The Missionary of Prenzlauer Berg
By Laura Fölmer, Berliner Morgenpost. June 23, 2014
The American Pianist Soheil Nasseri moved to Berlin to share his love for music with young people.
Soheil Nasseri doesn’t like soccer at all. Fans that watch every match, getting in front of the TV hours before gametime – this is inexplicable for the man with Iranian roots. However, he thinks back fondly to 2006 and smiles when he speaks of his first weeks in Berlin. “I felt at home in Berlin quickly, and even had a new girlfriend within ten days,” the 35-year-old said, smiling confidently. “The Word Cup was a lucky break. It was easy to meet new people with all the public gatherings to watch soccer.”
Now the pianist – regarded in the USA as one of the leading classical musicians – doesn’t need soccer to be social with other Berliners. After 8 years, he has a lot of friends, he said, as we met for an interview at Bracas Café in the Kastanienallee. “I like to surround myself with other artists, filmmakers, journalists, diplomats, and writers. In Berlin I meet people my age that love classical music. That is so rare elsewhere.”
This feeling of his was the deciding factor when the American chose Berlin as his primary residence. Before coming here, the pianist – who recently performed at the Berliner Philharmonie – lived in New York. But at some point was it disappointing for him to only meet older people who liked classical music. “New York is an exciting place, but in Germany classical music is really part of the culture,” said Mr. Nasseri. “I was always fixated on this country. Beethoven was my childhood hero.”
Mr. Nasseri met and fell in love with the piano in pre-school, and at the age of seven he was telling everyone he would be a concert pianist. “The piano was like a toy for me,” said the musician. “But at sixteen I realized I would have to actually make it happen.” He dropped out of school and fought to make his dream a reality. “I had no safety net, no Plan-B, only the conviction that I didn’t want to do anything else.”
When he was 22 Soheil Nasseri gave his New York debut at the Liederkranz Foundation in New York, a Germany-American Society. At this performance he played Beethoven, Schumann and Brahms- his favorite Germans. His first teacher in New York was Karl Ulrich Schnabel, the son of the Austrian pianist Artur Schnabel. This further established his sense of connection to Europe.
Soheil Nasseri admits being completely in love with Europe. Here one doesn’t need to explain what classical music is. That’s why he dared to cross the Atlantic, and sought to surround himself with others who shared his passion. Most of his concerts are in the USA, but he tries to come back to Berlin as quickly as the tours are over. “Music to me is like a religion. And I consider it a personal duty to proselytize and get people excited about classical music.” Thus almost allergically Mr. Nasseri reacts to colleagues like David Garrett. “In my opinion he doesn’t play classical music, but that is how he has successfully marketed himself. I would rather starve than give up the classics.” So far it has not come to that, as his sold-out concerts in the USA prove.
After the concerts his life in Berlin is somewhat routined, Soheil Nasseri says. Every day he practices many hours at his grand piano in Prenzlauer Berg, then he exercises, and in the evenings he goes out with friends- preferably in his neighborhood near Schönhauser Allee. He is well-known in the Berlin nightlife- he is a regular at the Bravo Bar and at King Size in Friedrichstrasse. There his proselytizing has paid off, Mr. Nasseri said. After all, the bouncer from King Size was in the front row at his last concert.
Photo caption: Wants to inspire people. Soheil Nasseri in his neighborhood in Prenzlauer Berg, which for the last eight years he calls ‘home’.