Who or what inspired you to take up piano, and pursue a career in music?
I grew up in a family of musicians. Both my parents are pianists and repetiteurs in different Moscow opera houses and so I was always surrounded by music. Many of my earliest memories are of the excitement of seeing my parents practicing and performing. Music came to me very naturally. I was very lucky to have Ada Traub as my first piano teacher. She was an extraordinary teacher and human being with a special ability to communicate with children and give them crucial skills and a love for music. I then went on to Gnessin Music School and from there to the Jerusalem Academy and the Royal College of Music. It never really occurred to me to do anything else with my life – I am delighted to say that I still don’t regret it!
Who or what have been the most important influences on your musical life and career?
Each of my four teachers have been hugely significant, each in a different way. I have already mentioned Ada Traub. My second teacher was Anna Kantor, much more formidable – in fact slightly terrifying to her students. She had an amazing ear for detail, was very hard-working and a perfectionist.
Through her I met my fellow student Evgeny Kissin, one of the world’s most accomplished pianists. I was present at many of his lessons and went on a couple of tours with him. His extraordinary talent made a massive impression on me. He inspired me to be a performer
In Jerusalem I was taught by Irina Berkovich. From her I learned much about analysis and structure. Irina Zaritskaya’s approach (at the Royal College in London) focussed on sound and colour. I had a very special bond with her; she was an amazingly caring teacher and herself a wonderful pianist with a sound from the golden age of piano greats.
What have been the greatest challenges of your career so far?
These days musicians lives are crazy. In order to be “on the scene” and in demand as a performer we often have to take up almost any invitations that come our way which often means learning a huge amount of solo and chamber music repertoire at very short notice. I find that the most challenging: not only to learn new repertoire but to fill it with meaning and understanding in a very short time. It can be thrilling but also daunting. You have to live off adrenaline. It must be very difficult for musicians who don’t learn fast how to survive in today’s world.
What are you most looking forward to in the London Piano Festival?
Having spent a lot of time with Charles carefully deciding on the artists and repertoire for the festival, I really am looking forward to every event! But for me the Two Piano Gala is probably the most exciting. It has an unusual format – it is in three parts and the repertoire is really fantastic and diverse. Having seven fantastic pianists taking part in this event is really exciting.
Which performance/recordings you are most proud of?
There were many memorable performances in my life… ( for different reasons!)
One of my most memorable performances was playing complete Brahms piano quartets in Moscow with Boris Brovtsyn, Maxim Rysanov and Boris Andrianov. It was the combination of learning the three Brahms quartets, which I think are some of the very best chamber music works there are, and then performing these pieces with fantastic musicians whom I admire.
As for recordings, I guess my first solo recording of Grieg piano music is something that is very important for me. I visited Grieg’s house outside Bergen in Norway, and played there too. It was such a magical place and it made me want to record Grieg. But I don’t find listening to my own recordings easy: its so difficult to accept the finished product, I always want to change something ..
Which particular works do you think you play best?
So difficult to say… Hard to judge yourself. I guess romantic music suits me most but I think I can play a Haydn sonata decently too… !
How do you make your repertoire choices from season to season?
There are many factors involved… It depends on how busy i am in that particular season and also often there are concerts/festivals for which I am asked to play certain pieces or concertos.
But I do try always to learn something new. And I try to vary styles in my programs. I think its an art in itself to create a really interesting and exciting program. It can be crucial to the success of a concert.
Do you have a favourite concert venue to perform and why?
I love the beautiful and very special atmosphere of Wigmore Hall and the unique sense of history pervading the Holywell Room in Oxford. I generally prefer more intimate venues although I did recently play in the Unam University Hall in Mexico City, which is a very big hall indeed, but i loved the acoustics and felt really good playing there.There are quite a lot of lovely venues around the world, it is impossible to name them all.
Favourite pieces to perform/listen to?
I really can’t name favourite pieces to perform or listen to… I just love too many different things. If I name a couple of pieces, then immediately others will come to mind and so on… Often I don’t feel like listening to classical music and I switch a nice jazz record on… Or even pop, dare I say.
Who are your favourite musicians?
From past generation – Rachmaninov, Kreisler, Rubinstein, Carlos Kleiber to name a few
Now – Grigory Sokolov, Martha Argerich, Maria Joao Pires, Radu Lupu, but there are quite a few others and not necessarily pianists.
What is your most memorable concert experience?
I will never forget playing in the finals of Leeds Piano Competition. I played Rachmaninov 2nd Piano Concerto and Sir Simon Rattle was the conductor. I never dreamt I would get into the final so I didn’t even bring the score with me… So when I found out I had got through to the final, I had to find the music urgently! Also I didn’t know it so well… I had two days to revise it. It was a live broadcast on TV and radio and it was definitely the most terrifying experience on stage for me. Working with Sir Simon was really amazing though; he was so kind and encouraging.
What do you consider to be the most important ideas and concepts to impart to aspiring musicians?
We live in a very competitive world. Being proactive and ambitious is good but most important is to be true to music; music requires dedication and commitment – years of learning, studying, exploring, thinking – not just playing your instrument. If you want to be a performer, you need to have something to say in music, and you need to develop as an individual, as a human being, in order to have something to say.
Where would you like to be in 10 years time?
Hopefully still here with my friends and loved ones near me! And still enjoying playing the piano as much as I do now.
London Piano Festival details here
Katya Apekisheva is one of Europe’s most renowned pianists, in demand internationally as both a soloist and as a chamber musician. Since becoming a prize-winner in the Leeds International and Scottish Piano Competitions and collating awards such as the London Philharmonic ‘Soloist of the Year’ and the Terence Judd Award she has been marked out as a pianist of exceptional gifts, performing with many of the world’s leading orchestras, including the London Philharmonic, The Philharmonia, the Halle Orchestra, the Moscow Philharmonic, the Jerusalem Symphony, the English Chamber Orchestra and the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, working with conductors such as Sir Simon Rattle, David Shallon, Jan Latham-Koenig and Alexander Lazarev.
Read Katya’s full biography here