Natalie Tsaldarakis [ivoryduo]
What do you do? What is your musical specialty?
I'm a concert pianist appearing mainly as member of the Ivory Duo Piano Ensemble (with my husband pianist Panayotis Archontides). I specialise in two-piano and piano 4-hands repertoire (from Bach to film music arrangements and new music). I also run the Blackheath Piano Studio in SE London.
Do you work alone or in a group? If in a group, who are the others you work with?
I work mainly with Panayotis Archontides, although I have collaborated with other musicians, including Greek celebrity soprano Dora Baka, well-known soprano Andrea Lauren Brown (established as a Lieder singer in Germany), members of the Athens State Orchestra, Ian Pace and John Tilbury.
Is there a web address where one can listen, see, or read some of your work?
Please list any awards, competitions, or other acknowledgments you would like to mention.
Awarded several scholarships and honours for academic excellence during my 4 years of studies for the BA in music at The American College of Greece.
Elected to membership of the American National Music Honour Society Pi Kappa Lambda in recognition of excellence in performance (1994)
The MTNA- Wurlitzer Young Artist Competition 1993: District Winner, Philadelphia, Pa.
The West Chester University Concerto Competition 1993: Graduate Winner (only one awarded in both 'Graduate' and 'Piano' categories).
The Pottstown Concerto Competition 1993: 2nd Place. Awarded with a Graduate Development Fund by West Chester University Graduate Student Union in support of my entry to the Pottstown Competition.
Chosen to compete at both The Beethoven- Vienna Piano Competition 1997 and
The Gina Bachauer Piano Competition 1998.
Awarded a faculty development grant in support of my visit and recital at the Sibelius Academy.
Please list discography in which you have participated.
“Romantic Dance Music for Piano Duo”, released through CDBaby (October 2009). Available through Amazon and iTunes.
Michael Chant: Climate Change Conference CD release 2007.
How did you begin making music? Who introduced you?
My mother introduced me methodically to classical music from a very young age. I remember I fell in love with the piano at age 4 or 5 when visiting the house of my father's business associates in Italy. But it was my Year 4 teacher (frustrated violinist and Headteacher to the school) who begged my mother to let me start piano lessons in view of the ability he had detected (after my own begging of several months proved less than persuasive)!
What was your musical education?
Year 4 school (classroom) music on recorders and melodicas. From year 5 I was enrolled at a conservatoire of music gaining a distinction for my 1st year exam and a double distinction on my 2nd year. I graduated with a Soloist Diploma (with distinction). I also graduated from The American College of Greece with a BA in music (with distinction) and from the West Chester University of Pa (USA) with a Master of Music in piano performance (high distinction level). I also gained a second Master of Music in performance studies (musicology) from Royal Holloway of the University of London. Throughout my studies I had the opportunity to be taught and/or coached by some very well-known pianists such as Martino Tirimo, Dimitri Toufexis, Elena Riu, Yonti Solomon, Larissa Dedova etc.
When did you realise that making music could be a way of life for you?
By age 17 I knew this is the only thing for me. I was top of the class in school, gaining the equivalent of A Levels at A* (Maths, English, Economics, Psychology, Sociology with a grade average 19 and 8/11 where 20 is the top awardable mark). I also passed the Cambridge Proficiency in English with a grade A. I mention all this to allow for an understanding of the scope of options available to me: I didn't have to become a musician, I just had to. Call it simply a life obsession!
What is your creative process?
I first choose repertoire that "speaks" to me. Then it's a process of conquering, polishing and maintaining. Analysis of the work comes quite early on in the process.
When do you have your most lucid moments, in the morning or night?
Unfortunately, my biggest urges to sit and practice seem to be at unsociable hours, either in the evening at 9.30pm or around 8 or 8.30 in the morning. One such morning on a Sunday I started sounding out Chopin's 1st Piano Concerto (with my husband accompanying me of course) a year ago: the emergence of an angry neighbour necessitated our moving out to a new house within three weeks (semi-detached instead of terraced)!!! Nowadays, I go out jogging and delay until midday and keep checking my watch!
Have you ever awoken with a melody created from your dreams?
Yes. Fast and furious symphonic writing (I could hear the music clearly and see my hand writing the score at the same time)! Another time, I dreamt of a couple of hit pop songs! Each time I went through a phase of being almost awake and trying to memorise the music in order to write it out when fully awake. I have been unsuccesful so far...
How do you know when a song is finished or needs no more changes?
How did you discover your creative territory? How would you describe it?
I always thought I would be a solo pianist. However, when I got the taste for performing with excellent musicians on stage, I'm afraid there was no turning back! Having said that, I have performed a few solo concerts in recent years.
What part of your job is your least favourite?
I love performing, but I hate not knowing how to manage excess adrenaline. Perhaps I'll have a chance to find an answer to that one if I ever get started on a PhD in peak performance. I also hope that my jogging will provide a partial answer.
How often do you practice?
Every day is the short answer. However, if it's for a concert it's strategically structured to build stamina and muscles to achieve optimum performance. This means that the last two weeks preceding any performance I practice progressively more from 4hrs to 6hrs per day. However, if it's a solo performance I can't live with myself unless I play 9.5 hrs per day each day in the preceding week.
How do you feel right before going out on stage?
Adrenaline is on a high and I make certain it peaks right before I sit to play. The only way I relax for good is when I come across a really stressed out collaborator/musician. Fear then becomes hilarious and I certainly have fun!
Which musicians or groups have been inspiring to your career?
Horowitz, Maria Yudina, Martha Argerich. And Richter. And my teachers, especially the wonderful pianist Dimitri Toufexis.
List three songs that are key to your life.
Rachmaninov's 2nd and 4th piano concertos, Brahms' piano concertos. And Carl Orff's Carmina Burana.
What should be done to stop piracy?
Companies seem slow to acknowledge technology and go with it. Share music through platforms but don't allow permanent downloads (more "on demand" then)if you can't stop the copying.
What type of music do you detest?
Commercial (popular) music which seems predictable and cheap: the type which promotes empty consumerism and a shallow way of living.
What time did you get up this morning?
At 7 I looked at my watch and checked that the sun was indeed shining again. I stayed until 7.30 when I got bored (my husband was already up and about).
How do you sell yourself? What has been your experience with record companies and representatives?
We approach concert promoters ourselves, although it's quite time-consuming. We also have promoters book us through mutual contacts. Record companies are trying to absorb losses from CD-selling business. Those promoting downloads probably have an easier time than others, but a lot has to happen still. Representatives go for sure-bets, whatever this means (children, very young artists-winners of competitions). I think the system is getting tired in its lack of versatility. Innovative artists perhaps are difficult to spot, or are a gamble, or who knows. As long as money comes first in any kind of artistic choice, the choice becomes tainted. Or perhaps I don't know anything.
What other things have you done to make a living?
Lecturer in music departments, private piano tutor, concervatory of music professor, coordinator of music department.
Have you ever played on the street or in the subway? How much did you collect each day?
Sorry, I only play on top quality grand pianos. I've wished for a portable one (a Steinway or a Fazzioli perhaps!) but doesn't seem like it's going to happen!!!
Who would you play with, without a doubt?
Nigel Kennedy, Martino Tirimo, Takács String Quartet, Martha Argerich
What advice would you give to someone starting out in the business?
Practice-practice-practice. And get to know as much about the business as possible as fast as possible: keep up, know your options, be the best you can, let people know your work and support you. Be business-savvy (yes, that would be tax return stuff). And enjoy who you are: a musician!