Hannah Nepil interviews talented young pianist Natasha Paremski, who will be performing Tchaikovsky’s First Piano Concerto with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra at the Royal Festival Hall, London, on Tuesday 16th October and at Fairfield Halls, Croydon, on Wednesday 17th October.
‘As a little girl I dreamt about playing Tchaikovsky’s First Piano Concerto,’ says Natasha Paremski. She has been performing it since she was fifteen and now, ten years on, she will play it again for her Southbank début with the RPO. But while admitting that the concerto is still one of her favourite pieces, Paremski’s approach to it has matured over time: ‘the music is so thrilling that often we can get selfish about the way we play it, and not actually connect with the audience. So I find it rewarding to go back to the score and see what this piece is all about.’
At only twenty-five, this pianist speaks from experience. By now her CV includes gigs with orchestras such as the Los Angeles Philharmonic, Royal Scottish National Orchestra and, of course, the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, with whom she has been playing since 2010. Born in Moscow, she first crawled to the piano at the age of two. ‘I started playing on it almost every day,’ she says, ‘so eventually my parents said “We’re not listening to this any more, she’s going to start playing some real music.”’
Though talented, she stopped playing when she was eight years old, after her family moved to California. ‘In Russia [lessons] were paid for by the government. In the USA it’s out of your own pocket and it’s very expensive,’ she says, ‘so my parents had no money even for a piano, and no money for lessons.’ Nevertheless, she soon resumed. ‘After a year I started to feel incredibly sad. And I thought, “I can’t live without it. It’s really killing me.”’
Not that she was always an obedient student. ‘If my teachers’ expectations had nothing to do with what I felt about the score, I challenged them. And there were times when, if they insisted, I’d storm out of the room. I’d call my mother and say, “I’m done with the lesson. I want to go home.”’
Paremski spent a lot of time discovering the piano for herself without a teacher, so it’s just as well that she was self-motivated. ‘My parents were not stage-parents. If I was being lazy my mom made sure I knew it but I had the option of dropping the piano,’ she tells me, ‘I just loved practising.’ And she still does. ‘It’s like I’m only half awake or half alive when I don’t play the piano,’ she tells me. ‘Playing is like a drug. A new kind of reality. It’s a total hallucinogen.’