Russian-American pianist Olga Kern will perform with The National Symphony Orchestra of Ukraine for her first time, as the group will embark on a tour up the East Coast from Nov. 15-24.
Performing at McCarter Theatre Center’s Matthews Theatre in Princeton on Nov. 21, Kern said she is looking forward to the tour with the group.
“I have never played with them before and my management – Columbia Arts Management, who I have worked with for many years –organized a tour for this orchestra, and they asked me to be a soloist on this tour,” Kern said. “I said yes because I had never worked with them, I had never worked with their conductor, Sirenko, so it will be an interesting experience. I always like to work with new orchestras because the piece that I am playing always sounds different with a different orchestra and different conductor. So, I said yes, and I am really looking forward to working with them.”
Kern, who was born in Moscow, was raised by a family of musicians. Her parents both being pianists – her mother a teacher, her father a performer – Kern didn’t fall too far from the tree.
“I always had piano music in the house because my mom was my first teacher,” she said. “She always had students coming and playing for her. My father was a pianist in the Bolshoi Theater Orchestra for many years. So, I grew up with music, I always loved music, I always loved piano.”
Continuing the family tradition, Kern’s son has also taken up the piano, too.
“He said, ‘I will only play the piano,’ so there is another pianist in the family – another continuation. He is at Julliard right now. He is really serious about his music; he is performing too,” she said.
But Kern’s family’s history in the music industry doesn’t start and stop at her parents. You can actually trace her family’s lineage back to Tchaikovsky and Rachmaninoff as well.
Kern’s great great great grandmother was also a pianist and a very good friend of Tchaikovsky’s, she said. Kern said the family has letters and photos that her grandfather had recently donated to a Tchaikovsky museum in Moscow.
Kern’s great grandmother was a singer. She performed as a soloist and opera singer and was accompanied by Rachmaninoff for some concerts.
“In two books of Rachmaninoff’s memoirs, it is written the exact dates and places of where they were performing together. So, these two geniuses – two of Russia’s greatest composers – touched a little bit on my family, which is very special to me,” Kern said.
Since coming to America, Kern made it her mission to become a United States citizen. Now after 18 years, she said the accomplishment is still special to her.
“I feel like this is my home and to finally have a citizenship was really special to me,” she said. “I am playing a lot of American composers right now, as well. Right after I got my citizenship, I got this incredible honor – I got Ellis Island Medal of Honor, in which honored immigrants who did something special for the United States. This is my home.”
Throughout the years, Kern began a foundation with her brother called the Aspiration Foundation. It helps award young musicians scholarships to continue their learning, while also helping them get the funds they need to purchase instruments.
“I remember when I was growing up, and I wasn’t getting any help or a scholarship and it was really important for me,” she said. “It was inspiration in a way, and I wanted to show people and organizations that I can do something incredible and do something better than what I was doing. I know how important help is, and if I can help, it makes me happy.”
Returning to Princeton again to perform, Kern said that she is very excited to return to the area and enjoy what the town has to offer.
“I have been [to Princeton] many times, I have played there with many different orchestras. I love the area and Princeton is just a fantastic place,” Kern said. “I’m looking forward to coming back, I love the area and I have a lot of friends who are coming to the concert. And I always invite all of my friends who live in New York to come to Princeton because it’s just such a fantastic concert hall, it’s beautiful. I love coming back there.”
Olga Kern and The National Symphony Orchestra will perform in McCarter Theatre Center’s Matthews Theatre in Princeton on Thursday, Nov. 21, at 7:30 p.m. For more information regarding the show or tickets, visit www.mccarter.org.