Artist of the Month Interview

by Cosmo Buono

2006

   
Beata E. Golec has been nominated as Artist of the Month by the directors of the Bradshaw and Buono International Piano Competition from 10/2006 through 03/2007.     
      
Dear Friends:
Welcome to the Bradshaw & Buono site’s latest feature, Artist of the Month.  It is because we believe the components of career-building are as important as those of artistry, that we would like to focus on individual careers and the ways in which successful pianists are pursuing them.  We welcome your input and comments, and hope you will find the interviews helpful in planning your own career. In addition, each interview will include questions and answers from the teacher of our featured artist, as a means of providing further insight, and enhancing your own working teacher-student relationship.

Beata Golec is two-time winner of the Bradshaw & Buono International Piano Competition.  A native of Katowice, Poland, she is currently a doctoral candidate at the Eastman School of Music in Rochester, New York, where her major is Piano Performance and Literature. She is a student of Professor Rebecca Penneys.
__________

You have completed musical studies in both the United States and Europe.  What do you consider the
most significant similarities and differences between musical institutions and styles of pedagogy on the
two continents?


I would prefer not to make a general statement here comparing two continents, cultures and backgrounds. Pedagogy, even though with the same roots, traditions, theories and rules of playing the instrument, is very personal. And it depends not only on the instructor’s personality but also the student’s. Pedagogy, like psychology, is open while performed by a free, confident and accomplished teacher, or limited with square-minded human-being teaching or being taught. Limitations are being set not only by a
teacher or pupil. Background of these two, influences of their families, peers, politics, religion and economic situation are visibly reflected in the results of collaboration between master and student.


For those pianists seeking a full-time performance career, what do you consider some of the greatest
difficulties to be overcome in terms of performing?


1.        Maintaining personality and being faithful to one’s own priorities.
2.        Being as strong as a rock and extremely sensitive and vulnerable at the same time is a difficult and challenging feature of a true artist.
3.        Despite adverse circumstances that often arise, maintaining total mental focus on the message you are to deliver through the language of sound.
4.        Being in control of any situation [where] you are to perform.


One hears a great deal about the recital format diminishing, not only for classical pianists, but classical
artists of all kinds.  How realistic therefore, do you think it is these days to pursue a classical career?


Very realistic, if you carry multiple and universal talents. If you are flexible and quickly adapt to new situations.
Pressing “black and white” with ease is not enough. Nowadays, in such a demanding and cruel marketplace, it is crucial to have experience not only in solo, chamber and orchestral music, but also in arranging, conducting, and coaching, as well as playing other instruments (harpsichord, organ). Such skills as transposing, reading figured bass, harmonization, and sight reading are often forgotten or not cared for enough.


What role do you think management plays in terms of helping an artist achieve celebrity, and when do you
think is a good time to look for a manager?


Collaborating with a manager is very helpful for a musician and saves time seeking venues. In such case[s], the artist is able to focus only on art and practicing. On the other hand, lack of management forces performers to search for events by themselves. This way they learn self-presentation, marketing, etiquette and savoir vivre. Dealing with potential promoters, patrons or employers is a unique life lesson.

You recently won the Bradshaw & Buono International Piano Competition for a second time.  How much
do you feel competitions in general help an artist, and how do you feel the Bradshaw & Buono, in
particular, has helped you?


Competitions in general are helpful in building one’s résumé. Participating in piano competitions is a wonderful chance to meet other artists for networking or collaborating in the future. It is also self- promotion. You never know who might be interested in you and your interpretations after seeing you compete. Winning the Bradshaw & Buono International Piano Competition gave me the unique opportunity to perform at Carnegie Hall twice. The fact of winning the competition and performing at Carnegie was of
such interest to the media, both in the Poland and the United States, that I was invited to [do] several interviews. One of them was held in New York City in August.
I would like to thank the Bradshaw & Buono competition directors, who created an event different from others. It is a piano competition allowing me to be free with my inventions and ideas in music. It is a competition focused on the artist’s personality and innovations, uniqueness and freshness instead of machine-like technicality and the amount of wrong notes hit. Viva Bradshaw & Buono!


