Launching a music and arts festival has been a steep learning curve for Constella Festival founder Tatiana Berman. But as the annual event turns 3 this month, she feels she’s growing every day.
Berman, 33, a Russian-born single mother of two and the former wife of Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra music director laureate Paavo Järvi, has discovered her calling as a entrepreneur.
“Sometimes when pitching an idea, you don’t get anywhere, even though the idea is amazing. Or you pitch to a major donor, and they don’t support you. That is discouraging. But all it does is make you go to the next one,” she says. “I try to stay on the goal. Because at the end of the day, if things don’t work out, usually around the corner there are things that work out better.”
Keeping a multitaskers eye on collaborations
Three years ago, Berman created the Constella Festival, taking its name from “constellation,” which opened last week and continues through Nov. 7. Offering a diverse menu, it includes 20 concerts, visual art exhibits, free children’s concerts at Cincinnati Art Museum and a composer-in-residence, Missy Mazzoli, who will present her avant-garde music in Northern Kentucky University’s Digitorium on Oct. 15.
Berman’s concept looks to the future in an art form – classical music – that is often viewed as “stuffy” and “old-fashioned.” She is attracting genre-crossing audiences with inventive collaborations of music, art and dance.
“I wanted a model different from the ordinary music festival,” she says. “The idea was to connect the arts, and also to connect smaller presenting musical organizations here in town, to draw attention to their existence. Collaboration is the word here.”
Accustomed to multitasking, Berman sleeps little. While planning her festival, she has been learning a new violin concerto, written for her by New York composer Charles Coleman. She will give its world premiere with Järvi conducting on Thursday. Her day is packed with festival preparations until 3 p.m. when it’s time to pick up her daughters at school.
Petite, striking and doe-eyed, Berman has a background as a classically trained concert violinist. That’s coupled with her international contacts in the music world, allowing her this year to bring Joshua Bell, one of the most celebrated violinists of our time, and NEA Jazz Master Jimmy Heath.
Nevertheless, that only partly prepared her to head a festival.
“During these three years, I’ve learned a huge amount of things. I never studied arts management, but I know exactly how to run a festival now. I learned it on the job,” she says.
Finding energy in the unconventional
It hasn’t always been easy. Several board members walked away. Her style has been described as “controlling” by even her staunchest supporters.
“She’s very easily dismissed as difficult. I would think creative, brilliant people just might be on occasion,” says Tom Callinan, who retired as editor of The Enquirer in 2010, and now chairs her board of three. “She is completely energized and confident. ... She’s up half the night. It’s amazing how hard she works, and she’s always on the phone. My job, a lot of times, is to force her to allow us to do more, and as we build trust, she is getting a lot better at that.”
Now, says Callinan, the festival’s vision is “in transition.”
“A lot of nonprofits look at the vision and start to get ahead of themselves. Constella was comparing itself to (established festivals) Aspen and Spoleto,” he says. “We’re saying, that will come. We’re just three (years old). Let’s just have a fantastic festival for Greater Cincinnati.”
Berman’s concept fits a growing trend of unconventional arts groups who hold concerts in unexpected places, such as Northside Tavern. She’ll be playing there with the musicians of Classical Revolution next Sunday (free).
In 10 years, how does Berman think will people sample the arts?
“I don’t know, but I wish sincerely they will still go to live events, because there’s nothing like it. The exchange of the type of energy that goes on in a performance, you cannot possibly get that from a computer,” she says.
A life in music and art led her from Moscow to Cincinnati
From the expansive windows of their East Walnut Hills condo, Berman, her daughters Leah, 9, and Ingrid, 7, and their two cats have a drop-dead view of Downtown. The walls are adorned with Berman’s own paintings, emotional works that echo various periods of her life. Her style is abstract and brightly colored. Art, she says, is like music: “It gets into your soul.”
Painting has helped her get through tough times, she says. Looking at a large, Chagall-like canvas that she described as “a house burning,” she noted, “I love color, I love Kandinsky and Chagall. I was going through a very emotional period in my life.”
Berman, who speaks Russian at home with her children, was born in Moscow. The family moved when she was 3 to St. Petersburg, where her father was a pianist for the historic Mariinsky Theater. Her mother, a musician, took her along to rehearsals with her folk orchestra.
