The Artist as Athlete: What it Takes to Win Piano's Biggest Prize

Last month, Nicolas Namoradze (D.M.A., Music) won the largest prize in the world for pianists — the triennial Honens International Piano Competition, a prestigious award worth 100,000 Canadian dollars (about $77,000) that is aimed at preparing its honorees for professional careers in music.

Namoradze jokes that it’s a good thing he’s finished the bulk of his work for his dissertation, because he hopes to spend much of the next few years travelling. As the Honens Prize laureate, he will perform recitals in classical music destinations such as Berlin, London, and New York. He will also have residencies in Canada’s Banff Centre for Arts and Creativity.
At 26, Namoradze has already spent much of his life on the road. He was born in Georgia, Tbilisi, but moved with his family to Budapest when he was two months old. There, he attended a British international school, and began studying piano at the Liszt Ferenc Academy of Music when he was eleven years old. Though his undergraduate education was based in Budapest, he completed most of his studies in Vienna and Florence, shuttling frequently between the two cities.
He moved to New York City to attend Juilliard, and in 2015, enrolled at The Graduate Center. “I cancelled all my other auditions as soon as I heard from the GC,” he said. “I knew this was what I wanted, and it’s facilitated everything I’ve done since.”
Part of the GC’s program’s appeal is its flexibility, Namoradze said. “I was even given the opportunity to study composition besides piano,” he said. “I’ve been working with wonderful members of the faculty, including my dissertation adviser, Distinguished Professor Joseph Straus (Music), who is the best in his field.”  
Namoradze is as much a composer as a performer and, in fact, several of the pieces that he performed at the Honens competition were his own. He wrote the music for “Walking Painting” and “Nuit d’OpĂ©ra,” two short films by the French artist Fabienne Verdier, and has worked with digital animators on audiovisual/electroacoustic films for concerts and installations. (He has also performed his own work at the GC.) “I was always scribbling as a child,” he said, noting that he didn’t begin seriously composing until his early twenties. “People always say that my approach to performing is like a composer’s.”
To keep up with his rigorous performing schedule, Namoradze practices meditation, tai chi, and yoga. “A musician is really an athlete,” he said, noting that professional musicians are prone to injuries, particularly in the lower back and shoulder muscles, as well as tendinitis. His meditations — he has designed several specifically for music performance — served him well at the Honens competition, where in the final round he rehearsed and performed for two days straight, both with a chamber music ensemble and a full orchestra. “Of course, one gets tired,” he said. “But one has to find ways of managing one’s energy and collecting one’s self in the moment.”
As he looks to the future, Namoradze keeps an open mind. “The life I’d like to lead is one of a concert pianist and a composer, somewhat in the image of the great performer-composers of the 19th and early 20th centuries,” he said. “However, life will always present new and unexpected opportunities. Just five years ago, I hadn’t yet begun composing. If someone had told me then that in a couple of years I would be doing projects like writing electronic music for film, I’d have thought it impossible!”

Submitted on: OCT 10, 2018

Category: General GC News | Music Ph.D. - D.M.A | Student News