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?
Music is an important part of my life. The inspiration has been internal and essential knowing that I was drawn to musical sounds all of my life. I always felt like a magnetic force pulling me towards the beauty and mysteries that music has to offer.
You captivated me with sounds of thunder
You captivated me with sounds of heaven
Your pathway was twisted under a gentle feather
You brought a gift that was not wrapped as one
You embraced me in your loving charm
As a necklace, I wore you every day of my life
A necklace where the chain was broken, ruptured many times
It needed to be mended so it could shine
It needed to be rooted so it could last
Music in me – an identity wrapped in one
A love, a fight, a love that won’t give up
A hope that spreads as water falling downhill
A journey with wings, with feet, crawling, standing, flying in me.
Born in Albania to a music loving family, along with my love of writing poetry, playing and composing music, I loved listening to iso-polyphonic songs sung by my grandparents and relatives. On the other hand, classical music was new, fresh and unknown. One of my favorite early memories was when I started conducting for my parents holding a pencil and moving my arms in upwards and downwards motion. I was probably mirroring someone I had seen, however, the level of emotional engagement was profound, prompting me to want to discover music on a personal level. The first instrument that I tried was the piano and as soon as I played it, I fell in love with it.
I feel that music takes you beyond the natural realm and even though we try to describe the experiences, we cannot completely find the words to do so. I’m thankful for all my teachers who took the time to work with me.
Anyone who is in this profession knows that there are a lot of obstacles for musicians to overcome and one needs support to develop into a productive musician. I think it is important to have a growth mindset and not a fixed one and of course be willing to develop musical talents over the span of one’s lifetime versus a period of time.
I have attended the Lyceum “Jordan Misja” (Teachers: Ms. Elsa Veizi and Ms. Anita Tartari) followed by: “Winthrop High School” (I was taking lessons with Mr. Douglas Buys/NEC Professor”, UMASS/ AMHERST (Professors: Ms. Estela Olevsky, Mr. Nigel Coxe), BOSTON CONSERVATORY (Professor: Dr: Jonathan Bass B.M and M.M), MAT at CUNY (Professor Dr. Diana Mittler- Battipaglia ).
What have been the greatest challenges of your career so far?
I feel that there are many challenges and rewards when one is choosing such a pathway.
The biggest challenge has been “to be one with yourself and the instrument” during practice sessions as well as during performances. What I mean is that many times in the process of making music, I get into different ways of thinking when it comes to phrasing, dynamics, articulation etc.
Even though everything is written down and one may think it is easy to read and play the score, many times that is not always the case (at least not for me.) A Beethoven ”piano” marking on the score doesn’t have the same intensity nor conveys the same mood as a Chopin “ piano” marking on the score and a Debussy “ staccato” is not the same as a Schubert “staccato” and etc. In addition, there are technical passages that can spice up the practice sessions and you really have to work hard to find out what works for you and what technical remedy would be best for your hands in order to get to a comfortable technical level to express what is in your mind and heart. Furthermore, spending time studying the piece harmonically as well as auditory, visual, kinesthetic aspects of it can strengthen a performance.
It is imperative to prepare yourself during performances in case you have self-doubt and thoughts like: I am going to mess up, I don’t feel comfortable on this piano, the piano bench is still high or the piano bench is too low, the lights are too bright etc. I am not saying that this is always the case when I perform, but what I am trying to say is that one needs to be in tune with themselves to express what is on the score and what is in one’s heart.
As a musician you want to be able to communicate with a listener and you want the listener to reciprocate the feelings back to you. Let me put it in simple terms, making music is a complex process. You need to select a composition, read literature about the time period, the composer and the composition, practice the piece in detail, find notes on the staff, play them on the piano (sometime this covers many pages of music) voice the chords, work on hands’ coordination, finger technique, arm movement, balance, texture, work up the piece up to tempo, work on dynamics, memory, and all the elements of music. More importantly, express yourself and make music come alive! That’s why one needs contact time with the instrument every day. You can only express yourself fully when you are “one“ with the instrument and in tune with yourself and there is no barrier between you and the instrument nor you and the listeners.
Which performances/recordings are you most proud of?
I’m proud of all of my recordings and performances because they show my growth and development as a musician, and I am reminded that we can pass on what we have learned and spread the power of music making in this world.
In my recent piano recording of Chopin Waltz in A minor, B.150, I have tried to understand why Chopin did not publish this composition during his lifetime which leads me to believe that a composer’s life is complex and filled with mysteries.
On a personal level, I want my performances not to be footprints out of sand covered by the wind, instead I want the feelings to stay and every time a listener flips through moments of life, the music will come back to them opening layers of imagination, expression, inspiration, and motivation.
To bring the best
To show my gift
To be in peace
To bring out what is in me
Music always lasting
Music always inspiring
A day a night and another day that follows
Something to discover, something left for tomorrow
Something to give
Something to love
Making music is always fun
Which particular works do you think you perform best?
