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NINA KOTOVA TO FILL THE GARDENS WITH MUSIC

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When cellist Nina Kotova was born 28 years ago in the Soviet Union, the attending physician announced to her parents, unfolding the infant’s long fingers, "A musician is born."
At least that’s what it says in the liner notes to her new CD with the Moscow Chamber Orchestra on the Philips Classics label, an album titled simply "Nina Kotova."
St. Thomas concertgoers get to be the judge of her musicianship on Wednesday, Oct. 27, when Kotova opens the 13th Classics in the Garden season at Tillett Gardens.
Even if the birth-day anecdote is true, the Soviet doctor may merely have meant to be politically correct. After all, Kotova’s mother taught at the Moscow Conservatory of Music and her father was Ivan Kotov, an internationally acclaimed classical double bassist who was idolized in his homeland at the time.
The facts are, however, that Nina was conditioned from childhood to be a musician and made no effort to deviate from her destiny until she was 20, when she took time out to earn some money — so she could afford to go back to being a musician.
As a youngster, she also studied piano, dance and painting, but the cello was clearly her forte. She began lessons on the instrument at the age of 6, and the following year she was accepted to take cello classes at the Moscow Conservatory. She attended master classes with the legendary Aram Khachaturian. At 11, she performed Prokofiev’s Concertino, and a year later she left a conductor in tears with her rendition of Elgar’s Concerto — which she recently played again, to a sold-out house at London’s Barbican Centre that rewarded her with a standing ovation. At 15, she won first prize at the Prague International Competition.
But by three years later, her ascendancy as a Soviet star had come to a halt. Her father died in political disfavor, his recordings were removed from catalogues, and Kotova’s career was, to use her word, being "stifled." Resolving to pursue her studies abroad, she spent a year at the Cologne Conservatory in Germany and then entered Yale University on a full music scholarship.
She wasn’t able to make ends meet at Yale, however. Desperate to come up with the money to buy her own cello (the Soviet government had reclaimed the one it had provided for her use in her homeland), she went to New York in search of a job. According to the CD notes, she "was picked off the street as she walked by open calls at the Ford Modeling Agency." (Her publicity bio says she took up modeling "at the suggestion of various photographers.") At any rate, in short order, she appeared in the French Glamour, Cosmopolitan and Vogue, and over the next few years she modeled on runways in Europe, the United States and Japan for such top design houses as Armani, Fendi and Chanel.
In a full-page feature in the Oct. 11 issue of Time magazine, Kotova says modeling was a means to an end, nothing more: "From the Day One, I wasn’t completely happy, because I wanted to play concerts." And in the CD notes, she compares music and modeling to a sauna and its European follow-up: "Heat and ice-cold water."
Even during her modeling years, when she wasn’t strutting on the catwalk, Kotova was composing music — including, in 1992, "Sketches from the Catwalk," a three "episode" piece inspired in part by her fashion career that she would premiere four years later when she made her debut as a cellist at London’s Wigmore Hall.
Kotova the composer has more than 30 works to her credit — for cello, piano, piano trio and even "spoken voice and orchestra." Her Tillett Gardens program will include her five-movement "Picasso Suite," written in 1986 as an expression of "color tonality" that the works and working space of Picasso inspired in her as a youngster. Also on the program: three short pieces by Tchaikovsky, a solo suite by Gaspar Cassado, and the Sonata in G minor, Op. 65, by Chopin. Except for the solo pieces, Kotova will be accompanied on piano by Patrice Koenig.
The concert begins at 8 p.m. Seating is from 6 p.m. for the pre-performance dinner (with concert seating at tables) catered by Polli’s Restaurant in Tillett Gardens. Concert series dinner menus reflect the ethnicity of the evenings’ artists, and this one has a Russian accent: a hot borscht and pumpernickel first course; a choice of beef Stroganoff, chicken with walnut sauce or salmon steak with dill ginger sauce as entree; and cheesecake with fresh strawberry sauce for dessert.
Concert tickets are $25. Dinner is an additional $30 excluding bar service and gratuity. Reservations are required for dinner and recommended (seating is numbered) for the concert. For reservations, credit card purchases and further details, call 775-1929.

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