"In childhood, you don't quite grasp how much it's your instrument, and then it becomes so familiar..."
Anna Komarova was born in 1995 in Abakan. She began her piano and flute studies at the Children's Music School No. 1, named after A.A. Kenel, under the guidance of instructors Svetlana Permyakova, Marina Dorina, and Honored Artist of the Republic of Khakassia, Irina Nikiforova.
In 2010, she enrolled in the Middle Special Music School of the St. Petersburg State Conservatory, studying under the mentorship of Honored Worker of the Russian Federation, Irina Pimenova. She later continued her education at the Conservatory in the class of Valentin Cherenkov, an esteemed soloist of the Mariinsky Theater and a professor.
Anna's talent shone brightly in international competitions. In 2017, she triumphed at the International Competition in Stockholm, and in 2020, she achieved success at the International Competition of Young Performers named after Gnesin in Moscow. In 2021, she earned the laureate of the III prize at the Aeolus International Competition in Düsseldorf.
The year 2022 brought a slew of prestigious awards, including the laureate of the I prize and a special award from the German Flute Society at the international competition named after O. Nicole in China. She also received the laureate of the V prize and a special prize for her rendition of a contemporary piece at the X International Flutists Competition in Kobe, Japan. Additionally, she secured the laureate of the II prize at the International Competition of Young Flutists in Tampere, Finland.
Anna performs as a soloist in concert halls both in Russia and abroad. She collaborates with numerous ensembles in St. Petersburg and holds the position of soloist with the MusicAeterna orchestra under the baton of T. Currentzis. She has been participating in programs at the St. Petersburg Music House since 2017.
Saint Petersburg Music House (SPMH): Have you already felt how the Tchaikovsky Competition has influenced your life and career?
Anna Komarova: Just before the start of the season, the Saint Petersburg Music House and other organizations offered me new concerts with an orchestra. On September 20, we are opening the season at the Beloselsky-Belozersky Palace. Also, as part of the project "Tchaikovsky Competition Laureates at the Mariinsky Theater," I will be performing in the Mariinsky concert hall in September. And for the current season, there are already offers from philharmonics and concert venues. This is certainly pleasing.
SPMH: What left the most impression on you at the Competition?
Anna Komarova: I remember my feelings were very positive and uplifting about the concert hall in Repino. It is very comfortable to feel at ease in terms of dynamics and articulation. In my opinion, there was no need for any additional adjustments or changes to my own performance. I could play as comfortably as possible. And yet, the hall did not overshadow any aspects of the performance.
SPMH: What optional compositions did you choose for the Competition, and why?
Anna Komarova: Selecting the program for a competition is a quite responsible task that should ideally be approached well in advance, carefully considering and calculating one's capabilities. Because it involves a lot of stress and nerves. Sometimes, it works in our favor that we choose pieces we are already familiar with, ones we have played multiple times. At times, we need to compromise and play something we feel more confident about rather than what we originally wanted. I partially did just that.
In the first round, we had to choose one of three Allegro Concertos by Tsybin. I had played all three, but during my student years, I played the second one more frequently, and among the three, it's my favorite. It has an extended cadenza, and from the flute's perspective, it seems more vivid and advantageous. That's my subjective opinion. So, there was no need for compromise here. Everything aligned perfectly.
