Who or what inspired you to pursue a career in music and who or what have been the most important influences on your musical life and career?
It was my family who inspired me to become a musician. Although there are no classical musicians among our ancestors, the air at my childhood home was all about art, music, literature and culture in general. My father was a founder of the first rock group in Latvia to sing music in the national language, whereas my mother has a degree in philosophy and she is also a published poet.
However, I’m not the first one in our family to walk the path of this profession. My brother (Vestard Shimkus) is a highly renowned pianist too. Vestard is over 10 years older than me and his influence on my early musical career is simply invaluable both as being a highly supportive mentor and an idol to make me constantly strive to raise the bar.
Apart from family, there are numerous teachers that I had been blessed to work with. I can’t even highlight anyone in particular, since they all had played a special and important role at each stage of my musical growth. Nevertheless, I have to mention that my recent studies in Cologne with prof. Claudio Martinez-Mehner have especially broadened my horizon and music understanding.
Meeting my current teacher Prof. Julia Mustonen-Dahlkvist was another turning point of my musical journey: she has such a passion for leading young musicians to the highest peak that I have never seen before. Moreover, the Ingesund Piano Center provides the best conditions and support for developing the career of a classical pianist. I’m very excited to be a part of this community for the upcoming years!
What have been the greatest challenges of your career so far?
To me, each concert, each performance is a new challenge. Furthermore, every next one is even more challenging, because any preparation or concert experiences make me learn more profoundly about my own weaknesses and strengths and this process always adds another task, in order to surpass a recent performance with every next project.
Which performances/recordings are you most proud of?
I’m most proud of my second solo album ‘’B-A-C-H’’ which I did together with the wonderful German record company Ars Production. It’s quite a personal recording which had been designated not by following the rules of the music industry but rather simply materializing an inner vision of a piece of art that I myself could find appealing. I’m both happy that I could artistically do the best of what I could at the given moment, and that my work got unexpectedly highly appreciated on the large music scene.
Which particular works do you think you perform best?
I have always felt a particular affinity for music by the Russian late romantic composer Alexander Scriabin. Otherwise, I try not to frame myself too much for now since what’s most important for a young musician still is to widen the repertoire and cultivate even deeper connections with various composers that represent different styles. This, as I believe, is also what makes a musician develop and mature.
What do you do off stage that provides inspiration on stage?
Usually, the music itself is what makes me inspired before a concert. If I’m well enough prepared and have found a real bond with the pieces that are going to be performed, nothing can really go wrong. Other than that, I don’t practise any special rituals for those ten minutes before performing but if we consider ‘’off stage’’ as everything that is not happening ‘’on stage’’ then almost anything can inspire me for new ideas of interpretations. The process of life itself – nature, people around me and all kinds of things that had been created by the world’s talented minds – are an endless source of inspiration to me.
How do you make your repertoire choices from season to season?
I’m generally very bad at setting concrete goals and wishes for my future since I want to keep being surprised by the unpredictable turns of life. Therefore, I tend to go with the flow and rather focus on shorter periods of time. While creating a new programme I usually try to find balance between the music I feel comfortable with and the kind of repertoire that keeps me improving pianistically. I try to avoid playing music that doesn’t speak to me although I always keep in mind that sometimes pieces like to reveal themselves only by the practising process.
Do you have a favourite concert venue to perform in and why?
I don’t have a specific venue that I prefer to perform in. Any venue can become a host place for a meaningful art happening. Even the poorest hall with the worst instrument can become my favourite for one night, if, besides a careful preparation, the music, audience and performer connect in such a way that it becomes almost like a magical experience for all.
What do you feel needs to be done to grow classical music’s audiences/listeners?
To answer this huge topic in a few words, I’d point out that classical music would perhaps need to get rid of some kind of elitism so that it could reach broader audiences, but there is also a trap to turn the whole thing into a circus and by doing so the classical music would lose all its true powers and means. I’d suggest to strive for the seemingly opposite: the more sincere bound and passion performers will create with the compositions they perform, the more alive classical music will become, thus losing its image of being something unreachable and boring.
What is your most memorable concert experience?
I can’t forget a concert that I gave some years ago in a music school of my little hometown. Among the listeners where children, teenagers and some country people who had never attended a classical music concert before. I took the risk and performed for them some modern pieces and as well as some equally sophisticated compositions from baroque and classicism that I had to play a couple of days later in a bigger venue. In order to dispel their confusion and avoid boredom I also tried my best to give a little verbal introduction before playing each piece. It ended up being the most carefully listened concert that I have probably ever played. The audience could directly connect with the music emotionally and spiritually, bypassing any social stereotypes of the classical music being too difficult to understand. It made me realise again that the intellectual understanding is just a way to approach only one side of music and I’d dare to state that it’s even not the most important aspect of it. Although probably there are exceptions among some modern and contemporary composers who had clearly stated that their compositions are meant purely for an intellectual pleasure, music as a sound architecture is inevitably having a power to touch us with its frequencies thus awakening the emotions and nourishing us spiritually.
As a musician, what is your definition of success?
Success to me means to have performed a great concert. A great concert to me means to have performed at the top of my current possibilities while having also captured the spirit of the music in such a way that resonates deeply with the listeners.
What do you consider to be the most important ideas and concepts to impart to aspiring musicians?
I’d like to pick up two aspects that seem important from my point of view: freedom of choice and love for the music. No-one should ever perceive music as an obligation. Though I can’t also assert that it would be possible to raise a professional musician without any kind of push, the chance to choose our own life path should never be taken away even in an early education phase. However, what can be more beneficial for a society than a youth able to think independently by having the skill to critically evaluate.
What is your idea of perfect happiness?
Happiness to me lies in the ability to appreciate simple things and living a life without any expectations.
Aurelia Shimkus is an Artist-in-Residence with Ingesund Piano Center in Arvika, Sweden, which offers young world-class pianists the support to cultivate international, sustainable and high-profile performing careers, led by Julia Mustonen-Dahlkvist. Aurelia Shimkus performs Rachmaninoff’s Études-Tableaux, Op. 33 No. 3 in C minor & No. 6 in E-flat minor as part of the Center’s inaugural NORDIC STAGE Gala Concerts online on Thursday 27 May, 3 & 10 June, streaming free from ingesundpiano.com.
The Latvian pianist, Aurelia Shimkus [Aurelija Šimkus], was born into a musical family. Her mother Iveta Šimkus is a published poet and a teacher of literature. Her father Gunārs Šimkus used to be an art-rock musician who was active in the 1960’s and 1970’s and founded the first rock band named “Katedrāle” in Latvia. Her elder brother, Vestard Shimkus (b 1984), is an accomplished pianist and recording artist. She began to play the piano at age of 4, with 9 years she won the 1st prize of the Latvian National Young Pianists Competition and she won the 1st prize at same competition at the age of 15 again as well as other national music competitions. At the age of 15 she was invited to participate in the KlavierOlymp piano competition in Bad Kissingen where she received the 3rd prize. She continued to study at Emīla Dārziņa mūzikas vidusskola (Emils Darzinš Music School) in Riga with her teacher Sergei Osokin, participation in master-classes of the renown French Professor Dominique Merlet.