... gala event in PotsdamÂ´s Hans-Otto Theater, and the festivalÂ´s opening night at the Filmmuseum Potsdam.
Glamorous, glitzy and gutsy with a powerful voice that resonates within the deepest part of the soul, Mira Stroika dazzled her audience with her unique blend of music that fuses Eastern European folk, French and German cabaret with contemporary Western song writing, while accompanying herself with her accordion.
With a strong following, Mira Stroika is considered as to be one of New York CityÂ´s most exciting new artists and has given countless performances at dozens of events and venues including Fashion Week, Highline Ballroom, The Bitter End, VogueÂ´s Fashions Night Out, and the Manhattan Cocktail Gala.
Mira StroikaÂ´s collaborators include the Grammy award winner and New York City-based Klezmer giant Frank London, with whom she has performed and penned original material. Her playing has been featured on numerous recording projects including Balancing Acts: Chagall and the Yiddish Theater â€“ a documentary film that was on exhibit at the New York Jewish Museum and toured nationally in the United States.
Mira Stroika has received numerous arts awards including the Blue Print Fellowship, the Tisch School of the Arts Departmental Fellowship, and a New York University Emerging Artist Fellowship. She completed her undergraduate degree at Yale University with the highest academic honours and is currently working on her masters at the Tisch School of the Arts at New York University.
"Take two cups of Edith Piaf, one half cup Eartha Kitt, a sprinkle of Betty Boop plus a serious portion of that je ne sais quoi that enthrals audiences, and you have what I see as one of New YorkÂ´s most exciting new cabaret singers: Mira Stroika." (The Huffington Post)
AVIVA-Berlin: You actually started playing the piano when you were three years old. What or who inspired you?
Mira Stroika: We had a relatively small record collection in my home, so every piece of music was pretty defining and inspiring [laughs]. One of my earliest obsessions as a child was the musical "Cabaret." There were lots of other influences as well but the rigorous classical training I received from my piano teacher was hugely formative.
AVIVA-Berlin: Are your parents musical? Where did all your amazing talent come from?
Mira Stroika: I donÂ´t really come from a family of performers per se but the arts and music were very much celebrated in my household. It was always considered important for a person to develop their musical side as part of their general education in addition to studying math, sciences, the humanities etc. Music was just something that resonated with me in a much bigger way than anyone ever expected.
AVIVA-Berlin: But three is a very early age to start playing the piano. Something must have happened.
Mira Stroika: My older sister was playing piano when I was a baby still in diapers. I couldnÂ´t even walk or really stand but I would crawl up to the piano, prop myself up against the side and start banging on the keys with my hands while my sister was practicing. So my mother decided to start me with music lessons at a very young age. My mother, who had studied piano herself for 10 years, really encouraged me. She and grandmother made sure that I had a serious music education.
AVIVA-Berlin: You are a classically trained piano virtuoso. How and when did you start to play the accordion?
Mira Stroika: I picked up the accordion just a few years ago. I just decided one day that I needed to learn a new instrument and this was it. I drove out to New Jersey to a giant accordion warehouse with hundreds if not thousands of accordions and picked one out and essentially taught myself to play.
AVIVA-Berlin: Why were you drawn to the accordion?
Mira Stroika: I was doing gigs on the piano and I wanted to go busking. I wanted to be able to perform anywhere, anytime. And I just fell in love with the sound and expressive potential of the instrument and the ability to grow notes. As soon as I figured out how it worked, I couldnÂ´t put it down.
AVIVA-Berlin: The accordion is an instrument that you embrace â€¦
Mira Stroika: Yeah, itÂ´s an instrument that you hold. When you expand and contract it itÂ´s like enabling it to breathe and you can feel the vibrations. ItÂ´s a really powerful experience when you play it.
AVIVA-Berlin: And youÂ´ve got a fabulous voice â€¦
Mira Stroika: Thank you. IÂ´ve been singing all my life.
AVIVA-Berlin: YouÂ´re from the Bay Area, in Northern California. Are you still living there?
Mira Stroika: Right now, IÂ´m living in New York. I moved there a few years ago but yeah, IÂ´m originally from the Bay Area.
AVIVA-Berlin: Why did you leave the Bay Area?
Mira Stroika: I initially left for college and then having visited New York a number of times, I was drawn to the rich culture and history of the place, as well as the incredible music scene and calibre of musicians. I wanted to put myself right in the middle of all that talent and creative energy.
