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Reimagining the Instrument: In Sound and Expression

Interview with Fidan Aghayeva-Edler

6/18/2021 • Reading Time: 6min

About Fidan Aghayeva-Edler

Fidan Aghayeva-Edler is a pianist based in Berlin, Germany, currently focused on the performance of contemporary music and improvisation. She is active in the contemporary music scene and works closely with composers. Her work is supported by various grants and scholarships from Musikfonds Berlin, Deutsche Orchester-Stiftung, Berliner Senatsverwaltung für Kultur und Europa, Fonds Darstellende Künste, the Norwegian Quota Scholarship, the Dwight and Ursula Mamlok Foundation.

 

During the coronavirus pandemic, she carried out various projects and developed new concert formats, such as livestream concerts with numerous world premieres, shop window concerts, and virtual duo improvisations. Her CD "Verbotene Klänge: Sechs Suiten" was broadcasted in the Bayerischen Rundfunk, RBB Kultur, Klassikcast of the Goethe Institute, MDR Figaro etc. Her further collaborative projects include CDs and albums "Klavierwerke" (2016), "Twenty for piano" (2020), "The Black Garden" (2020).

 

As a soloist and with an ensemble, she has performed in various venues across Europe, such as Berliner Philharmonie, Waldbühne Berlin, Steintor Varieté Halle, Grieghallen Bergen, Moscow Conservatory Rachmaninov's Hall. Her focus lies on the rediscovery of music by persecuted composers. She tries to represent the music of male, female and non-binary composers equally in her concert programs. She is constantly discovering new musical spheres, such as improvised performances (solo or in an ensemble) with extended piano techniques, and realizing interdisciplinary projects (including poetry and dance). She plays in film (including "Fabian" 2021 by Dominik Graf and "Berlin.Babylon" IV season).

Interview with Fidan Aghayeva-Edler

1. Your performances of contemporary music have been met with great acclaim.  Tell us about your early musical experiences & studies.

 

I´ve received a pretty standard classical piano solo education - going through my Bachelors in Azerbaijan, Masters in Norway and Postgraduate studies (Konzertexamen) in Germany. My early training mostly included pieces up to the musical expressionism. I have played several works of living composers even being in the secondary school, but never paid much attention to it. I enjoyed playing Bach, Mozart, Schumann, and Rachmaninov, performing several times as a child prodigy with the orchestra, and was not really aware that "A Composer" as a profession still exists. 

 

At some point during my Bachelor studies, I noticed that I could read, understand and enjoy pieces of 20th Century composers (such as Prokofiev) much more than those from the earlier times. That has been a revelation because before, when I came to the class, I would mostly expect my professor to explain me each detail of "what composer intended to say in this spot". But now things changed – I realized what I needed was clarity and being in better contact with the composer and his ideas, and not with (roughly) my professor´s opinion about it. Also, the musical language of the modern and contemporary composers became more captivating for me. Some years later, I discovered Schoenberg and his peers (oh, what a wonderful amount of written-in nuances!). 

 

My acquaintance with the contemporary music happened during my studies with Einar Røttingen. Even if I had been enjoying pre-war music of long-dead composers, I still had no contact with the actual musical scene. My professor (a big enthusiast of contemporary music himself) borrowed me a CD of George Crumb's "Makrokosmos II" (oh, he knew what he did!), which waited another 6 months on my shelf collecting dust until I gave it a shot... OK, from here on there will be no spoilers, but if ANYONE is reading this and still hasn't been convinced in the so called "contemporary music", please go listen to Crumb´s music. It is a marvelous first step into the extended possibilities of the piano, and even with all its technical advance – it is just beautiful and captivating and doesn't need any introduction for an inexperienced ear!

Fidan Aghayev-Edler
Fidan Aghayev-Edler

2. How has your work with living composers influenced your general artistry & interpretative style as a whole?  Perhaps you might tell us about one or two experiences that had a particularly significant impact.

 

Like I said, it has been a revelation for me. Twenty years ago (as I was growing up), the standard philharmonic concert programs haven´t been as inclusive as today. Very few contemporary composers, no female composers, no Black composers etc. Right now this movement is getting bigger, but still, many concert goers contemplate an occasional contemporary piece as a nice tiny souvenir, as an encore. Also, many musicians themselves are stuck in the old patterns. I was lucky to get to know much of the contemporary music and composers personally (as I live in one of the most densely populated by composers city in the world!) and to work with them. Also, to be instructed by professors who are interested in exploring new things and are explorers themselves. 

