HAPPENED TODAY - On December 7, 1887, the pianist and composer Ernst Toch was born in Leopoldstadt

Anna Banas

Hello, Anna, and thank you for agreeing to answer my questions. How many years did you start studying the cello, and why the cello and not another instrument?
I started studying at the age of 10. Honestly, I had no idea what a cello was. I was in love with the violin and I wanted to play that instrument, but I was told that I was too “old” and that I could choose between cello, bassoon or horn. I didn’t know any of these instruments, after all, I was only 10 years old, and I don’t know why I associated the cello with the harp and the angels on the clouds. This is why I answered “cello”. I must admit that I was very surprised when I arrived at the first lesson and saw this instrument: it was not what I imagined, but within a very short time I fell in love with it, until it became an inseparable companion of my life.

Who was your first teacher? And the most important one?
My first teacher was Professor Beata Krzanowska. A great teacher with an excellent approach to children. I owe her a lot as a cellist and as a human being: she took me by the hand and accompanied me on my first steps in this world. I can’t say who was the most important, because I think that every artist I met on my way has transmitted something important to me, starting with Prof. Michael Flaksman, going through prof. Miklos Perenyi and prof. Wolfgang Mehlhorn, up to the prof. Robert D. Levin.

Do you feel that you have learned more with your eyes (looking at your teachers) or with your ears (hearing them play or listening to their explanations)?
I have always carefully observed not only my professors but also the world around them. I thought that I could learn not only from them but also from all the other artists and from the world around them. I have always tried to find an explanation and a connection with everything, not always succeeding. Also to my students I always recommend to live every experience with their “invisible basket”, in which to put all the information they receive and then pull them out at the right moment, not to copy them, but to take their inspiration in their musical life and in their style, creating an original version of themselves.

What, in your opinion, are the compositions that a cellist must surely study in his studies?
Each composition is important in its own way and therefore should be studied: having a 360-degree view is the best way to approach one’s own course of study. Certainly, our supporting columns such as the Bach Suites or the Concerts by Haydn, Schumann, Dvorak, and Lutoslawski must never be missing, but we must not forget the Studies and the Capricci, often avoided by students, but of fundamental importance in the technique of a musician.

Is it useful to participate in competitions during the study period?
This is a very delicate question. The competitions can obviously help: thanks to the more than 30 competitions won in my career, I had the chance to get the “Giovane Polonia” scholarship, with which I managed to get a good Italian instrument, but the main problem I think is that many young people tend to see the competition, and specifically the result obtained in the competition, as their artistic point of that moment, often demoralizing and losing confidence in themselves, without taking into consideration the fact that a competition is a sum of so many factors. So I think that competitions are important, but they shouldn’t become the hub on which our life turns.

Do you prefer to play alone, in chamber groups, or in an orchestra?
I have no preferences. The best thing about being a musician is just to “make” music. I love playing solo concerts, but in the same way, I wouldn’t be able to live without chamber music, as I love playing and being carried by the instruments of an orchestra.

If you had to choose, would you prefer to teach or play?
I hope I never have to make a decision like that! I think a good teacher can’t afford to stop playing. Playing always brings new experiences and new inspirations, just as I often find myself learning a lot from the students. Each of my students is completely different and everyone surprises me and inspires me differently. So, by answering the question, I would choose to play … but I would still teach in secret!

If they asked you to do a concert lesson to children who have never seen a cello and don’t know their voice, which pieces would you play?
I occasionally meet a child intrigued by this great instrument … and I often try to attract his attention (who knows … maybe this child will fall in love with the cello and become a great cellist …) and I must say that I am always more surprised! It often happens that, playing the most famous and virtuosic pieces, they do not attract any attention on their part and, instead, the Sacher Variation by Lutoslawski enchanted them. Then I think we can’t know what can attract a child: they see and feel differently from what we see and hear.

What were the most beautiful musical experiences of your life?
I think all the musical experiences are “the most beautiful in life”. In my opinion, if you love what you do and do it with a smile, every experience can be exciting. If I had to choose one, I would say the moment when one of my students thanked me after I made her play by my side, for her first professional concert, in public giving her the thrill of playing the encore as a soloist. There is no greater satisfaction than helping a young person reach his goal.

And what are your musical dreams for the future?
Continue to do what I love …. teach and play …. maybe one day seeing one of my students riding an important stage.

Thank you so much for your kindness and availability and best wishes for a life full of enthusiasm and music!