We'll let Tania Stavreva tell her own story: Music is my mother language, I started to play the piano when I was born (well...it was actually when I was 4y old but it feels to me like it was since when I was born :) Besides listening to classical music I also enjoy discovering music from other genres such as jazz, rock, electronica, even some metal etc. which have influenced my classical style and created a more unique classical music experience at my experimental recital programs. I am also inspired by all other arts (such as visual arts, poetry, theater, dance etc.) and I often try to collaborate on multimedia projects too.
Here's our chat with Tania:
Can you pick out any favorites from your work that you're particularly proud of?
Probably the Billboard Top 10 album Rhythmic Movement me and my producer Ron Saint Germain created. Working with Ron is a one of a kind experience and knowing and working with a producer of his caliber is really a unique learning experience for me. I feel that I really grew much more as a musician and I look forward to working on more albums with him. Rhythmic Movement also won 19 international music awards including Best Classical Producer for Ron.
How would you define your main role on most of the projects you work on?
I am a concert pianist. I try to stay away from being described as a classical pianist only (which technically I am) because it is a bit too limiting. I like to go out of the box and explore new ideas, collaborate with artists from other genres and even distort my piano (what we did at track 14 on the album Rhythmic Movement with drummer Will Calhoun (Living Colour).
How did you get started in music?
I grew up in a musical family, my father was a professional musician. I have to give a big credit to my parents for putting me with the best teachers in my homeland Bulgaria. I went to the special music school: National Music School "Dobrin Petkov" in Plovdiv (Bulgaria) and the way you eat every day, breathe every day, is the same way you practice every day, so playing the piano became part of my lifestyle at an early age. Often friends of mine from outside of NYC would invite me to visit them and I can't stay with them if they don't have a piano or some sort of access to a piano (even if I had to do 30min scales per day while on vacation). It just doesn't feel right without a piano. That's why, I just prefer to skip that kind of vacation since I will keep thinking when I will need to get back to the piano and most probably annoy my friends LOL :)
Can you name any factors you feel majorly influenced the course of your musical life? Heroes, role models, moments, interactions, etc?
My parents and my piano teachers are my main musical influences (Mrs. Rositsa Ivancheva, Prof. Krassimir Gatev are some of my main formal teachers and biggest mentors). Thanks to my parents, growing up I was listening mainly to classical music, so my early concert pianist heroes are Sviatoslav Richter, Vladimir Horowitz, Emil Gilels, Martha Argerich, Claudo Arrau, Daniel Barenboim to name a few (and many more), and later - Queen, Led Zeppelin, Soundgarden, Muse, Living Colour (and many more).
To me the piano is the most special of all instruments because it is the way I express myself best: it is the most orchestral and most independent of all instruments. You can have a show just in a room, even without electricity. All you need is the piano.
When I listen to a band like Queen or pianist like Richter playing or Whitney Houston singing - while there is no comparison between any of them since the styles are so different, what connects them is that very special energy each artist has. That genius, that energy inside their heart: it doesn't matter what genre the music is - it is the connection these great artists had with their audiences and how they delivered their talent with all of their heart to the audience... Listening to other genres opened me up a bit more and allowed me to explore more freedom and take more risks when performing on stage.
Can you briefly describe a moment of frustration from your past work, and what you may have done to overcome the obstacles? Would you approach it differently now?
It is probably when I compose music because I just can't wait to be done writing so I can start playing the music. I am very impatient when I compose and I have to change that. It is because I feel the energy of the music inside my mind but it still takes some time to write it down and I can't wait to start playing... :) In general, I have been a performer all of my life. I started composing first in 2012 (I had some compositions in the past as a kid but I didn't develop them seriously. I was never encouraged because I was a piano major in performance at the music school. The composition majors were the ones who were composing). So in 2012 I was working with a theater company in NYC on off off Broadway as a musician and also as an actress (my acting debut too). Some of the music by the classical composers was not what exactly the director was looking for and when he started describing what the character and the energy of the music should sound like for some particular scenes, I then decided it would be easier if I composed the music and he liked it. Then later I decided to compose a bit more. I do not have large ensemble classical compositions at the moment since I am focusing my time more on performing and practicing but something larger could come up in the future.
