Anna Stepanova - Ukrainian Saxophone Soloist - 20
About Anna Stepanova
Anna Stepanova is one of the leading saxophonists of Ukraine. She graduated from Russian Academy of Music named after Gnesin and studied with Margarita Shaposhnikova. She is a founder and president of the International Golden Saxophone competition, a Selmer Paris and BG France Artist and a winner of numerous international competitions.
Anna is a teacher at the South Ukrainian National Pedagogical University named after Ushinskiy, soloist of the Odessa Municipal brass theatre named People’s Artist of Ukraine A. Salik and a soloist of the Odessa Philharmonic Society. She gives recitals and masterclasses both in Ukraine and abroad including countries such as Russia, Belarus, Moldova and China.
Anna’s repertoire includes music of various styles, from Baroque music to music of the 21st century, dedicated to her by Ukrainian and Italian composers.
- Being born into a family of musicians.
- Playing the saxophone and being a pop singer.
- Students beginning at a young age.
- Learning with Margarita Shaposhnikova in Russia.
- Growing up without really hearing the saxophone.
- The war in Ukraine.
- The development of the Golden Saxophone Competition.
- Learning with authoritarian teachers.
- Teaching Chinese students.
- Working and being a single parent.
- Tips on promotion to develop a career.
- House cleaning for a calm performance.
- The improving level of saxophone in Ukraine.
Anna on Facebook | Anna on Instagram
The Golden Saxophone Competition
National Pedagogical University
Crazy Logic by Matthew Orlovich
Transcript of Podcast Interview with Anna Stepanova
Please enjoy the transcript of this podcast episode. With thousands of words in each episode it might contain a few typos and may also have been edited for clarity.
Barry Cockcroft: A great place to start is, of course, how did you start playing the saxophone?
Anna Stepanova: Actually, I was born into a family of musicians. My mama was a violinist and my father a cellist, and I have also one brother. My parents thought they should not give any trouble to their children, and they thought strings might be too difficult, very, very hard to learn. That’s why they decided to let children to play woodwind instruments. They thought it could be easier.
Anna Stepanova: From the beginning, I started with the violin like my mama, then later the piano. At the age of 13 years old, I tried saxophone and it was a great love. Until now, I play saxophone. In the same time, I was learning singing. Actually, I have two diplomas right now. It’s Gnesin Academy in Russia, and one diploma in both classical saxophone and second diploma in both pop singing.
Barry Cockcroft: That’s quite different.
Anna Stepanova: Quite different, yes, but it’s very interesting when, in the same concert, you can do these two things.
Barry Cockcroft: What age did you start with the violin and the piano?
Anna Stepanova: Violin, from five years old, but I think it was not very successful. Then my parents changed me to piano. Then maybe two, three years, I played piano, and later saxophone.
Barry Cockcroft: Did you enjoy the piano?
Anna Stepanova: Yes, a little bit.
Barry Cockcroft: Okay, because I met a lot of people who … It’s torture. They don’t like it.
Anna Stepanova: It’s okay.
Barry Cockcroft: Did you find it easy then to pick up the saxophone?
Anna Stepanova: Saxophone is easier.
Barry Cockcroft: Yeah.
Anna Stepanova: Just at the age of 12 or 13, children have some knowledge and it’s much easier to understand. Already, you know something about music, and of course, it’s easier to study saxophone. Of course, it helps.
Barry Cockcroft: What do you think about the idea of people starting at a much younger age? Because violin, of course, people start very young? Do you think it would be good if saxophone players also started younger?
Anna Stepanova: I don’t know what are the traditions around the world, but I’ve seen in Russia many children from the age of six or seven years old already start to play saxophone. Right now, have little soprano saxophone that looks like alto.
Barry Cockcroft: Oh, okay. Yeah.
Anna Stepanova: This one, yeah. Children can play. Maybe you can find a very comfortable mouthpiece for them. I’ve seen a few of them that can be very successful in saxophone, can do something in this age that even I don’t think I can do, like circular breathing. They already can play wonderfully at six years old.
