Renara Akhoundova is one of Azarbaijan’s most famous pianists. Having performed two well-received concerts in St. James’s Church, Renara will return to London to perform at Pushkin House in Bloomsbury Square on 24th November. Nicholas Maltby interviewed her for www.links-dar.org and asked her about her life and work and why her music is of interest to psychiatrists and psychotherapists.
You have played successful concerts in London at St. James’s church; is this where you will be playing next month? What are your plans for the concert?
I like this historic location so much: it’s a London treasure. I’ve been really happy during my two previous concerts there. This time around, I’m delighted to play at the Russian cultural centre, Pushkin House. I’m playing on the 24th November. This is not only because I adore Pushkin, but also because in my personal history, Russia has a place close to my heart. So, just to make it clear, my concert will take place 6 pm on the 24th November in Pushkin House!
Do you enjoy playing in churches more than in concert halls?
I enjoy playing anywhere from the moment that I share my music with an audience. It is true though – there some special places to play in. In some venues, we can feel a magic aura – something that is already harmonious without music – and the music becomes an extension of that. So I have a preference for that kind of place.
In performances, do you primarily play your own compositions, or do you play celebrated classical pieces?
With all my respect and admiration for the genius of classical music – and I’ve been fortunate enough to grow up with it since childhood – I only play my music at concerts. I like to finish with live improvisation. The improvisation is a synergy my audience – and for all of us, in this kind of moment, music is a deep and fine expression of our souls, coming from that live moment. Essentially, I play only my compositions because it is only way to be totally myself.
You first played piano at three and began playing seriously at five. Were your parents pianists?
My parents had nothing to do with music. My father was a great scientist and my mother was a maths teacher.
Where did you first study music?
I studied music at 5 with the best teacher in the Soviet Union, Madame Yegorova Lidia Nikolayevna. This was in Baku and I consider that was the foundation of my musical childhood. After that, I attended the Special Musical School of Bulbul in Baku, which is where I got my diploma.
Having grown up in Barku, what prompted you to move? Why did you choose Paris?
First, I moved from Baku to Moscow so that I could continue studying at Moscow University. After that, I left for Paris. At the time, I was attracted by those countries which possessed a spirit of freedom and a respect for humans rights. When circumstances brought me to Paris, I immediately fell in love with the place, and the freedom of word and thought that I encountered. I decided to stay here, and I’m happy to I made this choice.
You studied Economics and Political Science in Moscow; has the degree made you a better manager of your own career?
Oh, not at all! Father Artemi calls me the best pianist among economists and the worst economist among pianists.
But my degree possibly helped to open my mind, because, after the Special Musical School of Bulbul, I was occupying a completely different world; especially in Moscow, where we had students from all of the world. That time in Moscow was one of the best experiences of my life.
How closely do you follow Azeri politics? And how much do you involve yourself in the development of music in Azerbaijan?
I don’t follow Azeri politics very closely. However, thanks to the internet, all of us Azeris living around of the world can stay in touch and share information. Baku, where I was born, remains the city of my heart. Azerbaijan is the land of my ancestors: I always keep it in mind and try to honour it.
Your music is particularly popular with psychiatrists and psychotherapists. Do you think it has a special remedial or regenerative quality? If so, why?
There is a lot of research into the influence of music on mental health. Nasaru Emoto has also done some studies into the way water is affected by different soundwaves.
For me, the dialogue between the soul and sound is natural.
You have collaborated with Prior Artemi Vladimirov. Is religion the central motivation in your work?
My collaboration with Artemi Vladimirov is a blessing. He is a very special priest, full of Love. He shares generously with all people. I’m not religious but I trust God and I have a faith which guides me. It is a great cause of happiness for me to give concerts to people who have the same spiritual values.
How often do you return to Baku? Will you be able to play a concert there any time soon?
The last time I was in Baku was 2005. I’d like to go there with Father Artemi; we’ll see what happens.
Your album and their titles seem very forthright? How important is honesty to composition? Do you feel that your discography forms a kind of diary record of your life?
I think one of the first conditions of any kind of art is honesty.
The titles come during the composition, and when they come, those times are very deep and exciting.
What draws you to London?
I love London. And in some spheres of London art is more open than it is in Paris; I want to publicize and distribute my album in London next year.
Nicholas Maltby interviewed Renara Akhoundova for www.links-dar.org