Is there any gear you find yourself turning to most when working on a project? What are some of your favorite tools/instruments recently?
I like Steinway D concert grand piano, Yamaha CFX, Bechstein's 9f grand pianos. So far I perform live only on acoustic grand pianos. If I perform a piece with pre-recorded electronics, then I would need headphones on stage to hear better the electronics and make sure I am together with the recording. This is more commonly used in more contemporary classical music. A lot of my older headphones were either not comfortable on my ears or they broke quickly so one day I asked my producer Ron St. Germain if he knew any good brands since I was really in need of new headphones. He immediately recommended Audeze as the best headphones in the world.
Do you have any words of wisdom for people who might aspire toward a similar path for their own careers?
Oh boy, things have changed so much over the years. Now as an artist you need to know how to promote and market yourself, build a following, deal with so many distracting things that could be often exhausting. Sometimes I wish all I had to do is just practice and not worry about anything else. I can talk about this a lot but here are 8 tips that come to mind:
1) Life can get very busy, so try to focus your time on doing the things that bring you happiness and that make your soul rich and your life bigger. Many people can give you all kinds of advice but it is important that you know what is right for you.
2) Practice generosity and altruism - some of the gates to peace, love and happiness.
3) Practice mindfulness meditation every day, exercise regularly and eat healthy. I wish I started meditation when I started playing the piano. It is so hard to establish a new everyday routine as an adult compared to if you started as a child.
4) Establish discipline and practice every day. If you are under 18 and your parents support you, try to practice as much as you can because later it will be harder to find the time, especially if booked with a lot of concerts or on tour. Classical artists always need to be learning new repertoire and that sometimes has to happen while on tour. That's why the more repertoire you learn earlier, the easier your life will be later when things get very busy.
5) Find ways to keep a real human connection. For example, when the pandemic is over, try to take lessons in person. Online is good if your teachers are very far away but if you have a good teacher in the same town where you live, then take a lesson in person.
6) Try to go to a music school which is willing to invest in you and offer a scholarship. That way you will have less or no student loans and more opportunities to invest in your career.
7) If you are a student, try to play for people as much as possible. Do not play only for competitions and pianists - it will shape you into a different type of musician. Try to mix it up and perform for new audiences too.
6) Explore practicing away from the piano (practice playing the music in your mind away from the piano before you go back to the piano).
7) Maintain your own website, newsletter, a blog and a personal mailing list - the best ways to connect with fans and keep them informed about your music activities. Use social media too, but do not judge your success based on #s of followers, views etc. Bring a mailing list with you when you have a concert and invite people to sign it.
8) Encourage your fans to buy music instead of listening on streaming. I know a lot might disagree but in classical music for example CD and LP sales are still very valuable because this audience likes to read the album notes, know about the back story, have the original and signed album and listen to better sound quality. Most streaming is mp3 sound which is very low resolution quality. In addition to that, the only way a person can have the human fundamental right to privacy when listening to music, is to not listen to music online (according to most streaming platforms' privacy policies). So buying the music = you own the music you bought instead of renting it, you support the artists you like and you protect your online music privacy better.
How long have you been working with headphones, and how do you typically use them in your workflow?
Since almost all of my teaching is mostly online (due to the pandemic), I am using the headphones almost all the time. I prefer open headphones (less heat in the ears when working long hours) with cables when I work with headphones at home... So, I like the LCD-1 since they are lightweight and I can use them for many different purposes such as for teaching, for shows, for recording, for listening to music... I do not know if I can listen to music from now on without them! The sound is so rich, warm and at the same time I can hear with so much more clarity and detail. Everything about these headphones is made with such high quality from the sound (most important part for me when it comes to headphones) to the packaging.
WOW! Audeze headphones are beyond amazing!