Music Festival in Hong Kong

CLASSICAL MUSIC is enjoying something of a renaissance with the new generation, and much of it must be due to the rise of a new kind of Classical musician, the sort whose aim is to navigate the increasingly competitive world of entertainment with their craft, bringing Classical music that is catchy, captivating and easy on the untrained ear. And they are succeeding. One such young musician is concert pianist LUKA OKROS, who visited Malaysia this November as part of his Asian Tour following the Joy of Music Festival in Hong Kong. /8.$ 2.526 by Jennifer Too ONE TO WATCH! In the 90s, the music that filled the dorm rooms and corridors of schools was a mix of pop, rock and heavy metal, with most definitely no pianos or violins to be heard. But today, more and more young people are big into Classical music.

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My 13 year old son and his classmates band together to play “classicalized” pop tunes, their obsession on TV is a Japanese Anime called “Your Lie In April” about a prodigal young pianist, their iPhone playlists are filled with Chopin, Rachmaninoff and Liszt, and their heroes are Evgeny Kissin, David Garrett and Lang Lang. At 26, Luka Okros is on the cusp of his career. Spotted as a child prodigy by famed Russian conductor and violinist Vladimir Spinakov at the age of 8, Luka gained a scholarship to study first at the Moscow Tchaikovsky Conservatory (alma mater of the likes of Rachmaninoff), then at the Royal College of Music in London. He has won many prestigious piano competitions around the world, most recently the Hong Kong International Piano Competition in 2016 and the Hannover Chopin Piano Competition in 2017.

He is a wizard on the piano and his fingers fly around the keys with astonishing velocity and adeptness, but his aim now is to make it into the big league. He has undeniable charm on stage, and reveals he has just recently taken to giving a short introduction to each of his pieces before performing them, so the audience may better understand his work. “When you give the listener some history and background to the piece, or what is in your mind when you are playing, they can form a story in their minds. I tell them my interpretation but also remind them that they can project their own story onto the music,” says Luka. “That way, they can find a way to enjoy even the more heavy classical pieces.” He has a secret weapon, his lovely wife Anna, who travelled with him on this tour. She is the yin to his yang, and balances out his deeply Classical background with what the uninitiated listener needs.

A lawyer by profession, she enjoys music but she is not a musician; so she constantly reminds him that the audience is the other half of the equation. Without the audience there is no performance, and so it is gaining that balance between what you want to play and what the audience wants to hear. She says, “When I first met Luka, sitting through his performances of composers such as Prokofiev or Shostakovich was diffi cult, but once you’ve listened to enough Chopin and Rachmaninoff, you search for more. The ear needs to develop to the classical style. Even non- musicians can learn to enjoy the heavier, more atonal material, but it does not happen overnight.” The other challenge for musicians today is the huge proliferation of content.

The Internet has catapulted us into a new digital age where everyone can play and everyone can broadcast. It has almost become a popularity contest, and platforms such as Facebook and Instagram have become vital vessels for reaching your audience. That’s how Valentina Lisitsa (aka the Kardashian of the piano world) became so famous, by clocking up page views and hits on her YouTube channel playing Romantic Era virtuoso piano pieces by Chopin, Liszt and Rachmaninoff. Valentina Lisitsa launched her career independently of any record company, primarily through her own YouTube channel launched in 2007, which boasted nearly 50 million views by 2012. Having talent and skill is essential, but it is not enough. You have to have stage presence, a resilience for hard work and marketing prowess. Luka Okros has all this . He is energetic, inspiring and great fun to be around, so he seems quite natural for the job.

He also knows that while to purists, some of the stuff he plays may not be quite up their street, but if you are looking to penetrate the wider market, they are what gains you a following. To date, he has surpassed Valentina Lisitsa in Instagram followers – 43.1k to Lisitsa’s 24.7k – and he tries to interact with fans and followers by replying their direct messages whenever he has some down-time. I ask, as a concert pianist, how can he keep so many pieces in his head? Can he remember everything he has ever played? He laughs, “No! I usually work on a set of repertoire that can form enough for a nice recital program. But yes, I am always working on multiple pieces at any one time. Whether I can remember a piece I learned before in the past depends on how much time I spent learning it. If I learned it very deeply, like over 6 months or so, it won’t take me long to get it back. But if I only spent a short time learning it, if I leave the piece for a while, coming back to it is like never having learnt it at all.” On practice time, Luka says he averages 3 to 5 hours.

“They say, if you don’t practice one day, you hear it, if you don’t practice two days, your family knows it, but three days – the entire world knows you had a break!” Having the chance to spend some time with a concert pianist about to make it into the big time was engaging, illuminating and inspiring. Luka is a fantastic influence and role model for the kids interested in piano and music; while pianists hoping to turn pro invariably need to put in many hours each day into practice, an interesting thing he said was, “It is also important to practice away from the piano. To just study the score in your head and imagine how the music should be played. Before you even hit a note, you should have the entire picture in your head of what story you want to tell.” This is akin to all the visualization techniques we often employ in spiritual feng shui – you make your reality by imagining it first.

When you have it crystal clear in your head, when you have every detail in place, is when your imagination can cross over into reality. The more detailed you can structure your aspirations in your head, the more accurately you can gain exactly what you wish for. The power of the mind is all-powerful, and can be used to make your own reality – not just in music but all aspects of living. Luka Okros demonstrates that being a pianist does not mean you stay in a practice room all day. He has other interests, he enjoys travel, he watches the latest sitcoms on TV, and he is absolutely fascinating to talk to. If you read the biographies of some of the greatest pianists history has ever seen, they invariably have multi life experiences away from the keyboard, which allow them to bring their music to life. I think that is what sets apart the superstars from the machines. We wish Luka Okros the very best and have a feeling we will be seeing very big things from him in the years to come! Do not miss him if he comes to your city to perform! You can follow him on Instagram and Facebook at @lukaokros.

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