“I moved to Cuba when I was six years old.”
By Helson Hernandez
HAVANA TIMES — Iya Mezenova is an established concert musician who, having developed her artistic career in Cuba, carries the great musical talent of the legendary performers of her native land.
HT: You were born in Russia?
Iya Mézenova: My mother was Cuban and my father Russian. I was born in a village called Mokshan, in Penza, the place of my father’s and Russian family’s birth, about 1,500 kilometers from Leningrad, today Saint Petersburg. My mother was in the first group of Cubans who travelled to the Soviet Union in 1961. She studied at the Leningrad Electrical and Technical Institute (LETI), where my father taught as a physics professor – the youngest professor in the entire institute at the time.
HT: Do you feel you still have some of that background in you?
IM: Yes, it’s definitely part of me, something I always carry with me. I can’t exactly say I feel entirely Russian, though, for I moved to Cuba when I was 6 years old. A part of me is definitely Russian.
HT: Who or what circumstances led you to enter the music world?
IM: No one forced me to study music, but I believe my mother had something to do with it. Playing the flute was my idea. Everyone thought I was going to study guitar, and they were all very surprised when I said I would play the flute.
HT: Did you learn to play any other instrument?
IM: I love the piccolo. I’ve had the fortune of belonging to the opera and ballet orchestra of Havana’s Gran Teatro, where, to my satisfaction, I get to play the piccolo more than I do the flute.
HT: How do you reconcile your obligations as a musician with the daily chores of a Cuban woman?
IM: That’s an interesting question. It’s complicated. I don’t know how I manage to keep ahead of things: my students at school, the Masters in music interpretation at the Higher Institute for the Arts (ISA), the daily house chores, constantly practicing with my instrument… I don’t know. I think it’s a bit of skill and a bit of “magic.”
HT: Do you see an interest among Cuban composers to produce pieces for your instrument?
IM: The flute is a fortunate instrument in that regard. There are so many pieces for flutes that you would need more than one lifetime to be able to play everything that’s been written. In Cuba, it is a very popular instrument because it can be adapted to any format and genre. I would say that’s the reason so many flute compositions have been written and continue to be written.
I would like to mention two names here. The young Cuban composer Jose Gabilondo – I know some his pieces for the flute and they are very interesting and appealing – and the beloved professor Alfredo Portela Lopez, who recently passed away, whose flute pieces I would one day like to see published.
HT: What piece has moved you the most as a person? What is it about it that has such an effect on you?
IM: As a musician, I like music that makes me think. There are pieces that are hard to understand at first but later become so suggestive I feel I’ll never fully unravel all of the ideas, meanings and suggestions behind it. Every performance is like standing before a new piece and I enjoy that sensation very much.
This is the case, for instance, with Bachiana Brasileña No. 6 by Villa and Lobo, a piece for two I recently performed next to bassoonist Osmany Hernandez in Havana, during a beautiful concert organized in honor of the birth of the Brazilian author. The opening piece is a challenge in the technical and musical senses, but, in the end, the infinite world of suggestions and images make it a special and immense pleasure to play it.
HT: How would you define your wind instrument?
IM: It’s a noble instrument. It’s like a good actor, capable of playing different characters.
HT: How do you conceive of concert music and how do you see its development in Cuba?
IM: Concert music has a place within Havana’s music world, the space I get to see most often. Excellent concerts are being offered and the quality of the performance is extremely high. There are concert halls with regular programs, special festivals and contests, like the once organized by the Cuban Writers and Artists Association (UNEAC).
There are also difficulties. For instance, the instruments aren’t always in optimal condition. In my opinion, concert music in Cuba has its own space and audience. It co-exists with other forms of music and finds solutions to the difficulties in its way.