Dallas — Irina Kulikova, Russian classical guitarist and daughter of cellist Vinera Kulikova, spoke with TheaterJones about her life and soul as a classical guitarist. At the age of five, Kulikova received her first guitar and ever since has traveled the world teaching, performing and sharing her most extraordinary gift of this musical art form. We chatted with her on Sunday evening, the day after her performance in St. Louis, Mo. The next morning she boarded the plane to Texas. She performs for the Allegro Guitar Society of Dallas/Fort Worth Classic Guitar Society this week, on Tuesday, April 9, at University Park United Methodist Church; and then on Thursday, April 11, at the Kimbell Art Museum’s Piano Pavilion in Fort Worth. It is the final concert of Allegro’s 2018-19 season.
TheaterJones: Irina, who is the maker of your guitar? Tell me about the wood and how it helps you create the sound you want.
Irina Kulikova: The end of January I received a second guitar from Simon Marty in Australia. The wood is from South America and German spruce—made especially for me. We sort of made it together: I chose the wood and it even has a special speaker inside it. I trust Simon very much. I have had a good response from my new “baby” spruce; it needs special attention and time to open up the wood. My guitar is my child, a part of me. I need to be one with an instrument; when I play I disappear into the guitar.
Tell me about your musical influences.
Really there are a lot of different kinds of influences, a lot of books, a lot of music, a lot of my own personal experience with going into nature, and my lifestyle. I was born in the Soviet Union and then my country collapsed. In was an interesting journey that I had, and not very stable. I was taught by José María Gallardo Del Rey who gave me a guitar when I was 13. It was very special. I started playing concerts abroad when I was 13. The Assad Duo was also a musical influence to me.
What is the most difficult piece of music that you have played or have in your repertoire?
Some of the more difficult pieces that I have played were the obligatory pieces during competitions. They were difficult only because I was so young. But now I take new pieces and select ones that I love. If I love the piece I love the whole process of taking it to a deeper level of expression. I would say they are wonderful challenges not difficult challenges. Some pieces take a few weeks to learn and others several months before they are ready to perform.
Who is the most notable celebrity for whom you have played?
I have played for some royal families, for example the sister of the Danish queen who gave me presents but I don’t really focus much on royal families. It doesn’t matter because I love to perform for anyone who enjoys hearing classical guitar and my playing.
You’ve performed in so many places around the world. Talk about a place you’ve enjoyed playing very much and why.
There are so many places I’ve played—good and bad. Some were terrible because of the bad acoustics. When it’s very dry and not really manageable, then this a struggle and one I don’t like. But, when the acoustics are great and the public responds, well… that is very good! Sometimes they are very quiet and sometimes they react on my words or jokes, but sometimes they are silent and I don’t know what is going on. In Japan, for example, it really is the best. There is absolutely no sound in the concert hall; I can hear them breathing. Their complete silence is the opposite of what one expects, that is, it shows that they highly respect and enjoy my performance.
Where do you call home?
Den Haag (The Hague), the Netherlands, on the beach of the North Sea, close to the international airport; my train and tram connection is very good. I teach master classes while I travel and am often a guest professor at various locations for several months at a time. For example, I teach in California every two months. Some students come to me from other countries for lessons. I teach professionals and students who do their final exams.
Are there challenges with traveling?
With traveling, I am always experimenting because I don’t sleep on the plane with the sounds and lights. I might watch a movie or read a book. I try to have healthy meals with low carbohydrates and exercise. When I am home with my daughter, she is six and is a funny one. She will not leave the bed. And, when I am with her I strive to be really a mother. She does not travel with me because she has school and doesn’t have many holidays. But, when she was a baby, she traveled everywhere with me.
I love traveling in the U.S. and am always super happy with U.S. audiences. I sometimes feel more at home in the U.S. than in Europe. This will be my third time performing in the Dallas/Fort Worth area. It’s very special for me because each time the audience is enthusiastic and very good listeners. They react quite fast. It’s very different from when I go to some places and don’t know exactly what to expect.
This is a special concert because I’ve invited a guest, cellist Feliks Volozhanin. I’ve known him since we were eight; our birthdays are just five days apart. He’s been living and teaching in California for about nine years and we are planning to record a CD together.
When I was 13, I decided to strive to have my own sound. Like my mom’s cello or a singer, I always loved the human sound and wanted to make my guitar sing. A guitar can have a metallic sound, sharp like nails, but I wanted my sound to be expressive like a singer.
When I have a guitar in my hands I feel complete; without a guitar, I feel there is always something missing. Like with my child, my daughter, I feel she is part of me walking around in the world and when I am at home with her, I feel 100 percent complete. Similarly, even when I just talk to students I need to have that thing, the guitar, in my hands to feel complete. My guitar is my baby because it’s a part of me.
Kulikova's performances this week are:
- 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, April 9, at University Park United Methodist Church, Dallas
- 7:30 p.m. Thursday, April 11, at Kimbell Art Museum, Piano Pavilion, Fort Worth