From Yerevan to Carnegie Hall, Kariné Poghosyan has worked her way to becoming a high-class pianist. Armenian Weekly intern Lilly Torosyan recently conducted the following interview with Poghosyan, who resides in New York City, where she performs and teaches at her alma mater, the Manhattan School of Music (MSM).
Lilly Torosyan: When did you start playing the piano, and when did you begin to pursue it professionally?
Kariné Poghosyan: My formal lessons started at age seven, but music had already been a big part of my life. My uncle is composer Gukas Pogosyan, and both of my parents are enormous music lovers. My father, artist Razmik Pogosyan, would always play recordings of opera when painting, which instilled in me a love of Italian opera that has only grown stronger today. My mother Melanya, though an engineer by profession, had studied piano herself; she would not only play recordings for me, but would patiently help me practice for the first few years of my study. She would create these big imaginative stories and characters for nearly every single phrase, helping me engage and really connect to the music. I can honestly say I would not be a professional musician now if it weren’t for all of her efforts.
LT: Who were the musicians you admired growing up?
KP: I fell in love with [American pianist] Van Cliburn’s playing when I was 13, and my life was never the same. I also loved going to philharmonic concerts in Yerevan as a child, and was so inspired by the amazing quality and tradition of our orchestra—it’s one of my biggest dreams to collaborate with the Armenian Philharmonic Orchestra (APO) sometime in the near future.
LT: How do you feel about your move from Armenia to America?
KP:I had a very difficult transition as I had just been accepted to the renowned Yerevan State Conservatory on a full scholarship and with a teacher that I really loved—Svetlana Dadyan. To leave all of that behind for the unknown was not particularly enticing. In retrospect, I am deeply grateful for the amazing opportunities that the American music scene presented me with. I feel I am contributing to my culture just as much by bringing the Armenian culture and music to newer audiences, here in the U.S. At the same time, my ties with Yerevan are still very strong, as I stay in touch with my family, friends, teachers, and colleagues. Most recently, in the summer of 2012, I had a recital in the Philharmonic Hall in Yerevan, presented by APO and the AGBU.
LT: What was it like, playing at Carnegie Hall for the first time?
KP: It was an absolute dream—and very addicting. Once you have played there, you cannot wait to get back on that stage! I have now played in Weill Recital Hall four times, but my biggest dream is to have a solo debut at the great Isaac Stern Auditorium [both at Carnegie Hall]. I have a picture of that stage that I carry with me everywhere and visualize it often, so I am sure it will happen sometime soon.
LT: I understand that you completed your D.M.A. in only two years, as opposed to the standard three, a feat accomplished at the MSM for the first time in over 20 years. How did you manage that?
KP: Those were certainly the most demanding two years of my life. The amount of work was enormous because at the time, I was already actively performing as well. So my daily routine would be classes all morning and afternoon, practice from about 6-11 p.m. (or until the neighbors complained), and then writing the thesis until 2-3 in the morning. It is doable; it just requires an insane work ethic and efficiency.
LT: Do you enjoy teaching as much as performing?
KP: Yes, very much. I feel that teaching and performing complement each other very well. I am especially delighted to work at MSM, where not only am I surrounded by accomplished colleagues, but I also have some remarkably talented young students. At the moment, I work with some young, talented pianists who are taking part in private lessons, chamber ensembles, and master classes. It’s a jam-packed program but also very rewarding. I really enjoy it!
LT: Do you compose any pieces?
KP: I have a few small piano pieces but have never braved sharing them publicly. Maybe someday…
LT: Perhaps when you perform at your dream venue, the Isaac Stern Auditorium. Are you as nervous as you were when you first started performing, or have you become more relaxed? Do you have a routine for preparing for a concert?
KP: I actually was never very nervous—it has always been more of an excitement, which carries tremendous energy and power. I always felt that excitement and was able to connect to it on stage, even when I was very young. I guess in a sense I am a natural at that. There is no standard routine per se, as the environment is always different, so you must be well prepared in order to have the flexibility to make necessary adjustments, while still giving it your all.
LT: Do you find that there is a difference in musical taste between students in Armenia and the U.S.?
KP: One of the greatest things about music is that it is universal; if the performer is able to speak to the people’s heart, they will have the same warm connection whether in the U.S. or Armenia, or anywhere around the world. I love that aspect of my work, as I get to share my passion and love of music with so many diverse audiences. And if I have done my job well, the same magical connection happens wherever I play. It is such a blessing.
LT: How would you recommend others pursue their dream in music?
KP: First and foremost, they must search and find the answer to their unique musical journey within their own heart. Each musician is distinctive and therefore unique. But before they find their established place in the music business, they must first know themselves, understand and hone in on their own individual strengths. These are all things that no one can really help you with—you need to figure it out for yourself. And of course, the most important element of success is the love of the work, the actual process, and not just the exciting finish line and standing ovations. If you love every minute of the work process in the practice room, then that love will definitely come out when you are on stage.