“I used to conduct the orchestra while sitting next to her. So they realized I had music in my bones,” she says.
She also had perfect pitch, and began violin at age 5. Because the music school was next door to the theater, she would go after school to see operas and ballet while her father worked. It made a lifelong impression, she says.
But at 12, her life changed dramatically when her mother died during a kidney transplant operation. She suddenly was faced with responsibility beyond her years. It was difficult for her father to care for two young girls. Her younger sister went to live with relatives.
At 14, Berman, a gifted violinist, received a scholarship to attend the Yehudi Menuhin School in England. She had lessons and once toured with the legendary violinist.
Later, she studied at London’s Royal Academy of Music, having won a “Queen Mother Scholarship,” intending to launch a solo career. That lasted until about age 21, when she met her future husband, married and started a family. She and Järvi divorced three years ago but remain on friendly terms.
“I was trained as a concert violinist to have a big solo career and play with orchestras. I have not, but my life is interesting,” she says. “I like doing it, and I have always been interested in the many sides of artistic expression in art and music.”
When Berman moved to Cincinnati in 2002, she was struck by the city’s welcoming environment and immense cultural assets. That was the seed that made her think Cincinnati would be the perfect place to start a festival.
“I noticed immediately that it’s a city that has a lot, but was not advertising what it has. It was a bit of a gem,” she says. ⬛
Six upcoming Constella concerts not to miss
For the complete list of Constella Festival presented and partner events or to purchase tickets, visit www.constellafestival.org or call 513-621-2787.
Thursday: Queen City Connections
Tatiana Berman, violin, Constella Festival Chamber Orchestra with Paavo Järvi, conductor. A world premiere violin concerto by Charles Coleman, Stravinsky’s “Apollo” and Mozart’s Symphony No. 33, K. 319.
Exhibition: “Glory and Prosperity,” with new paintings by Andrew VanSickle, work of Outsider Artist legend Rev. Howard Finster, and famed celebrity photographer and author Gary Lee Boas.
Details: Exhibition opens 6 p.m.; performance 7:30 p.m., Memorial Hall. $24.50-$65.
Oct. 15: The Music of Missy Mazzoli
Constella’s composer-in-residence has written for the Kronos Quartet, eighth blackbird, the Los Angeles Philharmonic, the New York City Opera, Dublin’s Crash Ensemble and her own group, Victoire. Local musicians, including flutist Nina Perlove and CSO violist Joanne Wojtowicz and the Corbett Trio, will perform
New music by Constella’s composer-in-residence for instrumentalists and electronics, with Digital Art by Carolina Marini, and Joseph Iannopollo.
Details: 7:30 p.m., Griffin Hall, Digitorium, Northern Kentucky University. $25.
Oct. 19: Spellbound: Three Centuries, Three Summits
Stewart Goodyear, piano. Related art exhibit features artists and craftsmen from Brazee Street Studios.
Exhibition: “Function/Dysfunction,” featuring artists and craftsmen from Brazee Street Studios . Fine art, furniture, and accessories from local designers will be for sale the night of the exhibition. Participating artists include: Sean Druley, Cedric Cox, C. Jacqueline Wood, Susan Byrnes, Reptiles + Rainbows, Kent Krugh and more.
Details: Exhibition opens 6:30 p.m.; performance 8 p.m., Memorial Hall. $24.50-$65.
Oct. 26: Exhilarating Arias and Art
Kelley O’Connor, mezzo soprano, Jessica Rivera, soprano, Robert Spano, piano. With one-night exhibition curated by Michael Solway of contemporary art by Paul DeMarinis, Tom Marioni, and Alan Rath.
Exhibition: Carl Solway Gallery presents a one-night exhibition curated by Michael Solway of contemporary artwork by three internationally recognized artists born in Ohio, now living and working in the San Francisco Bay Area: Paul DeMarinis, Tom Marioni, and Alan Rath.
Details: Exhibition opens 6:30 p.m.; performance 8 p.m., Memorial Hall. $24.50-$65.
Oct. 30: Inspired Improvisations and Stravinsky
Choreographers Heather Britt and Jimmy Cunningham with dancers of the Cincinnati Ballet and festival musicians on the same stage featuring two new ballet works. In collaboration with Sandra Gross and the Cincinnati Art Museum.
