1. You made your concerto debut at the tender age of nine and your recital debut a year later. Who was your music teacher at the time to mentor you through these important milestones?
At that time I was studying at the Gnessin Moscow Children’s School of Music (not the Gnessin Moscow Special School of Music - these are two different educational institutions in Moscow). My teacher was Ella Koperina and she organized my first solo recital in the school hall. Also, she recommended me to participate in an audition for a performance with our school orchestra, which I eventually passed. I played the first movement of Haydn’s Piano Concerto in D Major.
2. Is your family musical?
No, my family has never had professional musicians, but all went to music school. My mother is a doctor, sister is a lawyer and they both played the piano. My father learnt to play the double bass.
3. You obtained your Bachelor of Music degree from Moscow’s Tchaikovsky Conservatoire where your teachers included Sergei Dorensky, Nikolai Lugansky, Pavel Nersessian and Andrei Pisarev. How do you recollect these times of development and being guided by these masters?
The undoubted advantage of my training at the Moscow Conservatoire was that I had the opportunity to study with four completely different teachers in character and temperament at once. I admit that not all their tips always suited my style. But each of them could provide something useful for my development at a certain point. Of course, there were also disadvantages associated with the fact, that quite often their points of view on the same piece were diametrically opposite, up to some quite obvious things like dynamics. This taught me to filter the information given by the teacher, work on the piece by myself and take only those suggestions that are right for me and don’t break the balance between academic “correctness” and my personality. In any case, I believe that for the proper development of a musician it is better to have several points of view rather than one.
4. In 2019 you completed your Master of Music in Performance degree, at the Royal Northern College of Music in the class of Ashley Wass. How did this master and environment furthered your musical development?
Since winning a full scholarship for the Master of Music course at the RNCM and moving to the UK in 2017 my life has changed a lot for the better. I think that I was really very lucky with my teacher Ashley Wass because we found a common language literally from the first lesson. And I want to thank Graham Scott (Head of School of Keyboard Studies) who sent me to study with him, it was a great decision. Ashley is a unique musician and has taught me to pay very close attention to details in the scores. I didn't hear as many useful suggestions in all my previous years at the Moscow Conservatoire as Ashley gave me in a couple of lessons. I believe that the level of teaching in the UK is now much higher than in Russia. In addition, the UK has a much better climate for classical musicians. In this country, there are a lot of funds that organize monetary support for students and concert agencies that offer an experience of performing on the most prestigious stages. And as a rule, all these happen due to competitive auditions, not by the recommendations of one or two people as it still happens in Russia. In general, I have a lot more perspectives here than I had in Russia.
5. You won the RNCM’s most prestigious award, the Gold Medal and played in the Gold Medal Winners concert at Wigmore Hall in the Spring of 2019. How did this honour feel like and what pieces did you play?
Participation in the RNCM Gold Medal Competition was a big responsibility for me, it is really the highest award in our college. The jury of this competition consisted of famous performers, composers and music managers. This competition was held in two rounds among all students (including composers) and in the final, the jury selected 4 winners out of the 14 finalists. Winning this competition gave me the opportunity to make my debut at an evening concert in one of the most prestigious halls in the UK - The Wigmore Hall. It is a wonderful hall with a rich history and excellent acoustics, which suits me very well. I felt at home in this hall from the very first rehearsal, and it was not often in my life that I felt the connection with the hall and the piano so quickly. At the winners’ concert, according to the terms of the competition, each of us had to play a 25-minute program. I played Beethoven’s Piano Sonata No. 30 (3rd movement) and Brahms’ Variations on a Theme by Paganini (Book 1). The second time I played in this hall was as a Kirckman Concert Society Artist in October 2019 and this time, it was a full-length evening recital.
