Finalist Olena Miso on Music and Culture at NTD International Piano Competition

By Catherine Yang
Catherine Yang
Catherine Yang
September 28, 2019 Updated: September 28, 2019

For Olena Miso, a pianist from Ukraine who studies in Graz, Austria, the NTD International Piano Competition was a perfect way to try something new.

“This is my first time in New York, in America, I’m very excited,” said the finalist, who won an Outstanding Performance award.

At the Baruch Performing Arts Center on Sept. 28, 2019, she performed Scriabin’s “Two Poems,” a story she said was about a star shining brightly amid the bleakness.

“I was thinking about this during my playing, and I hope the audience could also [feel it],” Miso said. As a musician, she feels it is her mission to speak through the music.

Miso also performed the Bach-Busoni Chaconne, which is a late 19th-century transcription of Bach’s famous Violin Partita No. 2.

“It’s a very beautiful piece. It’s very dramatic, at the same time in the Baroque and Romantic styles,” she said.

Then she played Rachmaninoff’s “Four Preludes,” each with a different character.

“Russian music, so of course very romantic, very dramatic,” she said. “I love it so much … and it’s very close to me, culturally.”

The competition puts an emphasis on traditional music, and Miso said it’s important but difficult.

“Unfortunately in the 21st century … everybody rushes. I have this feeling everyone rushes to leave, and nobody enjoys so much,” Miso said.

As such, it is perhaps the artist’s responsibility to provide something authentic, Miso said, and there is something true and authentic in every culture.

This was how Miso ultimately understood the repertoire’s commissioned piece, “Triumph of Goodness,” which is at once both Western and Chinese. The music was written by D.F., the artistic director of Shen Yun Performing Arts, and sounds to some like a traditional Chinese melody on orchestra. But it is arranged for piano in classical forms and styles.

“I didn’t understand, the first time,” she said. “I couldn’t catch that melody. It’s very lyrical but at the same time … see,  Italy has bel canto. We have big songs, big melodies, very bright. And this is pentatonic, this is something different, it’s something new.”

“I didn’t play it so deeply, I didn’t learn it so deeply, I think. But I understood it, yesterday on stage, and I enjoyed playing this music,” Miso said. She had the epiphany of how something culturally Chinese, and still authentic, could be expressed through classical Western techniques.

“This wonderful piece shows us everything can exist together, and be close to us,” she said.

Miso says she tries to love every piece she plays, so that in the moment, she can share the music and speak through the music.

“This is the most important thing to me, to share music with people,” she said.

You can watch the finals here:

Catherine Yang
Catherine Yang