When Olga Stankevich plays “Moscow Midnight” on her new Alone with the City album, she knows well the cosmopolitan city she references in this instrumental song. Stankevich is a Russian born pianist that has performed along the Moscow music circuit for years, mixing her classical training with a pop music ear. When she plays piano on these tunes, she incorporates obvious classical touches along with upbeat dance grooves to create something truly unique.
When you listen to these songs, certainly you hear her classical influences. These inspirations include Bach, Rachmaninoff, Brahms and Liszt. However, Stankevich was also influenced by Jean Michael Jarre, a keyboardist that also mixed together pop and classical styles, and relatively seamlessly.
One clue that Stankevich is not your typical classically trained musician is the way she utilizes percussion. Take for instance the composition “Smile,” which begins with electronic beats. For its main melodic portion, Stankevich naturally meshes electronic and acoustic instrumentation together. These strange bedfellows end up sounding as though they’ve always belonged together, which is not an easy feat.
This latest recording is appropriately titled Alone with the City, and so the listener may likely conjure up visuals of cityscapes while listening to these recordings. The aforementioned “Moscow Midnight” begins gently before going into a melody that is memorable and brings to mind early Barry Manilow songs – albeit without vocals and lyrics.
One called “Beyond the Time” is a piano and orchestrated piece. It comes off a lot like a movie soundtrack. It carries with it an ominous tone, like a scene in a movie where something exciting is just about to happen. It eventually escalates to a galloping musical section.
For “Recalcitrance,” Stankevich creates a dramatic, classical sounding piece. It’s both gentle and moody, and sounds a little like the duo Eurythmics, back when they were in the midst of their 80s heyday.
“Walk” may be the most intentionally dance-y track as it begins with a synth intro, before going into a simple piano melody. It goes to a fast clip, like the steps in a brisk walk through the city. It has to be fast because nobody walks slowly in the city. For one, people are usually going somewhere, such as a business meeting. Also, one doesn’t want to be just standing around, or that would make them easy prey for undesirable elements that loiter along city streets.
Stankevich reveals her gentler side on “Sound Sleep.” It’s a track filled with sweeping melodic notes and slowly, quietly played piano. It is music that would fit right before bedtime as it is so mellow. That’s not a put down; there’s something to be said for the therapeutic benefits of lullabies. Anybody who has ever suffered from insomnia will tell you that deep sleep is a blessing. Therefore, any music that can lead one to such deep slumber is a blessing, as well.
Straddling the worlds of classical and pop instrumental music is risky business because there’s always a chance you’ll offend one party or the other. Likely, that offended side will be the classical side of the fence because those folks can be a whole lot more snooty than typical pop music listeners. Then again, some pop fans likely don’t want tricky classical elements complicating their pop songs. So it goes both ways. For Alone with the City, Olga Stankevich has done a fine job in bringing two seeming opposites of the musical spectrum together. It’s clear she is both a skillful player and composer. This may not be music that will bring you closer to knowing and understanding Russia any better, but it’s nonetheless enjoyable listening music. And that was likely Stankevich’s intention, anyhow, so simply enjoy it.