What do YOU want to know?

At Beyond the Notes the audience has a chance to write down questions which are chosen at random throughout the evening. Below are answers to all of the unanswered questions from BTN 2017!

Guest Artist: Natalia Lavrova, piano

Q: Who were your first teachers? And do they ever hear you play now?

NATALIA: My first two teachers were in Moscow, Russia so unfortunately, I have little contact with them now.  My college professor I studied with during my Masters degree, however is still a very big part of my life.  I continue to play for him occasionally and he does hear me play.

Q: What is a typical week like for musicians like you? How much time do you spend traveling?

SARAH: I’d have to say that there is really no such thing as a typical week for me! When I’m in NYC, usually the “work” part of my days consist of, in no particular order, personal practice, rehearsals, performances, meetings and administration. My favorite days are the ones where I am able to schedule my personal practice and administration in the morning and then attend rehearsals/performances/meetings in the afternoon and/or evenings. For traveling, I’d say I’m on the road 30%-40% of the year touring, teaching and mentoring.

Q: How old were you when you started playing?

NATALIA: I started about 3 months after my 5th birthday.

Q: Tell us about the various countries you have played in and visited?

SARAH: The first time I performed internationally was on a youth orchestra trip to Panama in 7th grade! Since then I have performed and toured in Argentina, Canada, China, Costa Rica, France, Italy, Japan, Mexico, South Africa and Switzerland.

Q: Do you play another instrument?

NATALIA: I do not.  I always say that the piano keeps me busy enough :)  If I did have time, the cello is an instrument I would have loved to learn to play.

Q: Do you play other instruments? When did you first start playing?

SARAH: I started playing the violin just after my 4th birthday. I own a viola and have been known to play it on occasion and also took piano lessons in middle school. I also played clarinet for one year in 5th grade so I could be in the school band but it’s possible that may have been a ploy to distract from my violin practice!

Q: Who is your favorite composer?

NATALIA: I know that I answered this during the concert and do really feel this way - asking me to choose one favorite composer is like asking someone to choose their favorite child.  If I absolutely had to, it would be Brahms, but there are so many other composers that I feel just as passionate toward.

Q: Do you have time to go to musical performances in NYC? Which ones have you especially enjoyed?

SARAH: I do, though I wish I was able to go to more! As musicians, we are frequently working in the evenings when all the shows are happening so it can be tricky. I especially love to go see my friends and colleagues perform.

Q: You play with great feeling, so I wonder, do you assume a character or do you feel you are channeling the composer?

NATALIA: Each piece is different.  Some have stories built in by the composer, other pieces I do research of my own, and then there are those where I just follow my gut instincts.  I don’t always assume a specific character per se, but there is always some sort of an emotional journey happening.  

Q: What is your favorite movie that contains or is about music?

SARAH: I recently saw Moonlight which I loved and it had an incredible score. It was actually written by my friend's husband, Nick Britell. He was nominated for an Academy Award for this score and it's always so wonderful to see my colleagues doing so well!

Q: Young artists starting out in New York often struggle to make ends meet before they begin to succeed. What were your early years in NYC like?

NATALIA: I have been living in NYC since I was 10 years old, so I don’t know if that’s really a fair question ;)   I guess my early years as an independent musician were my college years.  I attended the Juilliard School, which is in the heart of Manhattan at Lincoln Center.  I have always  tried to take jobs that were somehow related to being a musician and have taught from an early age because I love it and it helps me support myself.  I have had to do other things though, such as work at a restaurant and I have held several administrative jobs.  Living in NYC as a musician at any age, and not just the early years, always requires a fair share of hustling :)

Q: Please explain how you turn the pages with your foot.

SARAH: I have have 2 foot pedals that are connected through bluetooth to my iPad. One pedal is to turn the pages forward and the other is to turn the pages back.

Q: Are all the great contemporary composers living today? Any really fabulous one?

NATALIA: There are so many wonderful contemporary composers living today.  One that definitely stands out, because I have had the pleasure of performing his music and knowing him, is Lowell Liebermann.  He is a great composer and an amazing person! Some composers I went to school with are writing some great music - Nico Muhly and Kenji Bunch are just two of many more that immediately come to mind.  I recently found out that a young man I went to Juilliard Pre-College with wrote the score to the film Moonlight which is an Oscar contender this year.  It’s always so thrilling to see people I studied with do well and to cheer them on.  

Q: What is the difference in sound when you stroke up and down with the bow?

