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Introducing the Talented Dubai Born Concert Pianist Arsha Kaviani [Exclusive]

By Thomas Swan t.swan@classicalite.com on Mar 31, 2016 04:49 PM EDT

Arsha Kaviani is a citizen of the world. He knows many lands but doesn't swear allegiance to any of these lands. Born in Dubai, UAE to Iranian parents, Arsha'is real home is any auditorium that houses a grand piano, where imagination is alive, where arias play and passions are enflamed, where concertos blaze fire across the black and white keys of a grand piano. Arsha Kaviani is a concert pianist in the physical world. In his soul, he is an artist. Classicalite caught up with the pianist on an early Sunday morning in Portland, Oregon and a late evening in London, England.

(Photo : Arsha Kavani Website Studio Publicity Shot)

Classicalite - Give us a little bit about your background?

Arsha Kaviani - I was born and raised in Dubai, to Iranian parents.They left Iran in the 70s and settled in Dubai, bringing with them recordings of Beethoven/Mozart Piano Concerti, Chopin, Bach and always had it playing around the house - and when my brother started piano lessons I naturally wanted to follow suit. I quit shortly after, though, because of how boring I found scales and tedious exercises; things that simply are not stimulating to a six-year-old!

Classicalite - What did your parents do for a living?

Arsha Kaviani - My father had, and still has, a general trading business that mostly deals with electrical goods and construction equipment, and my mom started a few businesses herself but ended up focusing on raising me and my brother!

Classicalite - What does music mean to you?

Arsha Kaviani - A musician I seriously look up to is Krystian Zimerman, and he always says, 'music is organizing people's emotions in time' which I find very appealing to me.

Classicalite - It allows you to communicate in a way you otherwise might not be able to?

Arsha Kaviani - For me, music and the arts are the only things at the interesection of the venn diagram where all cultures, races, and people meet. There are so many things in music that cannot simply be expressed in words, and if they could, then music would really not be necessary. Music is a science to me, and uses frequencies and 'sonorous air', as Busoni called it, to communicate things that everyone feels regardless of their background, and a master composer/performer is one who can masterfully evoke and resonate certain frequencies in us that are otherwise not possible, or extremely difficult to do with other art forms.

Classicalite - You used the word science to describe your approach to music? Is your approach to performing very structured?

Arsha Kaviani - No, my approach to learning a work is very very structured and almost scientific but, when I go on stage, I feel like every piece of music is a story and my job is to use everything in my knowledge and perception to see what the 'author' of this story is trying to communicate, what are the characters in the story like. How do they develop, what are the most intricate details of the story and its characters? I try and learn and internalise all of it as deeply as possible and then go out and try to tell this story in the way that I have understood it...sorry, that's extending from the literature analogy." 

Classicalite - Is piano your best way of communicating?

Arsha Kaviani - I always say I am a musician who happens to play the piano and I'm very glad that is the case, because I could sit and take a part of a Verdi opera the same way I could a string quintet at the piano. The communicative tools of music as a language are phenomenally undervalued in the education system. Take the fugue for example (a four-voice one for purpose of argument). A Bach four-voice fugue is basically the perfect conversation between four incredibly good listeners and speakers on a subject, something no other spoken language can truly emulate to that same perfection, and that's why I feel so passionately about trying to advocate for diplomacy and dialogue through music, especially in the troubling times we live in today.

Classicalite - Do you compose?

Arsha Kaviani - Yes,composition and improvisation are some of the most important aspects to my being a musician. Almost every concert of mine will have standard staples of the repetoire, an original work or transcription, and improvisations on themes the audience suggests, in addition to lesser-known masterpieces, like Medtner and Feinberg, etc.

Classicalite - How would you describe your compositions? Who are they comparable to?

Arhsa Kaviani - It's best described as a culmination of all the music I have learnt and studied, and listened to and admired in addition to a layer of (I hope) originality! And the single most important tool to me as a composer and improviser is colour.


Classicalite - Color, how so?

Arsha Kaviani - For me, the theme of a work is really not very important. It's what is done to that theme. Once listeners have a home, meaning theme or melody, to relate to, you can take them on a rollercoaster of different applications of that theme through the most diverse colours and shadings. Take Beethoven's 5th Symphony. If you took the opening bar and you presented it as a masterpiece-of-a-theme to any top conservatoire, you would be shown the door. It's what's done to it that, once announced, and the listener has internalized it, makes it so incredibly genius.