Barry Cockcroft: That’s amazing. It sounds like a good idea to start people a little bit younger. I know in Australia, usually, people are starting about 10 years old, and they’re big enough and strong enough to play alto. In France, they’re starting to really get much younger, and so young now that the teachers need special training because they don’t know how to work with young children because they’re used to teaching older children. It’s gradually getting younger, and therefore, they’re getting more advanced even earlier.
Anna Stepanova: That’s good.
Barry Cockcroft: Yeah, I think it’s good. It makes it more even with more traditional instruments. Tell me about your teachers when you first started.
Anna Stepanova: I was born in Odessa. It’s a city near the Black Sea. We have one school for talented children. It was built by Stolyarsky, and the school named after Stolyarsky. Many famous musicians like Gilels, Oistrakh, they all graduated from the school, but later became very famous thoughout the world. With saxophone, there is one saxophone teacher, Mikhail. Actually, he was a clarinettist, and before in Soviet Union, we could not play the saxophone. It was forbidden by the Soviet government who told us that it’s something bad from America, from another countries. Actually, I don’t think that this is bad, but it was like that. If you want to play saxophone, you only can choose clarinet. If you want to play accordion, you can only choose … I don’t know, in Russian, it’s bayan.
Barry Cockcroft: Okay. With the keyboard or the buttons?
Anna Stepanova: With buttons.
Barry Cockcroft: Yeah. Okay.
Anna Stepanova: This one. Yes. It was forbidden in that time. That’s why many teachers in Soviet country, it was the teachers who played clarinet, and maybe they learned the saxophone themselves. Later, when I graduated from the school, I came to Moscow and my teacher was Margarita Shaposhnikova, the famous saxophone lady in the world, professor and People’s Artist of Russia. She was also a clarinettist in the beginning, and she learned saxophone by herself, and she’s really successful and amazing to do this.
Barry Cockcroft: I had the pleasure to work with her a few years ago at the Dinant saxophone competition.
Anna Stepanova: Yes, she was a member of jury. Yes.
Barry Cockcroft: Yeah, and maybe I shouldn’t say she, but she carried a handbag with her. When we were having a party or something, she always had some supplies in her handbag to share with everybody, some samples here, which is very nice. I was going to say, that idea of starting on clarinet, that must have changed.
Anna Stepanova: Yes, right now everything is changed because many people have possibilities to go outside from Russia or Ukraine and go to study in different countries. Of course, the level of success grows in Ukraine as well. Before when I started, we didn’t even have the possibility to listen to how classical saxophone should sound. We had a few little cassettes but didn’t have a lot of choice to find something good.
Anna Stepanova: Right now, of course, you have internet, you have YouTube. You can find everything you want. Of course, this helps young musicians to grow up faster because they have understanding, at least, on how it should be. They now have possibilities, of course, and they go out of Ukraine, Russia, and find good teachers.
Barry Cockcroft: Is there a big difference between Ukraine and Russia?
Anna Stepanova: I don’t know. I think the saxophone school is very similar, but maybe Moscow is the heart and has better people because Russia is huge, and it’s why you can find many talented people from all around Russia. Everybody’s in Moscow, and they’re the centre and play well.
Barry Cockcroft: Ukraine is also a large country.
Anna Stepanova: Not so big like Russia.
Barry Cockcroft: No, sure, but you have quite a large population.
Anna Stepanova: Ukraine has war right now. It’s a sad part, but many people dead and some people leave as well because they don’t want to stay.
Barry Cockcroft: How does that affect you as a musician?
Anna Stepanova: I live in Odessa, and thank God, we don’t have war. Only the eastern part of Ukraine had this bad situation. I know that people who lived in Kiev, they saw this. Some people were very crazy, and they’re very happy if Ukraine can go to a European Union, and even I know that Kiev Saxophone Quartet, they played abroad, and they wanted to support this historical change of Ukraine.
Anna Stepanova: In Odessa, everything is quite peaceful. We started the saxophone competition in 2014 in Odessa, in that famous school by Stolyarsky, and it was very interesting. Of course, it was very good for Ukraine because we invited many famous people like Alain Crepin, Pawel Gusnar from Poland, and Italian composer Roberto Marino and Nikita Zimin and Yuri Vasylevych from Kiev, the famous Ukrainian teacher.