In the second round, we had "Melancholic Serenade," which could be performed in different versions, but the choice was about the key. We had Denis Buryakov's arrangement, which everyone played, and it was in F minor. However, the original "Melancholic Serenade" is in B-flat minor. Naturally, this is influenced by the instrument and the fact that we have a more limited range compared to the violin. If we were to play in B-flat minor, we would need to make adjustments in terms of registers and tessitura. But, interestingly, for me, B-flat minor feels more melancholic. It's like changing the key slightly due to the instrument's characteristics somewhat diminishes the sound's character. I feel that F minor is brighter than B-flat minor. If you delve into the semantics of the word "melancholy," you realize that perhaps Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky deliberately chose this key. It's darker, stricter, with an unavoidable element of sadness. Next, we had to choose one of the Soviet sonatas. I must admit that I made this choice at the last moment, just before submitting my application. I had to decide which sonata I would play. I hadn't come across Nagovitsin's work during my education; I simply didn't know it. Naturally, I listened to all of them. I had played Denisov's Sonata a lot, but for me, it's very demanding music, very strict, focused, with a lot of tension. It's wonderful music, but for some reason, I settled on Kornakov's Sonata, even though I hadn't played it before. I found it very interesting. I listened to it, analyzed it, and thought it was a very worthy composition. So, I chose it. I played it with my pianist friend, and I was confident that we would have enough time to prepare it as a chamber piece. This was a big plus because playing with a friend at a competition reduces some of the competitive stress. Next, we had to choose a contemporary composition. Here, the choice was clear for me, despite having played all the offered compositions. In a Living Memory by Toshio Hosokawa is the composition I can say I not only know but also understand myself within it. I had played it several times at competitions and recorded it, earning a special prize for it at the competition in Kobe, for which it was specially composed over 10 years ago. It's an extraordinary piece in every sense, showcasing the flute's modern capabilities superbly. It's virtuosic, vivid, with a highly contrasting middle section featuring all contemporary flute playing techniques. The last piece we had to choose was a virtuosic composition. I had played Bohm's Polonaise, I had played Introduction and Rondo Capriccioso, but I had not played "La Campanella." I was very interested in playing it, and I had chosen it quite some time ago. This gave me the opportunity to prepare and perform it in several concerts. In the final round of the competition, we could choose from four of Bach's concertos. I played two: the D minor, as all flutists do, and the G major. However, I had played the G major one much less frequently. For me, it's a gem among all the concertos, despite it not being an original flute concerto from the three presented. It's an arrangement, and you can tell because it doesn't feature flute-specific techniques. It adds an extra layer of difficulty. However, I chose it not to showcase the flute's limitless technical capabilities but because, musically, it's pure happiness, pleasure, and great joy when you play it with an orchestra.
SPMH: Which concerts/projects at the Saint Petersburg Music House helped you prepare for the Competition?
Anna Komarova: In April, I performed Bach's Concerto with an orchestra, conducted by Maestro Ilya Derbilov, in Vyatka. It was my first experience performing this piece. And, of course, on the eve of such a significant and extensive competition like the Tchaikovsky Competition, it's incredibly important to take the stage in advance, rehearse the program, and be aware of what might go wrong. While it's true that all our hours of practice prepare us for the performance, it's the practice of concert performance that brings many adjustments to our playing.
Playing with an orchestra helps us better understand the concerto form, balance with the orchestra, and fine-tune our dynamics and articulation. This is because when playing with an orchestra, we tend to exaggerate our intentions slightly to ensure they don't get lost behind the orchestra. Additionally, I performed two virtuosic compositions in the chamber hall of the Mariinsky Theater. This also contributes significantly because unexpected situations can occur during a performance, and how you handle them or adapt within the performance prepares you for making decisions and adjustments to ensure such issues don't arise during the competition.
SPMH: How did your journey in music begin?
Anna Komarova: My journey in music began in Abakan, at the Kenel Music School, where my mother works. She brought me there when I was 3 years old. I grew up surrounded by musical instruments, and I started playing the piano at the age of three. Later, they also introduced me to the flute simultaneously because there was a choice between a stringed instrument and a wind instrument. Naturally, at that time, I didn't make this choice myself, or I don't remember it at all now, whether it was a conscious decision. But my mother decided that I would go for a wind instrument. During my education, I tried playing stringed instruments as well.
