By Iman Sadri
February 28, 2020
Sanaz Sotoudeh is a name that has already lit up marquees in Canada. And her star is about to go global. Sotoudeh is a piano prodigy from Tehran, Iran – currently residing in Vancouver, Canada. Sanaz grew up a child prodigy playing the piano. She has turned the instrument into her calling and career. Sanaz regularly plays to sold out auditoriums and private venues. She is a graduate of the Royal Academy of Music in London. Some of her career highlights include having performed live on BBC Radio 3, at the Orpheum Theater and a live performance at Azadi Tower. Her talent in front of the piano keys is undeniable. As is her passion for the Baroque instrument. We are in pre-production talks with Ramin Bahrani to have Michael Shannon play Beethoven in a future biopic. Perhaps Sanaz Sotoudeh could play the music of the titular role in some capacity. But that’s for another blog. We caught up with Piano prodigy Sanaz Sotudeh for a Q+A for The Persian Observer.
Iman Sadri : Thank you for meeting with The Persian Observer. Please describe your early life, education and upbringing?
Sanaz Sotoudeh : I was born in Tehran. I had a very beautiful childhood, and was lucky to born in a both artistic and intellectual family. My Father is an Architect and my Mom is a Chemical scientist. I use to attend all different kinds of classes of painting, music, and sports. I loved painting and music, I also won a Gold Prize at a big competition in Japan for one of my paintings at age of 9.
After my Primary School, I continued my education at the Tehran School of Music for Girls, which was the only one that exits in Iran. They would accept very few students each year. In that school I was learning music in addition to all other subjects that kids would do in normal High Schools. After that I moved to Canada and continued my studies in solo piano performance at McGill University in Montreal, followed by my Post-Graduate studies at the Royal Academy of Music in London on full scholarship.
IS : What were the early influences that got you interested in the piano ? Did your family suggest you take piano lessons ? Or did you request to play yourself at a young age ?
Sanaz Sotoudeh : My Mom used to play piano, however she sold her piano when I was a baby because I was crying every time she was playing it ! She put me a music institute from a very young age when I was 4 years old, and after a year of training I chose piano as my main instrument. There was a small piano concert at our school and I fell in love with piano after that concert, I remember that it made me cry.
IS : At what age did you start practicing piano ? What are some of your memories from your early piano playing ?
Sanaz Sotoudeh : I started at age of 5. I always loved it and was so serious about it. I always wanted to practice without anyone pushing me to do it, I even remember that I sometimes would stay at home on my own on the weekends to practice piano.
IS : At what point did you decide to become a professional pianist to pursue as a full time career? What were some influences that motivated / convinced you that you could do this a career full time?
Sanaz Sotoudeh : I didn’t decide to peruse my career as a professional pianist, I just never thought of doing anything else as my main profession. I can’t see myself doing anything else, this is who I am and the only way I could live my life.
IS : What are your Top 3 favorite piano pieces off All-Time? And why?
Sanaz Sotoudeh : Liszt’s Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2 ; Beethoven’s Sonata ‘Pathétique’, Op.13; and Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No. 2
- The Hungarian Rhaphsody No. 2 – Liszt was inspired by the gypsy lifestyle and their way of liberty and freedom, so depicted this freedom and love into this Rhapsody. This piece inspired me to the point that after performing it I decided to do create a similar composition inspired by a Persian folk song, and made my own arrangement of Kurdish Persian folk song for piano & persuasion.
- Beethoven’s Pathetique is so deep and beautiful that I feel i can express all my heart performing this music.
“It’s one of my dreams to perform the Rachmaninoff’sPiano Concerto No.2 with the L.A. Symphony at the Hollywood Bowl.” – Sanaz soToudeh.
IS : Who is your favorite classical music composer with songs of the piano? And why?
Sanaz Sotoudeh : Bach and Philip Glass are my favorite composers. Bach’s and Glass’s music are in a way are very mathematical and an intellectual style of music. Their music has built on sequences of different patterns and all of these musical patterns built up to create a larger structure. Though through these repetitive and mathematical composition they bring to me a strong sense of freedom as well as spirituality when I perform their music, which makes me in love with performing their music.
IS : Can you describe some highlights of performances you have played out ? Which ones most stand out? Or are your favorites ?
Sanaz Sotoudeh : BBC Radio 3 in London UK; at the historical Azadi Tower in Tehran; at Orpheum Theatre in Vancouver with the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra.
IS : Which historic / famous / or favorite venue would you like to most perform at in the world ? That you haven’t yet performed at ?
Sanaz Sotoudeh : It’s my dream to perform at the Hollywood Bowl; at Persepolis in Shiraz; Verona Arena in Rome; and the Royal Opera House in Covent Garden in London.
“It’s my dream to perform at the Hollywood Bowl. – Sanaz Sotoudeh
IS : Do you compose your own music? If so, please describe some original compositions? If not, please describe how you choose the songs you perform?
Sanaz Sotoudeh : I’ve recently started to compose my own original music because I feel it’s the right time for me. I’ve been arranging and writing piano parts for different projects that I have been participating, but haven’t composed a complete piece of music yet.
I usually like to incorporate minimalist style of music and Bach’s style of counterpoint consisting of layers of melodic patterns writing. Also, my music is profound when I find my inspiration from poetry or words.
However so far I’ve been mainly performing and interpreting piano musics by other composers. I usually choose piece that I have great feeling for it, and program it according to the venue and kind of concerts that I’m going to perform at.
IS : What are your top Persian piano songs and why?
Sanaz Sotoudeh : ‘Nostalgia’ by Tjeknovarianc– this piece is for piano & orchestra, although it’s a very short composition but it is communicating very deep emotions through out the piece. It has a language of its own, it consists of very smooth blends of beautiful eastern musical elements and classical western music harmonic structure.
‘Blue Johannes’ by Reza Vali – this piece is very unique and powerful in bringing together the elements of jazz, contemporary classical and romantic classical music. We rarely have solo piano pieces by Persian composers that are strongly written in this style, I wish Reza Vali will write more music for solo piano.
“We rarely have solo piano pieces by Persian composers that are strongly written in this style.”
IS : Imagine you are 100 years old and you are reading your Wikipedia profile ? What other career and life milestones would you like to see on there ?
Sanaz Sotoudeh : Music is a universal language and as a performer we communicate through our heart to people by performing music, and this is very powerful. I wish to see through out my performances and creations I could connect people through different cultures, have positive influences on people to awaken sense of peace, love and humanity in societies and in the world.
Also, I want to do concerts with musicians from my country to perform music inspired by our poetry and literature. Cause I feel strongly that it’s the time to save our country and culture through art once more, the same that Hafiz, Ferdousi did through their poetry before.
Follow Sanaz Sotoudeh on social media @SanazSotoudeh
Iman Sadri is the founder of @ThePersianObserver and @LASmileMagazine