Anna Stepanova: It was very interesting because many young people can come and can listen to how these great people are playing the music. It’s not so easy. In Europe it’s more common to have some master classes and some saxophone events, but for Odessa, for Ukraine, it’s just not so often, and it was very big pleasure for saxophonists. I was very happy that Ukrainian saxophone players from all around Ukraine came to listen, even who didn’t take part, but they were interested about saxophone and they came to listen.
Anna Stepanova: It was a very peaceful time in this time in 2014. We had many people from Russia who came to take part. Even the first winner was the boy from Russia, Vladimir Ustyantsev, a very good guy. After two years, when we organised the second competition, it had already started and it was not a very good time for Ukraine. I tried to invite Jean-Denis Michat, and he said, “Okay,” but then three weeks before, he cancelled as he said French government would not allow him to come.
Barry Cockcroft: Wow.
Anna Stepanova: Like this, yes, and of course, it was a little problem for me. Of course, this political situation was not very comfortable. Not so many Russian people came to Ukraine, but still, we had people from Europe. The third saxophone competition, we organised in Kiev in the National Music Academy of Ukraine named after Tchaikovsky, and the gala concert in the National Philharmonic of Ukraine.
Anna Stepanova: Many people ask, “Why you don’t want to do that in Odessa again?” I thought, “Why we cannot make it in capital? It’s better.” I think it was good. Alain Crepin was there and Piet Swerts, the composer of Klonos. He dedicated to us one piece, Paganini Capriccio, I think you know this, Kenneth Tse played in Strasbourg Saxophone Congress, and so he made the addition of the scores and wrote especially for the Golden Saxophone Competition. It’s a great pleasure for us.
Anna Stepanova: One composer from France, Romain Zante. He wrote one piece for medium, medium group. Yes, medium, medium, for the students until 17 years old, they do as well competition work. What else? Just many famous people, again, in Ukraine, and Arno Bornkamp, who had master classes. It was wonderful, amazing. One of the most lovely saxophonists.
Barry Cockcroft: I’m very curious to know why you started this in the first place. What was the idea to have a competition?
Anna Stepanova: Okay. Actually, it was the idea of my father. My father’s education, he graduated from Saint Petersburg Theatre Academy. His second specialty was director of festivals and competitions, and he just gave me this idea. First time, he helped me to organise and find people to do this. Later, I already started to do this myself. At first, I even didn’t think it shouldn’t be very interesting. Later, when I saw how many good people are here and this can let us to grow up, the level of saxophone in Ukraine grow up, and I feel very happy.
Barry Cockcroft: What do you think is the advantage for a student who does a competition?
Anna Stepanova: I think that every competition, it’s like, one step, one step, one step, every time, then they learn, and then they prepare to take part in the competition. They grow up faster. They just want to fight with each other, and they grew up. They even, maybe, cannot see this, but it’s a huge difference, like they started from the beginning and what they get when they took part in a competition.
Barry Cockcroft: Do you find any students who can’t cope with the pressure of the competition?
Anna Stepanova: I’ve seen a few students, I have seen like this. Actually, they play better, but on the stage, they felt very nervous, especially when the jury is very famous. Yes, and then later very, very sad. Actually, it’s not bad level for them, but it’s a big stress. Competition teaches us to be stronger. Yeah, that’s right.
Barry Cockcroft: Are you planning to continue the competition?
Anna Stepanova: Yes, but maybe not so often because we made two-year, one times, and right now, maybe three, four years, and I want to prepare it better.
Barry Cockcroft: Yeah. The website for the competition is goldensaxophone.com.
Anna Stepanova: Goldensaxophone.com. Yeah.
Barry Cockcroft: Very good. The good thing about having a website like this, because it contains also the history of the competition, which over time, is very interesting. Imagine these young saxophonists in 20 years, they can look back. I think that’s really important. It’s not just what’s coming next, but also what happened in the past.
Anna Stepanova: Then later, we can see what happened with these children, with these young people, maybe they become very famous.
Barry Cockcroft: Now, about your own learning when you’re a student, could you describe, perhaps, the style of teaching that you received as a student? Was it strict? Was it relaxed? How did you learn when you were studying?
