February 12, 2019

A personal note from Tamara Stefanovich about “Influences”

In the early 90´s, a piano student with a bachelor’s degree – barely 18 – embarked on a not-yet-ended, semi-voluntary emigration adventure. First stop was Philadelphia, and then the journey went to Cologne, Paris and Berlin. Although the main activities along the road were studying, teaching and performing, it was, and actually remains, my own story of emigration and integration, a story of assimilation by necessity, or at least out of a profound need to be enhanced, to be influenced.

Is my sense of home and my roots so flexible, I often asked myself, that they make me so permeable, so much hungry for the other, for the perfumes of life across the border, for foreign languages both spoken and musical? Is my essence so free of traces that every time I dive into a new culture, it swallows and infiltrates the one I had explored before? Is the lack of pride in my roots so clouded because of a specific political ambiguity, especially as my ancestors are Serbian, Croatian, Dalmatian, Italian, Hungarian and who knows what else?

And what does all this have to do with the present album? Well, actually everything. I never thought one should “just play“ or “merely record“. Alongside my musical education, I studied sociology and psychology in my early student years and that left behind a strong need for purpose and wider looking glasses which act as prisms on what we do, and focus my actual artistic stamp on things. It is my wish to trace back to the starting point, the essence of that scent which makes a Bartók, a Bach, an Ives or a Messiaen, and to see how these extraordinarily original and idiosyncratic composers each searched for influences, letting themselves be inspired by the exterior world. I hope to demonstrate that authenticity comes from looking outside as well as inside, and this in equal measure.

Bach – hardly an itinerant – composed in an Italian manner; Bartók, held in utmost respect the folk elements he integrated into his music; as for Ives, with his collage of marching bands, sounds of trains and machinery, church hymns, ragtime and blues, he allowed all these elements to coexist; then there is Messiaen, with his hyper-curiosity towards exotic cultures, and methodical research of Hindu rhythms: All these composers created their own, deeply original and personal sonic galaxies.

Here, then are the countries that most influenced, enhanced and “made“ me who I am: Hungary, an empire of which my country formed for centuries just a small part (Hungarian the language my grandmother spoke fluently); Germany, as it is my adopted home where my son was born and where emanates my favourite literature; France, the birthplace of my first piano teacher and my chosen life companion; finally, the US, the country where I studied, which my parents in post-war Yugoslavia considered as their sanctuary, and that my brother calls home. What would we be without all these influences? And is it not wonderful that this question has no clearcut or exclusive answer to that, but only an inclusive, multi-layered responses, one richly interwoven and complex by its very nature? 

– Tamara Stefanovich