To me, Fall is the most exciting season for music. Besides the return of apple cider and pumpkin pie, I relish the rush and vigor of season openings that bring us back to ensembles we respect and performances of music we love. In addition to our old favorites, we can look forward to new artists presenting music in intriguing and exhilarating ways. One ensemble that has caught my attention (not just because of the killer palindrome), is the piano / cello duo iAN&ANi. The duo's innovative and passionate performances of classical music with dancers and multimedia struck me as particularly fascinating. Their new album "Tango Plus" comes out October 10 and I took a moment to ask cellist Ian Maksin a few questions about this rising duo:
Your duo iAN&ANi is based in Chicago - Why here?
I love Chicago. It's been my home for the last five years and I find that this place has an infinite creative potential. People are very supportive with the arts and music here, especially the younger generation, which makes me particularly happy. Although it's unlikely that you will sell out a concert hall to a crowd of youngsters by doing a program of Brahms and Beethoven, with a slightly different approach it is possible to create attractive classical music presentations without compromising the quality and artistic integrity in any way.
As a new ensemble, what has been your greatest challenge establishing yourself as an artist in the classical world?
I spent the first 25 years of my career as a musician at a complete loss by the fact that what I was doing had so little interest to people of my generation and to most people in general. It has always bothered me that so many people listened to really mediocre pop music and were totally indifferent to incredibly beautiful, sophisticated, passionate and inspiring music. But I think things are changing dramatically. I can feel it in the air. The new generation of artists is about to undertake a revolution which will turn things around and create a completely new place for classical music in people's lives. And I feel really fortunate to be living and working as an artist in these exciting times. Classical music industry has been under a very archaic and old fashioned rule for many decades. Many of its concepts simply do not work in the modern time.
Last spring, you co-produced a multimedia production, "Tango Obsession". How do you think the combination of art forms changes the perception or enjoyment of the music? Did you have any doubts about the project?
Ani and I did have some doubts at first, mainly about the intricacy of putting it all together as a wholesome production, but it all worked out at the end. When the first event sold out one week before the show time, we knew that we had done something right. We had to add four additional shows in order to accommodate everyone who wanted to come. For sure, we wouldn't have been able to see out five consecutive evenings solely to our existing Chicago fans, so we definitely had an influx of fresh faces (many tango and flamenco aficianados) who would have not come to see a straight-up classical concert otherwise. And the best part was that so many of them have told us after the show that they loved the music, and quite a few have been coming back to see us play again. I am not sure what exactly kind of enhancement effect it had on the audience, but to me personally, it was a tremendous inspiration to be performing on the stage floor with such incredibly gifted dancers. There was definitely magic in the air and the majority of the audience felt the same from what they told us afterwards.
Musicians have been playing dance music forever, but very rarely these days do we classical musicians play for actual dancers. What did you learn from working with the dancers? Did your collaboration alter your musical interpretations?
ABSOLUTELY! First and foremost: the tempi. Ani and I had to make significant tempo adjustments based on the dancers' requests. And when you do it with live dancers it makes perfect sense, something that we as performers wouldn't have been aware of otherwise. You definitely begin to feel the more profound purpose to the music that goes beyond mere musical sense. The pulse and time become much more of a prominent and pivotal value, defining the musical context further. Also the dance has its own flow and the collaboration with dancers creates a metaphysical flow exchange: music to dance and dance back to music. So I feel our way is in a way dance-supercharged, now that is has gone through this kind of transformation.
What was your attraction to the tango? What led you to create an entire album devoted to the dance?
Well, actually as the title of the album suggests, it's more than just tango... It encompasses flamenco classical ballet, even modern dance. Our first project involving dance was the short film, "Strings Detached", which was conceived and produced last year with a very gifted and inspiring Russian director Sergei Kvitko and featured Abigail Simon, lead dancer of the Joffrey Ballet of Chicago. It combined music, dance and film together. A few months later, our production Tango Obsession at Chopin Theatre incorporated both ballet and tango into the program. As I said earlier, it seems that this sort of music, particularly music of Ginastera and Piazzolla has a tremendous appeal to a large audience. Hundreds of people who have heard us play have been asking us to record it, so in a way, it's our audience's "wish list" album. Our release concert in Chicago on October 10 will also feature a couple of brand new music-and-dance numbers and we're very much looking forward to sharing them with our friends and fans.
What is a typical rehearsal like for you and Ani? What is our rehearsal relationship / dynamic?
Ha-ha, Ani thinks I am a drill sergeant! But seriously, it's quite interesting. Ani and I are very good friends in real life, but at the same time, since we are musical partners and co-producers, it's very important to separate the friendship from work in order to maintain objectivity and to avoid potential resentment. We do have very different musical personalities, but at the same time we seem to feel each other on some sort of subconscious level which helps us blend the sound in a unique way and achieve a great degree of ensemble cohesion and musical liberty. Also, performing in a duo is akin to cockpit management in a jetliner - there are very string rules one must abide to, it takes an incredible amount of concentration and commitment to teamwork, but if you play by the rules you find yourself soaring at thirty-five thousand feet being part of an incredibly beautiful and liberating experience. Same in chamber music - through rigorous practice and rehearsal you ultimately strive to reach the true artistic freedom, which is the biggest reward in our musical profession.
If you had to choose one composer to be stranded with on a desert island, who would it be and why?
STING. I have obsessed with his music since I was a kid. I never get tired of it and it has been an infinite source of inspiration for me. In fact, I have written music based on Sting's music and my next solo project (hopefully in the beginning of the next year) will include a whole cycle of works inspired by music of this amazing artist.
For more information on the duo, you may visit their website: http://www.ian-ani.com
Have a thought or response to anything Ian said? Leave a comment - I'd love to hear from you!