Thursday, July 16, 2009

Getting to Know Carol Zinavage

This is the second of a series of interviews with the musicians and staff of the Knoxville Symphony. My aim for this series is to go beyond the usual of where we've played and with whom we've studied to talk about who we are outside the concert hall.

Carol Zinavage is the principal keyboard player for the KSO.

KG: Did you choose the piano or did someone "help" you make that decision? I know from your cameo at last year's July 4th concert that you also play the flute / piccolo. Which came first? Any other instruments?
CZ: My mother was a pianist. My heroes when I was a baby were Hopalong Cassidy and Liberace. I liked the piano, but my mother looms large in my legend (ha.) I started flute in the 6th grade, and shortly after that, became a Certified Band Geek. Later, in my 20's, I joined a professional rock band on electric bass, which I taught myself. I can also play Suzuki Book One on violin.

KG: Playing keyboard for the symphony can involve some waiting around while the group rehearses a piece you don't play. Usually I see you passing the time with a crossword puzzle or a book. How did you get into doing crossword puzzles? Do you like other puzzles?
CZ: I love reading and I love words. I love the gestalt of The New York Times crossword puzzle - there's a certain way of thinking about language there that I feel very in tune with. Everyone asks me if I do Sudoku, too, but I have no patience for Sudoku and numbers - I'm too interested in words.

KG: What are you reading right now? What is the best book you've read lately (or ever...)?
CZ: I am reading a ghost story called The Little Stranger, by Sarah Waters, whose writing reminds me of Daphne du Maurier, one of my favorite writers. I just finished The Art of Racing in the Rain, by Garth Stein and it is definitely one of the best books I've ever read.

KG: What is your favorite KSO memory / performance?
CZ: I was in awe of Henry Mancini. We shared the piano - meaning I would play and he would conduct the orchestra, and then he'd move to the piano and I would sit elsewhere, out of the way, while he performed. The orchestra played a not-so-well-known piece of his and I was one of the only ones who recognized it - there was a piano solo for me and I think he was pleased that I knew the tune and made the most of the solo, because he gave me a bow. He was rather crusty at the time, late in life, but I will always remember him smiling at me from the podium and saying, "C'mon, take a bow." Also, backing up The Moody Blues was practically a religious experience for me. My favorite classical moments have been on big Stravinsky pieces, or Bartok's "Music for Strings, Percussion, and Celeste," which just slays me.

KG: Do you have a favorite composer?
CZ: Beethoven, if I had to choose just one, largely for his sonorities. There's just no one else that makes an orchestra or piano sound like that. Others are Britten, Stravinsky, Bartok, Prokofiev - I really like 20th-century.

KG: I can't imagine having to play on different violas all the time, yet that is the plight of the pianist since you can't take your instrument with you. Is it difficult adjusting to different pianos? How long does it take you to get comfortable with a new instrument?
CZ: I've always taken a "well, this is what it is, and by golly, it's gonna sound good anyway" approach. Positive thinking can cover a lot of ills. The worst piano I ever played was at a private party. The person who hired me went on and on about how the party-giver was so proud of his "Civil War-era piano," which made me groan inwardly - pianos always get worse, never better. It was indeed a disaster - the pedals fell off while I was playing and half the keys didn't work, and that's no exaggeration.

People are always asking me about technical aspects of the workings of the piano, and about electric pianos. I have no idea. My favorite story about that is the time someone ran into Sir Paul McCartney in a music store and asked him what kind of guitar/bass strings he used. He replied, "Uh - long, shiny, silver things?" I can so relate to that.

KG: What concert or piece are you looking forward to the most this upcoming season?
CZ: PETRUSHKA!!! (KG: Me too!)

KG: Do you have any summer plans you'd be willing to share?
CZ: I'm running away to Florida next week to visit my old college roomie, and freeload off of her and her husband for as long as they'll tolerate me. When I get back, I'm taking my dog and my best friend and heading for a cabin in NC, where we plan to do nothing but float in the river with a book and eat lots of stuff that is bad for us. There will probably be some hiking, too, but mainly water/books/food.

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