Virtuoso with a visa
Her eye on the American dream, a young pianist from Moldova polishes her concerto
When Katrina Cramarciuc sits down at the grand piano in Kaul Auditorium at Reed College, it will be obvious which part of the program she represents.
At 14, the willowy Moldovan pianist is the 'teen' portion of the Portland Chamber Orchestra's program 'A Tune, a Teen and a Titan.' The 'tune' is 'Collage on Bach' by Arvo Part, and the 'titan' is Beethoven's Symphony No. 1.
Cramarciuc will play Mozart's Piano Concerto No. 15 in B flat major, which was composed when Mozart himself was only 21, midway through the 24 piano concertos he would write before his death at age 35.
The piano concerto was chosen for Cramarciuc by the orchestra's conductor, Yaacov Bergman, with the happy concurrence of Cramarciuc's piano teacher, Dorothy Fahlman. Bergman and Fahlman spoke about the selection as Cramarciuc Ñ with her mother Luiza listening nearby Ñ finished a lesson at Fahlman's Southwest Portland home last week.
'It's her,' booms Bergman expansively. 'It's a perfect piece, very appropriate: young, sunny and happy, just like her. And it's within the mission of our orchestra to identify young, fragile artists and to make them feel secure.'
Fahlman has been teaching Cramarciuc since last September, taking over from Gayana Teseoglu, in Chisinau, Moldova, formerly part of the Soviet Union. Teseoglu taught her for the previous five years. It's hard to think of any performer being insecure around the motherly Fahlman. She's taught piano for 30 years, has three children who are professional musicians and looks as likely to produce a tray of warm cookies as a rippling arpeggio.
'Always say two, dear. Always say two,' Fahlman says with a laugh as Cramarciuc admits to practicing three and four hours a day as she polishes the concerto for Saturday's performance.
For Cramarciuc's lesson, she and Fahlman sit side by side at identical 7-foot Steinway B pianos, and Fahlman accompanies, demonstrates and encourages. Working a difficult passage several times, Fahlman finally gets the performance she wants.
'That's much improved,' she says, beaming. 'The left hand has to be more interesting. It's all about accents.
'Practice is different than playing,' Fahlman says. 'You go over and over 25 notes 20 times or more. You're not performing; it's a lot of mental work, making the hands do what the heart and brain tells them to.'
Such practice has two benefits, she says. One is that like running, the performer must be fit or the exercise is going to hurt. The other is that the pianist gets an endorphin high.
'And that makes gifted students play better,' she says.
Fahlman is familiar with Cramarciuc's schooling, having taken part in Russian musical exchange programs that were interrupted in the wake of the events of Sept. 11, 2001. After that, parents in Eastern Europe were afraid to send their children to the United States.
'We're all just treading water, waiting for the next step,' Fahlman says.
Cramarciuc's family is musical and won green cards in the annual Diversity Visa Lottery, which gives foreign nationals a chance to immigrate to the United States. Both of her parents graduated from Russian music conservatories. Her father, Vladimir, is an opera singer, and her mother, Luiza, sings Russian romance songs.
Cramarciuc is a freshman at Century High School in Hillsboro and also plays piano in the school's jazz band, which has broadened her opportunity to compose.
'There is no jazz in our country,' says her mother with a bright smile. 'It's helping her develop her talent.'
That talent takes a lot of practice, but luckily the Portland-based Piano Santa Foundation has given Cramarciuc a piano of her own. Other people have helped out with competition fees, Fahlman says.
'Everybody's been really nice, but Katrina's delivering her end, too,' Fahlman says. 'It's always fun to help people like this.'
She may have grown up playing Rachmaninov and Bach, but Cramarciuc has an eye on her own piece of the American dream.
'I dream to be a composer for the movies, like John Williams,' she says.