Technology, particularly the Internet, has made it easier than ever for artists to be their own promoters:
web sites, emails, not to mention CD burning, greatly facilitate reaching vast audiences.  How important
do you think it is for an artist to be her own kind of self-marketer, and how much do you think this can help
a career?


Let’s translate it to the retail language: No one will purchase a pricey product of an unknown brand, even the most excellent one. This is where the advertising needs to kick in. No matter what the product is, promotion plays a crucial role in the success of the sale.

Many successful celebrities talk a great deal about “giving back.”  In other words, using their success to
help other aspiring artists with their careers.  What do you feel are some of the best ways for an artist to do
this?


I wouldn’t call it “giving back”, which sounds like a sacrifice or a loan pay-off after years. To me it is a continuation of a lifetime process of being an artist.  Spreading knowledge and becoming an excellent pedagogue is a life goal, life experience and life style. Opening the door of art to a younger generation and letting future pianists experience as much performing and dealing with the highest level of art as possible, is the greatest gift one might receive.

Not only are you a successful pianist, but a composer and model as well.  How do you feel these distinct
disciplines relate to one another, and, artistically, how do prioritize them?  In other words, being blessed
with so many talents, how do you decide on your use of them, and focus your energies in order to pursue
them?


I am striving to make every effort to become a complete artist and a complete human being. Exploring various genres of art is very exciting and helpful in mastering my main passions--piano and composition. These two are my highest priorities. Modeling is an adventurous journey to the world of photography, lighting and color and shape. It gave me a new view on myself, boosted my confidence and presence, and of course was very useful in promoting myself.  Modeling also taught me that every profession is difficult.
Professionalism, talent and a great deal of labor are required in every field in order to succeed and make even the smallest project possible.


How important would you say it is, in terms of an overall career, for an artist to be a good teacher?  Does a
pianist, even a very successful one, need to spend time perfecting teaching skills as well?


It is crucial for a piano [teacher] to be a performing artist. Not every artist is capable of teaching, though. Teaching is a combination of knowledge, pedagogy, psychology, sociology. The bottom line is the pedagogue’s willingness to share knowledge and experiences with a younger generation of musicians. Teaching cannot be impersonal but it is crucial to find the borderline between being too formal and too friendly. Teaching’s goal is not only to discover new potentials in human talents but especially to challenge the talent and let it develop at its optimal speed. A lack of challenge is an equal waste of time as well as the talent itself. The art of teaching is a lifetime process; it is a learning process. There is no obligation for a performing pianist to become a teacher but such a skill has a special meaning in the process of becoming a fulfilled
and complete artist. What is the point of perfecting one’s knowledge if it would never have an outlet and would not be shared with anyone? That would be quite an isolated way of living one’s talent. Every artist makes their own decision in regard to teaching. Teaching has a great influence on the artist’s psyche and character. It teaches patience, understanding others, interpersonal relations, dealing with grading and fairness, flexibility in relations with various students. Since every student has a different potential, character, involvement level and goals, they need to be treated personally and have teaching methods adjusted to their personality and expectations. They also need to be treated with honesty.
Honesty might be challenging, since the teacher wouldn’t want to harm the feelings of the student but must give the student an honest assessment of his development as well as to give adequate incentive for working to improve it.
In recapitulation, teaching is a complex psychological process and not every artist is able to deal with it.  In my personal view teaching is enlightening and fascinating. It gives us knowledge not only about others but most of all about ourselves, our capabilities and boundaries.


In your own experience, what have been some of the best ways to support one’s self while pursuing
musical studies, given that four or five hours a day on average have to be devoted to practice?


I am an independent student enrolled in two doctoral programs. I work as a piano class instructor at Eastman School of Music and organist at Holy Cross Church in Rochester, NY. Besides, I coach vocalists, give recitals and piano instructions. Work brings not only material benefits but also helps in gaining professional experience very much sought after by future employers.

Should a pianist concentrate on studying and learning specific composers and their repertoire because
they are more likely to be asked to perform them?  In other words, are certain composers and their works
more “bankable” than others?  If so, who would those composers and pieces be?


