Sitting at a quiet table in front of Starbucks, I meet composer, pianist and professor Andrey Kasparov. Drinking iced tea, we speak about his hero and my patron Allan Blank.
We talk about music and archives, the future of the Diehn Composers Room and the man who brought this interview together, Allan Blank. The professor’s easy smile, passion for his craft, and obvious genius prove for a lively discussion. It must be the teacher in him that puts this musical novice at ease and he makes the case that I should take a music class at ODU (I hope you will be happy to hear professor that I’m looking into classes).
Professor Kasparov teaches Composition, Keyboard, Music Theory and acts as a faculty adviser at the Old Dominion University’s F. Ludwig Diehn School of Music. As a gifted pianist, he has performed and recorded countless pieces. From: Paul Bowles Complete Piano Works Volumes 1 and 2 to Florent Schmitt’s Complete Original Works for Piano Duet and Duo Volumes 1-4 and many more. As a composer, he has created nearly twenty original works, a few pieces being: Perestroika for Symphony Orchestra, Three Prayers- To the Innocent Victims of Humanity’s Brutality, Sonata No. 1 “in tre canti ostinati” for Piano and Nocturne for Bassoon, Harp, Piano and Double Bass. Andrey Kasparov also serves as Artistic Co-Director of the Norfolk Chamber Consort beside his wife, the extremely talented pianist Oksana Lutsyshyn.
He laughed when I question how he got into music. “I was six years old when my parents tried teach me violin, my mom got frustrated. I was able to recognize complex pieces and her friends convinced her to try again. At 7 or 8 I started with the piano…the rest is history. It was a straight line to adulthood. Once I turned 13 or 14 things got into focus. I was composing early in my life.”
I asked Professor Kasparov how he met Allan Blank, taking a moment, he answered that the DCR (Diehn Composers Room) was presenting his works. “I attended his concert. Later, I started programming it with my music ensemble. Allan Blank had an extensive collection of chamber music. I invited him to a concert and we met.” Often, I wonder what Mr. Blank was like. The little I have gleaned from is that he was a perfectionist and protective of work. He had a sly sense of humor, was very private and most importantly dedicated to Margot. According to his friend, “Yes, humor and it bleeds his music, very active and witty mind. Also, pretty explosive…If you wanted to work with him you needed to be able to take directions, a critical mind… in the end gratifying. Great musician, great mind for composition. He took advantage of the instrument and wasn’t interested in simplifying it for the performers. Never compromising, he is honest.”
Inquiring, I ask ” What pieces of Allan Blank’s have you played? Do you have a favorite composition?” However, he tells me “Didn’t play, but coached and presented song cycles and various instrumental pieces. I have a particular feeling for a certain piece Fun and Songs, its high quality, some humor you never get tired of, it’s a real piece of art. I’ve liked all the pieces I have directed.”
A Tea Time performance at the Diehn Composers Room was the last time Professor Kasparov and Allan Blank spoke. Yet, years later, he continued to direct several performance after Allan Blank passed. “I took one piece…Some Fun is important. If we talk about contemporary composers…this is the deepest and most fruitful.”
While the Starbucks on campus is quiet, the fall semester is still weeks away, Professor Kasparov is having a busy summer. “I’m in the middle of a big recording a cd, major compositions for two pianos, Liszt‘s Totentanz (Dance Of Death). Two pieces…Credenza for Two Pianos, which I rearranged from one piano, which is much more convincing… close to 200 tracks so far. It’s a grueling process but works for us.” He is speaking about is wife and partner in the Invencia Piano Duo (he jokes: “who else would put up with me?”). He states that “The Chandler (Wilson G. Chandler Recital Hall) is world class. The beauty of this is the live sound.”
I am extremely grateful to Professor Kasparov for taking time out of his busy schedule to speak with me. Hopefully we will meet again soon, perhaps at the next Diehn Concert Series!
If you are interested in learning more about Andrey Kasparov’s work, click HERE to view his pieces from the Special Collections Contemporary Composers Collection.