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In conversation with Elena Korableva

In the past months, this blog has taken on a life of its own and started conversations about sharing work, gaining inspiration from the world, and staying connected to the network of musicians that we find inspirational - whether it is live, in person, or virtual. In the past week, Silkroad Ensemble also passed through Sydney on their recent international tour, performing at the opera house. Catching up with the group after the concert re-kindled the flame of excitement that originally sparked my wish to share stories of others making music in the world.

Elena Korableva, a cellist I met at the Global Musicians workshop 2018, the music she makes and her world was one I absolutely loved hearing about this week:

1. List a few words describing your mood and where you are writing this now.

It is a Friday evening in Boston. I am drinking a spiced chai and listening to Jordi Savall with my red tabby cat Rosco sleeping next to me. It is very windy outside which makes me feel cozy and warm in my room.

2. Describe your work.

I have spent my whole life passionately learning classical music but I always looked for new ways of expression and was delighted to discover a Global Musician Workshop organized by musicians of Yo-Yo- Ma’s Silk Road Ensemble. A mind opening week of improvising, playing with renowned musicians and exploring music of India, China, Turkey, South America. I am especially interested in folk music. I think that my resonance with this genre felt so natural because I come from a rich culture of Tatar People. My hometown Kazan, a beautiful city, located on Volga River is more than a thousand years old and rich in history and folk tales. Music is an important part of lives of Tatar people, it reflects their customs, history and national identity. Few years ago I started composing solo pieces for cello based on Tatar Folk songs. These pieces came from my heart during moments of nostalgia. My great- grandmother sang these songs to me when I was a little girl and I remember them very well. “Tugan Tel” (Dear Language), “Ai Bylbylym” (The Nightingale), “Bas Kyzym” (Dance girl, dance) and many more folk songs that I took as a foundation of my compositions.

3. Rant for a bit about your style, and describe the sound worlds you love to create.

I love exploring different sounds and I try to use all the possible cello techniques in my compositions. I use a lot of open strings, chords, double stops, harmonics, pizzicatos and chops and a full range of my instrument. Tatar music is based on a pentatonic scale and saturated with ornamentations. All of it is present in my compositions, there are also my original melodies that are born in the process. I like experimenting and I hope to compose for more instruments in the future, but for now solo cello perfectly reflects the feelings that come when I think about home.

4. What’s in a typical day?

I am a freelance musician so there are no days alike. I have fifteen students, gigs, and recitals. When I have a free morning, I try to devote it to practicing and composing. There are days when a gig takes up the entire day. I teach in the evenings when children come home from their schools. I also try to play chamber music and it can happen only when I have some free time. I really love the variety of work I do and that there is no routine. Keeps me alert and fresh. I am working on my time management though. It is not always great. There are so many things I want to do and learn, that sometimes I get overwhelmed. But I wouldn’t trade this life for any other.

5. Where could I find you practising/rehearsing and do you have a particular routine?

I usually practice at home, and I am very lucky to have that opportunity. Everyone in the house seem to have gotten used to hearing cello all the time. The rehearsal spaces vary a lot. It includes houses, small halls, big halls, huge arenas, libraries, churches.

6. Tell us about a recent collaboration/project you’re proud of.

My recent collaboration was with the pianist Sivan Etedgee. We have been playing concerts together for the past two years and we got to play many cello/piano masterpieces. This time we chose F. Chopin, C. Debussy sonatas and Grand Tango by A. Piazzolla. I dreamt to play Chopin’s sonata since I heard a recording of Jaqueline Du Pre a long time ago, that piece evokes so many feelings and emotions. It connects with something very deep inside me and I never get tired of playing this piece.Sivan on the other hand asked if we could include Debussy Sonata to our program and I was quite hesitant for a while. I wasn’t sure if I would be able to create the right character. But I took a risk and was fascinated and inspired by this work. We both picked Grand Tango. I’m proud of how the concerts went and audience seemed to be very engaged and responsive.I also had an amazing experience playing Turkish Music at Berklee School of Music in the fall. I was invited to play by a wonderful musician and a friend Kemenche player Nagme Yarkin.

7. What do enjoy most about what you do?

I enjoy the freedom, the creativity, the peace, the friendships and collaborations that it brings me. I also truly love playing cello. It doesn’t matter what I do: practice, perform, compose, improvise as long as I have a cello in my hands. In fact, when I don’t get to play some days, I get very moody and easily irritated. Playing cello makes me calm and content.

8. Do you have any musical or life advice you would give to yourself this time five years ago, and that you would also like to share with young musicians?

I would advice myself and the young musicians to never stop learning, believing in what you do, listening to good music, going to good concerts. Don’t waste your time, it runs way too fast!

9. Who are your big 3 influences right now?

Jordi Savall, musicians of Silk Road Ensemble and Freddy Mercury. Of course there are many more people, art, books, nature that influence and nurture me but I had to pick only three and it was a very hard choice.

10. What are you continuing to learn as you develop as an artist?

I am learning other styles of music, learning to improvise and to free myself from the insecurities that tie my hands and imagination. I am still trying to find my voice. I am also learning how to navigate in the world of music, the business part of it. They don’t teach that in schools.

11. Do you think about your practice as continuing to preserve a certain aspect of culture/tradition, or modernising or adding twists into new forms?

I think both, I could never stop playing classical music and preserving traditions but I also am trying to bring something new with my compositions, new sounds. I also like the idea of bringing music to new venues and collaborations with other Art forms and Sciences. I have played many home concerts and I had a chance to reach out to people with different backgrounds and create intimate and cozy connections to the audience.

12. When you’re having a bad day/week/month, do you have any strategies you like to use personally, or people you like to turn to?

I usually turn to my friends. I am very lucky with people that I meet. I know I can always reach out to them when I need to and I try to give them back the same support. I find very helpful going for a walk and exercising, drawing and writing in my journal. I try to find the strength within myself because I know I got back up many times in the past and I can do that again.

13. What other hats during the week do you wear, if any?

I teach kids and it is very rewarding. I accept them in my studio when they are five years old and it is amazing to see how they grow and become more and more proficient with the cello as time goes by. I have my own method of teaching. I compose for them and use fun games and pieces that I brought from Russia. I am focused on classical repertoire right now but eventually I am planning to incorporate the improvisation and other styles of music in my teaching. I also dance Argentine Tango and like drawing.

14. How have you used social media in the past to invite audiences to explore your work?

I try to be active on Instagram, posting photos and recordings, so my followers know what is happening. I want people to know me and see what I do. I also use Facebook to create events and connect with people.

15. When’s your next performance and how can we hear more about your work?

You can find all the information on my website, facebook and Instagram:

Photo references:

1) at Weill Recital Hall at Carnegie Hall with the pianist Laura Villafranca

2) at Wellesley Public Library with Sivan Etedgee "pianist casting a magical spell on his cellist" taken by Alex Krotov

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