Exhibition: Prints from “Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo designs from the Cincinnati Art Museum” inside the Harriet Tubman Theater, Oct. 28-Nov. 4. Stage art collaboration featuring artist Sandra Gross.CQ It will coincide with the Art Museum’s exhibition “Degas, Renoir, and Poetic Pastels,” a selection of pastels from the museum’s permanent collection and includes Degas’s poignant ballet dancers.
Details: Performance with stage art, 7:30 p.m., Freedom Center, Harriet Tubman Theater. $25.
Nov. 7: Constella Festival Finale: Joshua Bell, violin
The program: Tartini’s Violin Sonata in G Minor, Op. 1, No. 10, “Devil’s Trill Sonata;” Beethoven’s Violin Sonata No. 10 in G Major; and Stravinsky’s Divertimento, plus additional works to be announced from the stage. Related art exhibit is three sculptures from “MozART: A pop-sculpture opera in 13 acts” by Rondle Royce West.The sculptures re-imagine the main characters in Mozart’s opera, “The Magic Flute,” with the 13th piece being the maestro himself. The vision for these characters is to blend their 18th-century origins with who they would be today.
Details: Exhibition opens 6 p.m.; performance 7:30 p.m., Memorial Hall. At least two additional Constella events must be purchased in order to buy tickets to Joshua Bell. $36-$95.
What people are saying about Berman
Victoria Morgan, Cincinnati Ballet artistic director and CEO: “Who can resist Tatiana? She has a gift for seeing beyond genres. There’s a beautiful marriage between movement and music that allows each form to elevate the other. ... Dance isn’t always easy to incorporate because dancers need certain conditions. But because Tatiana understands its value, she has this magical ability to incorporate it for the sake of a larger experience.”
Evans Mirageas, Cincinnati Opera artistic director: “I admire Tatiana’s ability to envision and produce such a wide variety of top notch events. What is ultimately so special for me is the ‘level playing field’ philosophy that places our own great resident artists and ensembles side by side in the programming with world renowned artists.”
Paavo Järvi, former husband and music director laureate of the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra: “Tania is a talented organizer and a performer. She has a personality that can bring together many interesting people, musicians from radically different musical backgrounds. I am happy that we are premiering Charles Colemans’ Violin Concerto. It is written for Tania. It is always very special when the composer writes with a specific performer in mind!”
Randolph “Duck” Wadsworth, board member: “She’s a fireball. There’s more energy there than she or anybody else knows what to do with, sometimes. Tatiana came to several people full of ideas, initially, with the concept that turned out to be what it is. She tried to capitalize on her connections to bring interesting people to Cincinnati. The aim is to make Cincinnati the place to be in October and to put our name on the musical map in a slightly different way than it is now.”
Tom Callinan, chair of Constella’s board and former editor of the Enquirer: “We pay way too much attention to sports and politics. What I like about Constella – it is very sophisticated classical music, but Tatiana will show up at Northside Tavern and play.”
What Berman says about herself
What she’s learned: “Doing things in advance as much as possible. The second thing is finding the right people. As soon as the right team is in place, things just click. You end up achieving much faster results and much higher results.”
She and Paavo Järvi: “We loved each other very much and we still care about each other. Ours is a relationship where things went wrong mostly because of circumstances. We are very good friends, and we do our own things, but whenever I need to talk to someone who understands me, I call Paavo, and the same with him. I think we are that rare instance where we are friends, and parents of our children. We are very lucky.”
Philosophy: “Nowadays, nothing is black and white. If you categorize something in a narrow way, you are missing reaching a huge number of people. So the more collaborations you present, the chance of reaching more people is greater.
“It’s taking down the barriers of all the things associated with fine art and fine music. ... People think those are things you can only have with money. But if you are creative, it has nothing to do with money.”
Next project: “As a ‘City of Cincinnati Art Ambassador’ I was given a grant to commission and direct a special project. It will involve several digital artists plus live music, a performance project which will be made into an art film.” The world premiere will be Nov. 15 at Memorial Hall.
Future performances: In the UK, Russia and Estonia. Future performances of Charles Coleman’s Violin Concerto in Europe and the United Sates.
Just announced: She’s the artistic adviser of the new Signature Series at Memorial Hall.
BY Janelle Gelfand. You can follow me at cincinnati.com/blogs/arts and contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org