Anna Stepanova: When I was a student, of course, my saxophone teacher, Margarita Shaposhnikova, she was quite authoritarian. You have this word?
Barry Cockcroft: Authoritarian.
Anna Stepanova: Oh, yeah, she was quite authoritarian. It was difficult. She can push people until tears. Yes. Sometimes, it’s good. Sometimes, it’s not very good. She was teaching me how to be stronger and how to be on yourself. I think, with my students, maybe I don’t push so much. I don’t push. I know how to be serious with them, and I know how to let them grow up. Maybe it’s very strange, but in Ukraine, I mostly have Chinese students. Yes, we have many Chinese students.
Barry Cockcroft: Are they coming especially to study?
Anna Stepanova: They came to Ukraine to study saxophone, I’m a teacher of National Pedagogical University, and we have this kind of students. In life, we are friendly, but when teaching, of course, we should be serious. Yeah, just like this.
Barry Cockcroft: When they arrive, they may come with no Russian speaking and have to learn it, probably.
Anna Stepanova: Yeah, they don’t speak Russian at all. Yes, yes. Some of them learned Russian not very well, and maybe someone knows English. When we have class, we speak English.
Barry Cockcroft: Okay.
Anna Stepanova: Yeah.
Barry Cockcroft: Now that you teach, do you find that you teach in the same authoritarian way, or have you adopted your style to have something else?
Anna Stepanova: I think, of course, took something from my teacher, but I think I’m more gentle, more kind, not like this. Yes, but in some situations, maybe it works, what my teacher did, because when I came to Moscow to study, I think my saxophone level and saxophone school, how the teacher taught me this … a clarinettist I had many, many mistakes. When you play five or six years, and you think everything’s all right, then she pushed me down and said, “Everything is not right,” and it pushed me into it.
Anna Stepanova: I even had depression, yes, and during the first year, it was very difficult because I had to change everything, the mouth, the breath, everything, the sound. Then it worked. I thought, “Oh, my teacher is a God.” Of course, sometimes, I have some students like this need to change everything, but I don’t push. I don’t push too much. It’s okay.
Barry Cockcroft: I guess you can adapt depending on the students. Some people can take more. In Australia, if you push the students too hard, they give up.
Anna Stepanova: Give up?
Barry Cockcroft: Yeah.
Anna Stepanova: They should go to Moscow.
Barry Cockcroft: Yeah.
Anna Stepanova: It’s a hard life.
Barry Cockcroft: That’s right.
Anna Stepanova: Yeah. Yeah.
Barry Cockcroft: Now, could you describe something about the way that you practise the saxophone? Is it different now to when you were a student?
Anna Stepanova: When I was a student, of course, I had more time, more possibilities to practise, yes. Right now, I have the possibility to go outside of the country and see many musicians and see the saxophone level. About how I practise, I think mostly the same. I always start from long notes, and then play some scales, and then play the music. Of course, right now, I think, I learn faster because I already have the knowledge, I already have some experience, and I already can imagine how it should sound, and how it should be. I’m very happy to be here, right now in Zagreb, because I can hear many wonderful musicians. For me, it’s one step of my own education because I want to grow up more, more, more.
Barry Cockcroft: I saw a video of you recently, playing an Australian piece of music called Crazy Logic.
Anna Stepanova: Oh, yes. Yes.
Barry Cockcroft: I was very pleased, of course, to hear that piece that was written for me by-
Anna Stepanova: I didn’t know.
Barry Cockcroft: Yeah, that was written by Matthew Orlovich, who’s a composer in Sydney, and that piece is become very popular. It was the set piece for the auditions in Paris this year, so it’s become widely played. It’s always nice when a piece of music from one country starts to be performed in other countries because, often, that doesn’t happen.
Anna Stepanova: Yeah.
Barry Cockcroft: Normally, a lot of national music stays in the country. That’s one of the great things at the Congress is you can, of course, hear music from different countries.
Anna Stepanova: Internet brings people together. It was the advice of my friend, my good friend, my student actually, he found his music in the internet. He proposed to me. He said, “Anna, would you like to buy these scores?” I just bought them, and I found it very good.
