Creativity has no limits: an interview with Moving Classics TV creator Anna Sutyagina

The COVID-19 pandemic and the subsequent closure of performance venues left many musicians with two choices: innovate or get another job.  Pianist Anna Sutyagina of Moving Classics TV  chose innovation. Anna is one of the rare musicians who combines artistry with a keen business sense and the international success of Moving Classics TV is just one of the many examples of her unbridled creativity.  In this interview, she graciously shares how she's succeeding in making a living doing what she loves--even in a COVID-19 marketplace.   

You started Moving Classics TV-a popular curated discovery channel for new piano music—in 2017.  What, exactly, is Moving Classics TV and what motivated you to create the site?

I have always been passionate about discovering new music and I was lucky to meet (online) Piotr Lachert, who was a composer of new consonant music and who became my mentor. He introduced me into the fascinating world of new piano music with different styles and genres. 

Like many experts in the music industry, Moving Classics TV assumes that there is a huge demand for new classics. The Artistic Director of one of the largest classical music stations estimates that 20-30% of the population is enthusiastic about this music. 

Moving Classics TV is a discovery channel. Every Friday we feature a new composer with an interview about creativity and music. I play and record one composition of the featured composer and share it in social media.

You’re a classically-trained concert pianist who performs repertoire from all eras of music.  What drew you to focus on new music when you created Moving Classics TV?

I learnt in the Russian piano school where discipline and respect of tradition played an important role. During my studies I was not interested in perfecting only a few works to the very last details. My curiosity wanted me to practice several works at the same time.  It helped me to get to know many piano works and try out completely unknown music. Later I continued my search in social media. I was so surprised that there was a huge amount of zeitgeisty exciting music of today that was not really known or published. It is so difficult for composers to get exposure and find listeners, so why not make a step and start this initiative myself?  

Recently you started a Virtual Salon concert experience on Meetora, a platform for live events.  What is Meetora and why did you choose this platform to offer your online concerts?

In the 19th century there were a lot of such salons. Music lovers invited artists and guests, and new music was played and discussed. I would like to continue this tradition on a virtual and global base. Meetora is a new streaming platform based in Munich. They are just starting, and I am starting with them. I love to be a pioneer and try out new approaches.  So when Meetora approached me, I immediately agreed! The Virtual salon is taking place twice a month. Together with composers, piano players, and music lovers from different countries  we are unveiling new piano compositions. In our live stream the participants will get an exciting "behind the scenes" view of new music creation. They will discover new trends in piano music, hear surprising facts about the compositions, get personally acquainted with the composers and explore new repertoire.

Moving Classics TV utilizes videos. What motivated you to create live concerts through your Virtual Salon?

In my opinion every music composition has a story.  Listeners are curious and they appreciate narratives. So we give them what they want. All composers want to express something through music. It is not only the music that is exciting but also the message. In our salons we give a possibility to talk about intentions and feelings. In addition, a composer and a pianist get the feedback from the audience. My experience with Moving Classics TV is that communication is a big part of the creative process for every composer, those who are actively reaching out to the listeners, get a big following back. 

If people wanted to “attend” one of your Virtual Salons, how could they do this?

My Virtual Salons are taking place every two weeks and I put the dates on Moving Classics internet page and facebook business page so that everybody can plan in advance. The salon participants need to get registered with Meetora, they can use a Facebook account to log in too, and once they have Meetora account, they would need to book my event, “Virtual Salon”. It will be shown in the “My events” section of their account and they will also get a reminder from the system. 15 min before the live streaming when they can enter the chat room and write some questions. They would need to check their system requirements (micro and camera) if they want to be an active participant. It is possible to chat with other participants or just relax and enjoy the music. 

You’ve recently started offering “proof-playing” services to composers. What prompted you to do this, and how may composers reach you if they’re interested in hiring you to do this for them? 

