“I really hope to help regain the lost interest in classical music and make a difference in educating the new generation to enjoy and understand the power of it.” Nadia Azzi, International Pianist and Student at Pre-College Division of the Juilliard School
Nadia Azzi may only be 14, but at the piano she works wonders. Starting at a very young age Nadia soon became an amazing player. She has won many awards in national and international competitions and has collaborated with countless instrumentalists and chamber groups. Recently she was featured artist on NPR’s popular Radio show From the Top. Currently Nadia is in the pre-college division at The Juilliard School and continues to work hard every day. Check out her exclusive interview and leave us a comment!
iaam: At what age did you start playing piano and why did you start? Nadia Azzi: I started playing piano at age 4 and a half. My mother loves music and believes the love of music can enrich our lives. Also, she thought leaning piano would help me succeed academically.
Nadia playing at Carnegie-Hall
iaam: How do you feel about being in the pre-college division at The Juilliard School? Nadia Azzi: I LOVE being in the pre-college division of The Juilliard School!! It offers everything I need to learn and am interested in learning such as music theory, ear training, composition, top-performer training, improvisation, conducting, counterpoint, harmony, performance opportunities, competitions, chamber ensembles, etc. I also feel blessed to be part of this amazing school that holds such high standards and being surrounded with a group of talented disciplined and focused students. My friends at Juilliard motivate and challenge me to work harder every day. I love my chamber music partners who are totally committed for weekly rehearsals and performances. I honestly believe Juilliard offers the best well-rounded pre-college music conservatory studies in our country, if not in the world. iaam: What is a normal day for you? Nadia Azzi: I leave my apartment in NY at 8:25 am to arrive at the Professional Performing Arts School (PPAS) located in Times Square by 8:59 am, except Tuesdays when I have to arrive by 8:15 am for my science lab work. I am in the joint program with Juilliard and PPAS – meaning I take all academic classes at PPAS and music classes at Juilliard. The school bus picks me and other Juilliard students up at 1:18 pm and takes us to The Juilliard School in Lincoln Center by 1:35 pm. I normally have lunch with my friends at Juilliard around the area until 2:15 pm. I spend sometimes hours just to find a practice room, but spend a few minutes only on some days. I then practice the piano until 7:00-7:30 pm or so depending on the amount of homework I have for the day. If there is not much homework, I can stay practicing at Juilliard until 11:00 pm. I will also start taking Chinese and Pre-Calculus online starting this September since I have already met high school graduation requirements in these subjects. My Juilliard classes start at 10:00 am and end at 6:00 pm on Saturdays. I take chorus, private lessons, chamber music rehearsals, ear training, music theory, studio class during these hours. I also perform at Juilliard on some Saturdays during these hours or after 6:00 pm.
During the summer, I go to the Aspen Music Festival and School for 2 months. The festival offers extremely high level of music education, performance opportunities, chamber groups, and a very intelligent audience. I enjoy practicing in the beautiful mountain retreat and attending daily concerts offered by world-class conductors, performers, and soloists. I normally get to the Festival campus by 10:00 am, and practice, rehearse, or go to concerts until 9:00 or 10:00 pm.
Nadia playing at Carnegie Hall
iaam: Do you play other instruments? Nadia Azzi: Yes, I play violin. I however don’t practice violin as often as I should… I maybe practice violin for about an hour every 2-3 days, which is extremely short for such a competitive instrument. I however enjoy playing violin for my own personal pleasure. I plan to look for a chamber group that allows me to play violin for fun. I participated in All-County and All-State Orchestras in FL, and often became the Concertmaster and Assistant Concertmaster. I think piano playing makes violin playing a little easier for me. The violin really helps me to focus on phrasing in my piano playing. Violin allows me to do certain things that pianos can’t do such as keep a note sustained or grow it after a note is played. This effort helps me to try to connect notes on piano in a way that is close to a violin or human voice, so my playing doesn’t become choppy. Also, piano is a bit of a lonely instrument. While I can accompany or collaborate with other instrumentalists on the piano, it is basically a solo instrument. We spend more time alone in the practice room than any other instrument. Violin is not completely a solo instrument, so I can be with other performers.
