old fashioned and love old fashioned love songs. Sorry for being cheesy but I do love Frank Sinatra and Nat King Cole, Armstrong
What inspired you to start the Cappuccino concert series?
Lack of opportunities for high standard classical musicians here in Perth was the main reason. Also my background and upbringing I suppose. When I came to Australia it was disappointing to see extremely talented, gifted musicians go interstate or abroad to perform. I come from Moscow, a city that has internationally acclaimed and also local amazing musicians giving recitals so often – it is normal to have a few concerts in one day and go from one to another.
Here I feel (forgive me for being snobby) that there is not much joy and excitement of listening to classical music. The cost and to a lesser extent the programming has detracted from the music being available to the broader community. It seemed to me that here in Perth attending a concert was only a privilege and an elitist’s pastime. So, I love coffee and I love classical music – it was suggested by my then-husband to call our series Cappuccino Concerts. Why not? :) Here we go – celebrating 5 years of bringing classical music to people of all walks of life and it is very rewarding. Every time I see people smiling and their happy faces I know I will keep going.
There are very few female artistic directors in Perth. You have a unique voice as a woman and with an international perspective. What do you think the people of Perth are looking for in a concert experience?
I think they need more exposure and opportunity to enjoy talented Australian musicians performing at various venues.
What type of artists do you have performing?
I give the priority to local performers, usually Perth-based but also performers from other states.
You have a soft spot for chamber music– what is the appeal of this repertoire?
I love chamber music. As a performer I learn a lot when playing with other musicians in an ensemble. An intimate setting for both musicians and the audience brings people together. Johann Wolfgang von Goethe described chamber music (specifically string quartet music) as "four rational people conversing". It is something that we are losing – communication. The idea of composing music that could be played at home has been largely abandoned. What do we usually have at home? TV, iPads, computers....it all takes away from humans interacting with each other even in a home setting. The role of chamber music in society has changed profoundly in the last 50 years. So the idea is to bring people together in an intimate setting and encourage them to interact with each other. Chamber music can do that with a little bit of wine added to the mix :)
You grew up in Russia; are opportunities for women musicians greater there than in Australia?
I left Russia many years ago so I can't say what the situation is like there at the moment. I can only judge from how I grew up. And I was brought up mainly among remarkable women who inspired me – they were scientists, musicians, physicists. There were politics of course but I grew up with women being equally important in their profession as men.
At what age did you start learning piano? When did you decide you wanted to pursue a career with the piano?
Piano was always there. I remember my mother playing piano. So probably naturally I asked to learn that instrument and haven't regretted it since.
Irina Vasilieva performing Shchedrin's Basso Continuo at WA Academy of Performing Arts
What brought you to Australia?
My parents. They've made a decision and moved first but I refused being a stubborn teenager. It took me five years to catch up and join them later :)
You have two young children (see photo right). What do you suggest is a good way to introduce children to classical music?
Sing, play along, play games, create stories at the piano. Be silly :)
I have two preschool children myself and know how hard it is to juggle work and family. How do you manage the work/life balance?
I have no idea :)
Do you have a soft spot for anything else in life or is it all about the music and the family?
To me it is all about music and family
You have a very unique concert planned for Mother’s Day at Snaden's Pianos featuring music from my book Women of Note. What can audiences expect?
It is going to be a fantastic opportunity to hear inspiring stories and music from Australian women composers and to enjoy a very nice high tea in a good company.
Thank you Irina Vasilieva for making time for Celebrity Soft Spot. For more info on the pianist/director go here. Tickets for the Mother's Day Women of Note Soiree at Snaden's Pianos are selling fast. Go here for more details: http://www.cappuccino-concerts.com.au