Who or what were the most significant influences on your musical life and career as a composer?
The story starts at kindergarten. I was longingly looking at a piano there, as the children were not allowed to touch it, hoping to play it one day. Luckily, the local public music school was around the corner where I used to live. As I just turned six, I found out that an entrance exam would be soon held for the next school year. The day of the exam came and I opened a big heavy door of the school, standing there alone (my father was too lazy to come with me). I remember I just walked in and asked someone if I could do the tests (which were musical ear test and rhythmic dictations) to be able to learn how to play piano. A lady asked this little child: “who brought you to the school”, on which I replied that I lived just around the corner, so I came on my own. An eyes-wide-open face said, “OK, please come in to the testing classroom”. I discovered I had a perfect music ear, and I was accepted instantly. The administration assigned me to one of the best teachers.
When I told my parents I enrolled myself at the music school they were taken by surprise. Although my parents were modest working class people, my loving Mum immediately took a second job to be able to afford to buy me a pianino (a vertical piano). When the Petrof pianino arrived half a year later, it was good news for me and bad for my neighbours (due to very thin walls of the apartment building). I spent hours practicing on the new instrument at home and progressed fast at the music school; even started composing first pieces when I turned 11, such as Tamed Courage (it was taken on my debut album “Soul Colours”, which was signed with Warner Chappell). In the school gladly played Bach, Mozart, Mendelson, Chopin, composers that were my biggest influence, and loved listening to Ravel, Rachmaninov, Satie, Smetana, and Saint Saens…
A dark side of the story was that my teacher, although a wonderful pianist, was a very aggressive, bad pedagogist, often smelling of alcohol. He hit my fingers and shouted at me whenever I made a mistake. My parents sadly did not have the means to pay for private classes on a long-term basis. After many years of struggle between my love for the instrument as well as for the music and my teacher’s tyranny, I finally decided to stop attending the school. It was a very painful decision and moment in my late teens, but I couldn’t go on like this. I deeply buried my passion for music back then.
Later in life, I found out about Dora Pejacevic, a Croatian female composer who gave me the idea that it is possible to be a woman and a composer. From the pop scene, one of the greatest influences was the singer-songwriter Carol King, but also I love to listen to Prince, Sting, George Michael, etc. and jazz virtuosos as well…
What have been the greatest challenges/frustrations of your career so far?
The very first challenge was my piano professor, who was always sombre, often yelling at me from a great proximity next to my face, hurting my fingers. How did I cope with it? Because I was very young, I supressed (in my mind) many of these lessons and chose not to remember them very well, and in the end, I stopped attending that school. Very misfortunate experience, but with time I managed to grow out of it.
Second biggest challenge has been this Covid pandemic that took the opportunity from us musicians to have concerts during last two years. Thus, our communication through music with our audience was taken away or reduced to the bare minimum. How did I cope with it? I took the extra time that I had to create more music, I let myself be inspired by various situations, by my family, by some films that I watched. In October 2020 Parma Recordings in USA released my fourth album, “Forever”, and in March this year, Australian Yellow Rose Records will release my fifth album, “Seasons of Life”, that musically creates parallels between life and yearly seasons…
The third biggest challenge is that CDs are dying out, slowly but surely due to technology. We need to get more technologically savvy as musicians, and the sooner we learn about it and adapt, the better. We need to stream more our music. During the Covid pandemic, I learned as much as possible about these new trends, and now I have more then 260,000 streams for my published music, only on Spotify.
What are the special challenges/pleasures of working with particular musicians, singers, ensembles or orchestras?
It is a wonderful feeling when I write music and lyrics, and then when I hear singers singing these melodies for the first time. Happiness would float through my body in these moments. In addition, after an online course about “Be Your Own Manager”, related to the classical music business, I met Sanja Romic, a professional oboist, whom I sent my new compositions. She loved them and soon wrote arrangement for oboe for two of my pieces, “Rain Drops” and “Sadness”. We became friends through music, two female composers/musicians working together. The songs were published in autumn last year and are now available on all major streaming platforms.
