Viktor Lazarov talks to us about his Opus Prize-Winning academic article, and about his own musical journey.
Viktor is a concert pianist, PhD candidate at the University of Montreal and a piano professor at Préville. This year he won a prestigious Opus Award for his research in music performance practice. The Opus Awards are given by the Conseil Québecois de la musique each year to recognize the excellence of this province’s musical talent across diverse genres and disciplines. We are very proud of him!
An Interview with Viktor
Congratulations on your Opus Award for article of the year! Can you please describe your research for us, and, in particular, the focus of your prize-winning article?
Thank you! My research addresses the question of style and interpretation in the performance of baroque music on the modern piano, especially with regard to the music of J.S. Bach.
Considering that high-level musicians are able to convey different performance styles through small changes in the execution of basic musical elements, such as articulation, tempo or dynamics, my research question centers on the issue of transmitting this type of fine knowledge to university-level students in a way that optimizes their own stylistic development as artists.
As a preparatory study, my article documents the creative process that a pianist goes through in order to produce three stylistically different interpretations of a short keyboard work by J.S.Bach. In collaboration with an engineering student, we used qualitative and quantitative methods to analyze stylistic elements in both the pianist’s preparation and the three contrasting performances he recorded.
Broadly speaking, the qualitative approach consisted in notating the ideas that the pianist associated with each style as well as an expert’s blind assessment of each recording. The quantitative approach consisted in a statistical analysis of the tempo, articulation and dynamics.
One advantage that made the second type of analyses possible was having access to a grand piano equipped with special sensors underneath each key. These sensors allowed for minute data to be extracted from the pianist’s performance, such as the length of time that fingers were in touch with the keys or the velocity with which they pressed each key.
By comparing the qualitative and quantitative results, we have shown a clear consistency between the performer’s stylistic descriptions and the assessment of the final performances by an expert outsider, corroborated by objective measurements.
Can you hear the differences between these three performances of the same musical excerpt?
While music making is in great part intuitive, my overarching goal is to show that this type of empirical approach can contribute significantly to music performance teaching at an advanced level. My research combines musicology, performance and pedagogy and is an example of one of the many ways in which arts and sciences intersect in current scholarship. Read Viktor’s prize-winning article in its entirety.
What has your musical journey been like? When did you first feel inclined to explore the academic side of your artform?
I started playing the piano around age 5 or 6 and soon expressed an interest in composing and improvising. My parents were my first teachers and inspired me to continue playing and exploring the works of the great classical composers. By the age of twelve, I decided that I would pursue music as a career.
From the age of 18 onwards I was very lucky to have had truly great and inspiring teachers: Gregory Chaverdian, professor at Concordia University; Marina Lomazov, professor at the University of South Carolina (now at the Eastman School of Music); and Ilya Poletaev, professor at the Schulich School of Music at McGill University.
My interest in the academic side of performance started towards the end of my bachelor’s degree at the University of South Carolina. By that time, I had performed in a variety of styles, including contemporary music, modern, romantic, classical and baroque. However, I was aware that something was missing in terms of my stylistic understanding of music.
As I was researching graduate school programs, I came across the opportunity to apply to the Canadian Graduate Scholarship as part of the application to a Master’s in Music at McGill University. This scholarship supports graduate-level research-creation projects. I drafted a proposal centered around the keyboard works of Bach and submitted my application. In April 2014, I was granted the scholarship and embarked on my journey into graduate education!
Is there anything you would like to share with young artists who are wondering what a career in music might look like?
A career in music can take various forms: from teaching and performing locally to competing at the highest level among very talented and dedicated peers. This type of career path requires the frame of mind of elite athletes preparing to win a championship without any of the monetary compensation or endorsements.
However, the main consideration before embarking on any career path is, from my perspective, the alignment of one’s character with the specific challenges of the job. To sustain a living as a musician, in addition to being resilient when facing the relative lack of stability that it entails, one must have several different qualities: creativity, a big heart, tremendous work ethic, a high sense of organization as well as a sociable personality.
Truly successful artists, in my experience, are those who are in touch with their inner world while also being firmly connected with their community. They are able to focus on themselves without losing sight of the world and their relative place in it.
Private Piano Lessons with Viktor
Viktor has been teaching piano at Préville Fine Arts for several years. If you are interested in taking a lesson with him, students can join anytime at a pro-rated rate. Currently private lessons are offered in-person or online.