The Art of Song: A Conversation With Andrea Katz

The Art of Song: A Conversation With Andrea Katz

What was your first experience with live music?

I was born in a musical family. We go back some 5 or 6 generations of string and woodwind players, conductors and impresarios so I was surrounded by music even before I was born. I am the only pianist and I like it, it makes me the black sheep of the family.

Who or what has been a major influence on your music making? 

I’ve always loved literature and some great books have punctuated my musical development: Jean-Christophe by Romain Rolland taught me all about Romanticism and French decadence, Decameron by Boccaccio ( a bit naughty at age 14) introduced me to Italian prose, but probably the most relevant was The Glass Bead Game by Hermann Hesse, with its idealistic society ruled by music and chess and its wonderful descriptions of meditations through Bach’s music.

There have been some musicians too!! My piano teacher in Paris Vlado Perlemuter, a great pianist and pedagogue heir to the Schnabel and Cortot traditions and my piano teacher in Israel, Alexander Tamir, who introduced me to the great art of piano duets.

Working with conductors has given me a great insight into the mind of symphonic and operatic composers and working intimately with orchestras has molded my approach to tempi, musical pulse and especially colours and nuances.  

Andrea Katz
Melbourne, Australia

The Art of Song: A Conversation With Andrea Katz

What was your first experience with live music?

I was born in a musical family. We go back some 5 or 6 generations of string and woodwind players, conductors and impresarios so I was surrounded by music even before I was born. I am the only pianist and I like it, it makes me the black sheep of the family.

Who or what has been a major influence on your music making? 

I’ve always loved literature and some great books have punctuated my musical development: Jean-Christophe by Romain Rolland taught me all about Romanticism and French decadence, Decameron by Boccaccio ( a bit naughty at age 14) introduced me to Italian prose, but probably the most relevant was The Glass Bead Game by Hermann Hesse, with its idealistic society ruled by music and chess and its wonderful descriptions of meditations through Bach’s music.

There have been some musicians too!! My piano teacher in Paris Vlado Perlemuter, a great pianist and pedagogue heir to the Schnabel and Cortot traditions and my piano teacher in Israel, Alexander Tamir, who introduced me to the great art of piano duets.

Working with conductors has given me a great insight into the mind of symphonic and operatic composers and working intimately with orchestras has molded my approach to tempi, musical pulse and especially colours and nuances.  

What was your first experience with live music?

I was born in a musical family. We go back some 5 or 6 generations of string and woodwind players, conductors and impresarios so I was surrounded by music even before I was born. I am the only pianist and I like it, it makes me the black sheep of the family.

Who or what has been a major influence on your music making? 

I’ve always loved literature and some great books have punctuated my musical development: Jean-Christophe by Romain Rolland taught me all about Romanticism and French decadence, Decameron by Boccaccio ( a bit naughty at age 14) introduced me to Italian prose, but probably the most relevant was The Glass Bead Game by Hermann Hesse, with its idealistic society ruled by music and chess and its wonderful descriptions of meditations through Bach’s music.

There have been some musicians too!! My piano teacher in Paris Vlado Perlemuter, a great pianist and pedagogue heir to the Schnabel and Cortot traditions and my piano teacher in Israel, Alexander Tamir, who introduced me to the great art of piano duets.

Working with conductors has given me a great insight into the mind of symphonic and operatic composers and working intimately with orchestras has molded my approach to tempi, musical pulse and especially colours and nuances.  

When did you become involved in collaborating with singers?

Back in Israel when I was a student I had to play for lessons (singing, viola, flute, conducting) as part of my scholarship with the Rubin Academy in Jerusalem. A friend asked me to play for his audition for the Opera Company in Tel Aviv and I left the theatre with a contract in my pocket!

Obviously there is a difference between working alone and working collaboratively. What do you enjoy about each? Do you have a preference?

I like music in company. I’m not very good when left alone with too much time! So having rehearsals and the responsibility that it entails keeps me ticking and practicing. That said, sometimes I make a commitment to play solo or a concerto with orchestra so I don’t forget what it feels like.

Does your approach change when preparing solo work, compared to ensemble work? 

Not really. After so many years working with orchestras I tend to orchestrate every piece of music in my head thus I always play ensemble, even with myself!!

How do you prepare for a performance? Do you have any pre-concert rituals, or does it change depending on the circumstance?

I do believe in visualization so I try to practice with the venue and audience in mind. By the time the concert day arrives it is not too much of a stretch to get to the actual place and perform. 

What is the hardest thing about being an associate artist, and how do you deal with that?

It very much depends who you are working with and how much you want/need the concert. The higher the level of performers the fewer problems you have. Once you have built your own reputation it is also possible to say no to engagements you know will be problematic.

With a group like Songmakers Australia the most difficult thing is scheduling rehearsals. I’m very fortunate to have fantastic singers in the ensemble but they are also some of the busiest people in the industry.

What have been some career highlights for you, as a collaborative artist or vocal coach?

I do approach every performance as a highlight. I think it makes you aim higher and higher and also puts you in a frame of mind to have fun as well as play well.

If I have to name a few I’d say my first Winterreise with baritone Jonathan Summers, a fabulous Sydney Symphony fund raiser event with violinist Gill Shaham, a concert version of the Ring Cycle for the Sydney Festival with Elizabeth Connell as Brunhilde.

We are celebrating our fifth year with Songmakers and many of the concerts have been highlights for all of us. To name just a few: The Sound of Silence for Port Fairy Festival, Viola Romance with Brett Dean, Piazzolla The Seasons for Peninsula Festival and many others.

How important is it to connect with the person you are performing with, off stage?

It is not necessary to be friends off stage to perform well together but I’ve developed close friendships with many of the artist I shared performances and many of them endure a long time after the last concert.

If you play well together chances are you think and love similar things.

What advice would you give young pianists who wish to begin accompanying and collaborating?

First of all get some scores and sight read! It is a great skill and even though there are teaching methods to learn it (it is compulsory at the Paris Conservatoire!) there is no better way to do it than to really thrash some Schubert songs in the sanctity of your living room.

Then get yourself some singers and instrumentalists and have a go. Volunteer to play for choral rehearsals, befriend a conductor and even if you cannot play for them ask to sit in rehearsals with your score and get a feel for the different colours of the orchestra. 

Read a lot and try to learn a few foreign languages if you are going to work with singers.

Most of all HAVE FUN!!

If you are interested in learning more from Andrea Katz, Songmakers Australia will be running a 3-day masterclass on the Interpretation and Performance of Lieder and Art Song in Hawthorn from the 29th to the 31st of March. Find more information, and book tickets here: https://www.eventbrite.com.au/e/songmakers-australia-interpretation-and-performance-of-lieder-and-art-song-tickets-20710274990