Interview with Elena Kokka
Journeys with the piano
" The notes can be played in as many different ways as there are colours around us"

Elena Kokka: A study in voice and piano

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'Musical Diamonds' by Elena Kokka the rising Greek star soprano and pianist, This was a performance of pianistic and vocal diamonds in which she outshone even Asprey's diamonds with her magnificent and "Vissi d'Arte" from Puccini's Tosca . What a performance! >>

"A musical diamond in a wonderful event" On the 29th of January 2009 soprano and pianist Elena Kokka delivered a performance of real musical diamonds for the piano and voice at Asprey's of London. It was an exceptional performance before a distinguished audience. She began her programme with self- accompanied songs and then moved into a solo piano programme with a demanding Chopin study. She continued with Rachmaninov preludes, and ended with Moskowski. Moving to vocal repertoire again, she performed the beautiful songs by Ravel "Cinq Melodies Populaires Greques" before tackling the aria "Vissi d'arte" from Puccini's opera "Tosca". A unique combination of repertoire! >>

Greek triumph At this unique concert with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra at London's Cadogan Hall, the distinguished soprano and pianist Elena Kokka dominated the whole event with her interpretation of Cherubini's Medea. >>

The next generation: Ambitious and very active internationally, they are considered the stars of the future in their fields. Here were the Greek scientists and artists of the 21st century! Interview by Chrisa Kleitsioti Elena Kokka, pianist -soprano interview >>

Interview "Piano and voice : a study" "Exemplary in her search for interpretative perfection, robust in the development of her musical phrases, her handling of the masses of piano sound was very convincing. She has a very precise sense of timing and immaculate technique >>

Elena Kokka Recognised early on as a 'fine talent' for her sensitive and musical playing, Athens-born Elena Kokka pursued her musical studies in piano and singing at the Royal College of Music in London. It was not long before prizes, scholarships and distinctions began to fall into her lap.>>

"I reach for the limits in everything I do" >>

" The notes can be played in as many different ways as there are colours around us" by Andreas Kounios issue 82 , 20th May 2001 "Οι νότες παίζονται με τόσους τρόπους, όσα και τα χρώματα γύρω μας" >>

A very promising young artist and engaging performer, she not only has the will but also the power to take us into different worlds. She has the ability to make us dream. With Elena Kokka we talked about music, and leading on from that, about issues that we face in our everyday lives. Her answers, as you will see, are sensitive and tender; tender as the touch of a piano key. From the first minute one realises that the world she inhabits is a refined one. >>

Magic fingers Elena Kokka: Magic Fingers. Greek pianist Elena Kokka is a talented young virtuoso blessed with a very deep sense of expression and a strong and irresistible cantabile quality. Her recent recital in London demonstrated a blend of mastery and poetic insight. ...the artist skillfully responded with hot-blooded energy to the Greek repertoire which was performed with tremendous character .A magical evening'. >>

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Interview with Elena Kokka
Journeys with the piano
A συν , "αληθεια" newspaper
issue 82 , 20th May 2001
" The notes can be played in as many different ways as there are colours around us"
by Andreas Kunios

Greek pianist Elena Kokka has been performing for a number of years in the UK, Greece and other European countries...

A very promising young artist and engaging performer who not only has the will but also the power to take us into different worlds. She has the ability to make us dream. With Elena Kokka we talked about music and in relation to that, about issues that we face in our everyday lives. Her answers, as you will see, are sensitive and tender, tender as the touch of a piano key. From the first minute one realises that she belongs in a refined world.

Elena Kokka has been invited to perform in Lemesol, Cyprus at the annual event of CYMEPA. The event will take place at the "Amathus" hotel and will be followed by a buffet dinner. It is organised in collaboration with the Tsavliris Cultural Foundation.

" I try to express the world of each composer, as seen through my own eyes."

-Is the piano the best musical instrument?
There are no best musical instruments, only good musicians!

-Does music have wings?
Music gives wings to people.

-To fly where?
Away from everyday life. Music allows people to dream.

-Is silence a sound?
It is a sound that lets us hear our heartbeat and which many times contains more meaning than speech. In music the pauses, the rests, are as important as the actual notes. And one can hear these. In some mysterious way you can distinguish a good musician from a mediocre one by the way they handle the silences.

-Does one play the piano with the mind or with the soul?
Both mind and soul are engaged.

-Does music tame, or calm, the soul?
Music has a tremendous impact on the human soul, it can sooth or aggravate. It depends on the message and the quality.

-Through the piano do you express your own world or the world of others?
I try to express the world of each composer as seen through my own eyes.

-Do you think that all members of an audience hear music in the same way?
Not in the same way. Each person understands it differently.

