Chamberfest: Lily Maisky on making music the family business

Lily Maisky.

Lily Maisky is a classical pianist. She plays a lot of solo and chamber music and she also plays with her father, the cellist Mischa Maisky. The duo will make their Ottawa debut on May 8 in Dominion-Chalmers United Church as the annual Chamberfest concert series draws to a close. Before the concert ARTSFILE interview father and daughter. Today we hear from Lily Maisky.

Q. You will be performing with your father in concert. It is a regular duo for you. When did it begin?

A. We began performing together professionally in March 2005 when I was finishing my last year at music school in London. We had played together informally a few times throughout my childhood but, on this occasion, I was playing Brahms E minor Sonata with a cellist in my class. My father and I spontaneously decided to try it out at a party at home in front of some friends. It went so incredibly harmoniously from the first note to the last that that’s when the idea came up to begin performing together professionally around the world. Fourteen years later, here we are.

Q. Your father is a rather famous cellist. I’m sure the family home was full of music. How has that helped you? How has it shaped you?

A. It was just the way that I grew up, indeed completely immersed in the music world. I personally only see it as a gift that enabled me to grow in many different ways. I didn’t really question it as a child, it was just reality. However, as opposed to many people whom I have found can become increasingly bitter and cynical regarding this little world that we find ourselves in, I truly love it and would not choose any other lifestyle, as exhausting and stressful as it can be sometimes.

Q. Did you ever rebel?

A. I had my moments, nothing too drastic though if I may say so… Of course there were times when it was difficult to manage time and practice enough during childhood years, and I would sometimes give my mother hell but we found the right solution by going to a specialized music school with my brother in 2001 where normal education was combined with musical studies in a balanced manner.

Q. Were you ever thinking of a different career?

A. When I was very young I had fantasies about becoming an author, I was a very avid reader. That idea ceased to be a long time ago now… I am truly extremely happy with my life and feel very privileged to get to travel the world sharing incredible music with different people. However I always say that if something were to happen and for some reason I could not play anymore that I would become a personal assistant for musicians as I am skilled at such things and I have noticed that many musicians struggle a lot to manage everything. Otherwise I am passionate about animals and would like to later in life to find time to involve myself more in that world.

Q. Who picks the music you play together?

A. It depends, sometimes local promoters have specific requests which we navigate around, but most often together we come up with what we consider to be an attractive and balanced combination of sonatas and smaller pieces, a lot of arrangements and transcriptions. We try and regularly update our programs, adding new works little by little.

Q. When you play in a duo is there repertoire that you two seem to gravitate to? 

A. I think it’s safe to say that we both feel more comfortable in rather Romantic and 20th Century répertoire. As I already said we seem to include many transcriptions in our programs. We have played a lot of vocal répertoire for example and many beautiful short pieces that we carefully select. However, we try and offer balanced and varied programs combining many different styles.

Q. Is this the Maisky duo’s first Ottawa performance?

A. This is indeed our début in Ottawa but not our Canadian début, we performed previously in Toronto. The program does includes some short pieces by Bach, Marcello and Mozart and Tchaikovsky that feature on our latest Deutsche Grammophon release called Adagietto. We combined these little gems with two major sonatas of the cello-piano répertoire: the great Brahms F major second Sonata which is a relatively new addition to our duo répertoire, and the Shostakovich Sonata which we have played for more than 10 years and is really one of our favourite pieces to play.

Q. Your brother Sascha joins you two forming a family trio. What instrument does he play?

A. Indeed in the last years our family Maisky Trio has been touring more and more, actually in the last couple of years I would say that we have been playing even more Trio than Duo. Sascha plays the violin, we form a piano trio and are grappling our way through the great and vast piano trio répertoire as well as performing Beethoven’s Triple Concerto very often for many years.

Q. You play a lot of chamber music as well as conducting a solo career. Do you have a preference? 

A. I love the piano chamber music répertoire, trio, quartets, quintets etc… It is vast and so much fun to make new musical encounters. However if I’m honest I’m most comfortable in smaller groups, duo and trio, I find it easier to find a more homogenous contact and sound with the others the smaller the group is.

Chamberfest presents Mischa and Lily Maisky
Where: Dominion-Chalmers United Church
When: May 8 at 7:30 p.m.
Tickets and information:

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Peter Robb began his connection with the arts community in Ottawa in the mid-1980s when he was the administrator and public relations director of the Great Canadian Theatre Company. After a long career in journalism with the Ottawa Citizen where he served in a number of different posts he returned to the arts when he became the Citizen's arts editor.