Then came the moment to make a choice: continue as a pianist or become a flutist because I was studying both disciplines. I'm very glad that I chose the flute. After that, I joined the class of Irina Petrovna Pimenova at the secondary music school affiliated with the St. Petersburg State Conservatory. The next logical step was the conservatory itself. From the perspective of the instrument, it all seems very natural. Perhaps in childhood, you don't fully grasp how much an instrument is meant for you, but then it becomes so familiar. Maybe it works both ways, where you, in some way, transform to align with the instrument, its sound, and its specific characteristics. That's my theory. It doesn't have to be true, but somehow, our instruments can illuminate, amplify, or even reveal certain facets of our personalities.
SPMH: Tell me about your instrument: its voice, character, specific features, secrets...
Anna Komarova: I feel that wind instruments are very close to the human voice because they involve air... After vocal music, for me, this is the most natural instrument. There's no barrier between the sounding body and the instrument. We exhale air, and it somehow makes perfect sense. What I really appreciate about wind instruments is the true legato they can achieve. It's quite challenging, but the sensation of one note flowing into another, the timbre, in its physical nature, seems more perfect to me than on a piano or percussion instruments. I like this particular aspect of the instrument. As for secrets, these are the details that we all adjust to suit our own performance, our technical nuances, and our demands on ourselves for a specific piece. In other words, we make the technical aspect work for the artistic and musical side.
SPMH: How do you work with sound, and what kind of sound are you aiming to achieve?
Anna Komarova: The aspect of sound, the timbre, has always been primary for me in playing the instrument. That doesn't mean I don't play scales, practice exercises, or articulation. But sound – that's what everyone pays attention to when you perform on stage. Somehow, as a person and as a performer, you are reflected in the sound; it reveals your true character and inner self. How the instrument sounds is a direct reflection of who you are. You can't hide behind the sound. Working with sound goes beyond the daily hours spent with the instrument. It's self-improvement. I don't want to delve into profound philosophy, but I believe it's a form of personal self-development, a quest to "get to the essence" in any way possible. We are only human. It's very naive to think we can fully understand everything. But attempting to become more, to take an interest in something... It's all audible in the performance and the sound. I consider it a comprehensive effort. If we focus on technical aspects, I try to play different exercises every day to keep the technical side serving the musical side, always keeping the muscles toned, doing some minimal exercises to engage the muscles involved in breathing. It's not just the hours with the instrument; it's much more than that.
SPMH: One of your upcoming performances is in the "Musical Team of Russia" project, where you will be performing Lensky's aria on the flute. How accurately can the flute convey the lyrical tenor texture for which this piece was composed?
Anna Komarova: Since the tenor voice is the highest male voice (excluding countertenors), and the flute has a very lyrical character, there is a logical correlation between the pitch and certain timbral characteristics. The flute is indeed a very lyrical instrument. I don't think anyone is bothered by the fact that a woman is performing Lensky's aria on the flute. These are subtleties that don't really need attention. I find it very logical to transpose this vocal music into an instrumental form.
SPMH: What is your attitude towards transcriptions of well-known compositions for the flute?
Anna Komarova: My attitude towards transcriptions is quite positive, with a caveat about the type of transcriptions. Not all pieces should be played blindly just because we love the music. For instance, I love Brahms' Sonatas, Op. 120, written for clarinet or viola. There are transcriptions – Emmanuel Pahud and Yefim Bronfman made a brilliant recording. However, there are transcriptions that push the boundaries, even to the point where they might not be necessary, and they take away from the original composition. In general, there are works, for example, presented at the Tchaikovsky Competition, like Saint-Saëns' "Introduction," or "La Campanella," which sound very successful on the flute. This is because the compromises necessary due to the technical differences between instruments are minimal, and they don't steal the unique musical essence of the piece or its characteristic features. For example, Paganini's Caprices – not all 24, but at least half of them sound amazing on the flute and have earned their place in many international competitions. Similarly, Bach's solo cello suites, but not all of them. I participated in the Kobe Competition, and we had to choose one of the six suites. We could use our own transcriptions or select from the available ones. Interestingly, hardly anyone chose the fifth suite because it has very specific cello techniques that would be lost on the flute. It wouldn't sound as vibrant and full as on the original instrument. It's logical that most transcriptions are for the violin because the tessitura and performance techniques are similar; some violin pieces sound fantastic on the flute, such as Khachaturian's Concerto or Mendelssohn's Concerto. Sibelius's Concerto is a bit trickier because the romantic violin excels in terms of technical capabilities and sound palette compared to the flute. In this case, it's best to avoid it, in my opinion.
