"Imagine there are no countries"
Melbourne-based Argentinian pianist Andrea Katz is steeped in a storytelling tradition. Director of Songmakers Australia, she is as familiar with the Australasian music scene as the international stage
Katz’s personal and professional journey across continents began when she left Argentina to begin a new chapter, first in Paris and then in Israel. She moved to Australia in 1994, lived and worked in Sydney for 15 years, before moving to Melbourne after being invited by her colleague and “fellow songmaker Merlyn Quaife to join her on the staff of the Melbourne Conservatorium.” Italian on her mother’s side, Katz speaks Spanish and Italian fluently and is no stranger to the tarantella. When asked if she expects her audiences to interact or behave a certain way, she responds that “Things are changing regarding audience’s behavior and participation.” Quoting Verdi in his native Italian, she adds:
Torniamo all’antiqua e facciamo progresso. We are going back, hopefully, to the time when audiences were allowed to express their excitement and could interact with the performers. Of course, it depends on what repertoire you are presenting but that can be made very clear by your behavior on stage.
Katz also has Jewish heritage and lived in Israel for 11 years, completed her second degree in Jerusalem, and started her opera coach career with the New Israeli Opera in Tel Aviv. She feels a strong affinity with Israel as a country and community: “My father’s family is Jewish, from Ukraine, so Israel was also home to me. I particularly enjoyed the Levantine idiosyncrasies and the amazing history, right at your feet.” Her curiosity in music, traditions, and the world around her has led to great cultural insights and a perfection of musical skills. She shares her specialized understanding of, for example, Argentinian tango music traditions with her cohorts of students at the University of Melbourne – her main academic affiliation. She also teaches master classes at the School of Music at the National University of San Juan, Argentina.
Alongside fellow Argentinians Martha Argerich and Daniel Barenboim, who “stem from the same piano school of Maestro Vincenzo Scaramuzza,” Katz has left a veritable musical legacy. A dynamic and vibrant pianist, she has performed at a multitude of venues nationally and abroad. She gave an impressive rendition of Astor Piazzolla in a concert titled Nostalgia: Piazzolla 101, at Tempo Rubato in Brunswick, Melbourne, in April 2022. Her vibrant and dynamic and searingly melancholic piano music filled the room. Small in stature but with a commanding presence, she collaborates regularly with her peers on vocals – as was the case this particular night, when bass-baritone Nicholas Dinopoulos – co-core member in Songmakers Australia – added his narrative voice to the repertoire, and sounds from regional Argentina matched with lyrics of love, nostalgia, longing, and belonging that ultimately hold universal value. When asked about the timeless relevance of tango, Katz – herself an aficionado of Astor Piazzolla and Carlos Gardel – stresses:
People all over the world are fascinated by tango, be it traditional or modern. Piazzolla broke the mold of raw, smouldering passions by incorporating his love of Bach into the rhythmical patterns. He was very unpopular in Argentina until he had great success in Europe.
She believes in the ultimate global relevance of classical music and that it elevates us to new heights. Attracted to a variety of different composers and styles, she quotes John Lennon’s famous songline:
“Imagine there are no countries.”
When the pandemic hit in 2019, the city of Melbourne was subjected to an extended period of lockdown and international borders closed, Katz kept active in her multifaceted university role. She explains that the entire Faculty of Arts was moved online in only 4 days. Even if she experienced a loss of performances, Katz and colleagues were able to “collaborate with trailblazing organizations like the Australian Digital Concert Hall and other organizations and festivals in Australia and abroad. It also allowed me to develop new teaching techniques that made it possible for my young students to complete their assignments and examinations online.”
Katz occasionally has to play unknown repertoire for her students but the repertoire she chooses for her ensembles is “always very close to my heart.” She concludes our interview by emphasizing that “Argentina will always be my country, but I am very happy in Melbourne.”
Cover photo: 3MBS Brahms Marathon in 2014
Images provided by Andrea Katz