By Denny Patterson
A prestigious pianist who has performed with orchestras, recitals, and festivals worldwide, Svetlana Smolina is excited and eager to return to the South Florida Symphony Orchestra for its Masterworks III Series. Scheduled for March 10, 12, and 14, 2019 audiences are invited to witness Smolina perform Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto No. 1 in B flat Minor. In addition to South Florida, Smolina has made notable appearances at Carnegie Hall, the New York Philharmonic at Avery Fisher, the Hollywood Bowl, the Salzburg Festival, and the Orchestre National de France. She has performed at several opening/inauguration ceremonies and has recorded for many broadcasts including NPR, BBC, and PCS. I had the pleasure of chatting more with Smolina about her upcoming performance and her passion for the art of music.
Why don’t you go ahead and start off by telling more about your upcoming performance with the South Florida Symphony Orchestra. Is this your first time performing with the Orchestra?
This will be my third season coming to play with the orchestra, and I will be playing Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto No. 1. I also came on numerous occasions to play both solo and chamber music in the South Florida Chamber Series.
What are you looking forward to the most about this performance?
To play again with Sebrina. She is an amazing conductor and such an inspiration to play with. Also, I am looking forward to playing for my Florida friends one of my favorite piano concertos and making new friends. I love South Florida audiences and this orchestra is such a joy to work with. I am very excited for this upcoming engagement.
I hear Maestra Sebrina Alfonso is fabulous to work with.
I love playing with her. She is such a fantastic musician. The first time we played together, we had such a great connection and fantastic energy. She is easy to talk with and she listens to all my ideas, I listen to hers, and we have a wonderful interchange. We always explore and play every concerto on the tour 3-4 times, and none of the performances are ever the same, and that is what I love the most. What’s going to come at the end of the concert is always unexpected. We trust each other so much and the orchestra always consists of wonderful musicians. Every time I play with this orchestra, I feel much at home.
Where did your passion for piano come from? How did it all begin?
My mom was a music theory professor and I went to the school she taught at and I was fascinated with the piano. I absolutely adored listening to live performances. I went also to the other school for math and science, but music was the biggest love of my life and won my heart.
Who would you say are some of your biggest musical influences?
From the pianists, I would say Sergey Rachmaninoff, Vladimir Horowitz, Oscar Peterson, and Art Tatum. I also get a lot of inspiration by listening to great conductors like Eugene Ormandy, Valery Gergiev, Sergiu Celibidache, L Bernstein, and Wilhelm Furtwangler. They are my music Gods. Honestly, I am more influenced and get more inspiration by listening to violinists, cellists, and singers than pianists.
I read that you are a frequent guest at festivals worldwide. What are some of your favorite festivals to perform at?
I don’t think I have one specific favorite. For me, it’s more about what I get and learn from going to places and what inspirations I get from the performances. Also, feeling and soaking into the uplifting interchanging energy between me and my audience and making new friends. It doesn’t really matter to me where I perform. Of course, Carnegie Hall is a different story than playing for a smaller audience. We as musicians try to prepare the same way for any concert and we always try to achieve and feel that euphoric high on stage. Music is like a drug and being onstage has to do a lot with psychological joy of liberation. The ultimate goal is to liberate yourself from everything and to go into the world of music. To touch hearts. The world of music is unique, and I think when we bring this joy to people, they listen to us. That is what’s most important to me. It doesn’t matter which festival or concert hall I am playing at.
What would you say has been some of your most memorable performances?
There are so many. Arscht Center in Miami with Sebrina, New Year concerts with Dublin Philharmonic and Maestro Derek Gleeson in China – opening a new concert hall in Changsha; Carnegie Hall and Avery Fisher Hall concerts with Mariinsky Orchestra and Valery Gergiev, Edinburgh Festival concerts in Scotland with one of them being dedicated to Sviatoslav Richter, duo recitals with Vadim Repin in South America and Canada. There are many others too.
What would you say is your favorite part about performing?
The energy, that euphoric state we were talking about earlier. Also, uplifting people’s mood when they go to a concert. Seeing people excited is incredibly rewarding.
What are some of the challenges of being a professional pianist?
Practicing, number one. At this point, I have a very angry neighbor who bangs on my wall when I practice. Being a musician requires self-discipline, so that’s another. Lastly, self-management. So those three are some of the biggest challenges of being a professional pianist.
How do you keep yourself motivated?
Love what you do. There is no need to be inspired then if you are deeply in love with your profession. The love I have for music and performing keeps me going.
What’s next for you?
In addition to South Florida concerts in March, I will be playing at the Lake Tahoe Festival this upcoming summer with Maestro Joel Revzen from the Metropolitan Opera. We will be playing Rachmaninoff #3 piano concerto. This summer I will also be playing at the Philadelphia International Summer Festival. It’s my annual summer project where I am directing summer piano programs and playing chamber music with the Philadelphia orchestra’s amazing musicians. In the spring, I will be performing in Dublin, Ireland with a possible performance in the house/residence of Oscar Wilde. Lastly, I was just booked a concert engagement in Argentina at the end of March. The list can go on and on. There is no venue alike. I love them all. See you all in March!