-Why do you think they hear music differently?
Different musical backgrounds and experiences result in a different understanding of music.

-Does classical music belong only to the few?
No. It may have been discovered by the few but belongs to everyone.

-Were you born with a gift for music?
I was born with a musical talent, otherwise I wouldn't dare do what I do. But I cultivated this talent. Talent by itself cannot bear fruit.

-Can you define talent? What does a talented person have in comparison with the less talented?
Talent is the ability. But you have to cultivate this ability.
A talented person above all must have the willpower, the persistence and the belief in what he does. Above all, he must have the power to work continuously and moreover, he must love what he does.

" Music is the voice of God".

-Do you experience God through music?
Definitely, that is why I consider myself very lucky. It is through music and nature more than anything else in life that one can understand and feel God.

-However the following question arises: Did God invent music or man?
Music is the voice of God. Through music people communicate with Him and with each other.

-What is the most beautiful sound you have ever heard?
The sound of sea waves.

-The ugliest?
A cry of despair.

-Who was, in your opinion, the greatest musical personality of all time?
There have been many. Bach , Beethoven and others. They all served art to the highest degree. They opened new paths of musical expression.

-Can there be perfection in music or simply an effort to attain perfection?
There can be no perfection in any kind of art. There can only be an endless struggle to surpass oneself.

-What kind of images inspire you and provide the impulse to sit at the piano?
Nature is my main source of inspiration. Especially the mediterranean brightness.

-Do you employ your imagination when you are touching the keys?
Without imagination playing the piano can be boring and definitely tiring.

-What is the difference between imagination and reality?
Imagination always feeds reality and in many cases, reality feeds imagination, but there are times when it has a limited effect.

-If you could penetrate the mind of a great composer, which composer would you choose and why?
I would really like to explore the soul and mind of Beethoven, because despite the masterpieces that he has given us, he was a very unhappy human being.

-A great number of people had unhappy lives.
Yes, but those people who leave us immortal works truly deserve happiness. I want to believe that life is "just" with the works of great artists and I get upset when this does not happen. Yes, I would have liked to have known Beethoven in order to understand why.

"Everyone is necessary on this earth, especially good people".

-Does music answer our questions or does it add new questions to the existing ones?
Music above all exalts the human soul. It leaves questions and answers to the intellect.

-Which other art is most akin to music?
All arts have a kinship with music. But those that take place through the dimension of time are of course more closely related to it ; like dancing for example, which is more closely related to music than painting. In fact dancing and music share a great deal. Music is also an integral part of theatre and cinema. I would say that it functions in partnership with them. Music definitely serves many more art forms than any other arts do.

-What kind of person are you? Are you intraverted? Do you love solitude? Do you easily communicate with other people?
I am an extrovert, like most Greeks! I communicate easily and do not particularly love solitude, yet, I believe that one must put aside time for oneself. Time that belongs to oneself exclusively.

-Is there one person to whom you owe a lot?
My mother.

-For what reason?
She gave me the gift of life and she gave me sound principles and support so that I could go my own way. I also owe a lot to my father, a wonderful and distinguished man, who died before I had the chance to really know him.

-Who was the hero of your childhood?
My father. I admired him because he was different. He would attempt the unattainable. He was extremely disciplined and had incredible willpower. I am proud of him and I carry him inside me.

-Would the world be a better place if musicians ruled it?
I am not sure if it would be better. It would certainly be different!
Every one is necessary on this earth, especially good people.

-Can the notes be played in many different ways?
They can be played in as many different ways as there are colours around us.

-How does a work of art become immortal?
A work of art is special when it is both technically "perfect" and can at the same time communicate a message and some extremely rare creations endure for all eternity because they either surpass certain limits or open up new horizons.

-What is eternity to you?
Eternity is what people can never attain but which their works may.

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Elena Kokka: A study in voice and piano

“Exemplary in her search for the perfection of her interpretations and robust in the unfolding of her musical phrases, her handling of the complete range of the piano sound-world was very convincing. She displayed a very precise sense of timing and immaculate technique”

This is what we, who were lucky enough to have listened to the recital of piano and singing in the towns of Nicossia and Lemessol, experienced. These two appearances prompted us to meet up with Elena Kokka and get to know her better.

Mrs Kokka, you live in London but you started your musical studies in Athens.
Yes, that is true. I began my studies in Athens and as you know - and I imagine that it is the same here in Cyprus - the musical education in my native country is not at the same level as one finds abroad. That may be perhaps because we have too much good weather (laughing); we are a warm people and we like to enjoy life. So it is hard for us to discipline ourselves.

And Art, music and above all the art of a soloist needs discipline.
Yes, they require discipline and good guidance from an early age, both from parents and from teachers.

