Ivo Varbanov & Fiammetta – Concert Pianists (and each others occasional page turner)

Ivo and Fiammetta

IV We’re really busy, I’m about to fly to Bulgaria to start a cycle of Brahms chamber works being performed between October and April. It’s taken a year to set up; the musicians are from Denmark, France, Hungary, Germany, Slovakia and the UK, it was not easy to organise.

FT I’m currently preparing for various concerts. One is a Debussy concert in London that will also include a piece for four hands which I’ll play with Ivo. Last year we played together for the first time. It was like we finally found that everything was complete, it was like finding the missing part.

IV We are preparing a two piano concert for 12th November in London – including a world premier of “Silent Light”, a 12 minute work for Two Pianos and String Orchestra written for us by our friend Martin Georgiev. As I have so much on, I have a system of preparing music 30 days before a concert, and working on programmes in parallel depending on what is happening within the time frame. With “Silent Light”, it’s a new piece and we are on a short term schedule so my focus is very much on short fragments, I learn one line literally at one time, not look at the whole, but just learn one line at a time, with the metronome and gradually increase the speed, working on detail straight away. That is the principle to learn a piece quickly.

FT My approach is different, I like to have the global picture as soon as possible so that I know more clearly what is the goal. If I’m working in fragments I want to know how they sit together. It’s quicker for me that way. So I want bigger parts of the music first to work with.

IV We’ve heard the midi file of the whole piece. While Martin was writing it he told us the direction, that the heavy part would be on the piano and less on the strings.

FT We have many projects as soloists and sometimes we turn pages for each other. When I’m page turning I’m totally and utterly concentrated on the music. I think when Ivo is on stage he is putting on an extra gear, so it’s a good feeling, but I’m also tense. It happened once when he was playing the Paganini Variations at Kings Place the other day. I was thinking he was taking a tempo too fast, I was worried, was it he going to make it to the end? For a fraction of a second I forgot to turn the page; you risk getting too involved. But it’s a good feeling, you can observe things from close up.

IV I’m a terrible page turner. I had a bone marrow transplant a couple of years ago for leukaemia, the endings in my nervous system were completely ruined, especially in the hands – they’ve recovered pretty well since but the feeling in my fingers has not yet completely returned. That’s why turning pages is a nightmare for me.

FT Can you imagine what it’s like for a pianist not to have 100% sensitivity at the tip of the fingers? What happens is that the brain and imagination compensate by making up for that lack of sensitivity.

IV I will get the feeling back; it’ll take another couple of years.

FT I prefer to play with Ivo than turn his pages because I feel my hands itchy with the desire to play.

IV I prefer her to turn the pages than someone else because I trust her!

FT I would have preferred someone else to turn the pages on this particular occasion as I could have relaxed more and concentrated more on the bigger sections. I felt tense, like I couldn’t drop my attention for one second. It was as if I was playing without actually playing, that’s why it was a bit frustrating – like everything was going on in my mind but it wasn’t really happening. I can survive as long as he plays with me afterwards!” (Ivo Varbanov & Fiammetta Tarli)

Ivo Varbonov and Fiammetta Tarli live in London with their young child.

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