Eve Egoyan

Eve Egoyan: Between Longing and Belonging


YEREVAN / TORONTO – Armenian-Canadian pianist and composer Eve Egoyan was born in Victoria, British Columbia, to Armenian-Egyptian parents. She studied at the Victoria Conservatory of Music, the University of Victoria, the Banff Centre for the Arts, Hochscüle der Kunste (Berlin), Royal Academy of Music (London) and at the University of Toronto. Her 14 solo CDs explore music by composers ranging from Erik Satie to contemporary composers including Alvin Curran, Jo Kondo, Michael Finnissy, James Tenney, Martin Arnold, Linda Catlin Smith, and Ann Southam. Her most recent album, De Puro Amor and En Amor Duro, features two large-scale works by Spanish-German composer Maria de Alvear. In 2018, Egoyan created “Solo for Duet,” an integrated mix of sound, image, and unspoken narrative challenging traditional conceptions of piano and pianist. The following year she was the subject of director Su Rynard’s 72-minute portrait film “Duet for Solo Piano” that documents this musical exploration.

Egoyan has been the recipient of several accolades including “Best Classical” by The Globe and Mail (1999) for her first solo CD; one of “Ten Top” classical discs, by the New Yorker magazine (2009); and “Top Classical Disc of the Year” by the Globe and Mail (2011). Eve’s career has been significantly supported by awards and grants from the Canada Council for the Arts, other arts councils both national and international, foundations, scholarships, and private individuals. The CBC has named her one of the “best 25 Canadian classical pianists of all time”. She is an elected Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada as well as an elected Associate of the Royal Academy of Music, England. Eve teaches privately in Toronto and on Zoom, everywhere.

Dear Eve, I was very happy to meet you during your first visit in Armenia last April. In Armenia many know of your brother, Atom, and I think it is far past time that we know of you too.

I was very happy to meet you too, Artsvi! I am also grateful to have met the people you introduced me to and to visit the places you shared. Atom and I come from an artistic family. Both of our parents were painters. On my recent visit to Yerevan, I visited the National Gallery in Yerevan to see the few works they have by my parents. As both my parents have passed away quite recently, it was a very emotional experience for me to see their work in Yerevan.

Indeed, it should be so. When and where your first acquaintance with piano took place?

My journey with the piano has an unusual beginning. We had no piano in our home. From an early age, every day after school, I would visit my elderly neighbor who had a piano and ask her to teach me everything she knew about it. Eventually, I requested proper lessons. My parents were not encouraging. I think they tried to dissuade me as they themselves knew how difficult it is to be a professional artist. I was put into a group piano class but, by that point, I was much too advanced. My teacher guided me into private lessons on scholarship.

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There is a story how a musician, seeing in a museum a collection of various tools of torture, made a joke that piano is also should be included there. Was he right?

For me, the piano has always been a place of pleasure, engagement and freedom. Perhaps if someone is forced to practice, it could feel like a form of torture. I was never forced to spend time at the piano. I sought it out. The piano has always been a place for me to express myself and a place for me to explore my artistic curiosity.

You specialize in new works for the piano. Isn’t it risky to deal with compositions who have not yet stood the test of time?

It is a relatively new practice to perform music from other periods. Historically, musicians performed music of their own time and composers wrote for instrumentalists that they personally knew. Also, historically pianists in particular have been composers and improvisers. I consider myself a traditionalist: I perform music of my own time, many works have been written for me to perform and I also compose and improvise. Classical concert music is primarily stuck in the past as classical music audiences tend to want to hear music they have heard before. Performing music of my time is a reflection of who I am as an artist, living now. I also want to bring my instrument into our time with me through the creation of new works and the subtle use of technologies in relation to the piano.

One of my acquaintances, a piano teacher, gave up her job saying that playing classic piano is over. Today we see new technologies intersect with musical instruments. Do you see the future of piano changing?

The piano is a European-based instrument. It holds history through its physical body and repertoire. However, not so long ago, pianos and all instruments were hand made to the owners’ specifications. At the present, I modify the acoustic piano in ways that suit me using an optical sensor above its keyboard. This sensor allows me to trigger, through touch, images and other sounds. This includes the sound of another piano, a replicated sound, which can pitch shift, reveal harmonic overtones and create many other playful modifications of a piano that a real piano cannot itself produce. My modified piano is in a duet with its imagined self.

