SALT LAKE CITY — In Alexandra Dariescu’s hometown of Iasi, the second-largest city in Romania, there’s an upright piano that sits in her family’s house. Although she doesn’t live there anymore, she often thinks about that piano because for her, it’s the symbol of a mother’s love and fulfilled dreams.
Dariescu grew up in Communist Romania, where she said many kids didn’t have opportunities for extracurricular activities. But her mother worked to save up enough money to purchase a piano by the time Dariescu was 7 years old. Dariescu, 32, later learned that the piano cost her mother more than five times her annual salary.
“Saving up for that sort of instrument in those times,” Dariescu reflected with appreciation. “It’s a very sweet Russian make of an upright and it’s just very special to have it there and to think that all of those thousands of hours were spent in front of that instrument.”
Those thousands of hours led to Dariescu’s debut with an orchestra when she was just 9 years old.
“I remember coming out of playing with this big orchestra with lots of adults in it and I was the only child. … I came out and I told my piano teacher, ‘I want to become a concert pianist.’ And I had no idea how difficult it was going to be or what it meant really, but I just had this dream ever since I was little to pursue a career in music and to become a soloist,” she said.
That dream took Dariescu to music school in England when she was 17 years old. She's lived there ever since and now resides in London.
“At the moment, it’s definitely the European capital of music. We don’t know what’s going to happen after Brexit but we’re still positive,” she said.
Dariescu performed a solo recital at Carnegie Hall in 2012, but the pianist’s first visit to the Beehive State this weekend will mark her first time playing with an American orchestra. She will perform Edvard Grieg’s Piano Concerto in A minor, Op. 16, alongside the Utah Symphony at Abravanel Hall.
“It’s a really important date for me,” she said. “It’s really exciting to be performing with the Utah Symphony. I’ve heard so many amazing things about it and I love their sound. From Carnegie Hall going straight to Utah Symphony, not bad, eh?”
Reflecting on her musical upbringing in Romania, one of Dariescu's main difficulties in striving to be a concert pianist was the lack of music resources: Sheet music was scarce, practice facilities were far from ideal and even listening to music could be a challenge.
“There was no internet when I grew up … so my teacher would have a cassette which was recorded from an LP, so you can imagine the sound. … The background music was actually louder than the playing,” she said. “You (would) have to practice on bad pianos and have the sound in your head and imagine how it would sound (on) a really, really beautiful (piano).”
Perhaps it’s the years spent imagining what a song should sound like that causes Dariescu to be so descriptive about the pieces she performs — Grieg’s piano concerto included.
“You’ve got this huge cadenza in the first movement that’s really really powerful and you actually feel the piano trembling. … It’s like an earthquake,” she said. “And the second movement is just so serene and beautiful that you really think everything is right in the world. And that’s a feeling that you don’t get normally. … The third movement, it’s really beautiful; it makes you feel energy and inspiration. Of course, the whole concerto is in a minor key and the ending — this beautiful hug-the-world theme — is in a major key. … It’s a happy ending. That’s the Grieg for me.”
In addition to accompanying Dariescu on Grieg’s piano concerto during her April 20 and 21 Abravanel Hall performances, the Utah Symphony will continue the Scandinavian theme with performances of “Helios Overture” by Carl Nielsen and Jean Sibelius’ Symphony No. 2.Comment on this story
While in Utah, the pianist will lead a master class for music students at the University of Utah and also hopes to get in a visit to an art gallery and try some traditional Utah foods — maybe even fry sauce. She also keeps busy sharing her passion for classical music with younger audiences, most recently, through her piano/dance project “The Nutcracker and I, by Alexandra Dariescu,” a production that combines live music, ballet and digital animation in an effort to engage youths in classical music.
“I think it’s absolutely extraordinary that I get to live my dream and do what I love for a living,” she said. “I’m one of those really blessed cases.”
If you go …
What: Grieg's “Piano Concerto” with Alexandra Dariescu and the Utah Symphony
When: April 20 and 21, 7:30 p.m.
Where: Abravanel Hall, 123 W. South Temple
How much: $15-$88