March 14, 2011
TICKLING IVORY: TODOR KOBAKOV
Todor Kobakov is making classical piano cool. Straddling different genres ranging from electronic to indie rock, Kobakov has gone beyond the confines of traditional classical music to work with the likes of Emily Haines of Metric, Broken Social Scene and Gene Simmons, and score for movies like the controversial Canadian film Young People F*cking. Kobakov says, “It’s hardly about the instrument. It’s all about the personality behind it!”
The striking 6″6 pianist grew up in Bulgaria to a family of musicians. He received classical training from the time he was in diapers and later at the Sofia School of Music. The school was publicly funded and very competitive–at grades 4 and 8 there were tests and if a student wanting to get into the school placed higher, you were kicked out. Through hard work and discipline Kobakov kept his spot at the school. He went on to study classical performance piano at the University of Toronto, where he didn’t have to worry about competing students stealing his spot, but did continue to hone his skill.
Currently working on his follow up to Pop Music, scoring a movie and a pilot for a TV show, producing for a couple different artists, and hoping to start writing a film script, we caught up with Kobakov to ask him a few questions.
You started your career playing at brunch for friends. What food was usually being served as an accompaniment? Who cooked?
I love cooking. There were usually three-four items on the brunch menu. Croque-Monsieur, Mexican Scramble, some sort of French Toast and always fresh fruit and Dark Chocolate.
You come from a family of musicians and pianists, was there a lot of pressure to be involved in music at a young age?
I didn’t see it as pressure, it was just part of my life. Everyone on my mom’s side of the family is a bass player. My grandpa was a music professor. My grandma played in the opera for 40 years and my mom was a TV producer for an entertainment channel. I used to go to her work all the time and thought music was so cool! I was always surrounded by the purity of classical music as well as the excitement of the pop world.
How did growing up in Bulgaria affect your music?
I went to a very competitive music school. At grades 4 and 8 there was a mandatory performance exam. If some other kid who was trying to get in to the school (which was government funded/free) got a better mark… you were out. Nobody wanted that so we were all did our best to stay on top of practicing and theory. It was a bit intense but I’m grateful for it because it made me quite technically developed at a young age. When I started writing music I could focus on my imagination rather then worrying about technique.
Often kids want to run around with their friends, was there ever a time you didn’t want to make music?
I was always told “you can do whatever you want after you have practiced and done your homework.” I figured out time management is key at a very early age. I had all kinds of time for play and soccer with my friends as long as I got things done.
Piano may not be the most “hip” instrument to play, how do you manage to make it cool?
It’s hardly about the instrument. It’s all about the personality behind it!
Who are the biggest people you’ve worked with?
My friend Lindy is 6 foot 9, he is the biggest of all so far. I worked with Gene Simmons last summer.
Who is someone you would like to work with you haven’t yet?
I would love to work with Jack White.
You straddle between classical, indie and pop music, as well as scoring movies and playing on tour with other bands, what turns you on about what you do?
Being creative, the high and emotion one gets from both music and people.
What’s an area you haven’t dabbled in that you would like to try your hand at?
I’ve made a few short films but a feature film is definitely in the plan. I am an extremely visual person.
Do you often use your piano serenading skills to win a woman’s heart and is it usually successful?
What’s next for you?
I’m working on a new album that I’m excited about…the follow up to Pop Music. It will expand beyond just the piano. I’ll be scoring a movie, and a pilot for a tv show. I’m producing a couple different artists. I hope to start writing a film script one of these days.
Every instrument is good for something. I have and old upright piano and a Steinway grand at home. Both needed and used all the time. I did play a Fazioli in NYC recently and thought “this is the evolution of the instrument, it’s a new instrument all together!”
Do you think “tickling the ivory” is a lame way to refer to piano playing?
It really depends on the context.