I perform best all musical compositions that speak to me and I am able to make them my “own”. Over numerous years, I have spent the time learning about classical music, improvisation, jazz, hip pop, compositional techniques, musical educational progress and more which have deepened my understanding of music. I feel musicians are called to carry the torch of music and be the best representation for it.
What do you do off stage that provides inspiration on stage?
I ask myself many questions:
Why am I here?
Why did I come?
What do I want to say?
How will I concentrate?
What bothers me?
What can I change?
Before and during performances, adrenaline rushes into the body. It is important to follow a regular daily routine and most importantly spend quality time with your loved ones.
The best thing for me is when I spend time with my daughter Ammie who reminds me why I do what I do and that is for the love of it and not because I have to do it.
How do you make your repertoire choices from season to season?
Repertoire choices are important. I try to bring a sense of contrast, curiosity, a climax and something to give to the audience when I am in the process of selecting a new repertoire.
Example, currently I’m working on “Papillons” by Schumann because I am intrigued by Schumann’s thought process and his music creativity. I decided to re-work on “Clair De Lune” by Debussy because I want to find a deeper connection between Debussy’s composition and his inspiration (Paul Verlaine’s poem). Classical musicians work on selected repertoire for a period of time therefore it is important to find musical works that you enjoy working on every day. In addition, musicians need to be open minded in learning new pieces that they may find initially not interesting in order to expand their musical horizon, and one can always learn something new from each piece. It is important to be willing to go outside of your comfort zone to develop flexibility and adaptability.
Do you have a favourite concert venue to perform in and why?
Pianists, in comparison to other instrumentalists, have to play on a different piano in each concert hall. The depth of the keys, the making of the piano and the acoustics in a specific hall contribute to a performance. I feel one can perform in any venue where there are listeners and a love for music. I have performed in many venues like the Yamaha Salon, Bezanson Hall, Seully Hall, Carnegie Hall, Tilley Center, LeFrak Concert Hall and many others and it is a personal fulfillment when you can step on stage and make music with others or by yourself. I want to perform in Wigmore Hall in London as well as Arsenal in Metz, France. I’m definitely open to performing at any other venue here in the USA or throughout the world.
What do you feel needs to be done to grow classical music’s audiences?
Classical music has laid a solid foundation for all music and we shouldn’t stop our efforts in growing its audiences and listeners.
The first step is to introduce classical music and composers in schools through general music programmes, performing ensembles and providing more classical concerts and workshops, educational programmes for all ages. I want to celebrate and thank the Uniondale School District (the district where I work) for being a strong supporter and an advocate for the arts. At this district, I have had the opportunity to incorporate classical music with the infusion of technology through song writing, garage band and iMovie projects. I have helped students learn not only about the development of music but the numerous effects that it has on them such as creativity, expression, and well-being. We have to educate the newer generation in the arts in order for them to have all the tools to explore different music careers.
Music is an international language that crosses barriers and should be accessible to everyone.
What is your most memorable concert experience?
My most memorable concert experience was when I played Chopin’s 3rd Piano Sonata as a Master’s student at the Boston Conservatory. Initially, I felt the piece was too challenging for me to perform and so being able to perform the piece as part of my graduate recital programme was a reminder that I can accomplish things even when I don’t feel or think that I can.
As a musician, what is your definition of success?
I am thankful to the Lord for bestowing in me these musical talents.
*Be happy and stay happy.
Many thanks to my family (Amil and Ammie), Professor Dr. Diana Mittler-Battipaglia, my wonderful Uniondale School District, and my best friend Chloe.
What do you consider to be the most important ideas and concepts to impart to aspiring musicians?
You can do it. Don’t give up. Love what you do and put your best effort each day forward.
Where would you like to be in 10 years’ time?
I would like to continue teaching and performing.
Currently, I am working on Rachmaninov: “The Piano Concerto No.2 in C minor Op. 18”, which I hope to perform with any available orchestra. I am also recording selected repertoire and some of my improvisations with Mr. Joseph Patrych which I would like to see being finalized into a CD.
In 10 years’ time, I would like to be involved in more musical projects, expand my family and collaborate with different music organizations. Thank you for the opportunity in allowing me to share my musical thoughts and perspective to your audience.
Iris Elezi is brilliant pianist known for her variety of nuances and passionate performances. She is a graduate of the Boston Conservatory where she received M.M Cum Laude and the B.M Magna Cum Laude. She was a scholarship student and the winner of the piano honor’s competition. In addition, she holds a M.A.T. from CUNY.Prior of her attending the conservatory, she also studied at UMass/ Amherst where she was the winner of the Chancellor ‘s talent award. Ms. Iris Elezi is an Albanian American pianist and has attended the prestigious Lyceum “Jordan Misja “where she was awarded a diploma at the EPTA competition. Ms. Elezi is well rounded in both classical and jazz repertoire.