As I challenge myself as an artist, I challenge the piano, its history and the way it is traditionally heard. I want to release it from its past, and allow it to go on new journeys yet at the same time respecting and loving where it comes from.

In some of your performances you use your husband, media artist David Rokeby’s software into images projected on a screen above the piano. I remember such a combination done also by Belgian-Armenian pianist Laurence Mekhitarian. Contemporary music is proper for such experimental approaches – I wonder if the same can work with classic pieces?

It would be great if you could share Laurence’s work. We created Surface Tension to make a shift in the way image and sound usually co-exist. Most often, we witness image as pre-dominant and sound as an accompaniment. In Surface Tension both sound and image are created simultaneously and spontaneously. Surface Tension is a unique environment that allows for the absolute wedding of image and sound (https://vimeo.com/6154175).

At this moment, I am working on another project with visuals collaborating with animator Christopher Hinton. In it, both sound and image will be fixed in prior to performance but I will have freedom in time to shift both as I play. During performance of this new work, images will be revealed in layers at chosen moments. This visual layering mirrors the ability of the piano, an instrument with a huge range of pitch and dynamics, to layer sound. Significant moments and transitions, musical and visual, will be articulated in sound and image.

Eve Egoyan

You are also a composer yourself. Is your Armenian heritage somehow reflected in your work?

So far I have woven together only one work based on Armenian folkloric songs, Ghosts beneath my Fingertips (for Viva). I allowed myself to go through many songs and pick, entirely subjectively, what I felt sounded “Armenian.” I wrote this piece before I visited Armenia. It expresses a longing of place, imagined and never experienced. Sounds of selected traditional Armenian instruments are also sometimes revealed as I play.

Now a new generation of Armenian composers gradually are being introduced to international circles – did you have any chance to get acquainted with their works?

I am in the process of getting acquainted with their works, both within Armenia and beyond. As an interpreter (not a creator) who is committed to performing works by living composers, it is my duty to look for artistic soul mates. I am not just a craftsperson who learns the work but also the communicator who presents new work to my audiences. Performing new works, pieces that have never been heard before, is a very delicate dialogue with one’s listeners. For me, my performance must be fully invested in order for my audience to feel ready and open to enter the language of an unfamiliar composer. This is unlike, for example, hearing a work by Beethoven whose musical language we are already familiar with.

For many diasporan Armenians visiting Armenia is a kind of pilgrimage. For some it is like returning home. For a few it is just a tourism. How was your experience?

My recent and first visit to Yerevan was only two-weeks-long. During that time, often alongside my dear friend — the remarkable musician and scholar Gascia Ouzounian — I combined meetings, musical and artistic explorations of Yerevan, and a few visits to exquisite historical sites. I had an amazing time. Everyone I met was beyond inviting and warm towards me, a stranger to their city. I loved my experience of Yerevan, its environs and the people I met. I am very grateful to the introductions that were made for me prior to my visit by the wonderful journalist Meri Musinyan and others.

I am intrigued by Armenia and need to return someday. I need to unravel what Armenia is for me, its past and its present. I am still finding my way between longing and belonging. I have the strong desire to walk. I want to experience the land more fully, its geography, the smell of the air, the sound of the place and allow myself feel whatever I feel.

And what are your plans after Armenia?

As a composer, I have just travelled back from Vancouver where I recorded an album with electronic musician Mauricio Pauly where my acoustic/augmented piano met his electronic sound world. We will be releasing a disc of this collaboration. I continue to work with the animator I mentioned previously. I have requests to create sound in collaboration with visual artists for installations and an invitation to write and perform a new piece for an ensemble in Montreal, Canada.

As an interpreter, I am developing programs mixing the music of Erik Satie and works by living composers who meet his aesthetic. Of course, I continue to refine my Armenian concert program with composers from Yerevan and the diaspora. I hope to perform this program in Canada and abroad.

While I was in Yerevan, I did receive invitations to improvise, create and perform.  I am not sure how to make these happen right now as my first visit was supported by funding from the Canada Council for the Arts.

I wonder whether Armenians in Armenia would be interested in my work. I also wonder what context would be the best way for me to share my world if they were curious to experience it?

Armenia is very far away, geographically. If it were closer to where I live, I would be there again in a second.



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