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?
First of all thank you for having me in your interview series!
I come from a family of musicians. As a child I remember my father and his band had rehearsals 2-3 times a week, preparing for local concerts in Lebanon. Since they didn’t have a room or studio, they practiced in our apartment. I even stood on the stage singing with his band as I was 5 years old. And when I was 8/9 years old, I began piano lessons at the Armenian music school. And that’s where my journey started.
My father wanted me to play in his band, but through the years I started falling in love with classical music. I was 13 when I knew that piano performance was what I wanted to pursue in the future.
Of course, the musical atmosphere we had in the house inspired me to towards art, but the love to classical music was something I felt belonged to me. I could dive into the pieces and create stories or feelings which influenced my playing and gave me an imaginative horizon to escape into.
What have been the greatest challenges of your career so far?
The biggest problem was that even though I knew that I loved to perform, living in Lebanon, in the civil war, we didn’t have the opportunities to study as in Europe, but still we gave our best.
After finishing my studies at the Lebanese National Conservatory, I started teaching there, but always had in mind to come to Europe and continue my education, which I did in the end. But coming here was the most challenging thing I did, because it showed me a whole new world and a new level of music. And it was not easy to find my place.
After finishing my studies, I had a pause from the classical scene, in order to find out what I really wanted. As much as I loved performing classical repertoire, after coming to Germany, I developed a love/hate relationship with my performance and my musical identity. But luckily after the break, and realizing that music is not only part of my life, but also who I am, I returned to music, and parallel to playing, I also discovered composing. Now I perform my own pieces, but still play some classical repertoire at home for myself.
Which performances/recordings are you most proud of?
Last year in 2020, I released a very special album ‘Una Corda Diaries’, recorded on the unique Klavins Concert Una Corda M189, in Budapest – seven short pieces representing seven days of my visit to the factory where it was built. During my stay I tried to improvise and record my daily feelings or emotions, and put them into notes, inspired by the unique sound of the instrument, which is a mixture of a piano and cembalo, with the possibility to soften or sharpen the sound through a felt construction which is built between the hammers and the strings.
This specific instrument exists (still) only in prototype, and I was very lucky that I had the permission to be able to record an album on.
Which particular works/composers do you think you perform best?
I don’t know why I love pieces which transfer emotions or create pictures. I love playing Bach for its counterpoint, Chopin, Brahms, Scriabin and Rachmaninov for their emotional inner world……, Ravel, Satie for their imaginative pictures and those which they produce in me.
What do you do off stage that provides inspiration on stage?
To retain the interest to live, taking long walks in nature, to be open to new things, stopping to see the beauty in the small things. The Sun, its light and its warmth (which I miss in Germany), people, traveling, going to Berlin and meeting friends/colleagues. All these things inspire me to sit and write new music.
How do you make your repertoire choices from season to season?
I used to love to play Bach, Chopin, Brahms, Debussy, Scriabin and Rachmaninov. But I don’t play classical repertoire on stage anymore, so I don’t have that problem!
Concerning my own repertoire, I try to play the newest releases/compositions mixing with some older favourite pieces.
Do you have a favourite concert venue to perform in and why?
I love cosy and warm places. I love when people are feeling good, and are enjoying their evening, living their own feelings and emotions through my music. As an ideal, I always wanted to play in a hall where people are sitting relaxed enjoying their drinks, and looking to a stage with some candles and a grand piano in the middle with low light in the room. Or a big church with a light installation.
What do you feel needs to be done to grow classical music’s audiences?
Stay open to classical and non classical. Even though I am classically trained, I always listened to jazz, folk, Nordic and world music. If we look to the history, music was created for religious purposes, and then by the people (more kind of improvisations, without any notation), to celebrate their daily work, the weddings, baptisms or gatherings etc… They used to try to memorize it and pass it to the next generation. By the 15th-16th centuries, music started to take a new direction, and became more and more for intellectual society. Where compositions were notated and learned, a division was created between different genres like Classical, folk, jazz etc. which has continued through the centuries.
And speaking for the present moment, I have the feeling that classical music and contemporary music has many different facets. For example, there is the American minimal revolution, like Steve Reich, Ten Hold, David Lang, and many more, which suits the new American culture. Or the European movement which goes more into spirituality, religion, philosophy, for example Arvo Pärt, or classical music with folkloric roots such as the music of Bartok, Giya Kancheli, or Komitas.
The beauty now is that there are many different facets under the term Classical Music. And we should take the chance to present all these amazing composers and their works.
What is your most memorable concert experience?
When I was still studying in Germany, I had the chance to play the Schumann piano concerto with the Lebanese National Symphonic Orchestra. At the time, that was a huge achievement, and one of the most horrifying but also exciting moments in my life.
As a musician, what is your definition of success?
Success is what we see and what we expect from ourselves I guess. And it can be different from one person to another.
For me it changes from time to time. And everything is dependent on me being creative enough or not. Sometimes I am stuck and search for a light to hang on; I try to create but it doesn’t work, I feel down and think I am the worst artist. But then I pull myself up, and step by step, the creativity starts to take its place. In such moments, success is more about the process of the work, and the energy I invest; whatever happens, after the piece is out doesn’t matter anymore.
What do you consider to be the most important ideas and concepts to impart to aspiring musicians?
To do whatever they do with love, passion, constancy and patience. Nothing will come in a day or a week or even a year. Art needs time to grow and artists need time to find their own language whether that is being an interpreter or a composer. Being able to see the small steps and not giving up when things are hard is the most important thing, in my opinion.
In my own experience I realized that being an artist was not a choice; it was who I was and who I am. It is the place where I feel free to move, and I can hide all my secrets. So even when I have difficult days, and doubts about my work, I still create the energy to continue.
So in the end, it is about love and honesty. First to myself and also to the music I create or I play.
Where would you like to be in 10 years?
As a composer, I would love to reach a level where I get requests to write for ensembles, choirs and for orchestras. For the time being I write for solo piano because I can play them myself, although I do have some cello-piano compositions which are waiting to be played.
What is your idea of perfect happiness?
To me happiness is managing to have the right balance between creativity of work and creativity of living a life full of experiences. And the most important thing is to approach our daily life and our work process with love and commitment.
What is your most treasured possession?
Family, friends and memories. Also forgiveness.
What is your present state of mind?
I have my ups and downs, but I never give up.
Marie Awadis is an Armenian pianist and composer, based in Germany, known for her musical depth and sensitive sound.
Intimate and poetic, Marie’s music aims at communicating the depth of human emotions. Her music, always centred around her instrument, the piano, draws influences from the life experiences that have shaped her as a human, from deep roots in classical traditions to recurrent folkloristic harmonic elements of her native Armenia. Her compositions are centred around elegantly crafted melodies and their evolving discourse, at once deep and intimate, aimed to bring about simplicity through the sophistication of a classically crafted pianistic language.
Alone (project XII – Deutsche Grammophone)