SPMH: What do you feel is lacking in contemporary flute repertoire?
Anna Komarova: When it comes to the 20th and 21st centuries, flutists can't complain. The 20th century boasts an incredibly rich selection of compositions for the flute, forming a golden repertoire. These are pieces in which the flute feels exceptionally comfortable, and all aspects of performance are well represented. The 21st century also brings forth many works composed specifically for the flute and certain performers. However, when we look back at previous centuries, it saddens me that we lack sonatas like Brahms' for the flute, and we have relatively few examples of true romanticism. Yes, we have Schubert's Introduction and Variations and Reinecke's Sonata, but these are isolated works. Unlike violinists and pianists who have a rich romantic repertoire, we, unfortunately, do not. We perform transcriptions of Schumann, for example, but we don't have original works. Brahms has solo passages in his symphonies, such as in the Fourth Symphony, but again, it's not a solo piece. I see myself as an orchestral musician and don't want to be solely positioned as a solo performer, which wouldn't be entirely accurate anyway. While there may be a shortage of solo compositions, it's compensated by an outstanding orchestral repertoire and often with extensive flute parts within the orchestra.
SPMH: Which musicians have influenced your perception and understanding of the flute?
Anna Komarova: Naturally, it's all my teachers. I firmly believe that there's always room for growth. At every stage and even now, I make it a point to interact with fellow musicians and participate in masterclasses at the Saint Petersburg Music House. A person with musical experience you trust can always point out where to fine-tune things, the adjustments I might not notice myself. I see myself as a kind of constructor, assembling my knowledge from various perspectives. I don't think there's anything wrong with that. It's quite naive to think we can create something from scratch. It's always a cycle of ideas, a cycle of thoughts. How each performer assembles this (we all assemble the kaleidoscope differently) defines the performer. I believe having many opinions is a plus. You need to be able to sift through them, take some, and leave others aside, but understand that different viewpoints are valuable. As for performers, I'm immensely fond of listening to recordings by Patrick Gallois because what he does with sound, particularly with time, is nothing short of fantastic. Emmanuel Pahud's individual orchestral solos are also a masterclass in precision within literally two notes. When you notice these moments, it feels like the musical fabric is either stretching or contracting. And this happens in milliseconds. But it creates an incredible effect. Giovanni Antonini and the Baroque ensemble Il Giardino Armonico – I adore everything related to the Baroque period. He's such a vital and lively individual who is incredibly inspiring. Listening to this ensemble's performances is like a breath of fresh air for me. And of course, Jacques Zoon, especially when he plays with the Lucerne Festival Orchestra – I really admire his work.
SPMH: Besides your creative work, what else interests you in life?
Anna Komarova: Right now, I'm fascinated by philosophy and psychology. It's something I find intriguing. I don't know what will pique my interest in the future. Three or four years ago, I read a lot of fiction literature, but I've moved away from it completely now. I don't know where all of this will lead. I've dabbled in some hobbies related to dance and sports, but they don't stick with me for long.
SPMH: What is your biggest dream as a musician?
Anna Komarova: Perhaps finding a balance between what you work on in the practice room and what you deliver on stage. It's clear that the stage brings out elements you can never anticipate during practice, but it's a very technical aspect – to bring a higher percentage of what you've practiced onto the stage. In a more global sense, when we step onto the stage, we, as performers, believe that there's something within us that people in the audience should spend their time on. So, in a way, you, as a performer, are taking 20-30 minutes of their time. I suppose the dream is to have something within me that is truly worth the time people invest in me.
Interview by Tatiana Mikhailova