Our country had got to know Antoinette Mischenko during the Revolution of Dignity. Girl been coming daily to Khreshatyk and played few hours in a raw upon request of people that used to call her a “Muse of Maidan”. Now they can see her portrait at Osokorky metro station in Kyiv. While speaking to Opinion, Antoinette told us about her priorities in music and about that year when she almost gave up on playing the piano. She also told us about what she’s living with today.
Antoinette, please tell us how did music come into your life? What kind of music was it?
There were quite a few different factors that brought music to me. First of all, my mother wanted to make me a real lady. When she realized she was going to have a girl she decided to give her a proper classic education – languages (i could speak English a bit by 2), dancing and music. When I was born the instrument had already been standing at our house despite the fact no one could play it. My mother bought it for me. Secondly, all members of my family have some kind of talent in music. My grandma used to sing from morning to evening. She was raising me during my first years. Her repertoire was quite different – from folk songs to classic melodies, love songs to patriotic compositions. We also had a record player. It used to be my favorite time in childhood when I was sick. I was listening to fairy-tales records where symphonic music was playing. The fact is that there was more music in it than a fairy-tales. I wasn’t trying to remember a plot but I remembered the music.
I was born and raised with music. That’s why technical aspects of what I’m playing are not that important for me when I’m playing. It is important for me to play something that I feel, something that’s happening in my life. That’s why now when I have competitions or concerts with any kind of tasks it’s a bit hard for me to reset myself. Something that you’ve been requested to play not always reflects things that are happening in your life.
What do you think about competition as a phenomenon, a place, where your art should be rated and judged?
We all have to know how to evaluate ourselves. It is very important. How can you learn something if you don’t know how to rate?
There are people that can perform music in a competition manner – they know how to present music in its standard way. It is similar to a classic style in clothing. But there are also those who are learning to do things their way. As Gucci, for instance. One would say – what the hell is this? The other one – this is art too. I believe you should be able to do both. An ideal is when you can do art, while it is of a high quality. It often happens when people choose between art and quality, losing another half at this point. Competitions are needed to test your own quality and stress management. Master-classes are to find a balance.
It’s known that personal style is usually born from following someone. Who was an authority for you before and who are you looking at now?
When I was small I used to like Volodymyr Horowitz a lot. I liked it when music was performed brightly and technically well. But now, if we’re talking about the 20th century, I feel close to Glenn Gould. I remember my first year in college when we were listening to different performances of Bach’s music – there were Richter, someone else and Gould. While we were listening to him, we’ve been told that it was cool but we should never do the same because it was not correct. I like him a lot because he’s real, you can feel he’s deep into his music. Talking about the older generation of contemporary musicians I would name Oleksii Hryniuk. I also feel close to Anna Tsybuliova and she’s my age. She is the winner of the Leeds International Piano Competition, 2015. I like her a lot. She has her own different style, I can’t play like that. When she plays there’s a whole theatre around. I can just mute the sound and observe her playing, understanding everything. And I like this diving through artistry. I like Dmytro Shishkin, Russian pianist, too. He received the third prize at Dublin International Piano Competition in 2018. He’s got his own sensitivity and fragility.
There was one interview, where you said that it is harder for you to perform simple music instead of technically complicated one. What are the difficulties?
When you perform a technically complicated thing the main thing is to make it ‘Fast, loud and cheery’ as one of my professors says. Do you understand? Slow and simple music instead makes you feel naked. You can’t just hide behind the passages.
Do you create your own music?
No, I don’t. I used to write a lot in my childhood. I think it is important for someone who’s in classical music to see the world and be able to send this vision through other’s art pieces. This way is more introvertive. And it’s different when you create your own music. You reflect something to the world from inside of yourself and see the feedback after. One could ask – and what about classical musicians. Valentyn Sylvestrov, for example, is going deep inside of himself, his music is meditative. But when you’re creating something meditative it is important to be concentrated on one certain thing. You see it and reflect it constantly. Me and you, we are surrounded here by a polyphony of sounds and rhythms. And I know that this will not fit Bach when I come home. But it will help me later when I play Schoenberg or Berg.
