She is traveling throughout Europe with her Queen Rhapsody Program, delivering a wonderful performance, a crossover show in which the beautiful and talented pianist presents the British band’s repertoire, having it rearranged in a very peculiar way thanks to her characteristic virtuoso and creative qualities.
On December 23rd she will perform live at Teatro Q77 in Turin together with the Royal Band – Queen Tribute, the only Italian date of her tour.
The show announces itself as a marvellous Christmas gift to the Queen fans and, in general, to music lovers; an event not to be missed just as we did not miss the opportunity to chat with her only to be stricken by her friendliness and congeniality.
Hello Natalia, first of all thank you for having accepted our invitation, we are really happy to meet you. Just getting to the heart of it, we would love to get to know your story from the very beginning. When did you take your very first steps into the world of music and who or what inspired you so much to want to become a pianist?
I started playing the piano at the age of six and but even before that, as a little girl, I liked to watch cartoons like Tom and Jerry and I liked the music and other children’s song and my mother noticed that I went to the piano and I could strike the right notes. My mother thought I had a very good ear and some kind of talent and decided to support me by taking me to a music school. That’s what inspired me: having fun and playing everything I heard by ear.
What was the road that led the little girl who took her first piano lessons to the artist you are now?
It was “The long and winding road”, like the Beatles’ song. It was quite a hard road when I look back at it. I had to practice since I was a child every day. In the beginning my mother was sitting beside me and every day I had to play for one hour, then I played for two hours and then for three hours. Later, when I played Beethoven, Chopin, Rachmaninov I had to practice all those many hours. I started to play concerts and I did international piano competitions: it was really competitive, hard core. That was a long way and I have learnt a huge amount of different piano repertories and difficult pieces which help me now with my crossover projects and I can use all this classical repertoire, the skills and the techniques. But it was a hard way.
You’re fundamentally a classical pianist with a solid classical training behind you, but you also seem to be very keen on rock music. Apart from Queen, of which we will talk about later, which rock groups or rock musicians do you like most and enjoy listening to and maybe even playing in your private life?
I grew up with the Queen and the Beatles music. My father was not a professional musician, he was a university professor but he played, as a hobby, in a Beatles Tribute Band in the role of Paul McCartney. He played a lot of this music to me. I also like Elton John and, among Italian singers, Eros Ramazzotti who is very popular in Germany.
Looking at your discography, after the album The Favorites Vol. 1 which is a classic one, a couple of years ago you have arranged Christmas themes; then, last year with Queen melodies album you arranged and transformed historical Queen rock pieces into classic piano compositions. Do you think that arranging and being able to give your own interpretations of musical milestones is a way of expressing yourself that best represents you compared to being a traditional classical pianist or you consider both fields as yours?
I went all the way as a classical pianist and then I started the transition. Of course I consider myself a classical pianist but I feel much more freedom when I can express everything I want to say by arranging and creating new compositions from rock music. When I do my arrangements, with the Queen for example, it is on the same level I would be playing a Chopin piece, it is a virtuoso composition. When I have a Queen concert I have to practice the same way as I would be practicing for a classical concert.
Let’s come to the Queen Rhapsody show. Like on the album Queen Melodies, it’s a crossover show in which you perform classical interpretations of Queen music and mix Queen songs with classical masterpieces. Where did this idea come from?
I was at a point in which I was playing only classical music, maybe like ten years ago, and I felt I did not have the kick I needed any more and I wanted to do something more than playing and basically covering classical composers.
I wanted to do something that nobody else was doing, I wanted to leave my mark. Besides, I wanted to reach more people, because classical music is a kind of niche and I wanted to use my skills and my experience of many years of playing classical music to create something new that could reach more people and mix rock music and pop music with classic and with my own ideas, yet remaining on the level I am satisfied with. I needed to challenge myself. But I did not know what kind of music, which pop o rock singer to turn to and then something funny happened. I remember it was winter, it was snowing and I was suffering because of love problems. And suddenly I remembered that when I was a child I had listened to a Queen song, “A winter’s tale” on the radio, so I started to listen to that song again and watch the video on YouTube. And all the memories from my childhood came back and I thought: “What a wonderful music, what a singer!” and then I went on watching other Queen videos and I got the answer to my question of which band I would like to start with. I could of course have chosen the Beatles or Deep Purple but Queen music is so versatile, so operatic and it has so much drama that you can build on. You can build on it a piano piece like Rachmaninov’s. This is how the Queen Rhapsody Project started. My first arrangement was “Who wants to live forever”. From then on I forgot the guy I was sad about and I fell in love with Freddie Mercury! Of course it took me many years to create this project.
I read the nice words Brian May said about you and I know that part of your Queen project also includes some singles by May himself. Did you have a sort of collaboration with him regarding his songs?
I have to say that for me to arrange Freddie’s songs is somehow easier than with those of Brian May because May’s songs are essentially guitar songs. To play We will rock you it was a challenge because in that song you have almost no chords at all and no piano at all so I had to compose more, there is a bigger input of mine. The same goes for Stone cold crazy because there are no harmonies and no chords in it and is even faster, so I had to compose everything and especially the left hand part is all mine, it is completely new. As for Brian May, he found my video and wrote about me on his website: it happened just like a wonder! Then we started writing each other and when I arranged a new song I sent him the video and he liked it very much. When Queen came with Adam Lambert to Germany I went to the show. I got a pre-show backstage pass and I was very nervous!
He, on the other hand, was cool and relaxed: it was half an hour before a sold out show with 17.000 people and I asked him how could he do it.
If I were him I would be warming up my fingers and he answered: “Uhm, I already warmed up a little bit”. We have more a communication than a collaboration. Once I asked him which song he would like me to arrange and he gave me a task but it is a secret and I don’t like to talk about it yet.
Moving on to the collaboration with the Royal Band – Queen tribute and your concert with them on next December 23rd at Teatro Q77 in Turin, how did you get in touch with them?
Through the social media community Queen Passion. They got in touch with me and suggested a collaboration and I thought it was going to be very interesting. I am so much looking forward to coming to Italy with my music and I am very grateful for having been approached. (editor’s note: Queen Passion is a social media community with more than 70000 followers around the world and is very active not only in remembering what the Queen did in the past but also in stressing what the British band can still represent today: Queen music is still a landmark for projects like this one with Natalia. That is the reason why they got in touch with her and invited her to come to Italy with a high profile band like the Royal Band Queen Tribute).
I guess the show will be a little different from others where you are supported by an orchestra. Without anticipating too much, can you tell us something we should expect anyway?
I will be playing a set from my Queen Rhapsody Program. Some songs will be on the piano and for others I will be supported by an orchestra on the screen and of course there will be a lot of interaction with the Royal Band. I won’t say anything more: it will be a surprise!
As for us, knowing the improv qualities of The Royal Band Queen Tribute and Natalia’s talent, we are certain that the show will be one of a kind!