Barry Cockcroft: Do you have a routine in your practise? Is it always the same, your practise, or does it depend on what-
Anna Stepanova: It depends on the music, yeah, because sometimes, you need to learn something more. For example, I would like to make my slap tongue better. I think it’s not very good now, but I’m frightened about this.
Barry Cockcroft: Everybody wants to make their slap tongue better. Is memorization a part of your performance and practise?
Anna Stepanova: Right now, mostly, I use scores to play, but I will prepare one concert for China in October, and for China, I would like to fight more and play without scores. How about you? You learn by heart or use scores?
Barry Cockcroft: Until eight years ago, I always used music. Then eight years ago, I stopped using music and always played from memory.
Anna Stepanova: What is the difference for you? You found you can do it better. You can express yourself better.
Barry Cockcroft: Yes. Yes. Yes. I like all of those things, but I have a funny relationship with risk. I like when there is risk.
Anna Stepanova: Yes. It’s like driving the car with closed eyes.
Barry Cockcroft: Except playing the saxophone you don’t die.
Anna Stepanova: Yes.
Barry Cockcroft: I liked the idea that you give everything. I found I started making less mistakes than before. You could just say, “Well, if you play from memory, you know the music better,” but I think it’s something else. I think the commitment to learning the music, and to really having it inside is really important. The really good thing about having memorised music is, when you’re not practising, you’re not with your saxophone. The music is still there. It’s going through your head all the time because it’s in your memory.
Anna Stepanova: Cool.
Barry Cockcroft: It’s great. You can be just sitting on the bus, and you can still practise. You have the music going. I think that it stays with you. You know more music because it’s inside of you.
Anna Stepanova: Thank you for this experience. I will try my best. Thank you. I have interview with you today.
Barry Cockcroft: People are finding out too much.
Anna Stepanova: It’s okay.
Barry Cockcroft: Now, with your music career. Did you have a plan, or did it just kind of evolve bit by bit?
Anna Stepanova: When I started to learn saxophone, I didn’t have so many plans, I think. I just wanted to have good education. In that time, my father helped me a lot because he’s a director and he always found some concert or some festival. Then, when I was ready to become a big girl, he helped me to organise one competition. Of course, this competition helped me, not just as a musician. This competition helped me to know more famous people.
Anna Stepanova: For example, Lars Mlekusch, he organised a saxophone festival, and I was very glad to play there, too. It’s very easy to make saxophone friendships right now. Right now, it’s like this, and he helps me … He’s like my producer right now, maybe. He helps me to organise concerts and festivals. Yes, I’m going to China in October. That will be one big festival or conference for saxophonists from China, and I’m one guest. I think it’s a good experience. Yeah.
Barry Cockcroft: Sometimes, I’m surprised by what people do. Some people play music all of the time, and they think about music all of the time. Is there something else that you do outside of music?
Anna Stepanova: I have a son. He will be seven years old in August. If I have free time, of course, I will spend time with him. As well, I like sport very much. I go to gym. I like jogging. I like bicycling. Odessa has the Black Sea, if I have free time, I will go there to look a little. If I’m very tired, it always helps me to relax. I like water very much.
Barry Cockcroft: Is it true you went jogging this morning?
Anna Stepanova: Yes, I was jogging. I found the Zagreb Academy of Music. It’s beautiful.
Barry Cockcroft: Do you think the exercise, the sport that you do, do you think this is important so that we stay healthy, not just …
Anna Stepanova: Not just the body.
Barry Cockcroft: Not just the body, but for playing the saxophone, I mean, so we can play for many years.
Anna Stepanova: Yes, I think it’s good for breath, first. Second, it can let you be stronger and you can believe yourself. You can believe, “Oh, I can do this. I can be on this.” Sometimes, I think it’s similar. When you do sport, you think, “Oh, no, I cannot do this. It’s very, very, very difficult.” Actually, it’s very similar with the saxophone. We should do this, we should practise, and it works.
Barry Cockcroft: Do you work in a university that has good support for the saxophone as an instrument? Does it give opportunity for the saxophone students, or do you work in a university where you have to fight all the time for recognition for the saxophone?
