George Todica and I first worked together when he was asked to accompany me by our Conservatoire for the Kathleen Ferrier competition in Blackburn. I was starting Year 2 and he was commencing the third year of his Piano course. He also accompanied me in the Llangollen Eisteddfod last year and we were finalists in a German lieder competition this year. It’s a privilege to sing with him because he isn’t doing an accompanist degree he trains as a concert pianist and has so little time to spare. A few months ago we auditioned for a series of Grieg master-classes to be held in Bergen, Norway and I’m thrilled to let you know that we were accepted on to the course which I’ll tell you more about soon. It’s taken a while to get this interview together due to rehearsal schedules but finally I persuaded him to put a little time aside to tape this interview so that you can see what a trainee pianist goes through.
Here is a sample of George’s playing 🙂
What age did you first start playing piano?
I started playing at the age of three, my brothers, who were 12 and 14 at the time, taught me at first as they were already in school and knew how to play. They taught me little songs with one finger to start with, I remember I had a big pink book but I don’t remember what it was called, whilst I was in Kindergarden to play for the family. At the age of five I had my first official lesson with Silvia Panzariu in Iasi, Romania where I grew up because my Dad who is also a musician saw potential in me. She was a teacher at the High School the lessons were once every fortnight before I started school. I was always excited for my lessons. At about the age of six my brothers got their first basic computers and to test my love of piano my father offered me the choice of a computer or continued piano lessons and I chose piano.
How often did you practise each week?
I don’t remember exactly initially I enjoyed playing new pieces and I enjoyed learning new songs often for hours at a time; but exercises, playing things over and over again I didn’t particularly enjoy, I think that was probably about one hour each day. Silvia was my teacher for most of my childhood then I went to her daughter Ralucia and she taught me from about eleven for a few years. They were a very musical family. When I was fifteen I changed to her sister’s husband.
When did you start performing on stage or in front of audiences?
I learnt a lot before I got into School so I used to compete each year. I used to enjoy the competitions as I used to win first prize from the age of seven. I used to be more concerned about my walk on and bow than I was about my playing. I had to wear formal little suits, my parents wanted me to look special and stand out and they got me a burgundy jacket and I used to look at all the black jackets and think ooh no one else is wearing a burgundy jacket. I used to sing a lot when I was young and in a choir as a bass when I was older but I was really drawn to the piano and as we had a piano in the house it was very accessible so I concentrated on that.
What other subjects did you study at school in Romania?
Our system makes us do compulsory subjects until very late; Romanian literature, Maths, Biology, Chemistry, Physics, in final exams you can choose between History, Geography, Philosophy and Economics, I chose History which I enjoyed. Music was outside of choices.
When did you come to study in Scotland?
In Year 10 in Romania I won a scholarship at the Stewart’s Melville College in Edinburgh where I spent a very enjoyable year, I studied in S6 ( advanced highers ) studying classical History, Philosophy and Music and passed my examinations. When I finished that year I went directly to the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland.
Was it difficult to leave home and move to the UK?
I had been sort of prepared for it because I was travelling to outside competitions and concerts being organised by my piano teacher Iulian Trofin, I would travel two hours to his class on the bus. I met him when I was ten and I studied with him until I came to Glasgow. From eight, I always walked half an hour to school alone. It was very difficult at first even though I spoke English quite well, I studied it in my last four years of school. I learnt English from cartoons and things and speaking to my friends to practise whilst we played computer games I just picked it up from this. It was strange not coming home at the end of each day, but they were very nice, kind and supportive to me in Edinburgh and I was allowed to phone home so it was mixed with lots of excitement.
What are your proudest achievements?
Winning the scholarship to Edinburgh definitely it absolutely changed my life, if I hadn’t got that I wouldn’t have thought to apply to the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland. I wouldn’t have had the funds to move to another Country either. I was offered a full scholarship for Edinburgh including flights. I won my first international competition when I was 12, I went to Italy with Mr Trofin and I won first prize in my category it was a big prize for me at the time.
What’s a typical training schedule like for you?
I have been living in Scotland through scholarships during the past four years and I never had to worry about working in a bar or shop thanks to this, so that I could focus on learning piano every single moment, seven days per week. I usually strive to do an average of at least six hours piano practise per day excluding improv sessions, stretch breaks, research. I usually get up each day around 7am, I like early mornings waking up with the sun to relax, eat and check my e-mails and I usually get to school by 9am – at least three hours dedicated practise in a practise room before lunch around 1pm because mornings are most productive for me, then I’ll break off and do other work, then go back for an hour and a half solid practise, then have dinner around 5pm, then I’m usually back in school practising from 6pm to 9pm other than on a Sunday when they shut earlier.
What is coming up next for you?
I have two competitions in April and May in Sussex and Portugal. I have a concert in Edinburgh on the 6th April at St Giles Cathedral at lunch time Mozart, Ravel, and Enescu. Then of course I’m moving on to a master’s course I have accepted my offer of a place at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland because I’ve really enjoyed my four years here and got into the atmosphere of the Conservatoire. I was also offered places at RAM and RCM but I felt that the transition process would just take up valuable time. I have a new piano teacher Norman Beedie and I feel I can continue to learn a lot from him and make better progress here. I have a partial scholarship for masters and I am in the process of applying to trusts in the hope that people will help me to stay here.
What are your long term aims ?
I believe I have a musical voice and the potential to bring something new to music to teach people to enjoy pure music, just the actual syrup and honey that comes out of classical music and not just consider it a type of genre people like or don’t like. I want to promote this music to help for its own benefit not just make myself a career, to share the joy and light that it brought into my life since I was really young and I like sharing that and helping people to see what I see.
George also provided the beautiful accompaniment on the Aaron Copland American folk songs that I shared with you all earlier this year and on my album Canzoni D’Amore.