 

It is fun to know there is music no one else played before you. It is fun to premiere new pieces and to bring some silent pages to sound. Also, there is an incredible freedom in it. Most of the composers are actually happy when performers make suggestions, or interpret their music freely, add some extras, improvise, etc. At this point, one could realize that older (dead) composers might have also been happy for suggestions and freedoms and that it has never been that strict as we are taught in the conservatories. 

 

The next fun thing is that composers are all very different (we all have heard anecdotes about Beethoven and Stravinsky, but do they really bring us closer to the Sacred World of Composed Music?) living, striving, politically engaged (or not), intelligent (or very intelligent) human beings, which you could invite to dinner  (sometimes even a cake will do) or a swim, and next day get a piece dedicated to yourself. What I want to say, composers are not all old and bearded white men as many of us know (for example, Brahms) from the high-school musical history classroom portraits! (Still, I think the cake-rule applies to all times.)

3. As pianists, we would all probably love to be able to call Liszt or Rachmaninoff & ask what he meant by this or that marking.  What is the process of working on a contemporary work like, when one *can* in fact reach out?  Does this make the process more collaborative?

 

I think, mostly it's the other way around :) Composers reaching out and willing to explain exactly what they meant. 

 

Basically, I was scared when I looked into the score only once: my very first time playing a contemporary music piece with all possible extended techniques involved. But my piano instructor told me, "Oh, no worries, it is all very easy. I will show you everything you need in just half an hour." I was surprised, but it was true! Half an hour later, I was one pound smarter. 

 

Another fun fact – composers like to invent their own symbols to explain which technique they mean. I do love those explanations – sometimes they even come with a hand-drawn picture or a photo! During the pandemic, I was receiving tons of music accompanied with explanatory videos – the progress doesn´t stop at the threshold of composers!

Fidan Aghayev-Edler

4. What has been your favorite moment on stage? 

 

After a year in a lockdown – definitely my first public performance! 

Fidan Aghayev-Edler
Fidan Aghayev-Edler

5. I’ve noticed that contemporary works are often introduced by & paired with more familiar repertoire.  From your experience, do you have any suggestions when it comes to programming contemporary music especially for new audiences?

 

Sometimes I am getting angry about it, considering it as a cheap trick. But when I am a listener myself – I think, "why not?". Whatever brings the broader audience to get more familiar with the contemporary repertoire – is good. I am not saying all the music composed today is good. For me, it is mostly about the tradition. If we only listen to the familiar repertoire, we will stay in the reality of 200-years-ago. Whereas, the political, economical, ecological, ethical problems we are facing today are very different and new, and music (as any art) is about communicating and addressing them. Has always been. 

Alfred Schnittke, Concerto for Piano and Strings

Maurice Ravel - La Valse

6. Do you improvise, & if so, how has your versatility with various musical languages contributed to your style?

 

I do improvise. I started just recently and had a great opportunity to get deeper into it during the pandemics thanks to the scholarship from Berliner Senat, which I received last autumn. I think of it as my growing baby-plant, a side-project. It has been uncomprehensible for me even, like, 3 years ago. A thing that, imho, should be practiced in the conservatories but still considered unnecessary for a classical musician. I am not sure if I am genuinely versatile in my improvisation (though, I am striving!), but as anything else – it is a matter of practice! Oh, and I love to use all those fun extended techniques I learned from the explanatory pages ;)

Fidan Aghayev-Edler

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About Maryam Raya

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Maryam Raya is an internationally acclaimed and award-winning concert pianist based in New York. Praised for her “Dynamic Stage Presence” by the Union of Excellence, Maryam has performed recitals worldwide, in countries including England, Spain, France, Italy, China, Estonia, Latvia, Finland, and Dubai and has performed at renowned venues across the United States including multiple appearances at New York’s Carnegie Hall, The Kennedy Center, Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts, The National Opera Center, multiple international embassies, among others.

Described as a “Complete Artist of the 21st Century” by Info Music France, she has been featured in countless international art, fashion, and music magazines across Europe as well as American news outlets such as CBS news. With an extensive and diverse repertoire, including numerous solo programs and over thirty concerti for piano and orchestra, Maryam is passionate about bringing classical music to younger audiences through her captivating performances and lectures.