Anna Stepanova: No, the situation in Ukraine is not very comfortable for the teacher. I just have the place where I work, I have my classroom, and all the other things, I organise myself. The payment is very, very small, actually. I just know how to live. I know how this money for living, and about saxophone, the most important, I’m very happy that my university, maybe they don’t give support, but they never disturb me. I can do what I want. I know how to teach my students I know how to organise concerts together with them, and all these things together, let us grow up. Maybe it sounds not very happy, but it’s life, and everybody fight.
Barry Cockcroft: How do you go travelling and managing being away from home when you have a family?
Anna Stepanova: I’m a single Mama. I have a son, and I’m very happy that I have my parents. Like, for example, I’m here now and they take care of my son. They go outside. They play and go to the sea. They have time and they have possibilities to do this. I’m very thankful to them. Actually, when I’m at home I’m busy, I’m with my students, but on weekend, of course, I try to spend more time with my son. Yeah.
Barry Cockcroft: This could be very useful for people listening, but have you found a way that helps you to get a bigger audience?
Anna Stepanova: I just have friends. They’re journalists, and journalists always find these people when I organise something, and they give this support about TV, newspaper, internet, and right now, we have Facebook, we have Instagram and everything together. It works faster. How about you?
Barry Cockcroft: Me?
Anna Stepanova: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Barry Cockcroft: I believe that different aspects of music interconnect. I’m a composer and also a saxophone player, and the interesting thing is if somebody is playing my composition, at the same time, they’re also finding out about me as a saxophone player. The two work together, and then if somebody hears me play, then they may go and then discover my composition. It works both ways. The more different aspects that you may have in your career, you can then become known to more people.
Barry Cockcroft: I think it’s essential that people starting out in their music career, think about these things. You can’t just play well. Everybody plays well. You have to also do something else. You have to have an idea of what to do. Some people, I’ve found, have chosen special music. Then they may work with composers who have a special connection. The music means more to them. Therefore, when they play it, it means more to the public, and it takes music to a higher level. I think that’s a really important connection, that we don’t just play music that we learned as a student, but we find our own music that we can play the best.
Barry Cockcroft: When I was a student in France, I studied contemporary music. I thought, “Yes, when I finished, okay, I’ll go and play contemporary music.” The first thing I did, of course, was to play all of the wonderful contemporary pieces I learned in France, and the audience got smaller and smaller and smaller. As I started to see that, I guess, I became more careful. The idea with my composition that I try to incorporate contemporary music inside of something, perhaps, more comfortable, that people are already familiar with, yes. It’s a way of sneaking in new music inside of something else. You can’t just copy your teacher, you have to find your own voice. That’s a challenge. There’s no secret. There’s no rules. You just have to find something, and if you don’t, slowly your audience gets smaller and smaller and smaller.
Barry Cockcroft: Now, do you use improvisation?
Anna Stepanova: No, not really. You?
Barry Cockcroft: Yes.
Anna Stepanova: Yes. Yes.
Barry Cockcroft: More than anything. I love improvisation, the first thing I do, my warm up, I would never play long notes. The first thing I warm up is my creativity. I always improvised first because, even if I’m then working on a piece, I find that if your creative thinking is engaged, as the priority, that way, when you interpret music, you’re also thinking creatively. How can I play this? What’s the best way to play this in a creative way, not in a technical way? So I try to let the mind to be free. Even when I was a teenager, I have always done this.
Barry Cockcroft: It’s been very important to me. If I was learning a new piece, I would improvise in the style of that piece to learn the language, and even if I didn’t understand it, I could copy a little bit, and then through that, I would Learn to understand the new music through improvisation.
Barry Cockcroft: Now, I’ve got some questions that they called rapid fire questions. They’re just quick questions with quick answers.
Anna Stepanova: Okay. Okay.
Barry Cockcroft: If you just had one piece of music that you could play now, forever, just one, you couldn’t play anything else, which piece would that be?
Anna Stepanova: I think it’s Ukrainian composer Skoryk Melody, yes, just a very beautiful melody, very romantic.
Barry Cockcroft: Is this a piece-
Anna Stepanova: It was written for one film for one movie. Actually, it’s for violin, but I changed to soprano. It’s beautiful.
