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Inna Faliks – Bringing Humanity to Storytelling

June 9, 2024
Ilona Oltuski

At a recent performance at the National Sawdust in Brooklyn, NY,  Inna Faliks—classical pianist, educator, and author— introduced the program from her new CD, “Manuscripts Don’t Burn,” (reviewed by Jon Sobel), at Brooklyn’s National Sawdust, weaving her personal narrative through a diverse selection of old masters and new music she finely attuned performed at the piano, interspersed with texts she authored in her recently published memoir, Weight in the Fingertips.

With a dramatic feel for timing and declamatory finesse, Falik’s presence was simultaneously strong and emotionally vulnerable. At the piano, her flawless technique and expressiveness connected the dots and pauses between her commentary’s spoken words and the music, making the lessons gleaned from her life experiences as stimulating as instructive. She alternated vivid personal anecdotes from her memoir with more emotional ones, describing her childhood in Soviet Odessa (today in Ukraine), the family’s immigration in the late eighties, the loss of her mother, a found-again love story with her husband (in the audience), and her musical journey, marked by her performance with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra only five years after she immigrated to the US at the age of ten.

With her deep and warmly resonating voice, Faliks rendered an intimate program based on the playbook of her life with remarkable emotional honesty. That evening, we learned about her juggling home and career as a concertizing artist, a piano professor, and UCLA’s head of piano faculty. Although we did not hear about her thoughts about some of the more profound perplexities in her life, such as the sudden interest in her birth in Ukraine, she describes so aptly in her book:

“In my piano competition years, my name would often appear in the program next to a tiny yellow-and-blue flag, listing me as “Ukrainian American pianist Inna Faliks.” I rarely encountered the flag otherwise. Now, the blue and yellow are everywhere, including a “Ukraine” flavor at a Los Angeles ice cream shop that was just vanilla with food coloring. Being from Ukraine is not a commodity; it is not hip or fun, and it is not an identity to be performed. This is about families destroyed, people dying, and a power of pure evil seeping into a larger world.” Faliks comments on the Ukraine-Russia war.

In addition to her comments on the Ukraine-Russia war in her writing, she also addresses her Jewish identity. With religion banned under communism, and though she “knew she was a musician long before she knew she was Jewish, Ukrainian, or Soviet,” the stamp on her passport marking her as “Jewish” did not refer to her religious practice; it defined a strong ethnic and cultural Jewish identity amongst the Jewish population.

But throughout the Soviet Union’s rampant history of systemic Antisemitism, that stamp also provided a free pass to discriminate against an unprotected minority until the combined impact of a crumbling system and pressure from Western Jews allowed for the tremendous East-Western exodus.

In her recent article in the Jewish Journal, UCLA Response to Antisemitism Hits a Sour Note, Faliks also draws on all of her own experiences of living with Soviet Antisemitism—which she thought she and her family had finally left far behind when arriving in the West, in America, the land of the free— and how these hopes have quickly been dashed given room to the lethal power of the new wave of Anti-Jewish hate as experienced on the college campus at UCLA, where Faliks works as an educator, as part of its piano faculty.

“Antisemitism has impacted my life so much and on so many levels,” says Faliks, fighting back tears in her voice while searching for the right words to describe her disappointment about the failure of the university’s inability to put a halt to the indiscriminate, vicious, and virulent hate that has spun out of control on the American campus.
“I can’t believe the sheer impact and size of the propaganda machine built by the Iranian-led support for Hamas, the erasure of truth and history after its October 7th massacre, and the blatant idolization of its terrorist perpetrators by students and faculty from my school.”
If protecting a minority’s rights once meant equally standing for all minorities’ rights, this seems to have shifted into a different—more radical idea that demands exclusive support for some minorities to the exclusion of all others—like in George Orwell’s famous novella Animal Farm, where some pigs are “more equal” than others, completely undermining existing moral truths. This response clearly  … works against true equality.

“I have experienced horrific degradation, and I say that not just as a person of Jewish descent, but as a human being, as an artist, as an educator. My humanity has been tampered with,” she says.

True to her personal style, Faliks appeals to the individual experience we can all connect with when she opens her article by describing her pre-concert encounter with the piano tuner before her concert, who remarked on Faliks wearing her Magen David necklace. The piano tuner commended her for her bravery since wearing the little necklace with the Star of David, which openly defines her as a Jewish person, has become potentially dangerous on American campuses and streets.
  1. La Campanella, Paganini - Liszt Inna Faliks 4:53
  2. Rzewski "The People United Shall Never Be Defeated" (excerpt, improvised cadenza) Inna Faliks 8:36
  3. Beethoven Eroica Variations Inna Faliks 9:59
  4. Gershwin: Prelude 3 in E-flat Minor Inna Faliks 1:25
  5. Mozart Piano Concerto #20 - II Inna Faliks with Chamber Orchestra of St. Matthews 10:27
  6. Gaspard de la Nuit (1908) : Scarbo - Ravel Inna Faliks 9:07
  7. Sirota by Lev 'Ljova' Zhurbin Inna Faliks 7:45