6. You have won many prizes. Does anyone particularly stand out for you?
In general, I would not like to prioritise any competition because I believe that each competition from my biography was useful for me at the time to build up my repertoire, concert experience and my musical development. Among my victories in prestigious competitions I can mention the International Chopin Piano Competition in Rome, 3-rounds International Taneyev Chamber Ensembles Competition in Kaluga with a very representative European jury from the chamber music world, International G.B. Viotti Piano Competition in Vercelli with its rich history, Hastings International Piano Concerto Competition and Cantù International Piano and Orchestra Competition. But on the other hand, I believe that complex competitions with 3 or 4 rounds must necessarily promote their prize-winners and not only the winners, as is often the case, with at least the first three places. Unfortunately, this is mostly not the case and many competitions simply give out diplomas and money, forgetting about their winners and prizewinners future. I think that the organizers of such competitions think more about how to earn money on entrance fees, accommodation, etc., not about the future fate of musicians, forgetting about the true goal of any competition - to discover talent and support it further, helping it to develop. There are really few competitions that help their prizewinners. If we speak in this aspect, then I can probably highlight only the Hastings International Piano Concerto Competition. This is a fabulous competition, which is not only well-known in the UK, but also really supports its prizewinners in terms of concerts after the end of the competition, and even a few years later.
7. Any musicians you particularly admire?
I like musicians who have a thoughtful playing technique, a precise fit into the composer’s style and the idea of a piece combined with their own personality. If we talk about recordings, this is a kind of “perfect” performance for me, after hearing that one once, I understand that this is exactly what this music is about and all other performances after that seem to be inferior. It is very difficult to find such recordings because it is quite hard, even when you are a high-class performer, to understand absolutely all the pieces from your repertoire at this level. I like Murray Perahia, Beethoven performed by Krystian Zimerman, Rachmaninov performed by Nikolai Lugansky, and some recordings by Grigory Sokolov and Sviatoslav Richter. Among the young people, I can mention Vadym Kholodenko, Kenneth Broberg and Daniil Trifonov. They are all very talented musicians.
8. What are your fondest musical memories, privately or performing?
Once I went to a lesson with my teacher Sergei Dorensky and played him 2 pieces by Villa-Lobos. After the lesson, he said to me: “You know, I often went to his house and had tea with him in the kitchen, when I was in Brazil. We were friends.” It struck me then and I thought how lucky the older generation was that they had the opportunity to communicate so simply, to be friends with such great composers. This is a completely different process of understanding music for a pianist when you communicate with the person who composed it and know more about his character and personality. It is too bad for my generation that we have no such opportunity.
If we talk about the profession, I think these memories are associated with the most vivid events in my musical career. Admission to the Moscow Conservatoire, my graduation from it, the news that I received a full scholarship to study at the RNCM, my first performance at the Moscow Conservatoire’s Great Hall, a full-length recital at Wigmore Hall, debuts with the Orchestra of the Teatro Carlo Felice, Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, The Hallé and victories at prestigious competitions. In fact, there are a lot of pleasant memories in my life, and it is difficult to list them all now.
9. How often do your practice?
It depends on how many concerts I have in the next month, what repertoire I will play and how many new pieces I have to learn and how quickly I need it. Of course, when I prepare for a competition, I need a little bit more time, about 7-8 hours. When my schedule is not very busy and I just learn a new repertoire I think I practice 5-6 hours a day.
10. Would you consider teaching in the future?
Yes, I already had an experience in teaching and I really like it. Teaching first of all helps me to know the piece better. When I learn the piece by myself some details can slip away from me for various reasons. It is different when I work with a student. I have an incentive to explain the piece so that the student exactly understands and does it correctly in terms of details, without changing his own personality. The main thing here for the teacher is to keep a balance between what is written and what ideas the student offers and how original they are. When you understand a piece so thoroughly, you start to see some things in the scores in even more detail. I think it also plays a role in that you hear this piece from the different sides. In future, I would like to work as a professor at my college or at any school in the UK and I hope that I’ll have this opportunity.
11. What advice would you give to young musicians at the start of their journey?
I would like to advise talented young musicians to never give up, continue to go towards your goal no matter what and don’t listen to those people who stop believing in you along the way. It is better to cut such people out of your life if necessary and it doesn’t matter whether they are teachers, friends or relatives. I believe that the most important thing for a musician is to believe in yourself and your talent. And then everything will work out.