Javor Bracic

Introducing the Croatian Pianist, Javor Bracic! We are also lucky to have Javor as our newest HELLO STAGE Blogger, so stay tuned :)!

We all know HELLO STAGE’s favorite color! What’s yours?

Any color, just please no more black and white! :)

The question of color is interesting for a musician. Many seem to report having synesthesia - a kind of association between the senses, which would make them see or imagine a certain color when they hear a certain sound or vice versa. Often I hear people go into lenghty accounts of which color is associated with which note. But if I do not have synesthesia, I don't see how discussing it would enrich my listening experience. If Scriabin associated red with a certain note, while the same note made Messiaen think of brown with gold speckles, that really does not reveal anything interesting about that note. I find it much more useful to think of instrumental timbres and the specific sound-colors of note combinations. Changing the notes of a B-D-F#-A chord into B-D-F-A creates a very specific sound-color change, not to mention changing its instrumentation. These kinds of relations and their intuitive emotional reactions are crucial for understanding music.

What was the best advice a teacher ever gave you?

It was more a question than advice.

My professor at the Mozarteum, the late Karl-Heinz Kämmerling, used to pose this question to all his new students: "Is there anything else you could do in your life, except piano?"
This may sound insulting, but it was honest and well-meaning. The classical music industry is tough, and a pianist who aspires to success must be ready to sacrifice countless hours of selfless and sometimes tedious work in order to be even considered, not to mention chosen at an audition or a competition. And when all the candidates play well, the decision is subjective, so forget about fairness. As a professional musician, the compensation for your work is meager, unless you are super-famous. But you can't plan your career around the hope to become one of the 0.01%! Hearing that question from him worked like a cold shower. I realized I had to make a conscious decision and stand by it. This helped me to become more determined and focused on goals intrinsic to the music itself, and not on external success.

How has your practice changed with time?

I try to practice less.

It’s very easy to perceive practicing as a chore. Especially as a pianist, you are dealing with more notes per minute than any other instrumentalist. I used to struggle to make myself stay at the piano for longer periods of time. Now I struggle to achieve the same effect with less time. I realized it is much more important to be mindful and efficient – like a conductor - listening to the music, thinking about it, analyzing it, singing it out loud, visualizing and mental practicing. Of course, I still do various exercises to make the fingers move, but once you have a good idea of what the piece calls for musically, you’ve done the bulk of the work. The mechanics can sometimes still be challenging, but it’s amazing how many technical problems you can solve just by changing the way you think about them – grouping things differently, finding a better fingering, playing some notes more prominently and others less, etc.

What do you think is the most important trait of a successful artist in today’s modern world?

If I knew that, I’d be successful, right?

I think the important artistic traits remain the same as ages ago - focus, imagination, charisma, self-awareness, conviction, intuitive understanding of the human experience. But today more than ever, it is important to know what success is. There are many kinds of success being offered today, and one needs to choose wisely which avenues to pursue.

How much time do you spend every day on Facebook, twitter, and which other ways do you use to promote yourself?

Not much. I dread even having to send an email newsletter!

But social media have become an unavoidable tool in artists’ self-promotion today. Some of my facebook friends do this quite successfully. I think the trick is to find the sweet spot where you are not spamming and boasting, but offering interesting bits of your musical life to the potential audience and creating a kind of virtual relationship. Just as in real life, it’s important to remain genuine to your personality and vision.

Tell us about The Art of Listening :)

It’s like a museum tour of classical music masterworks!

It started spontaneously at the International House New York, where I lived for 3 years. That’s an amazing place where students of all disciplines and from all corners of the world come together to live, have fun, and learn from each other. We’d sit around a piano once a month, I’d play a piece of music, and we’d discuss. This grew out into a real musical series that I offered at the Roger Smith Hotel in New York, and to anybody interested in having a musical salon at their home. It works great in schools too, and once I even did it for 2-4 year olds!

The key is having a small audience and an intimate setting where everyone can feel invited to participate with their thoughts, visions, and questions, no matter how silly or bold. I do not prepare a text that I read from, nor do I learn a lecture by heart. I still do have things in mind I wish to share, but I don’t just say them. I ask questions, and invite the audience to listen again and more closely in order to find their own answers. The process is much more interesting and rewarding than just getting the finished information served. I feel classical music often gets mystified as something elitistic and hard to understand. And yes, it is great and exalted, but it should not be exclusive, on the contrary! This music was written by humans, for humans, therefore everyone is invited to participate in it. This does not mean we need to bring it down from its pedestal and cheapen it. By struggling to understand it and listen ever more closely to its nuances and complexities, we become part of something greater than ourselves, and we allow the music to elevate our spirit.

What is life like for a pianist in New York?

It’s fast-paced and crazy, but that’s true for anybody living in this city.

When you look past all the subway noise, sky-high rents, and unidentified odours on the streets, you find a city full of inspiring people who did not stay at home in their comfort zone, but went out to chase their dreams and make a change in the world – for better or for worse. This is a city filled with amazing musicians to collaborate with. It’s also filled with culture-thirsty young professionals who love to learn something about everything.

Where do you go for a good cup of coffee and some urban inspiration?

Certainly not Starbucks! :)

The good thing about this city is the fact that there’s a virtually endless supply of different places you can go and explore! From rooftop bars to small hole-in-the-wall coffee shops, from the Metropolitan Opera to free improv classes. Just when you thought that Brooklyn was the coolest artsy place ever, you discover the ethnic cuisines of Queens. This city really satisfies your need for variety.

Javor will be teaching in August 24-28th, as an assistant to Vassilia Efstathiadou at the Upbeat Masterclass in Zagreb at the Pavao Markovac Music School. More information here. Javor will appear as a soloist in Beethoven’s Triple Concerto at the Samobor Music Festival on September 25th. More information coming up soon here and of course, keep up with Javor on HELLO STAGE!.
Author: Nina Lucas HELLO STAGE
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