When concert pianist Inna Faliks envisioned her latest project, she had big ambitions for collaborating. Faliks, a professor of piano in the UCLA Herb Alpert School of Music, wanted to record an album that would unite three centuries of musical styles and social commentary by having different composers create pieces that drew inspiration from and responded to Ludwig van Beethoven’s Bagatelles, Op. 126, and Maurice Ravel’s Gaspard de la nuit.

Faliks had no idea she’d be recording the Beethoven tracks of “Reimagine: Beethoven & Ravel” alone, isolated in UCLA’s Evelyn and Mo Ostin Music Center during Los Angeles’ safer-at-home order in March 2020. Absent were the nine composers, six from UCLA, who had been commissioned to create musical responses to Ravel’s and Beethoven’s works that Faliks would play.

Pre-pandemic, this would have been done in person with engineers and producers in a New York City studio. Then COVID-19 happened, but also, something pretty special.

With all the necessary safety procedures in place, Faliks was still able to collaborate. Faliks recorded the music at UCLA on the Disklavier Yamaha DCFX concert grand — a piano that records the movements of the keys, hammers and pedals during a performance, and saves the session to a standard MIDI file that allows other Disklaviers to autonomously play back the performance with the highest level of accuracy. 

After recording, Faliks sent her files to a Yamaha engineer in New York City who clocked many hours with her over Zoom. They would have his Disklavier play the compositions by itself, record the results, adjust them to their liking, then he would send them back to UCLA and Faliks would edit over and over, until the final product was done. Lastly, with the help of a producer (also in New York City), the music was recorded for the disk from a combination of audio and Disklavier playback there.

The end result, which was recently released on Navona Records, is a pandemic project that Faliks attests to being extremely faithful to what the composers wanted — and rare. Seven UCLA faculty members collaborating on an album is uncommon, Faliks said.

Faliks collaborated with the following UCLA Herb Alpert School of Music faculty:

UCLA Newsroom recently spoke with her about the process as well as creating music on campus during some of the most harrowing times of the pandemic. 

A live premiere of “Reimagine: Beethoven & Ravel” is slated for Jan. 13, 2022, at the Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts.

“Reimagine: Beethoven & Ravel” was four years in the making, meaning that you probably had to pivot pretty fast when the pandemic hit. What kept you going?

I’m a performer by nature, an artist. I have to keep creating. I have to keep doing. I can’t just sit still and be depressed. It was very special to know that I was making and sharing this music during a time like this … it felt relevant and important to do it.

You were isolated on campus working on this project in the early stages of the pandemic. That was such a scary time. What was that like for you?

It felt so great to just make music. I tend to be the kind of person who finds something special, something challenging and interesting in a given moment, and so I tried to get inspiration from the silence, from the eeriness. I was grateful, just deeply, deeply grateful.

Can you think of any other silver linings that came out of the remote landscape during the last year and a half?

Oh, absolutely. It made all of us who teach figure out ways to keep our students engaged, excited and feeling OK, and I think it tested our skills as mentors and as parents. I have two small children, and for part of it they were at home on Zoom and that was really, really hard to maneuver everything at the same time. But the silver lining for me was the fact that I was able to be with my kids more, and we connected in a completely different way.

As teachers, we were able to invite a lot of guests from overseas. In January 2021, a couple of my graduate students and I connected with Seoul National University in Korea and did a festival where the students there played for me and I taught them and the students from UCLA played to the professors in Korea and vice versa. Then we did a joint concert where my students and I performed selections on the piano at UCLA and the music was played back on their Disklavier Yamaha in Seoul. It’s pretty cool. It’s a very unique thing.

Is UCLA unique in that it has the Yamaha Disklavier piano?

Many schools have it, but not as many as one might think. I think this technology, it’s almost like Zoom for the piano. I was the first person and UCLA was the first institution to officially use the Disklavier in teaching. When I was invited to come aboard the music department, I was in New York City. So, I taught some students via Disklavier for about half a quarter. I think at UCLA, we’re very open-minded. We are thinking ahead, we want to take risks and also want to help and make things work. It’s a combination of these qualities that I think makes us very unusual.

Now that we’re heading into another surge with the delta variant, do you see yourself doing more remote recording going forward?

I’d be excited to keep going with both.