Last month, classical pianist Reinis Zarins MUS ’09 was awarded the Great Latvian Music Award, the highest musical honor in Latvia, in the category of “Outstanding Interpretation.” The News spoke with Zarins about the award and his time at Yale.

Q What did you win the Great Latvian Music award for? What does the “Interpretation” category signify?

A The Great Latvian Music Award is awarded every year in various categories, just like the Grammy. This year, I was nominated along [with] two others for ‘Outstanding Interpretation.’ I had performed many times in Latvia during 2011, and a few of those performances were noticed as really excellent, so it was actually not a single concert, but three concerts, that were taken into account by the jury: a Mozart concerto, a solo recital and a duo recital with a Latvian violinist, Paula Sumane. It was stated that my ability to differentiate between various genres, styles etc. has been ‘outstanding.’ Interpretation itself is a weird thing. People want to hear Chopin or Mozart, but at the same time they want to hear it my way, not some generic way. I guess, when such a ‘my way’ turns out totally convincing, then you say, wow, what an outstanding interpretation!

Q Do you compose any music?

A No, I do not. However, I love to improvise, to create music on the spot, as I feel. But this has been my private pleasure so far, and I do not write it down, for it’s not checked by my intellect, it’s only my feelings. Feelings come and go.

Q How did you end up being considered for the award? Did you enter, or did they select you?

A The nominated musicians often even do not know that a member of the jury has come to their concert. When the nominations are published in the beginning of a new year, they come as a sweet surprise to all. The actual voting is closed so even the jury members find out the winners only when they are announced from the stage.

Q What did you study at Yale?

A At Yale, I had the enormous privilege to study with Boris Berman at the School of Music. I did a Certificate in Performance degree which lasts three years, and so allowed me to experience Yale in its richness. Yale has a special place in my heart now since it was there that I could really grow up, being just two weeks newlywed when [my wife and I] moved in.

Q How does it feel to have won such a prestigious award? What was your initial reaction?

A Well, it’s joyful of course. But here’s what I think: any award can serve to encourage a man in his endeavors, yet it easily feeds one’s pride and conceit and thus serves ill instead of blessing. My wife after the announcement honestly said, ‘Too bad you got it!’ And I love her all the more for these words because she knows my true heart not the appearance only.

Q Who do you consider to be your biggest musical inspiration?

A Though I have learned so much from my teachers, from other musicians and composers, I nevertheless must give all the glory to Jesus, who is the inspiration for me to love and do music in the first place.

Q Do you play other instruments besides piano?

A Nope, it’s not possible practically. Even to do the piano really [well], I need more time than I have now with two children and all, let alone other instruments. But I am thankful to Yale again for giving me brilliant opportunities to learn to deal with harpsichord, fortepiano and organ at least, so now I go to a museum of instruments to check out how Bach would have heard his works in his day or Mozart in his. This obviously is an advantage to me.

Q What are you currently working on musically?

A Soon I will record two albums on Champs Hill Records, one on the theme of circus, the other as a tribute to the first Latvian national composer, Jazeps Vitols. Then there’s Gidon Kremer who has just signed me up for his festival in Latvia this summer. There’s plenty to do, and that’s a blessing!