Lada Valesova: A Slavic Soul Unleashed
Few would argue that good fortune and a dose of luck play a part in the successful musician’s career. And there’s no denying the essentials of talent, skill and hard work.
A number of serendipitous intersections of these aspects have made Lada Valesova the uniquely inquisitive, instinctive and ingenious artist that she is.
Born in Pilsen in the Czech Republic to a Czech father and Russian mother, Lada’s initial interest in the piano originated in ballet class; it’s rumoured that Lada repeatedly – and unwittingly – kicked the girl behind her at the barre as she was more intent on paying attention to the accompanist. With her parents’ blessing and encouragement, Lada began her piano studies at the age of six at the Lyadoff Children’s Music School in Moscow, where her family had moved due to her father’s work. What ensued was a lifelong love affair with all things piano.
Lada’s first teacher and great influence was Yuri Glière, grandson of the great Soviet composer, whose unorthodox teaching methods – including Western techniques not common to the Soviet curriculum – planted the seed of independent thinking. Recognising Lada’s innate musicality, Glière encouraged her to focus on her music studies.
So, further encouragement, something from which Lada would consistently benefit. “I was very lucky growing up,” she remarks. “I was encouraged but never compelled. My parents allowed me to pursue my ambitions and their support was unwavering. I look back now and recall, as I progressed, the hours of driving they did throughout Europe, taking me to concerts, auditions and competitions. They were so incredibly generous.”
Music and art contributed to a happy household. There were frequent visits to the Bolshoi and other theatres, taking in opera, ballet and concerts. At school, Lada sang in the choir. Both parents were engineers with a great appreciation for the arts, particularly Lada’s mother who herself studied piano until the age of 18. “Mum was very knowledgeable, especially of operatic repertoire. Today, she and I can sing Eugene Onegin together from start to finish!” she laughs.
Lada also benefitted from a bi-lingual upbringing, being part of a Czech community in Moscow and moving effortlessly between the two. And early on she was attracted to the English language and literature. Not surprisingly, her parents supported her desire, at the age of eight to take English lessons.
By the age of 12, Lada and her family had returned to Czechoslovakia and she began studies with Valentina Kamenikova, a Russian immigrant who was one of the most prominent pianists and influential pedagogues of her time. “She was a real character, very fiery,” remembers Lada. “It was her spark that really ignited my passion for the piano, turning me from a promising young musician into an obsessed pianist, and it keeps me going to this day.” Lada’s pianism was further refined by lessons with Eugene Indjic, a pupil of Artur Rubinstein’s. “He took my technique to a higher level,” says Lada, “and also passed on great stories and a spirit from the past. He was an invaluable link to the legacy of our art form.”
In 1995, Lada was granted an EU Erasmus Exchange grant from the Prague Music Academy and arrived in London for three years of study at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama. Under the inspirational guidance of James Gibb, head of the keyboard department, Lada discovered a new, refreshing way of music making. “What an eye-opener it was for me,” explains Lada. “Jimmy was wise, humorous and very sharp witted. He helped me to open up and explore a more human style of musical communication, different from the rigors of academic study.”
Further direction at the Guildhall came from accompanist and vocal coach Paul Hamburger, a Jewish immigrant from Vienna. “Our mutual mittel European backgrounds made me feel at home away from home. He also fuelled my love of vocal music, and instilled in me great confidence.” Following her studies, Lada was invited to be a professor at the Guildhall.
Serendipity followed in the form of Sir Georg Solti, who first heard Lada accompanying a violinist for an audition, then invited her to play for him solo. “He encouraged both my solo and collaborative playing. Imagine what a boost that was for me. “
By now a path was emerging, with Lada giving solo performances and collaborating with a variety of instrumentalists and singers in equal measure. “I am equally an extrovert and an introvert,” Lada explains. “I need my solitude and solo repertoire – it is the core of my musicianship. At the same time I’m highly sociable and relish opportunities to collaborate with people from all walks of life. I find the exchange and cross-pollination of ideas very rewarding.”
Solti sadly passed away shortly after Lada met him, but the inspiration of those two encounters will last a lifetime. Further affirming his support, Solti provided an endorsement for Lada’s UK visa application, allowing her to settle in London.
“London is home now,” says Lada. “It is where I can be free, indulging in my Czech and Russian roots, being the “Slavic cosmopolitan,” as I call myself, whilst enjoying the diversity and stimulation of different cultures. I cannot overstate the influence the capital has on my creative life.”
That creative life is manifesting itself very distinctly indeed. Lada is an artist with an exceptional balance of head and heart, of wide-ranging passions, natural thoughtfulness and immense poise. “My musical interests are wide-ranging, from Bach to Beethoven to Schubert to the present day. But anyone who knows me knows that I’m somewhat unconventional. I’m not one to do a complete Beethoven cycle or all the Chopin Nocturnes, for example.” It helps that Lada is a spry and instinctive communicator, both musically and verbally. “I prefer programmes that have a narrative, that tell a story. My latest project is a recital of works that are close to me emotionally, interspersed with my telling anecdotes about my path to becoming a pianist. Audiences have given me wonderful feedback so I plan to continue developing this “one-woman show.”
Lada’s storytelling encompasses to her musical origins, as she explores the links that unite Czech and Russian music. “I have something to say about these two rich musical heritages and for me it’s an important pursuit. I can’t say it defines me but it is crucial to my musical development.” This exploration has resulted in the acclaimed recording Intimate Studies (AVIE Records), a fresh and intriguing programme linking Czech teacher- and student–composers from the early 20th century, and the forthcoming Dumka, on which she conjures the Slavic musical soul via the lyrical, wistful genre.