iaam: Who inspires you when playing the piano and why? Nadia Azzi: So many people inspire me from my teachers to famous pianists. I am extremely grateful for my former teachers, who made me love music, taught me with a detailed care, and encouraged me to pursue my passion. Every time I have a lesson with my current teacher at Juilliard, Dr. Veda Kaplinsky, I become motivated to practice more. She has solutions to every technical problem with a clear scientific explanation. Even though she may be the busiest faculty as the artistic director at Pre-College and the piano chair at The Juilliard School, she makes time for her students and sincerely cares about each of them as a musician and person. I also get inspired from my peers and friends, who are all amazing musicians. iaam: What do you do for fun? Nadia Azzi: What I do for fun has changed a lot since I moved to NY. In Florida, I could have friends over in my house for a sleepover and swim in the pool. While I can’t do that in a small apartment since I now live in Manhattan, I found many other fun things I can do for fun such as shopping, going out to wonderful restaurants, going to Japanese book stores and supermarkets, exploring China Town, walking in Central Park, etc. Everything I want to do or try is close-by. I also hang out with my friends at Juilliard by just watching music videos or sight-reading new music together. I also enjoy swimming and watching Japanese dramas.
iaam: What kind of music do you like to listen to besides piano music? Nadia Azzi: Besides classical music, I really like Korean and Japanese pop. Their lyrics are meaningful and don’t involve drugs or other inappropriate things. Also, I think the compositions are well-written and catchy. Most importantly, every artist works through blood and sweat for years to even get in the industry, let alone survive in it. I like artists like IU, BoA, f(x), Girls’ Generation, Wonder Girls, 2PM, Davichi, and GreeeeN.
iaam: How do you see your future as a musician? Nadia Azzi: I picture myself performing in concert halls all over the world, sharing my music to others. I really hope to help regain the lost interest in classical music and make a difference in educating the new generation to enjoy and understand the power of it.
iaam: How do you keep yourself going when you are practicing day after day? Nadia Azzi: Piano is a very competitive instrument which requires long hours of practice every day. It’s a difficult process to keep me excited about practicing especially on the same pieces over and over again. I have to admit that there are days where I really don’t want to do the hard work and instead would just like to hang out with my friends or just to do nothing. But, if a day passes without practice I feel guilty and void, ending up with a great desire to find a piano, sit behind it and start my practice routine. I really enjoy the process of learning new pieces or re-analyzing my playing on old repertoire after listening to recordings, listening to new pieces in concerts or on iTunes, and after each lesson when my teacher advises on various points of my playing. Also, at Juilliard pre-college, everyone practices for extended hours a day, so I am not alone. For us, practicing is part of our daily routine that can’t be neglected, like eating and sleeping. I always do my best to make that routine to be as interesting as possible, so I can continue advancing in my piano playing.
iaam: Before a concert do you ever get nervous? How do you overcome the pressure? Nadia Azzi: Yes, of course I get nervous. I normally get nervous before going up on the stage. I really don’t have any routines that I do to ease my nerve. Some of my friends eat bananas 30 minutes before playing, or some do stretching exercises. If I would do anything, I perhaps make myself very quiet. Once I sit down in front of a piano, my adrenaline will take over. I just focus on my pieces and communicating with the audience. The larger the audience, the less I get nervous maybe because I enjoy the reaction from the audience. Getting nervous is something every performer experiences, but for me, that’s not something I need to overcome. It’s an important process for me to go through. That will put me more conscious about my playing, and in order to ease my nerve I work hard to get my pieces ready leading to the event.
iaam: With your busy schedule how do you handle school as well? Nadia Azzi: Before joining the joint program with Juilliard and PPAS, it was very difficult to squeeze the needed practice hours and advanced school courses I was taking in a day. During my middle school years in FL, I earned lot of high school credits along with advanced gifted studies. So, I never went to sleep before 1:00 or 2:00 am during my middle school years. Succeeding in school is a priority for me. My father, who is an immigrant and a survivor of the civil war in Lebanon, always tells me that the education is the only thing that no one can take away from you. They can take your money, your properties, and your possessions, but no one can strip away your education, and you can bring it anywhere you go! Also, I like studying. Even though I haven’t found a strong passion for a specific field of study yet, I am always hungry for new information and learning new things. I enjoy reading and writing, and math always comes easy to me, so most core subjects are something I enjoy learning. I am however very grateful my parents let me study at the Juilliard-PPAS Joint Program for my high school studies while everything counts. At this program, two periods a day are reserved to practice the piano, which eases up my day. PPAS accepts Juilliard classes as part of elective courses. Even though PPAS gives great consideration to the need of performers, it also offers options for advanced courses at school as well as online classes. I am thankful to be in this program, so I can maintain both academic and musical growth.
iaam: Our website’s motto is “success for teens by teens,” What is your advice for other teenagers? Nadia Azzi: Find your passion and follow it, because if you work very hard on whatever you’re passionate about without giving up, your passion might become your profession. If you believe in yourself, everything is possible! For me, regardless how successful I will be as a pianist, I know for sure that music will always take care of me.