February 10 at 3 p.m.
Nichols Concert Hall, 1490 Chicago Avenue in Evanston
Editor’s Note: Returning to her alma mater with a Chicago premiere, Music Institute of Chicago alumna Inna Faliks performs “Polonaise-Fantaisie: The Story of a Pianist,” which traces her journey from the former Soviet Union to the freedom of the United States and a life in music. She tells her story while playing music that spans 289 years, running the gamut from Bach and Mozart to contemporary composer Jan Freidlin, interspersed with her own writings chronicling her upbringing in Odessa, Ukraine; her musical and romantic awakenings; and her immigration to the U.S. as a Jewish refugee. Read some of Faliks’ thoughts below.
(PTP) How old were you when you began playing piano? How did this come about? Who were your early influences?
(IF) I was five years old. My dad makes the joke that he is the only person who was a child in Odessa, and not a musical wunderkind (I quote this joke in the show). Most educated families would have a child start music. My mother is a pianist, so this was very natural. Again, I talk about this in the show.
How did being a young musician in Ukraine give you an advantage? What were the downsides?
I left when I was 10 years old. The fact that I was growing up as a young artist meant that my creativity, my artistic instincts, my pianism, my imagination were developing. I had a rich inner life. I was also a composer. I was inspired by books and music and did not realize what was lacking, in terms of the deficiencies people suffered in Soviet life—both practical and moral. This was the upside.
There are no downsides, as far as I am concerned, to being a young musician, in Ukraine or anywhere else. Maybe we didn't get a “normal” (whatever that means) childhood—because we had to practice long, long hours, from a very young age. But this instills a sense of purpose, discipline, and the honor and beauty of doing something well and to the highest level of one's ability from an early age.
Did you/your family leave Ukraine under duress?
We immigrated as many Jewish families did, in the 1980s, to escape anti-Semitism, to escape Socialist/communist doctrine, and to have choices, a better life. The show will answer this question.
What inspired your format of combining monologue and music?
I began by writing a book. I am currently working on my memoir, Weight in the Fingertips. The monologue is a natural outgrowth of the book's chapters.
A wonderful producer, Cynthia Comsky, read a few chapters and wanted me to perform this as a monologue-recital with a wonderful LA actress Rebecca Mozo. We did, and then we recorded the show on the Delos Label. Subsequently, I was asked to read and play, and this is what I have been doing for an entire season, performing the show in its entirety.
I think that audiences connect to the performer and the music in a much more immediate and personal way with this format. The barrier that frequently separates the performer from the audience should, hopefully, be gone. I open up to the audience completely. I tell them some of the most personal things I possibly can—stories about a childhood, awkward adolescence, love. I cannot be anymore vulnerable than I am in this situation!
Have you collaborated with actors or writers on other types of music and spoken word combinations?
This show is a natural outgrowth of my Music/Words series, a project I have produced and performed for more than a decade. This began in NYC and is a series where poets read their own works, and the readings alternate with musical performance. I have done a number of these in Chicago, producing with Kerry Frumkin of WFMT, both on the radio and at various locations such as the Poetry Foundation. Music/Words is very familiar to Chicago audiences, as well as all over the United States.
When you aren’t performing, practicing or teaching music, what are you likely to be doing? And if you weren’t a musician, what else might you like to do in life?
I am likely to be playing with my kids, reading, writing, seeing theater, visiting a museum or gallery, or seeing a film with my husband, catching up with friends, volunteering, organizing some kind of get together, festival, rehearsal. I love writing, reading, the entire world of literature. If I was not a musician I would be a novelist or a poet, most likely. But I cannot imagine being anything other than a musician.
What are your goals, professionally and/or personally, for the coming years?
In the near future; publishing my book; writing another book; learning more repertoire; making more recordings. Also, I have been thinking about anew interdisciplinary festival and hope to create this in the next few seasons. More new music commissions and fantastic collaborations with composers and conductors are always a goal, and especially for more chamber music. I have a new trio in LA, the Hollywood Trio, that I am excited about. There are too many concerti that I have not played! There is so much music out there! One lifetime is not enough.
$50 for VIP seating, $40 for adults, $25 for senior citizens, and $15 for students
Tickets are available on the Music Institute of Chicago website