Classicalite - Often, concert pianists will immerse themselves in one, or maybe two, composers at a time. Do you feel you do this? If so, is there a composer who has your attention now?

Arsha Kaviani - Oh, yes absolutely. Right now, they are Brahms and Medtner. They are both incredibly similar because Medtner was almost Germanic as a composer. He was a fierce traditionalist, who idolized Beethoven. He has a great essay called The Muse & the Fashion that goes into this further. I am working on the Art of Fugue now, so Bach is a huge immersion for me right now

Classicalite - What draws you to a composer?

Arsha Kaviani - The sound world they create. It is the same way I love a director, how I am left feeling after the movie is finished. It's when I take the totality of a work or works, of a composer and the feeling that I get from that, that draws me to it.

Classicalite - Favorite director?

Arsha Kaviani - I do love Quentin Tarantino and Woody Allen. I love Woody Allen because he writes about the human condition. Clueless humans of all shapes, financial situations, who live in apartments, and have affairs, and conflicts and enlightenments, etc. 

Classicalite - Yes, it's how I began to make sense of girls.

Arsha Kaviani - Oh, similar to Woody Allen then?

Classicalite - Very much so. When performing your own compositions, on an emotional level, how does that compare to, say, performing Rachmaninoff?

Arsha Kaviani - Funnily enough, I feel more detached playing my own music.

Classicalite - Why?

Arsha Kaviani - Because, I feel all the emotion or evocations I try to put in it happen during the writing process. When it comes to performing it, I simply try to convey that, whereas with Rachmaninov, because I didn't write it, I never feel I can completely take what he has written as my own, and so that makes me more involved with it really because I feel like I am experiencing this with the audience,

Classicalite - Your transcription of Brahm's Piano Concerto No. 2's scherzo for solo piano-what led you to write that?

Arsha Kaviani - What happened was I auditioned the concerto for Daniel Barenboim and it went really well, but I found myself always filling the orchestral part with either my voice or the piano part. When asking me for parts of it, he skipped the scherzo, which i asked him about later, and he mentioned that It is more of a dialogue with the orchestra and would be a bit awkward solo. I also took into account that this used to exist in sketches for a violin concert of his, and that the solo part really has a tremendous amount of space to breathe so, in those spaces, I inserted the orchestral part where I could, revised it again from the version you have heard, and presented him the score a few months ago in London. He really liked it.

Classicalite - You've spoken about the state of classical music in the UAE, and I was suprised to realize that this nation, so rich in culture, and not without means, does not have a world-class symphony orchestra, or a concert hall for such. What can we do to change this? Is there enough interest, enough concert-goers? Do you suppose you can be a voice to change this?

Arsha Kaviani - I would love to be the voice to change this all over the middle east. There are good strides being made with the new Opera house being built in Dubai, but not enough investment in the infrastructure, of making symphonic and classical music part of everyday life, via as you say, a regularly performing Symphony Orchestra. It is a long-term investment that will reap huge rewards for any country that takes the initiative to. Abu Dhabi has a great classical music festival, that gets some of the biggest names in classical music to play there, which is great, but I feel that a regular resident symphony orchestra would do miles more to advance the psyche of people and lure them in to a beautiful world of music they otherwise would not hear.

Classicalite - Is there a pianist today that you admire?

Arsha Kaviani - Krystian Zimerman, Gabriela Montero, Stephen Hough, Grigory Sokolov, are among my favorite living pianistsI also love Marc Andre Hamelin's approach.

Classicalite - It is so early in your career, but you demonstrate unprecedented command at the piano, and you compose-have you considered conducting?

Arsha Kaviani - It's something I really admire, but the way my personality is, is that if I were to do conducting it wouldn't be a side thing. It is definitely in my personalityI remember a funny anecdote-I was playing to the conductor, Ali Rahbari, and he was persuading me that my personality is meant for conducting too. "Why do you want to be a prince when you can be king?" he said. I feel it will be a natural step for me when I mature.

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TagsArsha Kaviani, Dubai Born, Concert Pianist