Pianist Kairy Koshoeva learned from personal experience that music is an international language. A native of Kyrgyzstan who has trained in Moscow, Koshoeva has won multi-national competitions in various European cities. Her victory in Germany led to an invitation for the artist diploma program at Ohio’s Oberlin Conservatory.
However, the Princeton resident soon learned that the international language of music has its limitations. Her entrance into the program was delayed for a year while her non-existent English expanded enough to grasp Oberlin’s instruction.
Now a member of Kingston’s New School for Music Study, (NSMS), Koshoeva performs at Jacobs Music Company in Lawrenceville on Sunday, October 14, at 3 p.m. She plays pieces by Mozart and Chopin. Founded in 1960, NSMS is known nationwide for its piano instruction and teacher training.
Cellist Jordan Enzinger joins her for the notoriously formidable half-hour-long Rachmaninoff Sonata for Cello and Piano in G Minor, Op. 19.
Koshoeva sees a mix of pros and cons in performing with others. “In a solo performance, it all depends on you,” she says. “But when you collaborate, you share the responsibility. Actually, though, performing with others is harder than playing solo because you have to listen to each other. In reality, it’s important for a performer both to play solos and to collaborate in order to grow as musician.”
The Steinway Society sponsors the Koshoeva/Enzinger program as one of the events in its monthly musicales at the Jacobs Music Company. Dedicated to enhancing the pianistic accomplishments of young piano students, the Steinway Society was founded in 1989. It has awarded both competitive scholarships and recognitions for achievement to more than 300 promising young piano students.
Koshoeva’s favorite composers change with time. “At the moment,” she says, “my favorites are Bach and Rachmaninoff.” Then she adds, “I love Chopin, of course.” And, without hesitating she admits, “I love Mozart, too.”
Fittingly her Steinway program will include Bach’s Prelude and Fugue in C Sharp Major, Mozart’s Sonata in D Major, Chopin’s Ballade No 3 in A Flat Major, and Rachmaninoff’s Sonata for Cello and Piano in G Minor. She will perform on the piano used by legendary pianist Vladimir Horowitz, which will be shipped to Jacobs Music.
Pianist Koshoeva tries to rest on the day of a performance. “I don’t practice much on a day when I am scheduled to perform,” she says. “What you’re going to play has been brewing in your head. So I warm up with material that I’m not going to play. I check problem spots in the pieces I’m going to play. I eat well, but not too much. If you eat too much, you get sleepy. But you don’t want an empty stomach. You need energy.”
Measuring the success of a concert is a subjective experience for Koshoeva. “As an artist you judge your performances,” she says. “There can be no external measure, like applause or a sense of energy. As an artist you are the best judge of your performances. There’s always something you can improve.”
Long physical warm-ups are the basis, of Koshoeva’s practice routines. “I begin with scales, arpeggios, and exercises,” she says. “Then I warm up my brain with Bach. I like to vary the Bach pieces.”
Asked about what makes a piece difficult to learn, Koshoeva rejects technical considerations. “The difficulty depends on the structure of the piece and on the edition of the piece,” she says. I know what she means about editions from having explored the lucid Ekier edition of Chopin works, which replaces earlier editions that leave the performer befuddled about just which notes must be played simultaneously. Published by the Polish government after consultation with scholars, this edition is a map for the keyboard geography of Chopin.
Memorizing pieces comes automatically to Koshoeva. “By the time you practice, put in fingerings, analyze what you can, find difficult spots and find solutions, the piece is memorized,” she says. “It’s been in your head day and night.”
Planning programs, Koshoeva makes it a habit to seek agreement with the organization sponsoring an event, she says. “Each time it’s different. I start by inquiring what the sponsoring organization would like, and then present what I would like. The Steinway Society asked for mostly classical music and the Rachmaninoff was my choice. It was a mutual decision.”
Born in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan, when the central Asian nation was part of the Soviet Union, Koshoeva is the youngest of four siblings. She declines to provide the year of her birth because of her firm belief that many musicians lie about their age. Her parents are both retired — her father gave legal advice to the railroad; her mother was a librarian. The tightly knit musical family includes eight nieces and nephews. Koshoeva’s sister, Aida, helped with her music education when Kairy started piano at age seven. Koshoeva’s first teachers in Kyrgyzstan now live in Israel. The pianist stays in touch with them.
Koshoeva’s education was bilingual. Kyrgyz was the standard language for academic classes; music classes were conducted in Russian. She continued with Russian, pursuing undergraduate and graduate degrees in Moscow. Her first involvement with English came during her stint at Oberlin. Further studies streamlined her English at the University of Missouri in Kansas City, where she pursued a doctoral program in piano performance. Kansas City was her home for more than a decade until she moved to New Jersey in 2015.
With her horde of addresses, Koshoeva has no favorite residence. “Every place is very special to me,” she says.
She has added Boise, Idaho, to her trajectory as a result of her contact with Marvin Blickenstaff, nationally recognized piano pedagogue, head of various music departments in the United States, and a dominating presence at Kingston’s New School for Music Study. In 2009 the Music Teachers’ National Association honored him with its highest recognition, the MTNA Achievement Award.
“He’s my mentor and colleague and a great pedagogue,” Koshoeva says of Blickenstaff. “I observe his lessons a lot.”
Blickenstaff also garners admiration for his humanitarian activities. He has led two delegations of pianists from New Jersey to raise money for concerts that benefit an organization called “The Shoe that Grows.” The concert series are called “Music for the Sole.” Boise resident Kenton Lee founded “The Shoe that Grows” after a trip to South Africa where he was dismayed by the number of growing children wearing shoes so small that their toes protruded, or not wearing shoes at all. He worried about such children’s vulnerability to ailments transmitted through the soil.
Lee designed a shoe made from used tires. “On top it is all straps and buckles,” Koshoeva says, “and it can last for five years.” For details see www.theshoethatgrows.org.
Koshoeva’s interests extend beyond music and shoes that grow. In addition, yoga and meditation attract her attention.
Koshoeva enjoys reading. She names Stuart Isacoff’s “When the World Stopped to Listen: Van Cliburn’s Cold War Triumph and its Aftermath,” which covers Cliburn’s 1958 success in the first Tchaikovsky Competition. “It was interesting to read about the competition from a western point of view,” Koshoeva says.
Koshoeva’s concert wardrobe is austere and elegant. It comes from Kyrgyzstan where in 2003 she was named an Honored Artist. The fashion statement provides something to ponder: Might Bishkek become the fashion rival of Paris?
Sunday Musicale, Jacobs Music Company, 2540 Brunswick Pike, Lawrenceville. Kairy Koshoeva, piano, and Jordan Enzinger, cello. Rachmaninoff, Mozart, Chopin. Sunday, October 14, 3 p.m. $10 to $20. 609-434-0222 or www.steinwaysocietyprinceton.org.