Barry Cockcroft: Now, it’s better now.
Anna Stepanova: Now, it’s just better. No, it’s just better. It’s just good, good music.
Barry Cockcroft: It’s good music.
Anna Stepanova: Yeah.
Barry Cockcroft: That’s your favourite thing about this, is it’s good music.
Anna Stepanova: Now, if you ask me if I cannot play another music, I will choose something that people can understand from the heart. Yes.
Barry Cockcroft: If you just had one hour to practise, what would you do?
Anna Stepanova: To make the quality better and better.
Barry Cockcroft: Okay, how would you do that in that time?
Anna Stepanova: If I had already practised enough, I just will repeat a few more times, and maybe, as we talked about today, I will try to learn by heart. Don’t use the scores. Yeah.
Barry Cockcroft: Who do you consider to be one of the most successful saxophonists that you have encountered?
Anna Stepanova: Arno Bornkamp, Nikita Zimin, Alain Crepin. Yeah.
Barry Cockcroft: What is it about these people that that offer something special to you?
Anna Stepanova: Arno, I just like his music, how he expresses himself. Nikita is a good musician and he is one kind of sportsman. He plays very fast. Alain Crepin is a composer and saxophonist, and he’s the person who knows how to combine people and how to organise great saxophone events, and Lars Mlekusch. I like him very much.
Barry Cockcroft: Actually talking of Alain, he is a composer and a performer. Have you met many people who compose music and also perform music? You mentioned Jean-Denis Michat.
Anna Stepanova: I know from Germany, Detlef Bensmann. You. Not so many actually.
Barry Cockcroft: I feel like, the 20th century, that stopped very much so, and you had composers, and you had performers. Sometimes, even they, wouldn’t be talking. I never really was comfortable with this idea, but I really like when composers and performers work together. Not for the performer to tell the composer what to do, but just to work together, discuss and to live together.
Barry Cockcroft: I think it’s both important for the technical aspect of the music, but more than that, I think the piece will come to a much higher level. I think I would always encourage people starting out with music to approach composers, maybe at the same level as they are, to work with them and play them. Hopefully, in that process to find the best pieces.
Barry Cockcroft: At your university is their opportunity for the performance and the composing department to work together?
Anna Stepanova: No, the university where I work, they don’t have composers, we have a conservatory. If we want, we can find these composers. I’m happy that at this time in Zagreb, I will play the music of Ukrainian and Italian composers, Ukrainian composer, Skoryk. I was talking about his melody, and this year, he will be 80 years old already, cool age. It’s the first time in his life he wrote for saxophone. I found him in Kiev, and I asked, “Please, I like your music very much. Could you please compose something?”
Anna Stepanova: He tried to make his music little contemporary. Of course, it’s not contemporary saxophone how we used to think about contemporary music. It’s a little contemporary, but in the same time it has melody. The second piece that I will play, it’s actually a music of Italian composer, Roberto Marino. He was a member of jury of first competition, what we organised in Ukraine, and the music is Concerto Duo. It’s a romantical music. He’s my good friend and he likes soprano saxophone very much. Yes. We found each other. He always say, “Anya, you’re my …” how to say? Musical sister. This year, he composed one new piece, Scherzo, Scherzo for saxophone soprano and symphonic orchestra. I’m waiting for piano arrangement first. I want to learn this music.
Barry Cockcroft: Okay. Getting back to the rapid questions. If we learn from mistakes, is it okay to make mistakes?
Anna Stepanova: Yes, it’s okay.
Barry Cockcroft: It’s okay.
Anna Stepanova: Yes, because we learn more.
Barry Cockcroft: If you’d make a … You never make mistakes. If you made a mistake, are you okay? Are you relaxed with that? You’re fine.
Anna Stepanova: If I make mistake, yes. Yes. I understand, for future, I should not do this, every time like this. Actually, we should think further. I’m thinking about this. Before, I just make mistake. Oh, I’m still young, it’s okay. Right now, I’m trying to think what will be the next step, like this.
Barry Cockcroft: That’s good. Through a mistake, we can learn.
Anna Stepanova: Try to not make mistakes. Try to think further, the next step, like chess.