Variety is always a key to an interesting and successful performance.  Shorter compositions are more adequate for musically untrained audiences. A helpful introduction spoken before performing makes the atmosphere more friendly and less stiff. Diverse audiences consist of listeners coming from many different backgrounds with different levels of involvement, artistic expectations, and needs. The more interesting pieces composed by various composers from different periods you perform, the better the
chances of satisfying and pleasing the audiences for whom you perform. People love to listen to compositions they know and are able to hum along with. They also are curious and would like to learn and get to know what is being created by the avant-garde young generation of composers.  That is why a combination of old traditions with new releases is a very attractive offer for music lovers.


REBECCA PENNEYS

Professor, Steinway Artist, and chamber music performer Rebecca Penneys boasts an array of accolades worthy of her accomplishments and virtuosity. With a keen understanding of her own art, and an expressive, intelligent way of articulating it, she is an inspiration for everyone, from the newest piano student to the most polished of performers.
When speaking with Professor Penneys one thing becomes very clear: she appreciates all that is required to achieve the success she enjoys in a highly competitive environment.  Her wisdom has informed the performances of her student, Beata Golec, and we think offers much to anyone working to develop an ethic for artistry and performance.


What do you consider the most important aspect of the pedagogy with your students:  technique,
interpretation, or an understanding of composers and their styles, and why?


I would have to say all of them are equally important, because they all play a substantial role in performance.

Is there a specific art to performing before a live audience versus working in a recording studio, and if so,
what are some of the elements about live performance every artist should know?


A recording studio gives a performer the option of going back over the repertoire again and again, and the acoustics of a studio are different. With an audience there is an entirely different dynamic which is much more unpredictable.  Some halls are more stressful than others, as are some audiences, so a performer needs to know how to handle
stress while playing.  It is almost like athletes in the Olympics, who have to know how to perform under pressure:  you have to have your tools completely at your disposal so that you remain in control at all times.


We have become such a highly visual society: performances are filmed live, and almost everything we do
is available to be seen—and scrutinized.  How much then, does physical presence and appearance play
a role in an audience appreciating a performance by an artist?  


I don’t like the question “Did you see?” when referring to a musical performance.  Music is an aural art, and should be understood as one.  Conductors, for example are often equal parts dancers and actors.  Their movements should complement the music, and not be an attention getter.  With my own students, I don’t teach them to move around, because I am more interested in more efficient movement.  I don’t like the “bungee jumping” that sometimes goes on on the concert stage, because it has nothing to do with
appreciating art, or the music.  On the other hand, contained, universal movements should be used, and can be a pleasure to watch. We often hear about rules for an audience: not talking during the performance, no cell phones, no unwrapping of candies.  These are things that are designed to enhance the enjoyment of a performance
by other audience members.  What are some of the things and artist can do to enhance enjoyment of the performance by his or her audience?  For example, people have often commented on Glenn Gould and André Watts singing audibly as they play, and many listeners are not pleased. There is a limit.  Saying a few words about each piece is good, as it can bridge the gap between artist and audience.  However, I remember once performing and a cell phone went off, and the person carried on a short conversation. This, I think, went over the limit.  Each artist is different, and I don’t like to be too strict, but creating that connection between artist and audience is highly individual and must be created based on personal taste.


We often hear as many reports about the death of classical music as we do reports about it being alive
and doing very well.  What are your own personal observations on the future not only of classical music,
but the future of those who make it their lives to perform it?


The truth is, I have a greater concern about global warming and peace on earth.  Good music will be around.  We cannot separate music, and music education from other issues, and there is an entire cultural phenomenon that directly impacts music, and as we take care of other problems, music will survive.

What advice can you offer artists for handling reviews, not only when they are bad, but perhaps, more
important, when they are good?  How seriously should one take any of them?


They should all be taken with a grain of salt—good and bad.  Sometimes things are said you don’t think about, but that are actually helpful in formulating your career. Personally, I think some time around your forties you start listening to your inner voice, and less to what people are saying around you.  Until then however, it can take a fairly long time to get to a place where you are able not to be affected by what is said
in the press.

© 2016 by Beata Golec.