SARAH: Generally speaking, a down bow creates a heavier sound and an up bow will create a lighter sound. Much of this is based on the actual physics of the down bow being assisted by gravity and having more weight. That being said, it is possible to alter these bowing expectations by using other techniques with the bow to have a heavier up bow or lighter down bow. Bowings are a very personal choice and it’s not uncommon that different performers could choose different bowings for the same piece of music.

Q: What is your favorite number of instrumentalists to play with?

NATALIA: It really depends on the setting.  I perform as part of a piano duo with my best friend, so that is an experience that is always thrilling.  Not only is he a great musician who I learn from daily, but we know each other so well that there is an unspoken communication that is very organic.  Playing with Sarah Whitney is very similar. And I do think there is something special about a one-on-one performance.  However, larger ensembles have their own pull, and really force me to listen differently.  I also love playing concerti with an orchestra, even though that’s a very different experience and I am still technically the soloist.  

Q: How does the iPad device work for viewing your music? Does a piano have the same type of device available?

SARAH: I use a program called ForScore on my iPad where I can view sheet music. I can either take a picture of a piece of sheet music or import a PDF into the program in order to read it. This program also allows me to write markings on the music. A pianist could use an iPad for reading music but I can imagine that turning pages with foot pedals might be quite challenging in addition to the three pedals they already use!

Q: You played together before? Are your musical tastes similar?

NATALIA: Sarah and I have played together before and we have a blast each time.  I think our musical tastes are very similar in many ways.  We both enjoy a beastly Romantic sonata we can really sink our teeth into, as well as music that is a bit more lighthearted.  I have been more of a “strict” classical concert pianist all my life, so I have much less experience with popular and jazz genres, whereas Sarah has played pretty much every style imaginable.  This is where I think we differ and I learn a great deal from her!  We have different strengths as musicians and performers and we love combining our strengths when we play together.

Q: I’m not a musician. Sometimes I see someone reading music scores like I read books. Can you tell me what it's like to read a score? Is there a story? Are you hearing the music?

SARAH: Score study is definitely a large part of learning a piece, especially when it’s a collaboration with other musicians. In many ways, it’s just as important to study the music without your instrument as it is to practice the piece with your instrument. When I’m studying a score, oftentimes I’m hearing the music and making musical decisions about phrasings and/or dynamics and other times I’m studying how the other parts fit in with mine.

Q: Have your musical tastes evolved over the years?

NATALIA: I think my musical tastes have definitely developed and expanded over the years.  Certain pieces I now hear and understand differently, though the foundation for what I will forever love was laid down early on.  I don't think I have ever not liked something that I used to, but I certainly have discovered SO much more new music and will continue to expand my horizons.  

Q: How many pieces of music did Mozart write?

SARAH: Mozart composed over 626 works!

Q: What future challenges in your musical career do you most look forward to?

NATALIA: It’s hard to predict future challenges, though I imagine my physical dexterity will change as I get older and even though I don’t particularly look forward to it, I am curious as to how I will handle it and what adjustments I will need to make.  I am also constantly looking for ways to grow as an artist.  I still have lots to learn as far as time management.  My biggest struggle is juggling my practice and performance time, with my teaching time and my administrative responsibilities for both my own music school and record label.  I really look forward to finding new ways to improve myself in this challenge.

Q: Why is “Sonata” called “Sonata”?

SARAH: Sonata is latin for “to sound.” In musical terms, sonata literally means “to be played”, as opposed to cantata which means “to be sung”. In the 19th century, the sonata was one of the most important methods of organizing and presenting concert music.

Q: How much did you practice in your younger years?

NATALIA: On average, probably about 4 hours a day, though there were times prior to important concerts and competitions that it was more.

Q: What's other music do you enjoy?

SARAH: I like all different types of music! When I’m in my apartment, I might be listening to Radiohead, Dvorak, Stephane Grappelli, Bach, or Beyonce! I also love to listen to friends of mine and groups that they are part of. Two favorites right now are The Founders and The North.

Q: What is your worst concert experience?

NATALIA: I like to think that every concert is a good experience, even if it doesn’t seem so at the time, since I learn from each performance.  I think the only concert experiences that I remember as worse then others, are when I am not emotionally attached to the performance for whatever reason.  That never feels good on stage.

Q: Do you perform any one program in several venues? Where?

SARAH: Yes! My quintet, SYBARITE5, will often tour one or two programs during our season and perform them at over 20 venues on our tours throughout the US. Right now, Beyond the Notes only lives in Concord, but I’m working on trying to find ways to bring it to other communities.

Q: How did you first get interested in your instrument and how old were you?

NATALIA: I had been in a children’s choir for a few months and the director noticed that I had a good ear and had talent.  She recommended to my mom that I start on an instrument.  My mom was actually the one who initially decided that it should be the piano, because she took a few years of lessons as a child and was able to help me practice a little in the initial stages.