AVIVA-Berlin: Could you tell us about your repertoire with the accordion?
Mira Stroika: I write a lot of my own songs, and I also do covers in French, Russian, Yiddish, Italian, Hebrew, and pretty much any other language that gets thrown at me.
AVIVA-Berlin: Is Cabaret your passion?
Mira Stroika: I would say that music is my passion. I guess for me, cabaret is pretty broadly defined. In fact, a lot of the songs IÂ´m singing are not typically part of the cabaret repertoire at all. ItÂ´s more about an approach to music and performance, and taking the audience on a journey through a wide range of emotions and stories all in one show. The theatrics of it and the drama and humour are something I really gravitate towards. As far as repertoire is concerned, I feel that almost anything could be some kind of "cabaret" song.
AVIVA-Berlin: What do you mean by "approach"?
Mira Stroika: ItÂ´s a very intuitive approach. It has to do with my training as a classical musician â€“ a way of looking at the peaks, valleys and moments that communicate a journey within a given piece of music. Even if I played a piano piece with no lyrics I was always aware of crafting the emotional story that piece was telling, and so when I perform and sing songs, I always try to convey that story, through the language itself but also in the way that the music is performed.
AVIVA-Berlin: How did it come about that you are playing here this evening in Potsdam, at the gala evening of the 17th Jewish film Festival Berlin?
Mira Stroika: I got an email from Nicola Galliner via MySpace and I had no idea who she was. She mentioned that she had this Jewish Film Festival in Berlin and that she was coming to town so would I meet with her. I said, "Of course, IÂ´d love to explore that." We met and we chatted and I told her some more about my background and my repertoire and she invited me pretty much on the spot. It was very exciting and I still donÂ´t know how she found me. But she did [laughs].
AVIVA-Berlin: Yes, Nicola Galliner is Director of the Berlin Jewish Film Festival. Well, we should ask her later [laughs]. What are your dreams for the future?
Mira Stroika: My dream is to keep making music and performing well into my 90Â´s. IÂ´ve been fortunate to be doing a lot of shows so right now IÂ´m focusing on plans for my debut album, which is going to feature many of the world class New York musicians IÂ´ve had the opportunity to work with. And of course, I am going to continue to perform at events like this, tour, and make my life as a musician.
AVIVA-Berlin: Fabulous! Was does being Jewish mean to you?
Mira Stroika: I did not grow up religious but IÂ´ve always had a strong awareness of the history and traditions of the Jewish people, so itÂ´s a very important part of my cultural identity.
AVIVA-Berlin: Would you like to go to Russia to perform?
Mira Stroika: I would love to go to Russia and perform. Definitely. Yes [laughs].
AVIVA-Berlin: Where have you performed so far?
Mira Stroika: Being based in New York, I perform all over the city â€“ IÂ´ve played at everything from Lower East Side music clubs, Bushwick art happenings and Manhattan galas to underground circus parties, gallery openings and private events, so a wide range of venues. My audiences span a very broad range of ages and backgrounds. ItÂ´s really remarkable performing for such a diverse group of people from gig to gig. And IÂ´ve performed all across the US. This is my first time performing in Europe, so IÂ´m very excited.
AVIVA-Berlin: So are we. ItÂ´s almost time for you to go out and perform on the red carpet â€¦ We look forward to hearing your first album, and thank you so much for this interview!
Mira Stroika: Thank you!
Since this interview, and as a result of her success, the Berlin Jewish Film Festival immediately booked Mira Stroika for a third performance at Kino Arsenal, on Sunday May 29th at 5pm and 8pm.
Mira Stroika has also been invited for several other performances in Berlin in the fall.
To learn about Mira StroikaÂ´s upcoming performances, you can sign-up for her mailing list on her website: www.mirastroika.com, www.facebook.com/mirastroika and www.twitter.com/mirastroika
And AVIVA will keep you posted!
You can have a glimpse of Mira Stroika performing at:
www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZRnDLcLcYaU ("Non, Je Ne Regrette Rien")
www.youtube.com/watch?v=yYhfMYKac3w ("Mein Herr")
www.youtube.com/watch?v=vAWztGV1Z14 ("Chelsea Hotel")
vimeo.com/16777049 ("Reality TV" (written by Mira Stroika)