Who or what inspired you to take up piano and pursue a career in music?
In my family, music was our everyday life, my father being an orchestral musician and a music teacher. Practising piano, learning music and going to symphony concerts and recitals every week was as a natural thing as going to school, skiing and skating, fishing, and biking around. I was therefore practically never given a choice to become or not to become a musician. Later the study became a passion, music turned into profession and a way of life.
Who or what have been the most important influences on your musical life and career?
…My teacher Lev Naumov, the greatest artistic talent and musical encyclopaedist that I have ever encountered. The trace that this charismatic and extremely influential pedagogue left on my ideas about music was overwhelming.
Next, listening to music and sight-reading have been life-long passions. They always fed my appetite for musical discovery and set me on my path into the world of lesser-known music.
Winning prizes at competitions was another major contributor to my career. It helped establish my name. However, the most important influence on my career came from the labels with which I have been associated for more than twenty years: Marco Polo and Naxos. My first commercial recording (Lyapunov’s Twelve Transcendental Etudes, 1994) was not only the first step in my artistic journey; it also defined its direction.
What have been the greatest challenges of your career so far?
The beginning of the project to record the complete works of Leopold Godowsky. The condition that Naxos set meant the project had to be finished in four sessions, I was supposed to record four CDs in each eight-day session, 16 CDs in total. The first session took place in Los Angeles in 1998 when we indeed recorded four CDs of Godowsky’s music in eight days!
Playing the 24 Preludes and Fugues by Shostakovich at the Salzburg Festival and breaking my right leg just two days before the performance (nobody noticed!).
Which performance/recordings are you most proud of?
Rachmaninoff’s 3rd Piano Concerto with the Moscow Philharmonic under Yuri Simonov at Seoul Arts Center;
12 Transcendental Studies by S. Lyapunov (Marco Polo);
24 Preludes and Fugues by Shostakovich (Naxos);
Sonatas by Scarlatti (Naxos).
Which particular works do you think you play best?
From my very personal point of view it is the Russian repertoire and Beethoven.
How do you make your repertoire choices from season to season?
There are a few factors that I take into consideration: my own repertoire preferences; wishes coming from concert organizers / orchestras; sometimes it is just the repertoire that is linked to current recording plans.
Do you have a favourite concert venue to perform in and why?
Hard to say! I recall many wonderful halls which I thought were fantastic. Many British halls; the absolutely stunning Town Hall of Dunedin, the most southern city in New Zealand; National Hall in Taipei, Tonhalle Zurich, the Great Hall of the Moscow Conservatory.
The acoustics and ambiance, a lively and enthusiastic audience, great piano – when brought together, all of this means a successful concert.
Good concerts stay in the memory and the concert hall where they took place is a huge part of that.
Favourite pieces to perform?
Liszt’s transcriptions of the Beethoven Symphonies; Piano Concertos by Beethoven, Mozart, Rachmaninoff and Tchaikovsky; Anything by Chopin. Listen to?
I can’t really name them all! I never sit and listen to a work that I would consider ‘my favourite’. Basically, I like whatever’s in my ear at a given time; it’s a very good critic.
If I had to choose, I’d say: Beethoven’s Symphonies and Quartets. Rachmaninoff’s 2nd Symphony; Brahms’s 3rd Symphony…
Who are your favourite musicians?
There are many, various musicians at different times. Among pianists that have formed my idea of pianism (with this they are my all-time favourites) there are Vladimir Sofronitsky, Sviatoslav Richter, Vladimir Horowitz, George Cziffra, Emil Gilels; all pianists of the Golden Age.
What is your most memorable concert experience?
A Beethoven recital in a small town some 70 km away from Krasnoyarsk, Siberia. Outside temperature -45°, in the hall – the most intense dialog with the audience. Unforgettable.
What do you consider to be the most important ideas and concepts to impart to aspiring musicians?
Practical advice: Practise a lot! Listen a lot! Sight-read! Every time you sit down at the piano think of the purpose of your practice!
General advice: next to playing, try to learn the profession. Every day ask yourself: what have I done today to be on stage in one – ten – fifty years’ time?
At all times try to answer the questions: Who am I? – Why do I play music? – What do I want to communicate? – Is my message clear?
Tell us about your new disc from your Godowsky collection: why did you decide to embark on this project to record 15 CDs?
As I said, the suggestion to undertake the project came from Naxos / Marco Polo. On the one hand it was my curiosity, my insatiable greed for new repertoire, the ability to learn fast; on the other hand, there were countless challenges involved – how could I resist?
You’re returning to Wigmore Hall on 26th November. How did you choose your programme for this concert?
Given the concert’s length (an hour), my passion for Beethoven/Liszt’s Symphonies (I have played and recorded them all) and an intention to present an unusual and attractive program it seemed to be quite a natural choice. Moreover, I’ll be playing the Eroica Symphony many times this season, ending at the 2016 Beethovenfest in Bonn.
Besides, it is a sheer joy to play this marvel of musical genius, compositional beauty, and pianistic sophistication!