When not attached to a keyboard, Lada frequently indulges her passions for visual art – influenced in part by one of two older brothers who is a painter – and literature and language. “I am something of a bookworm,” she admits. Day to day, Lada is inspired by beauty in everyday small details. She values simplicity and sincerity: “In a performance I prefer to be moved than impressed by technical acrobatics.”
“And what constantly inspires me is the courage and energy of others,“ she says fittingly, knowing that the encouragement and support of family, friends and mentors alongside her own talent and determination, has combined to create a constantly questing and cosmopolitan musical life.
ada Valešová’s recent debut CD of Czech Piano Music Intimate Studies on Avie label has universal international critical acclaim, praised for the intelligence of her programming and high refinement and sensitivity of her interpretations.
Lada graduated from the Prague Conservatoire and Prague Music Academy and continued her studies at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama in London where she was awarded a full scholarship for three years.
Lada has won several prizes including two awards at the International Smetana Piano Competition. She is a winner of the Alexander Wise Memorial Prize for the best performance of romantic music as well as Prize for the Best Piano Duo together with Zoë Mather for their performance of Bartok’s Concerto for Two Pianos, Percussion and Strings.
Her pianism is rooted in the Eastern European piano school tradition and her teachers include Russian pianist and pedagogue Valentina Kamenikova and Eugene Indjic, pupil of Arthur Rubinstein. She refined and broadened her pianistic horizons during her studies in London with James Gibb and Paul Hamburger.
Lada is a busy concert artist having played recitals in Germany, Austria, Switzerland, France, Spain, Portugal, Czech Republic, Great Britain, Ireland and New Zealand. She is in demand not only as a soloist but also as an outstanding collaborative pianist.
She has performed in Wigmore Hall, St. John’s Smith Square and at the Lindbury Studio, ROH.
Lada was a recitalist in the Chamber Music Concert Series of Czech Philharmonics in Prague.
Her performance with the Bamberg Symphony Orchestra in Germany led to CD recording with the orchestra.
In UK she has performed at the Three Choirs Festival in Hereford, Oxford Lieder Festival, Dumfries & Galloway Arts Festival, Warwick International Music Festival as well as at Ulverston International Music Festival and in the Pollock House, Glasgow.
Lada has also performed in a concert at St. John’s Smith Square under the Friends of Philharmonia Orchestra patronage with Czech virtuoso violinist Bohuslav Matousek, Cannes Award Winner and David Cohen, cello, in a tribute to Czech Music.
She made her Paris debut performing solo programme featuring Czech and French composers of 20th century including a world premiere of a piano piece by Bohuslav Martinu.
She was featured on the BBC Radio 3’s In Tune, BBC 3 Breakfast, Classic FM, Radio New Zealand, Czech Radio Vltava and RTÉ Radio 1 Arts Show, Ireland.
Lada has been asked by award winning director Phil Grabsky to perform and give an interview in his feature documentary In Search of Mozart, which marked the 250th anniversary of Mozart’s birth. Film has won international prizes and Lada’s contribution has been very favorably highlighted by the film reviewers.
Lada’s piano playing has received high recognition from various artists including the late Sir George Solti who offered her his “unqualified support “. Sir Charles Mackerras has given a high prize to her recording Intimate Studies. She has had an honour of working with Galina Vishnevskaja and Mstislav Rostropovich.
Lada is regularly invited to give master classes to young musicians, specialising in Russian and Czech repertoire, most recently at the Conservatoire de Paris, at Casa da Musica in Portugal and for Emerging Artists in Auckland, New Zealand.
Her recent engagements include a concert tour in Ireland and a recital at the International Music Festival in Lisbon: Dias da Musica em Belem, as well as recitals in Prague and Oxford.
Lada Valesova is a professor at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama, London, UK.
Preludes and Fugues from Well Tempered Klavier, selection.
Chorale Prelude “Nunn komm’ der Heiden Heiland”
Suite No.8 in F minor
Sonata in E flat major Nr. 59 Hob. XVI/49
Sonata in B flat major KV 333
Fantasie in C minor KV 475
L. van Beethoven
C minor Op. 10 Nr. 1
C minor Pathétique Op. 13
E major Op. 14 Nr. 1
D major Pastorale Op.28
A flat major Op. 110
32 Variations in C minor WoO 80
Variations for Piano
Wanderer Fantasy in C major Op. 15
Three Intermezzos Op. 117
Vallée d‘ Obermann Années de Pèlerinage, Suisse
Etudes, Nocturnes: selection
The Seasons, piano cycle
Dumka Op. 59
Dreams, piano cycle
Czech Dances, piano cycle
Concert Etude On the Sea-Shore Op. 17
Scherzo-Polka Op. 5
Spring Op. 22a, piano cycle
Song of Love op. 7
In the Mist, piano cycle
On the Overgrown Path, piano cycle
Intimate Studies, collection of piano miniatures
Etudes and Polkas, Book 1
Film in Miniature, piano cycle
Suite for Piano Op. 13
Reminiscences Op. 6, piano cycle
Three Pieces for Piano
Sonata Nr. 4, Op. 30
Six Preludes Op. 13
Etude Tableaux Op. 39 Nr. 5
Variations on a Theme by Corelli Op. 42
Old Granny’s Tales Op. 31
“Obsession diabolique” op.4 nr. 4
Images, Book 1
Three Pieces for Piano
Allegro Barbaro SZ 49
L. van Beethoven
Concerto nr. 3 in C minor
Concerto nr. 2 in A major
Concerto in A minor
Concerto nr. 2 in C minor
Rhapsody in Blue
Chamber Orchestra and Two Pianos
Sonata for Two Pianos, Percussion and Strings
Le Carnaval des Animaux (The Carnival of the Animals)