Their Music (IV): What are Ana Silvestru and Stefan Tarara listening to?

Maybe the names of these two young artists do not mean too much to you, at least for the moment. They appear rather rarely on the Romanian scenes, for a very simple reason: Ana Silvestru and Stefan Tarara lead their careers outside Romania. These artists are part of an exceptional generation of Romanian musicians, who can be found on the lists of very important international musical competitions (the latest examples: Andrei Ioniță, winner of the Tchaikovsky Competition, or Ioan Hotea – Operalia 2015). 

Ana Silvestru – piano

Ana Silvestru

She graduated from the Music University in Bucharest and continued her education at the Art University, in Zürich. She won the 1st prize at the Hungarian Music Festival and she had concerts at the Salzburg Festival and at St. Martin in the Fields, London. Her first recording was released this year, Winterreise, by Franz Schubert, together with the Hungarian tenor Tamás Henter, a real music project, a musical artefact worth of belonging to a collection. The music of this lied cycle places the piano and the human voice on the same level. The CD was launched at the Romanian Atheneum, in February. What music is she listening to these days? Here is her answer:


Besides the finals of Tchaikovsky Competition and Nina Simone, I am now listening to any piece I find by Scriabin, played by Vladimir Sofronitsky. Until he appeared on Youtube, Sofronitsky was a rare drug among the connoisseurs: he made no tours, he did not play concerts with the orchestra, he did not play chamber music. All the important Russian pianists, from Sviatoslav Richter and Emil Gilels to Dmitri Bashkirov or Lazar Berman, considered him a god and anyone who listens only to Sonata no 2 at the Scriabin Museum, on a piano which already had a certain age, understands why: I don’t think I have ever heard a pianist play every interval, every voice, with Sofronitsky’s hyper-sensibility. Attention: I am talking about “intonatsiia”, which in Russian has another meaning than in other languages, where intonation signifies the „clear” or „out of tune” emission of the chords. For Russians, „intonatsiia” signifies the attraction and the tension between musical intervals, that a musician must not only understand, but also feel: he must not only get the rational meaning for the distance of a second and a seventh, and for the fact that their emission requires a completely different preparation, he must also feel all these things. With Sofronitsky, the concept is taken to the extremes, when he plays a sixth or a seventh, you feel like reaching the top of the Everest!


Heinrich Neuhaus said a pianist’s art is exactly the mirror of his soul. And Sofronitsky’s art shows a man who seems to have been born and to have lived without skin, with his tissues openly exposed, reacting to the most subtle stimuli of an imagination capable of creating sonorities and structures impossible to copy or to replicate. If this is how the sirens sang in Ulysses’ time, no wonder he had to be tied to the mast so that he could not jump into the sea; nowadays, he should be exiled in a place with no internet connection and no possibility to listen to music, in order to keep him away from Sofronitsky!

The second recording: Pelléas et Mélisande by Debussy, conducted by Claudio Abbado (with Wiener Philharmoniker, Wiener Staatsopernchor). The cast is excellent (François Le Roux, Christa Ludwig, among others), and Maria Ewing gives a benchmark interpretation. Mélisande is an anti-diva, an enigma separated from the earth that gives birth to the “normal” heroines of an opera: we do not know if she is naive and innocent, or if she is a sophisticated manipulator. And exactly when we are ready to throw her in the drawer with Lolitas, ingenues and child-women, a simple reply from her pushes us back into the fog. Another aspect that makes me like her even more: Debussy wanted for his Mélisande a real-life death, not an opera-like one. Therefore, Mélisande disappears discretely, without too healthy high notes, without endless arias.


José van Dam (Golaud) is, together with Robert Holl, one of the few interpreters whose voice and musical personality impose from the very first sound and, once you hear them, you can’t forget them anymore. José van Dam’s timbre has the quality of a decadent and ridiculously expensive perfume: the bottom notes, like old bronze, instantly remind you of the perfume of wet earth or of cedar wood. Then, the “middle notes”, represented here by the sound itself, of an extreme, archaic purity, impossible to avoid if you want to dive into the deep, troubled waters of Debussy, Mussorgsky or Ravel, domain in which José van Dam simply excelled. And, to finish in the same register, of decadence, the top notes (general impression) give the sensation of an almost hypnotic intensity, but which is never vulgar or show-offish.