What is your opinion – do musicians need professional education or it confuses them instead?
I believe that education is needed, otherwise, lots of money should be paid off to someone for something to be done. Here’s the thing that really makes me mad – when some singers come up with a text and melody, they give their artwork to a composer who will make an accompaniment and fix everything. Then it goes to the arranger, then to musicians who will play it and then singer says – I’m the author. But he’s not. Anyone can make and sing a melody. From the other side – unless you’re a classical musician a professional education can be even an obstacle for you if you’re constantly thinking what is right and what is wrong. Speaking about vocals – you need to have an education in order to be an opera singer. Lots of vocalists don’t understand that voice isn’t everything. You need to know the instruments and how to play them. Same with classics – education, education, education. You also need to start as early as possible – at 5-6 years old.
Let’s get back to Maidan. It had become a huge step toward obtaining your own audience. I know that you had got your fingers frozen after playing a few hours every day. You had a year-long rehabilitation and almost were not able to play.
Yeah, it’s true. Sometimes I played in mittens. It was very hard. Hands used to hurt constantly. I needed a painkiller after half an hour of performing.
Would you abandon this idea if you knew what was going to happen?
You know I usually do things that are expected from me. It is very important for me to feel needed. I don’t do things if I understand that there’s someone out there who can do this better than me. But if I realize that there’s no one who is able to do something, and I really am needed – I will find power and skills from nowhere. Some people say this is not the right way to live, but it’s my thing and I’m not going to change it. I wouldn’t abandon it because I was needed. And even if I understood that I could be shot after I would do this anyway, because people needed it. I gave them what I could.
How did you get through that period? It must be emotionally hard for a musician not to play for a whole year.
Sure, it was hard. I was in condition when I’m not able to clean my teeth and put the clothes on. It was a nightmare – to be a musician and have your hands not moving. I was getting down from the bed to the piano and tried to push anything. Appearing of Vere Musi Fund was a great help for me. It was a period when I played a little and my hands were recovering slowly. My friend told me that I should be doing something in order to play better. So they advised me to send an application to some music competition – if I get into it I will find a way to get through and play. So I applied. Shortly after that, the fund had found me. I didn’t believe it at first. Their support was a big help to me. I went on a diet, started to exercise and play. Now I play and I don’t understand how I’m doing this. I press keys incorrectly. Every master-class someone asks me “How do you even play? Your hand position is wrong.” I can’t explain to everyone that I was learning how to play from scratch.
How does Maidan sound to you?
Talking about what I was playing there – it was Chopin’s etudes. I’m a bit sick of them now, to be honest. I was even happy to have problems with my hands in a way that my professor told me that I shouldn’t be playing it anymore. Also, I was playing Tchaikovsky quite a lot those days. Now his “Morning prayer” is associated with Maidan for me.
Tell us about your routine. What amount of time per day do you devote to music?
It depends on my work. I work as a concertmaster at the musical school. It also depends on my condition. I can wake up on Sunday with a good mood and just sit all day, playing music, training. From the other side – the weather can be cold or just bad or I wasn’t sleeping well last night. In such cases, I understand that I won’t touch a piano this day. Of course, every day is different, but music is permanent. I learn German now and while learning it I realize that I’ve started to play German music better. Now I understand the way they’re thinking, the way their language sounds. So the music sounds different too. I can also just go for a few hours walk or while I’m in another country, just listen to the vibrations. If you’re a musician you may even not to touch the instrument the working on your program is on-going. Even while you’re dreaming.
What does it mean for you to be a good musician? To be a good pianist.
A good musician is someone who has got a proper education, knows a lot of music, its history and roots, the one who’s able to see the nowadays through this prism. A pianist has to be good with his or her instrument, obviously. You don’t need to go beyond the sea, but if you have good technic and understanding of a text you’re playing – you’re a good one already.
By Anastasia Boichenko
Photo by Dmytro Zhuravel