Q: What do you look for in a playing partner/accompanist and why?

SARAH: I think the most important thing for each player in a collaboration is the ability to listen, communicate, adapt and follow one another. In chamber music, there is no conductor so the players are fully responsible to communicate with one another.

Q:  How did you know you wanted to play professionally?

NATALIA: I can’t think of the exact moment.  It happened organically over time.  I think part of that is because I started my music studies at one of the top 3 music schools in the Moscow, Russia, where no teacher of mine ever treated the lessons as a hobby.  All lessons were immediately approached seriously and with a professional path in mind.  Once I started playing more serious repertoire and listened to more and more music, I was hooked.

Q: What pedals do you use with the violin? Do you use different pedals in the studio versus live performances?

SARAH: I use pedals made by Boss, specifically Boss FS-5U Nonlatching Footswitches. If I needed pedals in a recording session I would use the same ones. I actually recently did a session where some of us decided not to use pedals and read off sheet music because we were worried about the clicking sounds from the pedals being picked up by the microphones.

Q: Living in NYC is so expensive, are you able to support yourself with your music? Or do you have another job?

NATALIA: I own a music school of my own, and do a lot of teaching.  I think of myself as a performer on certain days, and then teaching can definitely qualify and occasionally feel like another job.  Especially on days where I would rather be practicing, or have performances I need to prepare for and I have very limited time.  At the same time, I am a piano teacher, and it’s a huge part of my musical existence so I like to think that it’s just a different branch of my musical career and journey.  

Q: What type of violin do you play?

SARAH: I play on an instrument made by J.B Vuillaume made c. 1850 modeled after a Guarneri.

Q: Why New York?

NATALIA: I have lived in NYC since I was 10 years old.  It’s home!  My family and friends are there.  All my American memories and experiences were born there.  And of course, the cultural life is like nowhere else.  I am sure I could live elsewhere if I absolutely had to, but I hope that life keeps me in NYC.  I love it!!!!

Q: Do you hear the score memorize or are you using a device?

SARAH: In many ways, yes, I do hear the score memorized. In performance, I am referencing sheet music from my iPad with only my part, as opposed to a full score. Much of the preparation process for a performance is studying the score and learning the other part(s) both together in rehearsals and individually. When collaborating, it’s important for each performer to know all the parts very well.

Q: Given your education, experience and insight, if you could go back in time and begin again, would you choose to play the same instruments and why?

NATALIA: I would definitely play the piano again!  Each instrument is beautiful in its own way, but the piano has a scope that is unlike any other single instrument.  It is the king, in a way.  The unbelievable vastness of our repertoire as pianists, the ability to portray everything from the most sensitive single voice to a full, orchestra-like sound, filled with such variety and dimension is something that I can’t see myself ever doing without, especially after a lifetime of experience with it.  One can live 30 lifetimes and still never run out of repertoire, inspiration or aspiration.  That’s before I consider chamber music :) I hope reincarnation exists!  

Q: At what age did Sarah decide she would become a violinist?

SARAH: I started playing violin at the age of 4 so it’s been a huge part of my life. However, I’d say it was around the time I decided to pursue a music degree in college that I became serious about becoming a professional violinist.

Q: How will streaming services like Pandora and Spotify affect your ability to make a living?

NATALIA: I like to think that these services bring more awareness to music and give some “free” advertising for artists, though of course the argument is that less people buy music.  I do hope that the real music fans will continue to support the arts and purchase our recordings and attend more live concerts thanks to them.  Maybe I am too naive and only time and the continued advance of technology will let us know what’s next.

Q: Did your parents, as violinists, help you with your early violin studies?

SARAH: Yes, they did! It was quite convenient that they both played the violin and understood the instrument so well. They practiced with me regularly and were very involved in my lessons and group classes.

Q: Do you know any good viola jokes?

NATALIA: I used to hear string players tell them all the time in college but unfortunately, I don’t remember any really great ones.  Sorry!  Maybe Sarah has a few up her sleeve ;)

Q: How do you prevent injuries?

SARAH: Musicians are athletes so it’s very important that we take care of our bodies with that in mind. I always stretch before I play, am mindful about taking regular practice breaks and exercise regularly to keep my body in good shape.

Q: What is the most days in a row you (dare) to miss practicing?

NATALIA: I have to admit, that with running a school and teaching 4-5 days a week, not practicing several days in a row is something I ended up having to do a little too often.  This is one thing I really would like to change this year, going forward, and make sure that I get at least a little in every day - even if only 30 minutes.  4 days is probably the most I can miss before I start itching to play, even if just to sight read through something for fun.

