Pianists Vassily Primakov and Natalia Lavrova are very much their own acts. But they became close partners when they debuted their Arensky CD and, in the process, founded their own record label, LP Classics, Inc. Since then, they’ve performed as a duo, as they will on May 6 at Get Classical’s inaugural concert series event at New York’s Rose Bar.But their friendship began much earlier, back in 1999, when the two pianists were freshmen at Julliard.
They instantly connected over their shared Russian heritage, but on top of that, their personalities just clicked. “Of course, we have had our share of fights, regular stuff that happens when two egos are involved…and we have our own lives,” volunteers Lavrova, during our animated interview over dinner with Primakov. “But we love each other.”
Married to photographer Alex Fedorov, Lavrova often brings her husband on board withher projects.Fedorov is responsible for all of the photographic work featured on the Arensky CD, which Lavrova and Primakov recorded to great reviews. James Harrington of the American Record Guide wrote that the two “capture the essence of each suite, and through their considerable talents, share with us some of the most enjoyable almost unknown music I have heard in quite a while.”
Artistic collaboration was a natural extension of Lavrova and Primakov’s friendship, says Primakov. “We do think alike; there is a spiritual connection and a feeling for the music that just got more serious over the last two years, when we decided to get involved with recording the Arensky’s suites,” he says, reminiscent of their past years spent under teacher Jerome Lowenthal at Juilliard’s chamber music program (where they spend more time partying then practicing, they admit). “We were both excited, when we heard this music and started to perform it in concert to great reviews and decided we needed to record this interesting, yet virtually unknown program,” says Primakov. “We had two options—either pitch it to an established label or try to do it on our own. As we were thinking about this music, we both realized we wanted to have more control of the process, and it became a project that started so many things for the both of us. It also brought us even closer.”
While Primakov has already catalogued a number of recordings with Bridge Records, the Arensky CD was a first for Lavrova, who spends most of her time, when not performing, managing her own music school program. As the director of Music School of New York City, she teaches pianists of all levels and ages, applying her passion for music education that she inherited from her own teacher, Zalina Gurevich, who, many years ago, recognized their shared enthusiasm for teaching and kids in a young Lavrova. “She allowed me to sit in her lessons and gradually take over teaching some of her kids,” says Lavrova. “At first she would monitor the lessons and then give me feedback. It made all the difference in my learning how to become a good teacher.”
A very important factor in Lavrova’s teacher selections is a teacher’s performance experience. “That inspires students in a way nothing else can,” she says. One of her favorite teachers at her school, no wonder then, is Primakov, even though, between his busy performance and recording schedules, he can only take on a limited number of students.
But despite both of the artists’ busy daily routines, they are committed to and infatuated with their newest project, LP Classics. From the initial excitement over finding the pianos and dealing with tuners and sound engineers, they are both planning on fully integrating the record label into their careers. “We had turned to our friend Sarah Faust of Faust-Harrison Pianos to obtain two matching pianos for the recording.
She had a new Yamaha CFX in her vast studio, which we loved, and then put us in touch with Bonnie Barrett, the director of Yamaha Artist Services, to find another. We tried it, and it sounded great, and this developed our future relationship with Yamaha.” Primakov and Lavrova are now Yamaha artists. Their Arensky CD was the first ever recording on two Yamaha CFX model pianos, and their CD release performance was live-streamed from the Yamaha showroom. Right now, the two are working on a lot of four-hand, one-instrument repertoire—an easier and more economical setup—exploring less-played pieces such as the Czerny Sonatas and works by Milhaud and John Corigliano, which they plan to perform at Get Classical at the Rose Bar.
In the future, Primakov says, they want to open up their record label to young artists looking to produce resume-building and career-launching first CDs. They also want to unbury historical, undiscovered past recordings of great, established performers, introducing old, forgotten gems to the public, as they did with Vera Gornostaeva Vol. 1 Chopin, a historical recording found through archived tapes in a Moscow library. “We obtained the rights and re-mastered the tapes of this amazing recording,” explains Primakov. “Another hidden secret we are now releasing is our teacher Jerry Lowenthal’s playing, which we both grew up on, and there are so many more to come.”
Very important to their mission is their ability to rely on efficient and passionate
music professionals involved in the recording process. “You are so exposed as a performer, you have to be able to trust the people you work with to make you look your best,” says Primakov. “We have built a wonderful little family that includes Charlie Post, who became sound engineer, editor and producer in one, and technician Terry Flynn, who can achieve the most amazing results in the short in-betweens of the recording process. As soon as he hears just a slight irregularity in tone voicing, he informs the sound engineer and matches up everything in the matter of minutes while we step out for a glass of water.”
Also important to Primakov and Lavrova’s goals is the opportunity to constantly engage with new audiences, which they will have the opportunity to do this May 6, when the two perform excerpts of their four-hand program as well as some solo repertoire at Get Classical’s music series launch at the trendy Gramercy Park Hotel’s Rose Bar in New York. Primakov and Lavrova will be two of four pianists presenting a program geared to new and old classical fans, including GetClassical.org readers, by bringing 19th-century salon-type performances to the 21st-century lounge. Hosted by the Gramercy Park Hotel and myself, your devoted GetClassical.org blogger, Get Classical at the Rose Bar hopes to bring classical music to audiences that might prefer listening in the comfort of an armchair, aperitif in hand, to the formality of the concert hall. The series will give listeners the chance to meet artists in the intimacy of the cool Rose Bar and hear them talk about their music and lives as concert artists. And it is exactly this exchange that performers like Primakov and Lavrova, as well as David Aladashvili and Marika Bournaki, the two performers featured alongside them in the evening’s program, are looking forward to—to play and relate to both staying fans and interested spectators in a personal way. “We always want to test drive our program with new audiences. It’s one of the most exciting things one can do as a performer,” Primakov says.