Many years of experience of communication with composers show that it is helpful for all new creations to get feedback from someone who's opinion you value before the publication/release. In literature, it goes without saying that you let other people read and review your work and that you are looking forward to some suggestions.  I work as a creativity expert with business companies and see that it is also a standard practice to use a design-thinking method. The philosophy behind this is that the feedback from users is equally important as the content creation. Success often depends on small things and therefore, it makes sense to ask for feedback before the final release. My experience is that composers appreciate this feedback and it gives them additional motivation.

I choose the Fivver platform for my feedback service. I offer three different levels of feedback and audio recording of the first reading. I have developed the questionnaire for the feedback to make it more detailed, structured and constructive. Technical aspects, notation, interpretation issues, “playablity”, fingerings, and surely the aspects mentioned by a composer will be addressed in my feedback. 

In your experience, what do you think are the biggest editing and proofreading mistakes composers make in their compositions? 

I think a fresh look into the music score can bring new ideas. Some scores are written for the level “intermediate beginners” but there is one particular bar with the “extra difficult” level, in this case, you could ask composer – is it really necessary to have it? Some notations can be simplified, as pianists do not read fast in the very high and very low octaves.  Some scores would profit with some fingering for the needed effect. Sometimes composers need to put more markings to be more precise.  Different metronome markings,  etc, different tempo indication to express the idea. There are always some creative ideas that can bring a final touch to a composition. 

How do you think composers can benefit from your careful reading of their scores? 

Music is about leaving the audience with an impression, and the first "audience" a composer has beside the family or a pet, is usually a performer. The recorded reading of the score will allow composers to be a listener too, “the audience” for their own composition, take a step back and listen to the music with a new approach as if it were not their own creation. 

The COVID-19 pandemic has gutted the performing arts.  As someone with an enormous online presence, how has this affected your work, and how do you think musicians can best make a living in the post-pandemic economy?

The advantage of online is that it does not get interrupted by a pandemic. All my gigs, recitals, workshops were and are still being cancelled. Only my Moving Classics TV activities are continuing as smoothly as before. However, it is difficult to make money only through an online presence. There are several great platforms that were created for independent musicians like Patreon, Fivver, StageIt, now Meetora that help musicians to make a living out of the unique talent that all musicians have.  Sometimes the “final touch” can be the online tool that is the translating your talent into the service, or making it visible in the Internet. 

What advice would you offer to musicians who are learning how to make a living online?

Do not be afraid to think in business terms. Define what you are selling. Check the market and see who is offering what. Make sure that you are either better than others or you are offering something unique and you are the first. A pandemic teaches us to be more creative. Now is the time for new concepts, for new ideas that only you can transfer into a business plan and monetize. Musicians need to understand the basics of digital marketing and data analysis. It is a part of our daily work just like the regular practice at the instrument. With the hypersensitivity and empathy of an artist, we should be able to anticipate the needs. For example, in the Pre-pandemic times a friend of mine was dreaming of offering piano courses for beginners on the big screen in fitness centers, for those who are cycling. Or you are offering an online piano concert for the wine tasting seminar. Creativity has no limits! 

Dreaming and exploring something new are the leitmotifs of the artistic work of Anna Sutyagina. Influenced by the traditional education of the Russian music school, the pianist opened early for new developments in order to give more space to the imagination in her play. In the Munich Salon, which she founded, she combined music and literature in theatrical form and interpreted the works and artistic influences of strong women such as Sappho, Lou Salomé, George Sand, Martha Gellhorn, Kathi Kobus, Madame Pompadour or Anais Nin. Early on she started to experiment with music and light and worked together with lighting designers on a concert performance titled “Concerti Illumini”. She produced and directed several music videos of famous piano pieces. 

Anna Sutyagina studied piano and literature in Tomsk, Russia, with semesters abroad in Oklahoma – USA and Frankfurt am Main – Germany (two scholarships: The American Collegiate Consortium and DAAD). She received further artistic impulses through private studies and master classes with Michael Leslie, Volker Banfield, Ewa Kupiec, Matthias Kirschnereit and Marina Horak. Anna Sutyagina lives in Munich (Germany). 

For more information, visit MovingClassics