Interview with Ayane Kozasa

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Do you have a friend you meet up with only occasionally— after moths, or sometimes years of not seeing each other— and yet strangely, when you meet you can dive straight into a really deep conversation for hours? That’s Ayane. 

We actually go waaayyy back— we first met at Ravinia’s Steans Institute in 2009, that’s....wow, 9 years ago!! Sigh...I feel old. A few years after that we went to Marlboro together, which is also a chamber music festival, but funnily enough we played together for the first time only a few months ago in New York! As a superb violist and musician, Ayane is extremely dedicated, hardworking, and a true soul. We’re so lucky to have her on this project!

This time we met on a cold morning, only a few days after we’d seen each other, bright and early at 8am at one of the best coffee shops on the UWS: Irving Farm (79th and Amsterdam). We’d just given our first performance of the Britten project, and Simon (our researcher and medium/Britten himself) was still around so he joined the conversation too. 

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Mari: What was the first piece by Britten you’d ever heard?

Ayane: I think there’s a difference between the first piece I’d ever heard and the first piece that I really absorbed and understood. So the first piece that I’d ever heard was the Simple Symphony and the first piece that I really got into was the Lachrymae. 

Simon: The original version for viola? He was a violist too!

A: Yeah.

M: He wrote some really nice pieces for viola but they’re not played very often, right?

A: They’re very underrated for sure. It’s funny that Lachrymae stood out of them all. It’s cool because it’s a theme and variations but it’s so subtle that on first hearing I couldn’t tell, I couldn’t understand it. But there’s that intellect of being able to morph something to the point where people would actually have to pay attention and think about it and try to look for them — that is really neat to hear. Instead of being spoon-fed. It’s also just a really beautiful piece.

M: What was your first Impression of his music?

A: When I heard Lachrymae, it was hard to understand at first hearing but there was enough intrigue and fascinating soundscapes that made me want to explore more. 

S: Would you say that it was obscure but there was something that invited you in?

A: Yeah. Exactly. You can tell that there’s something really magical. You just don’t know what it is.

M: what are some of the challenges you face as a young artist today?

A: I feel that in order to be a successful musician these days you also have to have great business skills, also in terms of social media. You have to be so involved and so on top of updating things, instagram... i think it’s great because you become an all-around, all-star human being, but it’s a lot of work. To me that has been really challenging as a modern artist. Performing music, understanding, absorbing, and sharing in your own language— just doing that for music is so much work. And then to have to on top of that do all that stuff is...so much.

M: Do you think it makes a big difference if you are active on social media?

A: Hmmm....I think it’s really helped some people’s career, there are other people who have made a conscious decision not to do it, and they equally have really beautiful career too. 

M: I asked, because when I talked w Torleif recently...

A: From the lens of an audience member or a fan for people that I myself follow, the content that I get really excited about is discussions about particular topic or super nerdy technique lessons. Seeing some of my younger colleagues and how they follow social media is really interesting and helpful.

I think it just depends because I’m sure other people would say they want to use the platform to see musicians in a more human way, like that they go for a run, like everyone else. 

S: I think what social media allows you to do is to move it up from email level of sharing to trending and hashtags. You can reach people you never thought of before— that’s the good side. But the downside is that trends last a very short time and things move on quickly— from one artist to another.

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M: what do you think Britten was like as a person, just from his music?

A: Conflicted. Complex. Because Whenever you play his music, to me at least, the main voice doesn’t just naturally pop out. You have to practice and search for it, and find that magical line through the music. I think I’m talking about the solo suite that i just played and also Lachrymae— there’s so many chords and dissonances but also contours that weave in and out, and to find one line through that... unless you’re listening to a really great performance it’s hard to come across it on first try. So just from that I feel he must’ve been a complex person. I think he also had a lot of human integrity. How to be the best human being. 

S: for me, I think the running theme in his works is this sense of being betrayed by society, when it’s supposed to look after you. His operas are quite consistent in this message. People who try to stay true to themselves in face of this betrayal always lose. But he shows that there is still some truth or humanity to be fighting for. 

M: If you could ask Britten one question, what would it be?

A: If I could sit down and have a chat with him, I’d ask him, what is the meaning of life? I think he’d have a very interesting response to that.

Click here to watch Ayane's performance of Britten's Cello Suite No.1 (arranged for viola by Nobuko Imai) and find out more about Ayane at www.ayanekozasa.com.

Interviewed on December 17, 2017

Mari LeeIrving Farm