What was their contribution in your case?
Both my parents studied music but they were not professional musicians, my mother had an amazing voice and played the piano. As you can imagine , back in those days women were not encouraged to become professional musicians (especially in Greece).

I imagine you had your mother’s support?
From a very early age I had a bent for music. I used to improvise, compose and sing all the time, although I did not have a solid musical training. I did not study at any of the music schools available in Athens, nor was I shown how to be disciplined and practice properly by my piano teacher who came for my piano lessons once a week. I was a top student at school, and very good at everything artistic and musical there. When I graduated from school I went to Athens University to study Computer and Statistic Programming and that saved me. It was so technical that I realised that it was not for me. So I quit my studies there and began to study music properly. I went to study in London at the Royal College of Music.

Do you regret that slight delay in choosing to become a professional musician?
For me it was a matter of circumstances and in any case it wasn’t too late. Had I grown up in a proper musical environment then, yes, that decision would have been made earlier. But in Greece parents do not encourage their children to become professional musicians but rather to enter a greek university and study something scientific (I remember my brother having huge arguments with my mother when he decided to become a composer). Also these decisions are always better when they follow a maturing process. When one comes to know oneself and what one wants, then one can go ahead and pursue it, even if it is a bit later than the normal.

What you do, Mrs Kokka, I believe is very difficult. Both playing the piano and singing to a very high standard.
While at the RCM I was studying the piano with an excellent and very demanding Russian teacher and pianist. She obviously had a really promising young talent under her guidance and then my singing teacher went to my piano teacher to talk about me and she told her that although I had a very promising voice, I was not working hard enough. And that was indeed the case. Not coming from a disciplined musical background and having to catch up with repertoire, I was just trying to do one of the two disciplines properly. I dedicated myself more to piano at first, then I had to swop the focus. Whatever happens I could never think of giving up either the piano or the singing. They both make me the musician I am now. Also, at that time, whenever someone heard me singing they encouraged me not to give up.

Am I right that accompanying yourself at the same time as singing is unprecedented in music?
As far as playing the piano and singing is concerned it is rare to find a musician who can do both. That is : someone with both a natural voice and a natural facility at the keyboard. Concerning self-accompaniment, I have to say that it has its advantages and disadvantages. When you accompany yourself, obviously you know exactly what you, the singer, are doing and so you can follow the musical phrase with perfect synchronisation, perfect harmonic colouring to suit the vocal line, perfect understanding of the breathing. The problem is how to sing with proper vocal “support”. How can one do that while seated? This is overcome with practise and experience.

But in any case operatic singers never stay absolutely still when singing.
Exactly. Especially if we consider that on stage operatic singers have to make entrances, kneel, bend this way and that, fall down and so forth while still producing their sound. The other difficulty with self-accompaniment is that as a singer you do not have the visual contact with the audience that a singer normally has, as you are sitting down and there is a piano in front of you. I like to turn the piano around so that there is some visual contact with the audience.

It is as if we have two different musical personalities in one. In my experience pianists tend to be more self-sufficient and solitary whereas singers are more open. In other words, they have rather different characters.
I believe every musician is individually different and I try not to categorise and generalise. Each person has his own character and temperament and that comes across in their music-making. In my case I feel very lucky that I can do both. It is rather unique and certainly more difficult. But it also relaxes the brain as the two activities engage different parts of my brain.

How do audiences respond to this phenomenon?
I tremendously enjoy it and I think that people love it too. It is a change for them and for me. Instead of the usual all-piano recital they have a recital for voice and piano. And for my practise it is better, as mentioned before, as different aspects of myself are involved for each discipline. But I have to say, it requires massive quantities of energy and I have to train myself hard, both physically and mentally, in order to obtain the required result.

Do you have favourite composers?
There are many I like. This season I am playing a lot of Rachmaninov and Scriabin. I love Rachmaninov as I discover so many colours and so much depth in his music. And I enjoy the fact that he was also a double artist : a pianist and composer. But I like Scriabin too. I have an affinity for Russian composers generally.

At your recitals abroad you also sing some self-accompanied songs by Theodorakis.
Exactly and that is how it all started…above all I love Seferis and Elytis, great Greek poets and Theodorakis composed a lot of his songs to their amazing poetry. So when I was asked to do something from my native country, I thought of Seferins and Elytis… There was nothing pianistic that could bring such greek flavour to my programme. In the case of songs there is verse and that is very powerful. So my audience was taken by surprise when I finished my piano recital by turning the piano and starting to sing and play. People loved it. They were calling for a CD of those songs even months after the concert. But I could never sing them in the way that they have usually been sung before as I am a classically trained singer. Some people might like them, some not. But in music if one just follows one safe path… one never discovers new paths!

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