To become a professional soloist, you have to start young. For me, it was five. My mother and father were musicians so naturally, I wanted to play. At 14, I was accepted into the Menuhin school, one of the most prestigious music schools in the world, on a full scholarship. My mother had passed away unexpectedly two years earlier, so making the decision to leave my father and younger sister wasn’t easy. I didn’t speak English, but I knew it was an opportunity that I couldn’t pass up. While in school, I had many incredible experiences including solo performances with orchestras in London and Switzerland. I also had the privilege of working with the late Lord Yehudi Menuhin and performing the Bach Double for Queen Elizabeth and Prince Charles at Buckingham Palace when I was just 17.
At 18 I was awarded the prestigious Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother Scholarship to the Royal College of Music. Since my scholarship only covered tuition I had a strong incentive to win the prize at competitions — I was playing to survive. After winning some of those awards things started to happen and my career looked promising. That is until I met someone at the young age of 21, and suddenly my priority to start a family outweighed my career ambitions. It’s not unusual for a young soloist, fresh on the international circuit, to perform 100 concerts a year; however, that lifestyle is not conducive to starting a family, especially if you’re a woman.
I was confident in my ability, but if you’re a soloist, the reality is that your career is a chess game, one you have to be completely determined to win. You have to impress the right people. Mostly the male-dominated world of conductors, who a lot of the time are still the decision makers. You also have to devote a ridiculous amount of time practicing and developing your fan base on social media. It takes complete dedication, the right connections, monetary investment, and pure luck to be at the right place at the right time. You are also pressured to play the “right” repertoire for a long time before you are free to do what you really want. Over the years, I had seen so many of my colleagues become “successful” by industry standards. However, there were countless brilliant musicians who were simply overlooked or didn’t know how to play the game, and in their complete state of devastation they simply gave up on their dreams. But if we take a closer look, is there any evidence of a correlation between that industry stamp of approval and real happiness? Perhaps not.
Fast forward to 2018. I am the mother of three beautiful girls, living in the most unexpected of destinations; Cincinnati, Ohio. The Constella Festival, which I founded in 2011, wrapped it’s 7th season this year. I’ve worked really hard at this festival, and it’s allowed me to do innovative things. It became a platform to experiment with different artistic mediums. Constella was among the first festivals to present multi-dimensional programming that included digital and visual art, music, film, and dance. We’ve presented over 60 world premieres, and most recently developed a program that attracts a new type of audience, which is not your typical classical music crowd. (www.NotSoClassical.com).
I think of all those talented musicians who didn’t keep going because they didn’t fit into the traditional mold of success, but the world needs musicians now more than ever. It’s time for more of us to make our own rules and to let our passion fuel innovation and entrepreneurship within our cherished genre. Classical music is an industry with a lot of tradition, but that doesn’t mean we have to live and die by those traditions. Everyone, especially women, must have the confidence to create their own definition of success, and design lives that don’t force us to choose between personal dreams and professional ones. Despite an all or nothing culture, there can be a happy medium.
Tatiana Berman is a violinist and artist. She is one of the stars in the upcoming documentary Forte which tells the story of three strong women pursuing their dreams. You can support the film by contributing to its Kickstarter campaign here. Rewards include tickets to the world premiere in New York, private screenings, art prints, copies of the original score, and autographed posters. Film screenings can be donated to a school of your choice. The campaign ends on May 25th.