Meet the Artist – Maya Irgalina, pianist

Who or what inspired you to take up piano, and pursue a career in music?

My granddad was a fantastic singer, and my mom played piano beautifully. As a child I used to sing every song that was playing on the radio, and at the age of four I started having lessons.

The first time the inspiration to take up a career in music appeared when I was seven – I got accepted to a very good school that combined music and general subjects. But then it was too hard to study there, and I thought I had no chance to become a musician. Apparently I underestimated my passion for music.

Who or what have been the most important influences on your musical life and career?

I can’t be grateful enough to my teachers.

At the beginning of my studies I was blessed to have an amazing teacher of solfege, Irina Denisova: she gave me ears.

The empathy and kindness of Tamara Markova gave me the motivation to continue learning music.

It would never have worked had I not met Lilia Ter-Minasianthe professor who saw potential in me. Thanks to the countless of hours she spent with me over the Chopin Études, I now have technique, and thanks to her lessons on Haydn and Liszt, I understand what style and virtuosity mean. She taught me enthusiasm, and thanks to her support I started to believe I could be a musician. 

I was incredibly lucky to study performance with Graham Scott. His spontaneity and imagination brought out improvisatory qualities in my playing.

Julius Drake’s breathtaking decisions always had a “wow” effect on me. Studying collaborative piano with him was one of the best decisions in my life.

What have been the greatest challenges of your career so far?

Overcoming the imposter syndrome… But seriously – trying to fit everything I am interested in: performing as a soloist, teaching, working as a staff member at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama, conducting the choir, learning new repertoire, and collaborating with other musicians! But I don’t complain, I just need more hours in a day.

Which performance/recordings are you most proud of?

Playing the Barber Piano Concerto with the RNCM Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Gergely Madaras, was a wonderful experience!

Which particular works do you think you play best?

I love playing Chopin, Rachmaninov, Schubert, Strauss, Debussy.

How do you make your repertoire choices from season to season?

As a solo musician I always play the music I love. There are some pieces I’ve been dreaming about for years, but they are hard to programme, for example Shostakovich’s Second Sonata. But next season I’m definitely going to perform it!

When I collaborate I get to learn some of the most exquisite music, but the programming is rarely done by me, and it is often a surprise.

Do you have a favourite concert venue to perform in and why?

Wigmore Hall is just the best place to play. I’ve performed there twice so far, first as a winner of the Worshipful Company of Musicians auditions, and second in the ‘Side by Side’ project by The Prince Consort.

Who are your favourite musicians?

Igor Levit, Robert Levin, Leonard Bernstein, Carlos Kleiber, Vladimir Horowitz, Friedrich Gulda, Stephen Hough, Julius Drake, Christophe Pregardien… I also love my friends Kabantu ensemble. Whenever I see them performing I start dancing and crying.

What is your most memorable concert experience?

Igor Levit’s three last Beethoven Sonatas in Wigmore Hall. It was a late 10pm recital – having performed this same programme at 7pm, he played it again, and it was surreal, inhuman, beautiful. From the moment he started till the moment he finished my attention was glued to his playing, he never lost me, not even one note was untrue to Beethoven. I was transported, transformed, transfigured. It was a transcendental experience.

As a musician, what is your definition of success?

Being in demand and happy with what you do.

What do you consider to be the most important ideas and concepts to impart to aspiring musicians?

Don’t be afraid to do something new. Find your teacher and your way. 

What is your most treasured possession? 

My music library! I never thought I would be so possessive about scores.

What is your present state of mind? 

I am open to new endeavours. 

Belorussian Maya Irgalina is a versatile pianist, who successfully combines solo and collaborative piano playing. Over the last ten years she has performed internationally throughout the UK, Italy, Malta, France, Austria, China, Poland, Georgia, Russia and Belarus, highlights including performances at Wigmore Hall and the Barbican.

In the 2017/2018 season, Maya was a Britten Pears Young Artist; she was invited by the President of the Republic of Tatarstan to play Chopin’s First Piano Concerto in Kazan; she performed in the Malta International Arts Festival and the Accademia Filarmonica Romana with soprano Nicola Said; performed solo in the Zürichi Piano Express Festival, and represented Yamaha as concert artist at the Cheltenham Jazz Festival.

Her past engagements include playing Liszt’s Second Piano Concerto at the Batumi Music Festival, Georgia, and performing an all Chopin programme at the Rye Arts Festival, UK. A particularly memorable event was her appearance in the BBC Orchestra’s “Semyon Bychkov’s Beloved Friend Tchaikovsky Project”, for which she played both as soloist and chamber musician.

As a soloist she has played with the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra, Manchester Camerata, the Belarusian Opera House Orchestra, the RNCM Symphony Orchestra, the Batumi Symphony Orchestra including many other chamber orchestras.

Forthcoming engagements include the Machynlleth Festival, the Lieder of Hugo Wolf at the Britten Pears Young Artist Programme, Chopin’s First Piano Concerto with the Scarborough Symphony Orchestra, the Zarzuela Project at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama, and performances of Schubert’s Winterreise with the mezzo-soprano Fleur Barron.

Maya has won many prizes in piano competitions, including Dudley, Sydney, Maria Yudina, Scriabin etc. She is the winner of the RNCM’s highest accolade for solo performance – the Gold Medal – and had her Wigmore Hall debut in February 2013 as prize-winner of the Worshipful Company of Musicians. Her playing was broadcast by ABC (Australia), BBC Radio 3 and Belarusian Radio. In 2015 Belarusian TV made a film about her.

Maya Irgalina’s first steps onto the concert platform were made under the tutelage of Lilia Ter-Minasian at the Belarusian Academy of Music where she was an undergraduate. She then completed the International Artist Diploma at the Royal Northern College of Music, studying with Graham Scott. In 2017 she graduated from the Guildhall School of Music and Drama, where she studied with Julius Drake and Ronan O’Hora.

For her studies Maya has won numerous scholarships including Leverhulme Trust, Yamaha Foundation, BelSwissBank. She was also the recipient of the “Gaude Polonia” award from the Polish Ministry of Culture, and twice became a laureate of a Scholarship from the Special Fund of the President of Belarus.