You might expect that the woman pianist who has played the most solo recitals on the main stage at Carnegie Hall would be an internationally known celebrity who lives in some major metropolitan area. But Katya Grineva, who holds that distinction, leads a relatively quiet life just outside of Woodstock, and she has no plans to change her life.
Grineva was born in Moscow and studied at the Moscow Conservatory. She moved to New York in 1989, where she studied at the Mannes School of Music graduate program on scholarship. She made her U.S. debut in 1993 with the Baltimore Symphony, then made her Carnegie Hall debut in 1998. Since then she has toured very widely, to places as diverse as Ecuador and Australia in addition to the usual mainstream venues. Now she lives in Shady with her partner, cellist Byron Duckwall. Her activities nearby have been quieter than Carnegie Hall. She has played 20 times at the Omega Institute in Rhinebeck. Last year she played at Christ’s Lutheran Church in Woodstock, a venue she will visit again, with Duckwall, on September 20 at 7 p.m.
“I became interested in music almost by accident,” Grineva told me. “When I was five I was taken to a music school and got registered to study piano. I didn’t have a piano but I decided to try it for six months and I practiced at our neighbors’ house. After six months the teacher called my mother and said I had to have my own piano.” Her grandmother began taking her to concerts at that time. Her early encounters with music resulted in a lifelong dedication to bringing music to children. She has vivid memories of hearing great music in Moscow, including concerts by the legendary pianist Sviatoslav Richter. She remembers once hearing him play Debussy Preludes by candlelight.
When Grineva decided on country life, she and Duckwall began looking for a house in New Paltz. But a friend recommended Woodstock, and now the couple is glad they settled here. Aside from her large repertoire of well-known piano music, Grineva plays arrangements Duckwall makes for her; she mentions particularly his version of “My Favorite Things.” She is also dedicated to reviving the music of Marcel Tyberg, an Austrian composer killed by the Nazis in 1944. (Although he was Catholic, Tyberg was arrested because he had a Jewish grandmother.)
The Sept. 20th concert will be a tryout for a duo New York performance, at Weill Recital Hall, on Sept. 29. Admission is free, but any donations will go to a favorite purpose of Grineva’s, bringing children to her main Carnegie Hall concert this winter through the organization We’ve Got Rhythm. Between those New York concerts, Grineva will be playing in California. Next year she is already booked to play in Prague, Alabama in March, and then California again. Grineva has recorded nine CDs, most recently the Nocturnes of Chopin, and a DVD of a recital in Singapore.
Duckwall also had music in his life from an early age. His father was a conductor, his mother and brother violinists. Among his cello teachers were the great cellist and pedagogue Aldo Parisot, who taught at Yale for many years and died last December at the age of 100. He also studied with Joel Krosnik of the Juilliard Quartet, and with George Neikrug, who once played all of Bach’s unaccompanied cello works on an Easter Sunday at the Kleinert Gallery. “Everything I play has to be attractive to me,” he says, explaining why he sometimes plays single movements from works as well as complete pieces. “We program together for well thought-out flow.”