Gavric finds a kin­dred spirit

Like Chopin, whose work is the fo­cus of her new al­bum, clas­si­cal pian­ist Ivana Gavric was forced to leave her home­land, yet re­mains drawn to it. She tells Joe Heaney what else at­tracts her to the 19th-cen­tury com­poser

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Ivana Gavric (Edi­tion Clas­sics)

The refugee cri­sis might seem a world away from the glam­our of the con­cert hall but mu­si­cians, like all of us, are not im­mune to the hor­rors of war. This is some­thing 36-year-old pian­ist Ivana Gavric knows only too well.

This month she re­leases a new al­bum, Chopin, the fourth in a se­ries that so far has drawn warm praise from crit­ics and au­di­ences.In 1992, how­ever, her cir­cum­stances were very dif­fer­ent. She was 11 years old and her par­ents made the de­ci­sion to flee their home in the for­mer Yu­goslavia, fol­low­ing the out­break of the war in the re­gion, and travel to the UK.

“A very con­tem­po­rary story,” Gavric says, and also one that colours her per­cep­tion of the cur­rent refugee cri­sis.

“I do feel it more strongly be­cause I have, in some ways, ex­pe­ri­enced it – but luck­ily not in such aw­ful cir­cum­stances. We were lucky to es­cape early on and get to the UK in safe means but, yes, I think it’s re­ally up­set­ting to see what’s hap­pen­ing and hope there’s some­thing that can be done to stop it be­cause they are peo­ple.”

In­ter­est­ingly, Gavric’s choice of com­poser of the mu­sic on her fourth al­bum was an­other refugee – al­beit from a very dif­fer­ent time: Fred­eric Chopin, one of the most cel­e­brated mu­si­cians in his­tory.

He dra­mat­i­cally changed the con­tours of clas­si­cal mu­sic in the mid-19th cen­tury. Like Gavric he was a pian­ist – al­though, un­like her, he no­to­ri­ously hated per­form­ing in pub­lic and did so only 30 times. While on an in­ter­na­tional tour of Europe as a young man, his beloved home­land, Poland, suc­cumbed to an in­va­sion by Tsarist Rus­sia. This re­sulted in the com­poser’s per­ma­nent ex­ile; a sit­u­a­tion that af­fected him deeply for the rest of his short life (he died at the age of 39).

“In vain does Mal­fatti try to con­vince me that ev­ery artist is a cos­mopoli­tan,” he wrote to a friend in Novem­ber 1830, when he was a 20-year-old. “As an artist, I am still in my cra­dle, as a Pole…”

This burn­ing sense of na­tional pride finds its way into much of his mu­sic, but in par­tic­u­lar the Mazurkas, the 59 or so piano works that Chopin based on the fa­mil­iar skip­ping rhythm found in the Pol­ish folk dance of the same name.

It is also what at­tracted Gavric to record a se­lec­tion of Mazurkas on her al­bum.

“He cap­tures the essence of these dances and na­tional feeling and I find that quite in­ter­est­ing,” she says. “I re­alise now, ret­ro­spec­tively, that I’ve been drawn to com­posers that try to cre­ate a na­tional voice or some sort of na­tional flavour in their mu­sic. And this ac­tu­ally fits the bill.”

Be­ing the ge­nius he was, Chopin did not stick to mere im­i­ta­tion, how­ever.

“Yes, they are called Mazurkas af­ter the mazurkas in Poland, but I think he’s not so care­ful to only use the mazurka rhythm in them,” says Gavric. “In some of the works, it feels like he’s danc­ing. In oth­ers there’s more of a sense of walk­ing. While oth­ers have a more melan­cholic song.

“They re­ally vary in char­ac­ter and mood and colour. They’re fun to play.”

At recitals and on record­ings, Chopin’s Mazurkas tend to lose out to the more fa­mous Etudes or Pre­ludes. This means that for I re­alise now, ret­ro­spec­tively, that I’ve been drawn to com­posers that try to cre­ate a na­tional voice or some sort of na­tional flavour in their mu­sic Ivana Gavric Pian­ist the casual lis­tener there can be some sur­prises – and even for the pro­fes­sion­als.

“I ended up be­ing par­tic­u­larly drawn to the early ones,” says Gavric, who de­cided to stick to Mazurkas com­posed be­fore 1838 for her record­ing.

“I was al­most shocked by how rus­tic or un­so­phis­ti­cated some were. You can re­ally hear Chopin de­vel­op­ing his lan­guage. He wrote them through­out his life, so it’s nice to think of them as his lit­tle di­ary en­tries, in a way.

“The early ones, es­pe­cially, sound much more like folk mu­sic, if you like. And then, as we progress through them, you can see that they be­come much more stylised; much more so­phis­ti­cated.

“They’re very play­ful. They’re all tinged with some kind of nos­tal­gia or mem­ory. They’re also very er­ratic; they change mood,” she adds.

For many pi­anists, Chopin is revered as the Shake­speare of the piano reper­toire. But now that we live in a world where we get most of our mu­sic from the cloud and it is the Su­per Bowl half-time show that makes the news, is there still a place for some­one like Chopin?

Very much so, ac­cord­ing to Gavric.

“His mu­sic is quite spe­cial,” she says. “He has this in­cred­i­ble abil­ity to speak to an in­di­vid­ual rather than the masses, and that re­ally gets to you; it speaks di­rectly to the heart. “He was such an in­trigu­ing fig­ure and com­poser; and he stands quite alone in his­tory – al­though, he went on to in­flu­ence a lot of com­posers af­ter him, of course.

“But I think there’s still this mys­tery and this awe of him be­ing this poet at the piano – both as a pian­ist and as a com­poser – and I think that we still re­ally love hear­ing these po­ems in mu­sic.”

by Ivana Gavric is avail­able now on Edi­tion Clas­sics

Cour­tesy Quentin

Ivana Gavric says she was lucky to es­cape her home in war-torn Yu­goslavia early in the con­flict and reach the UK safely.

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