Soros Scholar and Stony Brook grad student Agata Sorotokin knew her calling from the age of five, when she asked her mother to sign her up for piano lessons.
“When I was very young my parents took me to a local piano studio recital where children not much older than I was performed a series of short pieces,” explains Agata. “As soon as I discovered that people could learn to make music in such a versatile way, I asked my mother for lessons.”
Her years of dedication paid off this past April when the Yale graduate was named one of 30 recipients nationwide of the Paul and Daisy Soros Fellowships for New Americans. The Soros Fellowships, established in 1997, award $90,000 to immigrants and children of immigrants to complete graduate studies in the United States. Applicants may propose graduate work in any discipline and are selected based on their potential to make significant contributions to American society, culture or their academic field.
“Words cannot describe how grateful and honored I am to have received the Fellowship,” said Agata. “This generous award will enable me to apply my multi-faceted approach to music in a professional setting. One of the most valuable aspects of the Fellowship is the community it forges among the recipients. I’ve already become good friends with a Russian composer from the class of 2015. I can’t wait to meet more of the recent Fellows this fall and hear their stories.”
At Stony Brook she will pursue a master’s degree in piano performance under Professor of Piano and Director of Performance Activities Gil Kalish, and Associate Professor, Piano, Chamber Music and Piano Pedagogy Christina Dahl.
Agata’s path to Stony Brook wound through a series of summer festivals she attended over the past decade, where she crossed paths with some of the music department’s faculty members during her formative years. She met Kalish at the Music@Menlo Chamber Music Festival in California when she was just 11 years old.
“The coachings I received from him had a profound impact on me — both as a musician and as a human being,” she says. “I’ve never forgotten something he once said: ‘Be a sponge; soak up as much as you can in the next three weeks. And, most importantly, right before you go on stage, forget everything that you’ve been told and just play your heart out.’”
Agata met Dahl, who will be her other teacher at Stony Brook, earlier this year.
“Tina’s intellectual curiosity and artistic energy struck me right away,” she said. “I look forward to working with Gil and Tina on a regular basis and soaking up their multi-faceted musical wisdom.”
Born in Rochester, New York to two engineers who had emigrated from Moscow after the collapse of the USSR, Agata eventually interwove her piano studies with other artistic activities. She grew up acting in a Russian amateur theater group, singing in several choirs, and visiting art museums. These creative experiences served to enrich her playing and would eventually inspire her work as a composer.
“The Oxford English Dictionary identifies translation as ‘transference of energy from one point of space to another, an onward motion that carries a force,’” said Agata. “For more than a decade now, I have dedicated my energies to this kind of transformative movement and have channeled my art in a variety of translational modes: musical interpretation, cultural bridging, literary rendering, and, most recently, the composition of original new music.”
Agata’s goal at Stony Brook is to advance her training as an instrumentalist and to seek out like-minded colleagues who care deeply about intertwining the new with the old. She also intends to grow as a composer and write new works for other musicians.
“I aim to continue synthesizing the modes of translation that draw me,” she said. “My comparative literature studies at Yale pushed me to realize that words can do more than supplement music. This year, I composed and staged a song cycle that is based on a selection of twentieth-century Russian poems by Osip Mandelstam and Olga Sedakova. I won’t be surprised if I find myself directing similar projects at Stony Brook.”