Stefan Tarara – violin

Stefan Tarara
Stefan Tarara

Stefan Tarara was born in Heidelberg, in a family of musicians of Romanian origin and he graduated from The Music University of Zürich. He won the latest edition of „George Enescu” Competition. He, too, released a disc, a couple of weeks ago, with the music of Bloch, Ravel and Enescu. A few months ago we could hear him at the Romanian Atheneum, with a passionate performance of Lalo’s Spanish Symphony, while having the conductor Christian Badea as partner for setting the stage on fire. What music is Stefan listening to? Here are his own words:

First you need to know that I listen to music a lot! I know many colleagues who say that they prefer in their “free” time not to listen to music anymore (as they also play music themselves). I’m the opposite of that, all my friends know me running around with my huge headphones always around my neck and even at home I have a big audio-centric installation which runs non-stop. So, music IS truly my life, I couldn’t imagine living without it. Now, speaking about the genres, you will be perhaps surprised to hear that I listen to music to literary every direction. Besides the obvious classical music, there is smooth jazz playing most of the time in the background at home. But there is also Pop, Dance, Electro, you name it; I have even my periods for one or two months, it depends on my mood, when I really want to know more about a specific genre, be it heavy metal or minimal. Of course the classical music is to me the “holy grail”, but I love to be informed about all kinds of music, it doesn’t matter to me how specific it would be. And my reason why classical music is superior? Well, there are many, but one for sure is the sheer complexity of interpreting each piece. You have one piece, one hundred recordings and with a trained ear you can hear one hundred different pieces in that! That is why I love classical music. And for the same reason it is very difficult for me to choose one specific CD-Album as my all-time-favorite, as there are so many extremely good recordings out there. On the other hand, I’m the kind of person who likes to listen to many different recordings while working on a new piece. I like to stay informed, also to listen to the great artists of the last century, and it helps me learning the piece better. Out of the information I got, I still find my own way in playing, but I love the possibilities we have nowadays for having a broader overview of the whole music scene.

Finally, if I should name a favorite, there is one sticking out and this is the double-CD “The Liszt Recordings” by Krystian Zimerman from 2011 at the “Deutsche Grammophon” label. The whole album is awesome, but I simply love how Zimerman plays especially the “Totentanz” and the B minor sonata! What I love in his playing is his honesty, not found very often. He shows a lot of respect to the score, being especially very organic in his rubati but still showing lots of energy and power. For me, he found the perfect balance between playing precisely what’s written by Liszt and catchy virtuosity! And at the latest from the Dies Irae in the “Totentanz” with Zimerman’s “punching bass”, no one can sit still in his chair anymore. I for myself cannot imagine this piece to be played better than in this recording.

Zimerman Liszt

Another little story also connects me to this Album: I can say that this Album brought me closer to my wife Lora. Back when we were not even together, she was writing a Bachelor thesis for her final exam (as pianist) at the Zürich University of Arts and her theme was “Liszt’s B minor sonata”. So I wanted to help her and started to listen to this recording literary day and night. In the end, after we worked together on that project for about one or two months, we came closer and well, you see that it certainly worked out 😉 I think this is one more proof that music truly can connect people!

And there we are at the next CD I just have to mention: our own! I can say that I have listened myself already lots and lots of times to this recording since we finished it and I still love to hear it all the time again. I know that this sounds a bit narcissistic but you can believe me that normally I don’t like to listen to my own recordings. This time though, I’m very proud about the result! The idea behind the selection of works on this recording was to provide a cross-section of the many tone colours, contrasts and emotions of the 1920s.

Tarara - The Sound of The 20s

We begin our program with Bloch’s incredibly energetic and forceful sonata – a work filled with a powerful sense of awakening. Expressionism at its height! Only three years after the completion of Bloch’s violin sonata, Ravel wrote a work of the same genre that could hardly be richer in contrasts. The opening movement’s long, solemn melodic lines feel intimate and almost fragile. The second movement is heavily influenced by American jazz and by the laissez-faire of the Blues. The finale, a frenetic perpetuum mobile, symbolises the unfulfilled dream of a constantly spinning apparatus.

Enescu’s third and final sonata for this combination of instruments is incredibly complex: the emotional trajectory changes from one bar to the next, and indeed, Enescu marked up almost every note with dynamic, rhythmic or mood indications, sometimes all three of them combined. Just how tearful a piangendo or how flattering a lusingando should be is left to the discretion of the performer. This creates a symbiosis between the painstaking precision of the composer and the interpretive freedom of the musician – how far can you go without losing the work’s finesse and delicacy? The resulting interpretation is a fascinating journey through all kinds of emotional experiences ranging from enduring melancholy to ecstatic dancing. One can truly say that Enescu created a “Symphony in Sonata form”. This work continues to surprise me, and I am astonished at how many new details and fascinating moments I discover every time I perform it in public.

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