Of which works are you most proud?
I am most proud of following compositions: “Lost”, “If Only Time Allowed”, “Gone Young” and “Sorrow”, and interestingly enough the audience believes the same, as they mostly listen to them on streaming platforms. A great achievement was also that I performed my original compositions at the prominent Auditorium parco della musica in Rome and in Teatro dal Verme in Milan.
I feel that my composition has been evolving. The new album “Seasons of Life” might be on a new level, with many beautiful tunes. It consists of more orchestrated work than in previous albums (before, it was predominantly solo piano work).
In addition, it is a great feeling that my compositions are regularly broadcast on Klassik Radio in Vienna (most renowned classical radio station in Austria), on TwentySound radio in Berlin, Germany, where my music inspired the director of radio programming to create a morning programme ‘Pianissimo’ in order to include piano pieces, both classical and neoclassical. Some of the composition from Il Mare and Forever albums have been broadcasted on ClassicFM in the UK and FM Classic Radio in NY, and a few other international stations.
Aside from my music, I’m proud of my M.Phil degree I earned from the University of Cambridge. I have been teaching as an adjunct professor at several universities in Vienna. It was a great honour when Webster University in Vienna selected me to co-lecture with legendary Phil Zimbardo during his visiting lectures.
How would you characterise your compositional language?
It is a neoclassical or cinematic genre. Some critics/journalists call me “a female response to Ludovico Einaudi”. I feel it is romantic, minimalist, rooted in classical music, but with melodic, pop structure (ABAB) and has some soft jazz touches in some of the pieces. For a few melodies, I also wrote lyrics and some of these songs were on pop charts (top 6 and top 10).
How do you work?
I never just sit in front of piano to write something. Usually some situation, loss, a particular story I hear from someone, even a dream, or a movie could trigger a beginning of a melody in my head. Then I sit in front of the piano and by playing that melody, I start creating further each musical story I need to tell. There are strong emotions intertwined in each melody, and I always know how it will be named – what was the major energy, story or a spark behind it. The piano is very necessary in the process when I need to finish my starting idea from my head. I write my music in a strange script that only I can read.
For the newest album, seasons during the year and our life during pandemic inspired me to musically express some of the parallels. So snowy winter turned into a melodic waltz full of fantasy, and “Spring Time” was not necessarily happy, just like many people were not happy during last springs, some lost loved ones, some lost their jobs, some lost optimism that they used to have, but there is a hope inside of the melody…
As a musician, what is your definition of success?
To emotionally touch and embrace my audience with my compositions. I love story telling so that people who listen to my music understand where it came from… Success would also be for me to write more scores for film – I’ve written scores for two short films so far.
What do you feel needs to be done to grow classical music audiences?
It is important to grow audience via social media as much as possible, to get in touch with your audience after concerts, to have presence on streaming platforms. Classical musicians need to reinvent concerts and make them appealing to younger audience. Crossover so far seems to be well accepted and to be popular. A lot of recent research shows that older audiences are afraid to attend concerts again even when pandemic is under control.
New research should be done, on what would needs to happen during the concerts of classical music that would bring motivation and appeal to the younger population. This is very important to consider.
Where would you like to be in 10 years’ time?
Making scores for films, doing more motivational speaking for universities and organizations by using my knowledge of psychology and combining it with my music; also having more concerts…
What is your idea of perfect happiness?
Spending time with my family and touching people with my music.
What is your present state of mind?
The more we focus on good things, more good things happen to us (we then better attract positive energy). We need to search for silver lining in any bleak situation, and never give up.
Antonija Pacek is a composer and pianist living in Vienna, Austria. She started piano lessons at the age of six in her native Croatia. Antonija’s critically acclaimed, debut neoclassical piano album, Soul Colours, was published in 2014 by Autentico Music in Germany and was signed by Warner Chappell, the music publishing arm of Warner Music. German critics referred to music from Soul Colours to be “beautiful like a radiant jewel”, “a female response to Ludovico Einaudi”, and “resembling Erik Satie’s as well as Keith Jarrett’s The Cologne Concert”.