The Malta Independent 5 December 2021, Sunday

Diary by CHARLENE FARRUGIA: Overcoming the pademic’s obstacles

Sunday, 24 October 2021, 10:00 Last update: about 2 months ago

Pianist CHARLENE FARRUGIA and her young family, now living in Croatia, exorcised the fear of coronavirus with music. “Going through isolation was quite hard, but my piano kept me going”, she says. “I tried to be creative, and to keep myself as busy as possible.” And she even managed to release an album of works by Khachaturian.

"Around the middle of January 2020, when we first heard about this new virus which had caused millions of people to go in isolation, and which was claiming victims in China, most of us ignored and underestimated this problem. Hardly anyone had imagined that the situation could get worse. I never thought that a virus could have such a strong impact on our lives. This change began around the end of February, when on my way back home from a recording in Vienna, I heard that some nations had to take precautions to prevent the virus from spreading further. By the beginning of March, we were forced to stay at home, in quarantine, leaving only if strictly necessary, avoiding gatherings and wearing masks and gloves. From that moment, I had to commence my piano lessons online. My wonderful loyal students at the University of Pula, were all determined to keep up with their studies and adapted really well to my online classes.


Charlene, Franko and their two sons have made their home in Croatia

In this period, family became even more important. When I found out I was pregnant, the news of coronavirus was becoming less prevalent in Croatia.  This was in June 2020. I thought the situation would be completely 'normal' by the time I gave birth. I was very wrong. My husband Franko, wasn't allowed to come to hospital appointments and he never got to see any scans of the baby, which was disappointing.  However, Franko was able to be with me when I gave birth, and was allowed to stay on for two more hours, before he was asked to leave. We were both very upset and I spent the next three days in hospital, trying to remain positive by talking to the mother in the cubicle next to mine. However, I had to be cautious about who came to speak to me and was extremely worried about catching the virus.

The quarantine period gave me time to reflect. I made it a habit to keep a diary and jot down thoughts that would sometimes cross my mind; my desires, my emotions and so on. In this way, I managed to finalise two important recording projects during lockdown. My solo album Khachaturian: Recitatives and Fugues, Children's Albums I and II was released to critical acclaim on Grand Piano Records in March 2021. I feel honoured to have recorded the largely unknown Seven Recitatives and Fugues, which had no readily available commercial recordings prior to my recording.

Charlene with the late Mrs Dolores Amodio, her beloved teacher

This project has been possible through support received from the BOV Joseph Calleja Foundation, to whom I am so very grateful. The complete recording experience was a joy thanks to my producer Ateş Orga and engineer Dave Rowell. The other recording Polarities is the result of my collaboration with American contemporary composer Beth Mehocic, which flourished during lockdown. Her Tango Concerto was dedicated and premiered by Franko and me, and was recorded together with the Zagreb Chamber Orchestra in October 2020.

I was also heavily involved in acquiring new musical instruments for the Music Academy within the University of Pula and inaugurated this event by performing on the new Bösendorfer 214 VC on Croatian television. It gives me great pleasure to know that our students are able to practise and perform on top quality instruments.

During moments of boredom, I video called my friends, family and colleagues, studied new repertoire and read books. I also held an online seminar on Piano Compositions for the Left Hand where I lectured music students from the major academies and conservatoires around Russia, including students from the Moscow State Conservatory. From the feedback that I got I think I succeeded in kick starting some other interesting online projects.

Like all musicians, the thrill of being on stage was something I really missed. June 2020 marked my return to the concert stage after the pandemic restrictions. This performance was a very emotional one for me, especially since the passing of my dear teacher, Dolores Amodio, happened in the same week. The impact of her death was beyond measure. She gifted me all her love, wisdom and knowledge and it is simply impossible to imagine how my life would have turned out without her. I hope that I will live long enough to continue her legacy. 

Gradually the world is beginning to rise again. Of course, nothing is the same as before. Our life has been split into the "before" and "after". I hope the future will be brighter for all of us."

This series is conceived and edited by Marie Benoît who contributes her own Diary occasionally. [email protected]
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