- People are united by the feelings evoked by music. Not everything needs to be put into words, says the Moldavian-born piano artist Jaroslava Kotorova knowingly. Kotorova and her husband Kemal Achourbekov are prominent characters in the music scene of Joensuu. They have been citizens of Joensuu for almost thirty years.

Music became the life choice of Jaroslava ”Slava” Kotorova early on. She studied in an academy of music in Kishinev and continued her studies in the Moscow Conservatory. There she met Kemal Achourbekov, her future husband.

– The Moscow Conservatory already had a strong brand back then. There were students from all over the world. After finishing my studies of six years, I intended to continue studying chamber music. I had an excellent violinist whom I would have wanted to continue working with. Everything changed when the Soviet Union collapsed. The situation in Russia was chaotic.

The violinist moved to the United States, and Kotorova and Achourbekov were full steam ahead preparing a move to South Africa.

– We thought that it could be a good country for us. The paperwork for the move was well under way.

They changed their plans when Kotorova came to Finland to meet her father. He had been working as a violin teacher at the Joensuu Conservatory for several years already.

– In the Soviet Union, it was normal to lend professionals from various fields to both socialist and friendly countries. Finland was considered friendly. That was why my father was in Joensuu.

During her visit she found out that the Conservatory had a shortage of accompanists. There were three vacancies, but one more person was on maternity leave and another had moved to Helsinki. Slava Kotorova had turned up in the right place at the right time.

Getting things moving through Moscow

Kotorova had to get a working visa from Moscow, and it took approximately six months.

– When I finally returned to Joensuu, the only accompanist at the Conservatory screamed from joy as we met each other! There was far too much work for only one accompanist.

Now Jaroslava Kotorova has worked as an accompanist at the Conservatory for almost thirty years. The Azerbaijan-born Kemal Achourbekov’s career also took off in Finland.

Musicians have been true immigrants from time immemorial!

According to Kotorova, the career of an accompanist in Finland is exceptionally versatile.

– Compared to the Soviet practices, my work here has been very varied and I have been able to work as a soloist and with choirs, orchestras and the opera. Just like the regional anthem of Karelia says, the place really does boom!

At the core of internationality

The cultural heritage of Moldova is said to begin from the era of the Roman Empire. Moldova has been etched by the Ottoman Empire, Huns and Ostrogoths alike and, later on, the Soviet Union as well.

Kotorova has been researching her family history. The family tree includes blood from at least Moldova, Ukraine, Hungary, Greece and Bulgaria.

– Internationality and tolerance are part of Moldova. Marrying across the borders has always been normal there, and couples have always managed to find a shared language one way or another, the lively artist says with laughter. She describes how she learned Finnish by revising recordings of an American soap opera with Finnish subtitles.

Kotorova and Achourbekov’s daughters Alina and Ilona were born in Joensuu. Kotorova wants to give her daughters the same experience of travelling that she had in her childhood.

– Back then my family only travelled within the Soviet borders, though. But there was plenty to see there as well!

Kotorova reflects on internationality, mobility and starting a new life and family in a new home country by bringing the big names of music history into the conversation, starting from Bach, Beethoven and Handel.

– Musicians have been true immigrants from time immemorial! People moved from country to country and court to court for work. From that perspective, things have not changed much.

Text: Sirkka-Liisa Aaltonen/Viestintä-Ässä