Barry Cockcroft: I try to make all my mistakes when I’m practising.
Anna Stepanova: You’re trying to make mistakes.
Barry Cockcroft: Yeah, because if I get them all gone in the practise, then hopefully, they don’t come in the performance.
Anna Stepanova: Yeah.
Barry Cockcroft: Now, this week, you have a big performance. Is there something that you do before you walk on stage that helps you play at your best?
Anna Stepanova: If I’m at home, I like to clean my house very much. You know why, but because I think it’s … I calm down, and I let my brain calm down. If my kitchen is clean, my house is clean, then I feel relaxed, and then I go.
Barry Cockcroft: Then your thinking is organised and calm.
Anna Stepanova: Yes, it’s organisation. I think it’s like this. It’s something similar for me.
Barry Cockcroft: That’s very interesting. Have you ever had the occasion when you go into a performance and you’re not in a good state of mind, where your mind isn’t all right?
Anna Stepanova: Yes.
Barry Cockcroft: How does that feel?
Anna Stepanova: I don’t like when people stay with me and make some stupid jokes. I like jokes, but before I go to the stage, I want to stay by myself and to concentrate, then it’s okay.
Barry Cockcroft: That makes sense. If you can look back, is there something that you know now that you could tell yourself when you were just starting out in your career?
Anna Stepanova: Be smart. Be smart. Think more, think of the next step. Yes, it is truth. Maybe it’s some simple things, but when we are young, we don’t think about this. We need to think more.
Barry Cockcroft: So, some planning?
Anna Stepanova: Some planning, yes. Yeah, that’s right. Yeah.
Barry Cockcroft: Do you think, because you’ve been doing event organising, and to do an event, you have to be thinking of every detail, do you find you have the type of mind that is good with all these details?
Anna Stepanova: Can I tell you? The first time that I organised the competition, my son was one-year-and-half, and I still was feeding him with the milk. It was very difficult time, and every time I just started to work and to write some messages on the computer, every time he woke up in the night. I need to take care, come back, take care, come back. I think this just made me stronger. I found the way how to do this. When I organised the first competition, I thought, “How can I do this?” It was a huge, big job. Of course, it’s one kind of self-organisation. Every event can teach you more and more, get experience.
Barry Cockcroft: It gets easier?
Anna Stepanova: Because, right now, I have a team. I asked my students to help me, so just, I tell, “You should do this. You should do that,” and still, I need to organise them, and I need to control many things. When you have teammates, it is getting easier.
Barry Cockcroft: Now, in Ukraine, are you finding things are changing, or are you finding there’s things that stay the same?
Anna Stepanova: Yes, I think the level of saxophone in Ukraine is getting better because many people can go out of Ukraine and can learn more. As I told you before, internet, internet makes a big difference too. Yes. We can listen.
Barry Cockcroft: Could you tell me about a recent project you have been working on?
Anna Stepanova: Regarding the saxophone competition, I would like to stop for one or two years and prepare it better. Maybe it will be not in Ukraine, and right now, I will not tell, but when it should be prepared, I will tell you to let everybody know. Right now, I would like to learn more music, more saxophone technique, just I want to let myself level to make it better, and then lead my students to play better. One of the big projects for this year, I would like to go to China.
Barry Cockcroft: You are going.
Anna Stepanova: Yes, I’m going. Yeah.
Barry Cockcroft: Did that come about through a connection with your Chinese students?
Anna Stepanova: Yes. Yes. My Chinese students, they are friendly, and every time, if I come to China, every time, go to this city to meet me. It’s very cool because China is big too, they always come.
Barry Cockcroft: Now, where can we find out more information about your activities? Do you like to use your website or do you prefer social media?
Anna Stepanova: I prefer Facebook and Instagram.
Barry Cockcroft: Okay. The last question really is you’ve made, already, such a big contribution to the saxophone, what do you see for yourself for the next 10, 20 years?
Anna Stepanova: Work hard, make myself better. It’s not only about saxophone. I would like to make my health better, make my life better, to make my job better, all these things together.
Barry Cockcroft: Thank you very much for your time this afternoon, and have a wonderful performance in a few days.
Anna Stepanova: Thank you, you too. Good luck.