Alfia Nakipbekova is a principal lecturer in cello on our classical and new music pathways.
A highly acclaimed performing and recording artist, Alfia is also an award-winning Tai Chi practitioner, she has a strong interest in new music, working on collaborations and performances across the world.
Her journey to Leeds has been an exciting one, in lots of ways, which she took time to outline for us!
What was your earliest musical experience?
My very early musical experience (about 4 or 5 years old) is singing with my sisters – we sang in three parts, various songs (some of them were invented) – I always took a bass part... In summer we would sit together on the balcony overlooking a quiet tree lined road and sing, and the passers-by would stop and listen. But, in general, at that time I preferred physical games and running – lots of sprinting competitions with the older boys from the block, and gymnastic exercises that I taught myself.
I did not learn to play an instrument until I was seven, when I was taken to the local music school - then, for the first time I saw the cello. My first teacher took the smallest cello from the wall cabinet and handed it to me saying “play”. I took the instrument and played. It felt familiar - there was no surprise, I just played and knew that this would be my path.
My memory of those early experiences: the cello lessons would start at 8am so I had to walk from home to the school early in the morning, when it was still dark, across the deep piles of snow, carrying my little cello. In winter it was cold, usually -20 C or below – when the temperature dropped to -25 C the school closed and we stayed at home. I remember how happy and excited I felt on those journeys.
Who/what motivated you to have a career performing and teaching music?
My first teacher inspired me, he was a wonderful musician and a caring mentor and teacher.
My family also inspired me – my mother, although not a musician herself, passionately loved education and encouraged our musical studies. When I started playing cello both of my two sisters were already quite advanced on their instruments – violin and piano, and my mother wanted us to play together as a trio.
How did your career develop?
After studying in Kazakhstan for a few years, I moved to Moscow to study at the Special Moscow Music School for gifted children, followed by completing BMus and MMus degrees at the Moscow Tchaikovsky State Conservatoire. I began performing publically, touring with the trio and as a soloist when I was still a pupil at school, and continued throughout the years at the Conservatoire. I took part in competitions, as it was required from soloists in the former Soviet Union, and won several prizes. In the UK I continued performing, recording and teaching.
I have had a strong interest in new music since my time as a student at the Moscow Conservatoire. I was actively involved in many performances of works by student composers, and I remember, my friends at that time were also mostly composers and musicologists.
Since those early days, my interest in new music has grown and developed and I gained much experience in performing the late 20th century contemporary repertoire exploring extended techniques and various types of improvisations.
Among the notable works I premiered are: Concerto for cello and chamber orchestra by Timur Tleukhan (first performance at the Moscow Conservatoire Rachmaninov Hall with Musica Viva), S. Zhukov: Gethsemane Night for electric cello, choir, piano and percussion, Concerto Mystery, Concerto Grosso (first performances at the Moscow Autumn Festivals, recorded for Chandos), Premiere recording of S. Gerber Triple Concerto (Chandos) and many others. Currently I am a member of Trio Sonore – an ensemble that specializes in music by living composers.
Over the years I have also been also involved in non-classical genres – from playing sessions for artists like George Michael, film music sessions, and touring with my non-classical band Cellorhythmics, to collaborating with dancers and physical theatre and performing my own one-woman show More Than Words.
What is the best thing to have happened in your career to date?
Meeting and studying with Mstislav Rostropovich. Meeting Dmitri Shostakovich, playing for the composer Edison Denisov, working with Jacqueline du Pré on the Elgar Cello Concerto... my first concert in the series of ‘JS Bach Marathon’ playing all six solo suites in one evening, at St John’s Smith Square, and numerous other wide-ranging and challenging experiences – from performing Beethoven Triple Concerto in St Petersburg to improvising for experimental documentaries, dance and performance poetry, and acting/playing cello in innovative theatre projects.
How would you describe your biggest challenge in your role?
My biggest challenge so far, is to fit into the time available everything that I would like to cover in one lesson so the student can benefit and develop in his/her best possible way. There is so much knowledge, experience and practical advice that I would love to share!
What attracted you to coming to work at LCoM?
The atmosphere of creativity and joy, and an open-minded attitude embracing all musical genres: the Leeds College of Music is pioneering a contemporary educational approach that resonates with the exciting changes in the musical world. This gives the students a very valuable foundation for their future professional activities.
What would be your dream project?
I have many dreams and projects at the moment. One of my current ideas is to collaborate with a composer on a performance piece that involves music and Tai Chi movement. I am also looking forward to collaborating with the group of musicians, artists, choreographers and film-makers on Xenakis Project: Polytope 2016 (Papay Gyro Nights Arts Festival and Symposium) performing in Hong Kong and Europe.
What has been your greatest achievement?
Winning the Prize for Outstanding Mastery of the Cello at the Casals Competition, Budapest.
I enjoyed my recording career with Chandos and am proud of the many exciting recordings I made with the company – one of the albums I am particularly happy about is Bohuslav Martinu’s Chamber Works that was chosen as the BBC CD of the Year. I am happy with some of my recent recording such as J.S Bach Six Suites and Nomos Alpha for solo cello by Iannis Xenakis.
Who is your greatest inspiration and why?
The great masters of the 20th century: Pablo Casals, David Oistrakh, Glenn Gould. Outside music, I have always been inspired by authentic individuals who follow their creative paths in spite of doubts and hindrances.
Where would you like to be in five years?
I would like to continue developing in every way – as a cellist, pedagogue and academic. This development is not possible in isolation; I am interested in new approaches to the physicality of playing an instrument and the interpretative paths generated from the rich variety of artistic areas, e.g. philosophy, literature and movement.
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