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Interview

Making Music Universal: Meet Pianist Jasna Popovic

Popovic’s work reminds us that music is truly universal, and that the piano is a beautiful instrument that can transcend boundaries of cultural and linguistic difference.

From Belgrade and Rome to Washington, D.C. and New York City, Jasna Popovic is a decorated pianist who elegantly translates her emotional performances into musical languages across the globe. Popovic’s compositions strike a harmonious balance between classical and contemporary music, earning her high praise at national competitions, elite award ceremonies, and prestigious performances across Europe, Asia, North America, and South America.

While Popovic has spent most of her career sharing her musical talent with the rest of the world, she has recently begun a project to curate, learn, perform, and record compositions from composers living in China, Germany, Israel, and the United States— and even in countries where the piano is not a traditional instrument. Popovic’s work reminds us that music is truly universal, and that the piano is a beautiful instrument that can transcend boundaries of cultural and linguistic difference. BWB had the chance to sit down with Jasna Popovic and explore her meaningful work in making the language of music truly universal and accessible.

How did playing the piano go from a hobby to a full-blown career for you?

I think it shows right away if you’re attached to music, or any other form of art or profession. The only difference with classical musicians is that we have to start at very young age and our training is very strict. My family was my huge support system, and I also didn’t give up when the things didn’t go that well. This is a very important part of the process. I never planned for this to be my career; it was kind of how my life and the progress happened naturally.

Playing a musical instrument professionally can be incredibly demanding; how do you stay motivated?

It is very demanding, and it requires lot of emotional strength. We are like athletes. Our practicing and performances are a daily routine, so you have to be disciplined and believe in that what you are doing. Precision and expression are very important; you have to go through several stages and examine your work from different angles. I still enjoy that process. It keeps me going.

How can not just listening to, but playing music, enrich our lives?

Playing an instrument can teach you to focus and to listen. This is the most difficult thing to learn. Your perception is much stronger when you understand what is going on in a musical piece, whether it’s jazz, pop or classical music. Playing music can also help you to express your feelings and to connect with other people on a deeper level. You can discover a new world for yourself.

Does any one particular performance of yours stand out the most to you in your memories?

I remember a concert from when I was 12. I performed for high school kids who were not particularly interested in classical music, so they were talking the entire time during the concert. When it was my turn to play, I began without any expectations and suddenly all the kids in the audience were listening. That was a great moment for me, and it was a huge shock that I could do something like that. Another memorable concert was of course my first time playing on the big stage at Carnegie Hall. I will always remember those standing ovations.

Tell us more about your project ‘Around the Piano World’.

I started the project ‘Around the Piano World’ in 2017 when I wanted to do something completely new. I posted an invitation on Facebook inviting composers to send me their work. Within less than an hour, I received compositions from more than 30 composers from all over the world, including China, Germany, Israel, and the United States. It was very interesting for me to explore all these new works and to discuss the interpretation with the composers. After playing classical music for over 30 years, I love to interact with other musicians. They have amazing ideas and their passion for what they do gives me an incredible strength. I became a medium between the composers and the audience. This whole project would not be possible without the support of my great friend, Joseph Patrych, the acclaimed recording producer and owner of Patrych Sound Studios.

What is your beauty and wellness routine?

I am definitely Dior girl. I adore their perfumes! My favorite skincare line is Caudalíe, but I have to say that my facialist from Belgrade helped me a lot with my skincare. As for wellness, I am trying to stay active so I go swimming two or three times a week. I am trying to eat as healthy as I can, but I still love ice cream too much.

You live now in New York, what are some of your favorite places in Manhattan? (restaurants, café, etc.)

I like small cafes and bars in West Village. Employees Only is a bar where I like to have a cocktail, Redfarm is a great chinese restaurant, Village Vanguard for the music, and Abracco for the best coffee in East Village. This is just a small list of the places I like in New York City, but I am still exploring it after 15 years of living here.

Photography by Nikola Stojkovic and Nikola Tamindzic

Makeup by Irina Kovacevic

Teresa Deely

Teresa Deely is a junior at Columbia University majoring in English and Creative Writing. As President of the Columbia University Glee Club, she loves to sing, make music, and celebrate multiple modes of artistic expression. She believes that one’s skin is yet another canvas and vehicle for art, and has loved styling her hair and applying makeup from a young age. While she has spent most of her time in educating youth and leading enrichment programs for children, she is highly motivated in discovering new ways to care for herself and sharing them with others.

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