Q: Does Sybarite5 feel like a family? How long have you been together?

SARAH: Definitely! We often joke that we are indeed a family. We all know each other VERY well! The five of us have been together since 2009.

Q: Clementi's Sonata was a very innovative and delightful piece. If the rest of his work is of nearly comparable quality why isn't more of his work played today or at least this sonata?

NATALIA: What a great question.  I love this Sonata and I wish it were played more often.  I don’t know all the sonatas, but he does have quite a few and several of them are really wonderful and definitely worth adequate stage time.  I think too many performers are afraid to try new repertoire from older times, for fear that if several centuries of musicians and audiences have ignored these works, that somehow means they are inferior.  What they forget is that in order to discover a gem, one has to actually go looking for it :)  Also, pianists have such a legacy of repertoire that many pianists don’t feel they ever need anything else.  It really is a shame and I hope more people start playing lesser known music, at least occasionally.

Q: Are you or any of the other Sybarites afraid of losing your instrument or have you lost one? Does a cello or bass get a seat when flying?

SARAH: I don’t think any of us have ever lost an instrument. There was, however, a time in Japan where I left my violin in the overhead compartment of a train for some time when we moved to another train car. Luckily, it was still there when I returned but I guess that’s the closest I’ve come to losing an instrument! Flying is quite a production for us. Yes, purchase a ticket for the cello and it sits in a seat on the plane. Louis has to check his bass under the plane and I can imagine his fear of the airline losing his instrument is very real, though it has never happened.

Q: Did Brahms’ relationship - whatever it was - with Clara Schumann, help or hinder his art?

NATALIA: I definitely think that the relationship helped his art.  Brahms had a very difficult relationship with and toward women all his life, and Clara I feel, acted as a muse and a mother to him at times…even if purely subconsciously.  I think it filled his music with yearning and passion that otherwise may not have been there.  Artists often have a way of translating their complex emotions into great works!  

Q: At what point did you know you would donate yourself to music? Are most of your friends musicians? Or do you have a lot of 9-to-5 types?

SARAH: I’d have to say that most of my friends are musicians but that’s purely based on the fact that those are the people I spend most of my time with! Over the years, some people I’ve known have left the music field and switched to a more standard 9-to-5 career. I am also very close with high school and college friends, many of whom are not musicians.

Q: Why Piano?

NATALIA: I think I answered this in one of the above questions.  In short, because it is majestic, regal and capable of endless options, nuances, emotions, and our repertoire choice is unmatched!  Even something as simple as it’s imitation ability, plays a role.  One can play ANY other instruments’ part on a piano, even a full symphony if arranged properly.  What other instrument is capable of this?  I can give SO many reasons and this can quickly turn into a very long love-fest :)

Q: What's muscles in your arm produce the vibrato?

SARAH: There are actually two types of vibrato: wrist vibrato and arm vibrato. In arm vibrato, I would say that it’s a combination of the forearm and upper arm/bicep that produce the vibrato.

Q: If you had only one composition allowed for you to play– what would it be?

NATALIA: That is the ALL TIME impossible question.  I don’t know if I can choose, honestly.  Maybe Chopin’s 4th Ballade, which I have yet to learn, but hope to one day.  I am going to stop there, before I change my mind 100 times ;)

Q: How did you construct the program and why put these pieces together?

SARAH: I always love to bring an eclectic mix of repertoire to my audiences so that’s an important component I consider when compiling a program. I usually start a concert with a piece under 7 minutes so I have a chance to greet the audience early on. In the program that Natalia and I put together, I wanted each of us to have a few solo pieces that we had a personal connection to. We also both love Brahms so we knew early on that we would do one of the three Brahms Violin Sonatas. The rest of the pieces were chosen to round out the variety and all purposely shorter in length to allow for more time for questions to be answered!

Q: Did your parents come to the US specifically so you could study piano?

NATALIA: No, not really.  My mom and I came over to the States because she visited family a year prior to our permanent move and fell in love with my step-dad during that time :)

Q: Do you always use the same violin or different ones depending on the music? If the same how do you choose it?

SARAH: I use a different violin for outdoor wedding gigs and other situations where I don’t feel comfortable bringing my good instrument. This instrument also has a pickup on it so if I need to plug into an amplifier or loop pedal machine, I can. (I used this violin for Jessica Meyer’s piece, ‘Hello”) I also have an electric violin that I use if I’m playing with a DJ or band.

Q: What other types of music do you enjoy listening to?

NATALIA: I enjoy a lot of different music.  I have always liked rock and pop.  Jazz is incredible!  And I am a huge Broadway musical fan!