Interview: Viktoriya Yermolyeva, pianist

A girl with magical fingers

Viktoriya YermolyevaCovers of pop, rock and metal bands you would never believe they could sound good on a piano, are now a common thing and this is exactly what Viktoriya plays the most. The energy this girl posesses penetrates into every note and gives it a special colour, showing in a spectacular way how fingerboards can serve for performing any popular musical genre. That is, if they are in good hands

from Bor, SERBIA

Viktoriya Yermolyeva is not an educated pianist you can only see in a concert hall while playing well known melodies from classical plays. She shows to the public her professionalism, remarkable talent, elegance and sophisticity together with her somewhat wild, avanturistic, restless spirit, which is notable with the first tones of her interpretations. It is something that puts her in the line of professionals with great individualism and distinctive style.

Viktorija, also known as Vika, has been playing the piano since she was four. At the age of six, she started attending a special musical school for talented children. When she was 17, because of her excellent grades, she immediately enrolles the second grade of the Conservatory school (Musical academy) in Ukraine. After that, she finished postgraduation in two more academies: Rotterdam and Weimar. Besides that, she privately took classes with professor Lazar Berman, at a private pianist academy in Italy. She is a well known name in her profession, but also people who are not professionals in the world of music and are not familiar with her numerous awards won in Italy, Germany, The Netherlands, Ukraine and solo performances as well as with symphonic orchestras, still managed to recognize the remarkable talent Vika owns.

On her YouTube page you can see new comments from her fans every day. Still, we are talking about a kind of music that is totally different from the one she studied during the years. Covers of pop, rock and metal bands you would never believe they could sound good on a piano, are now a common thing and this is exactly what Viktoriya plays the most. The energy this girl posesses penetrates into every note and gives it a special colour, showing in a spectacular way how fingerboards can serve for performing any popular musical genre. That is, if they are in good hands. Viktoriya speaks for WAVE magazine about how she made this big turnaround when it comes to genre.

Viktoriya YermolyevaIt is not that common for a professional pianist to show interest for bands like Metallica, Megadeth, SOAD, NIN, Iron Maiden, Machine Head... Do you personally like and listen to this kind of music in your free time, and how much is it different from the music you listened to while you were studying?

- I was always listening to this stuff, and dancing to metal, rock, "industrial", for many years before I even considered to do something beside classical music. It's not that different from the music I was listening to while studying classical piano - 15 years ago I was listening to Sting, Deep Forest, Enigma, Genesis, Michael Jackson, Nirvana. Later I discovered NIN, Massive Attack, Radiohead, Metallica. Speaking frankly, I was never listening to classical music for myself. My mother is a big fan, and I used to dance to "Moonlight sonata" as a kid, and sure loved playing it. But somehow I rarely felt like listening to classical music. Of course, there are some pieces I love listening to, but mostly I just prefer playing.

How did your professors react, did they even know about your affinities?

- When I started playing metal and similar things, I was already done with my study, so I didn't feel like asking anybody's opinion on that. First of all, I guess - I don't want to know what they think. I can imagine the answer, and I don't need to hear it. I do what makes me feel good.

How did this turnaround happen - from classics to more agressive music? Does it mean that you could not imagine yourself sitting at the piano in concert halls for your entire life?

- I guess it just happened. For a long time I didn't know what exactly to do with my life, I was raised to be a classical pianist - that means you either become a concert pianist, or you are nobody. The only other way would be to start teaching or look for a job as an accompanist. I thought at the time, that I didn't have the courage to make it as a classical concert pianist in a way, because I rarely enjoyed to actually play solo recitals. The whole atmosphere, including the public, just didn't feel right.

Travelling around the world and playing at big concert halls was something that I would write in school as my "dream", but it never really seemed to be the truth. I also rarely felt that the people involved in classical music, were "my kind of people". I was a lot more attracted to jazz musicians, for example. I decided to study jazz, but I didn't get too far with improvisation, especially in the traditional style. At some point I just stopped everything, and I did nothing for a few months. Then I tried to imagine, what actually would be my true dream, what would actually make me happy. And in my mind it was to be on stage with someone else, and to play something together - but not classical music.

Immediately I came across a Dutch MySpace project, it was "making a rock band". I got far enough to have people from the TV at my place. But since I didn't have anything "rock" like to play at the time, they didn't choose me. I suppose they even made fun of me in a way they usually do on TV shows, you know. It made me angry, so I said to myself that I am going to make it without any help. The same day I heard a new Metallica song when my boyfriend was playing it. I told him, out of pure boredom, that I was going to cover it for fun, and I did. So that's how it started.

Does it mean you will not get back to the classical music?

- Probably not. I'm still playing with a friend of mine; a very young but awesome violin player. I also play some performances here and there, I just don't want it as a full time thing, but I do still enjoy it.

Who are your favorite musicians? What song was the hardest for you to cover and did you ever consider giving up because you could not work out a good melody?

- My favorites are Trent Reznor, Thom Yorke, Brad Mehldau, Steven Wilson, Henry Rollins, Jaco Pastorius, Ian Curtis, Kurt Cobain, Cliff Burton, Layne Staley, Lazar Berman. Once I gave up without even trying hard - but it was a 20 minutes long track from the seventies. I thought I would get crazy before being able to finish it. It was jazz and psychedelic, and jazz scares me in a way - I think I'm not good enough yet as a jazz musician, I only started studying - enough to get too serious about it, but not enough to actually do it right. Some songs that I'm proud of would be some tracks from Joy Division, NIN, Guns 'n Roses, Tool, Machine Head... I made a few hundreds covers so far, I can't name all the ones I really like.

Can you tell us more about the process of making a song? How long does it take?

- The process used to be pretty short earlier, I would write down - arrange - and record a video within a few hours. Now I'm a little more serious about the end result. I write down what I hear from the record, then I play as long as I have to, until it becomes clear to me, how to arrange it best for piano. Then I start recording the song, and sometimes that means many hours of non-stop playing to be more or less happy with it.

Your website is quite popular, there are more and more fans. At first, you did everything for fun, but then it turned out to be your job?

- Yes, covering songs and making sheet music is my main job at this moment. But it's not like I really had a choice, I basically had to start taking care of myself completely overnight. For a short while it was scary, because the only thing that came to mind was to tell the people on YouTube that I really have to start doing requests. Otherwise I would have to stop making covers and become serious about finding a regular job. Of course, this would mean abandoning the dream of what I really wanted out of life. I'm very lucky it worked out.

Did any band or well-known music name already offer you an engagement, a project or showed any interest in work with you?

- I met the band Immolation in the beginning of May, they wrote me a very sweet e-mail after having covered their song. I also exchanged a few e-mails with bass player from The Sound, and some other bands. But no actual projects so far.

What are your expectations for the following period? What are your wishes, your goals?

- I'm recording the last few songs for my first CD of covers, and recently I got a manager - Darin Roche, and signed with the label - Granville Records. I had an idea to form a band at some point, but it didn't really work out. We'll see about the future. My biggest dream is still to be on stage with some of the musicians that I love, that would be awesome!

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(Published: 10.05.2010.)

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