From student to star pianist, Michael Krikorian comes home to Fresno State
Michael Krikorian has come a long way from the first time he met Andreas Werz, the artistic director of the Philip Lorenz International Keyboard Concerts series at Fresno State. Krikorian was 12, and he was a bit nervous when he showed up for his first piano lesson with Werz.
Now, after years of lessons — including his undergraduate work in piano at Fresno State — and more advanced degrees, Krikorian is once again showing up at Werz’s office. But this time it is as a featured pianist in the Lorenz series. He performs 3 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 20 at the Fresno State Concert Hall.
Are you a member of The Munro Review? You can win a pair of tickets to the Michael Krikorian concert by leaving a comment on this post. Deadline to enter is 1 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 19.
I caught up with the enthusiastic Fresno State grad via email to talk about the concert.
Q: You started taking lessons with Andreas Werz when you were 12. What do you remember about that first lesson? Were you intimidated at first?
A: I remember my first lesson clearly. I was standing outside Andreas’s door, staring at the brochure for the Philip Lorenz Keyboard Concerts. There was a picture of Philip Lorenz at the bottom which I mistook for Andreas. He’s staring directly at the camera with a fierce intensity, and it reminded me of those old portraits of composers looking like somebody just spilled coffee all over their manuscript — that famous Stieler portrait of Beethoven comes to mind. So, to say I felt intimidated is an understatement.
But then Andreas opened the door, and he was much less scary looking than Philip Lorenz appeared to be in that photograph. I felt okay after that. During the lesson Andreas cautioned me against getting ahead of myself, explaining that things would move at a slower pace initially, but that we need to build a solid foundation before attempting to play all the crazy music I wanted to learn.
Q: How about memories of the Keyboard Concerts series? Are there any artists whom you particularly recall?
A: The first concert I saw was Eric Brelsford, one of Andreas’s former students, who at the time had just begun his studies at Fresno State. This was right around the time I began taking lessons, so I would have been 12. It was so inspiring, I told my parents on the way home from the concert that I wanted to be a concert pianist! And my dad said, “Are you sure you don’t want to be an accountant?” (My dad is a CPA.)
Q: You start your Fresno program with your own piece, Prelude. Tell us a little about it.
A: The Prelude is thematically linked to my arrangement of “Yesterday,” so I play those two pieces as a pair. Both have much in common with Scriabin’s late style in their harmony and texture. Scriabin is my favorite composer, so my intention in emulating his style is to gain a more intuitive understanding of his music. The “Yesterday” arrangement was an experiment to see what would happen if you cross the Beatles with Scriabin in his late style. I think “Yesterday” is one of the finest melodies ever composed – it has this elemental quality that allows it to be recontextualized and transformed in many different ways without losing its inherent expressive power. I kept the melody intact, but I turned it into a spooky, highly chromatic nocturne.
Q: Can you pick one or two other pieces on the program that you’d like to talk about?
A: An overarching theme of this recital is dramatic contrasts in style in different periods of a composer’s life. I think the evolution in style in the music of Scriabin and Liszt is especially fascinating. I will perform two late pieces by Liszt in the first half which are very atmospheric, dissonant, sinister, and unlike anything else being written at the time. Liszt is more commonly known for his flashy virtuoso writing, but he was actually one of the greatest visionaries of the 19th century.
Q: It can be a little strange to return as a professional to the school you attended, even if you’ve been back before. What is that experience like for you?
A: It feels like a homecoming. I guess what might seem strange is that it doesn’t feel strange at all — it feels like I never left.
Q: When you were a senior at Fresno State, you broke your right index finger, and you ended up playing your final undergraduate recital with one hand. You fully recovered after surgery, but it must have given you a scare. I’m figuring now that you’d turn down an invite for a downhill-skiing weekend, right?
A: I actually did go skiing for the first time at Big Bear a few years ago! It was terrifying. I am extremely cautious with my hands, and just have a general aversion to risking injury. The experience of breaking my index finger was traumatic for me at the time since I didn’t know if I would fully recover my ability to play. In retrospect, I’m grateful that it afforded me the opportunity to explore an area of the piano literature that I would not have looked into otherwise.
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Q: After Fresno State, you went on to the Manhattan School of Music for a master’s and USC for a doctorate. How did living in two “big cities” change you?
A: Living in Los Angeles has made me grateful for the abundance of parking lots in Fresno. Moving to New York was a bit of a culture shock initially, but I don’t feel like living in big cities has fundamentally changed who I am. I suppose it’s made me more open to having new experiences. It has also made me appreciate how special the classical music scene in Fresno is. The Keyboard Concert Series is a local gem, and should be a source of pride for everybody that lives here. Andreas brings some of the finest pianists from all over the world to perform in this series, with whom we can meet and interact with afterwards! As piano majors at Fresno State, we had masterclasses with many of the artists too. These are rare opportunities that I have not had with the same regularity or consistency of quality anywhere else.
Q: What are you up to now? Fill us in on your life.
A: Currently I am performing, teaching privately around Los Angeles, serving in chair positions for the California Association of Professional Music Teachers (CAPMT), scoring an experimental web series, and working with Fresno State composition professor Ken Froelich to plan a Summer Arts class on scoring for video games. In January I will begin teaching at Los Angeles Pierce College as an adjunct professor. I feel perpetually overcommitted, but I love what I do!
Q: You’ve faced a competitive field ever since you decided to study piano, whether it was getting into prestigious schools or advancing in your career. Do you feel now that you can relax a little?
A: No, not at all. Even looking at all the teachers I’ve had over the years, I’m not sure musicians ever feel that way! It’s been an endless cycle of, “OK, once I reach this next goal, then things will settle down,” but then a million other things fall onto my plate. It’s not necessarily a bad thing — nothing brings a greater sense of fulfillment than preparing a recital, composing music, working with motivated and hard-working students. It’s good to have breaks every now and then, but I can’t be away from music for very long before I start feeling hollow.
Q: Anything else you’d like to say?
A: I feel extremely grateful and honored to have been invited to perform as a part of this concert series. The Philip Lorenz Keyboard Concerts have been a source of inspiration for me since I started learning music, and to now be a part of this series is a dream come true.