Natasha Paremski

Natasha Paremski, a New York-based pianist, is scheduled to perform Sunday afternoon at the LaSells Stewart Center on the Oregon State University campus.

Andrea Joynt, courtesy photo

Sometimes, if you ask a classical musician about the thought process that went into creating a recital program, you might get answers about how the pieces are linked by the wonders of nature or were created in the shadow of political repression or whatever.

So it's refreshing to hear how New York-based pianist Natasha Paremski answers the question as she talks about the program for her Sunday afternoon recital in Corvallis. (She is the opening performer in this year's Corvallis-OSU Piano International Steinway Piano Series.)

"I can't give you a cool title like 'Mother Nature and Her Gifts,'" Paremski said in a phone interview this week. Instead, "I just want to play what I want to play. A recital is one of the few opportunities you get to control what you want to play."

It turns out, though, that there is kind of a theme to Sunday's recital: All the works she'll perform are on her "desert island" list of piano pieces — works she'd want to have handy if she were to be stranded on an island.

The program includes Chopin's Three Mazurkas, Op. 63, and his Scherzo No. 4 in E major, Op. 54. It also features Brahms' Variations on a Theme by Paganini, which includes passages in which Paremski said Brahms "actually was trying to be virtuosic for the sake of being virtuosic." The result, she said, is a work that is "very challenging, very difficult" for the performer.

It's clear that Paremski has a soft spot for the final work on the program, Mussorgsky's "Pictures at an Exhibition."

"I think it's one of the most genius things that's ever been written," she said.

Audiences likely are familiar with Ravel's version for orchestra, but Paremski said the work originally was written for the piano — and it's not unusual for audience members to tell her after she performs it that it was like listening to a completely different work. 

She said she's constantly finding new things in each of these pieces: "Oh, that never ends, with a piece or any masterwork. The day that ends, that's the day you retire."

Paremski started her piano studies when she was 4 at Moscow's Andreyev School of Music. After her parents immigrated to the United States, where her scientist father had been offered a job, finances were so tight that the family couldn't afford continued piano lessons. Paremski was 8 at the time.

Then she saw Evgeny Kissin perform in concert. "I remember that concert, and wanting to be a performing pianist more than anything in the world."

Her parents noticed the passion, and scraped together enough money so that their daughter could resume her lessons. At the age of 9, she made her professional debut with the El Camino Youth Symphony in California. When she was 15, she debuted with the Los Angeles Philharmonic. 

What advice would today's Paremski, now a U.S. citizen, give that 15-year-old promising pianist?

"I would tell her, 'You won't believe this, but it's all going to come true, and sooner than you think.'"

The words would come with a warning as well: "It's not always going to be sunshine and rainbows and unicorns."

But that's where the music itself and the power of live performance comes in handy: "Once the adrenaline kicks in, sometimes it's like I'm just along for the ride."

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