5 Great People | 1 Good Question:
Striking and dynamic performances, lyrical range and flawless technique are just a few of the frequent descriptions you’ll read about hometown pianist Natasha Paremski. “Paremski outdid herself, tossing off diabolically complex passages as if they were child’s play (they are not!),” said the Chicago Tribune.
SF Performances is thrilled to welcome Natasha back for the third time, with a challenging program of Chopin, Adès and Prokofiev on April 10, 2021.
Read Natasha’s full biography on her performance page.
So what’s our One Good Question to ask Natasha?
“Welcome back Natasha. This is your third appearance with us, the first of which being your SFP Young Masters debut in 2007 and last year you shared an amazing program with jazz pianist Alfredo Rodríguez where you performed Balakirev’s finger-crushing Islamey. You essentially grew up in the Bay Area (not counting your first 8 years in Moscow), does it feel different to perform here—at home—versus when you perform abroad?”
Indeed to perform not only in the Bay Area, where I spent half of my childhood, but especially for San Francisco Performances is something deeply personal.
My absolute obsession with Evgeny Kissin started in Moscow. We had a casette tape of his live performances at twelve years old of both Chopin Piano Concertos. I was mesmerized by the beauty of the music, and by the way he played. He was also frequently on the radio, and on one such instance he made yet another everlasting impression on me—with the Tchaikovsky First Piano Concerto. So much so, that I ran to our upright piano and tried to pick out the opening chords. I was six, so you can imagine what that sounded like. My musical journey, having started at age three was fueled by him—his otherworldly gift and work ethic. I simply wanted to be just like him. There was talk of me auditioning for the Gnessin Academy of Music which Kissin had also attended.
Then everything changed. The Soviet Union had collapsed, and with it all stability. Virtually overnight, the streets were overrun with crime, the stock market crashed and depleted my family of all they had saved. When one day it was safe to play in the courtyard, now my mom had a pepper spray in each pocket and neither my brother nor I were allowed to let go of her elbow when we stepped outside.
A recruiter from California came one day and told my computer scientist father that people like him were prized in the Silicon Valley boom of the 90s, and that he should consider emigrating. It would be easy for him to secure a Green Card—he was after all part of a team of a handful of scientists to create the Internet in Russia in 1989—and he could build a nice life for his young family. The American Dream. My father was 47 years old and barely spoke a word of English. He resisted the change, but my mother saw the opportunity.
Shortly thereafter, tragedy struck. Late one night, my father was coming home from his laboratory at the Kurchatov Institute of Atomic Energy, my mother waiting for him on the balcony as she always did. She witnessed him run, pursued by five men, fall to the ground and get assaulted. When they figured he was dead, they ran off. He ended up in the hospital with a severe brain trauma with doctors saying his life was a coin toss.
The recruiter called again, and my mother picked up the phone.
“Has Mikhail reconsidered?”
“Yes, he has,” my mom replied.
“When may I see him to start the paperwork?”
“Mikhail is on a business trip. No worries, I have power of attorney—I will be happy to assist.”
With that call, our fate was sealed. The coin tossed in favor of life, and my father recovered completely. We made the leap in pursuit of the Dream.
Because my parents now had to start from zero, in every way imaginable, most of all financially, sacrifices were to be made. We could not bring the piano from Moscow—not that it would survive the trip anyway—nor could they afford a new one, and I could not have lessons. Where they were provided for by the Russian government, in the US they were debilitating in their expense. I didn’t mind it at first—I did not miss practicing! There was a new language to be learned, new culture to understand, new everything. However, the adrenaline soon wore off, and I missed my best friend.
One day, my mom told me that a friend gave her two tickets to see a pianist perform at the Herbst Theater in San Francisco. It was Kissin. I nearly fainted—finally to see my idol, in the living flesh. It all came flooding back to me—my obsession with his playing, with the instrument. I sat through the concert, presented by none other than San Francisco Performances, in utter amazement with tears streaming down my face. It was there that I knew what I wanted to do, what my dream was. Aged nine, I turned to my mom and announced that I wanted to be just like him, that I wanted to be on that very stage, and begged for piano lessons.
Six years later, I moved to New York and met Charles (Charlie) Hamlen who was the impresario to bring Kissin to the United States and in fact organized his San Francisco debut with his dear friend Ruth Felt. Through his mentorship, and ten years after that fateful concert at Herbst, I made my San Francisco Performances debut.
When I play here, I carry all of this with me. I play for my father, my mother, my brother, for Charlie, for their enormous sacrifices on behalf of my dreams, for their guidance, and for all it took to make the dream sparked by that night at Herbst come true.