Tatiana Roitman has been studying and performing piano since she was a young child living in the small town of Fastov, in the Kiev region of Ukraine. “My mother had a friend who was a piano teacher, and the Fastov Central Music School was across the street from our house. When I turned 6, my mom thought it would be good for me to do an extracurricular activity in addition to school,” Roitman said. “So attending the music school, and all that it entailed, became the thing I did, and it turned into my life.”

Roitman was a teenager in 1990 when she and her family immigrated to Winnipeg, Canada, just months before the fall of the USSR. “My uncle left the USSR in 1979 and was living in Canada. With my family dealing with serious anti-Semitism, and my brother facing the Soviet army draft (where those issues were even more pronounced), my parents finally had enough and accepted my uncle’s invitation to come live in the West. Winnipeg made Ukraine seem like a tropical climate,” she joked.

She graduated from the University of Winnipeg Collegiate, enrolled at McGill University in Montreal and, two years later, transferred to Arizona State University, where she was offered a full scholarship and a chance to study with a famous teacher. She then pursued graduate degrees at the Manhattan School of Music and Royal Academy of Music in London, eventually receiving her doctorate in music from the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis.

It was at Arizona State University that Roitman met her husband, Philip Mann, now the new music director of the Arkansas Symphony Orchestra. “We were seated together at a tea held for scholarship winners,” she said. “Eventually, we ended up playing recitals together and then in a piano trio together (Philip is a violinist), and the rest was history.”

As a musician married to a musician, Roitman said she’s lived a bit of the “vagabond” life. She said that over the past 15 years, she has lived in three countries and at least seven cities. This year, she’s slated to appear in eight countries, along with several U.S. states. But she’s not complaining. “I love trying new foods, meeting new people, seeing new places, and all of these experiences I love bringing to my music making and teaching.”

Currently an artist-in-residence at UALR, this semester Roitman will teach Introduction to Music, Music Fundamentals and one-on-one piano lessons, as well as perform chamber music with her colleagues. “A great music faculty is alive with collaboration, whether it is in the performance or teaching of music. I’m having a ball getting to know my colleagues there,” she said.

She’s also having a ball attending all the social and philanthropic events Little Rock has to offer. In the five months that she and Mann have lived in Little Rock, they’ve attended far too many events to count, she said. “Little Rock threw numerous welcome parties for Philip and me and, of course, the wonderful ASO Opus Gala and the patrons’ party, given by Dora Jane and Greg Flesher. I met the queen’s gardener, Todd Longstaffe-Gowan, at an event planned by the Little Rock Garden Club. This year, I will be attending the Heart Ball and the many events scheduled around ASO’s Designer House,” she said.

A major biennial fundraiser benefiting the ASO, the Symphony Designer House XXI, located at 23 Edgehill Road, will open its doors on Friday, April 15, and keep them open through Sunday, May 8. This year’s theme is “Rediscovering Home” and features the work of more than 30 of the state’s premier interior and landscape designers. Events surrounding the Designer House include Bare Bones, the Crescendo Party, Thirsty Thursday Party, the Young Professionals Party and the Girls’ Night Out Party, as well as a Mother’s Day Tea.

“The ASO is a cultural treasure that everyone in Arkansas should be proud of. I can tell you that the performances I’ve been to have been electric and inspiring, and people around the country are paying attention to what is happening here,” she said. “We’re lucky to have such a great orchestra here that enriches, inspires and helps connect Arkansas.”

Behind the Music

Soirée: Do you play other instruments?
Tatiana Roitmann: No. Growing up, I really wanted to learn to play the violin and even signed myself up for lessons. As soon as my parents found out, they quickly ‘unsigned’ me, stating that, if I did too many things at once, I would never be good at anything. Eventually, I was allowed to take ballroom dancing as well. As a child, I also sang in several choirs for many years.

Favorite performance pieces?
The piano repertoire is so vast thatit’s difficult to choose a favorite. I think I have stages or moods that dictate my favorite composers. Right now, some of them are Gershwin, Tchaikovsky, Chopin and Mozart. If you ask me next month, it will be someone else probably, exceptthat Mozart would always be on my favorites list.

Are you passionate about music in the education system?
Yes! Socrates said, ‘Musical training is a more potent instrument than any other…making the soul of him who is rightly educated graceful…’ I, like other professional musicians, am terrified by the fact that music education is being taken out of schools today.

One of the bigger detriments of these cuts is that the barrier between concert hall and the audience becomes higher and higher. If people aren’t exposed to classical music at a young age, the older they become, the more foreign classical music becomes, causing a ripple effect throughout the classical music industry. This is one of the reasons that musical organizations throughout the world continue their outreach to young audiences, bringing classical music up close and personal, making it familiar and therefore comfortable and normal.

Music is an incredible thing that changes the lives of those it touches for the better. We can all use more beauty in our lives.

Awards?
I won an international audition to become the Rockefeller Fellow at the Boston Symphony’s Tanglewood Music Center, where I was able to learn and work with people like soprano Dawn Upshaw, BSO Music Director James Levine, cellist Yo-Yo Ma and world-famous pianists and musicologists, including Claude Frank and Charles Rosen, among others. I have won numerous competitions and scholarships for my piano playing.

What books are on your bedside table?
The Stuff of Thought by Steven Pinker, Midnight’s Children by Salman Rushdie and The Brain that Changes Itself by Norman Doidge