Monday, 26 September 2016

#50 Nafis Umerkulova: Concert Pianist

When you have an injury you get all sorts of thoughts about how you may never get back to how you were before .... I learned that even if it’s a Carnegie Hall recital, it’s better to stop than risk injury. To really listen to your body is important ...

"I was born in Tashkent, the capital of Uzbekistan, in 1988. At that time it was still part of the Soviet Union which then collapsed when I was one, and went on to become an independent republic in 1991. It took quite a few years to change and it’s been an interesting transition. During the Soviet years, speaking Russian was compulsory, so my grandparents and parents were educated in Russian. But Uzbekistan managed to preserve its traditions during the Soviet Union. As a result some Uzbek families were bilingual and would speak both languages equally well, like my family. I was brought up speaking pretty much Uzbek only until the age of 5, but gradually Russian was introduced until it became my mother tongue at school.

I became interested in piano at the age of five, after hearing my mother play. At the age of six I passed an audition to the Specialist Music School named after Uspensky. Everything was in Russian and at that time they still used a lot of Soviet books. Musical education at that time was based on solf├Ęge, modelled on the way it was taught in Moscow or St Petersburg. But Uzbekistan was a new country with new ideas so change was happening and there was a combination of what they had before with new, fresh ways of doing things. So, the country I grew up in was very diverse and special. My friends were from all over the world; there were Ossetians, Tatars, Koreans, Jewish, Russian and Uzbek kids. It was similar with my teachers. One influential piano teacher was the Georgian pianist Natalia Tzinzadze, who studied with the legendary Heinrich and Stanislav Neuhaus. Looking back I feel appreciative of how interesting and exciting my formative years were and grateful for having been surrounded by so many inspiring people.

I left Uzbekistan when I was 16 to study at the Purcell School and later continued to the Royal Academy of Music, followed by the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland. Last year I found out I was accepted for a competition and had only a few months to prepare. It was a very intensive time as I had a huge programme to learn. On top of the competition preparation I was also teaching and taking care of other engagements. It was stressful,l but exciting, to have to do so much in such a short time, so I decided to push myself hard. I was also preparing different programmes for several concerts that were close together. It turned out that it was all too much pressure for my hand and I started feeling something was wrong. However, I couldn't bring myself to stop when I should have, as I was excited about the competition and wanted to be ready for it on time. So eventually it got to the point when I realised that I’d injured my hand. Fortunately it didn’t seem to be too serious but I had to completely stop playing for a month. Then I started playing 5 minutes a day, then gradually that turned into 15 minutes, then 30, then 45. I didn’t know how long the injury would last, I had to turn down some performance engagements. Once I began to recover, even though I still had to take it easy, it did help to have a goal of a concert to work towards. The first concert was only half an hour, so I played three Schubert impromptus. Gradually I started playing longer concerts and then finally full length recitals again.

It was a challenging period. Playing piano is what I want to do all my life, it’s what I live for. So at that time I felt very scared. When you have an injury you get all sorts of thoughts about how you may never get back to how you were before. But I was very lucky to have a lot of support from friends and people who are close to me. I believe that our emotional and mental well being is just as important in the recovery process as the physical well being. In some ways I was happy this happened because it made me realise quite a few things, like having my priorities defined clearly and also being aware of whether or not something is worth pushing for. I learned that even if it’s a Carnegie Hall recital, it’s better to stop than risk injury. To really listen to your body is important. No matter how much pressure you’re under, the musician’s health is the main priority. As other musicians have told me, injuries happen when you ignore the signals the body is sending you. When you prepare for a performance there’s a lot of adrenaline and pressure; it all just adds up, and can perhaps make you delusional where you think you can carry on even though the body is telling you to stop!" (Nafis Umerkulova was speaking with Markson Pianos Composer in Residence Lola Perrin)

Nafis Umerkulova performs at Markson Pianos Concert Series
September 28th at 7pm

Schumann Sonata in F sharp minor Op 11
Ravel Sonatine
Debussy Estampes

St Mary Magdalene Parish Church
Munster Square, London NW1
Tickets £6/£4 on the door