Meet the Artist – Pavel Kolesnikov, pianist

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

I must say, I don’t know… My parents, although not musicians, are very musical. My father composed some songs for my mother to sing with his guitar accompaniment. There was always much music in the house, mostly classical and what in Russia is called ‘bard song’.

There also was an upright piano and I well remember I was fascinated, enchanted by the sound of major third.

But in the end it all might be even simpler and a bit embarrassing. I was about 6 years old and I went to a symphonic concert to hear a violinist playing. She was wearing a purple velvet dress, a rather unbelievable hue of purple. I thought I’d never seen a colour more sumptuous…and I decided I wanted to play violin. That’s how my path in music started – I am afraid, because of a velvet dress!

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

I am easily influenced in the sense that I am easily fascinated, easily enthused about things. In a way, this can be a disruptive quality sometimes – one needs, perhaps, some distance with the subject to get to the core of it. Inevitably, the list of musicians who left their imprint on my playing is long and eclectic.

My first great musical idol was Sviatoslav Richter. Of course, I heard his recordings very early on, but I “discovered” him in my teens. I then first understood what a word “musician” means, or should mean. A few years later I was struck by Theodor Currentzis who came to my home town in 2004 to start Musica Aeterna. I never knew before how hard one can work and how far one can go in carving ideas and reaching one’s vision. Yet later on I subsequently worshipped Mikhail Pletnev, Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, then Maria João Pires with whom I studied, and Graham Johnson. During my years at the Moscow Conservatory I was very much under the spell of one of my mentors, Pavel Nersessian, a formidable personality and a very unique musician. Lately, however, I feel more and more that I am influenced, inspired or fuelled by things outside music, be it painting, photography, dance or fashion.

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

The challenge which perhaps is quite specific for the time we live in is to pace oneself and allow the music enough space and time to grow naturally. It is extremely important, but it takes quite some effort to avoid temptations and sometimes work hard against the flow.

Yet a greater challenge is to always try and see – artistically – things as they are, not what you expect them to be. It’s hard work overcoming your own knowledge and experience. It is a paradoxical but, I believe, a necessary task for any artist at some point.

Which performance/recordings are you most proud of?

Perhaps, the Louis Couperin disc was altogether the most ambitious and challenging recording project to date. In Russian we say: “To push a camel through an eye of a needle”. That’s what it was.

Which particular works do you think you play best?

The ones that I am deeply in love with at the given moment.

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

The repertoire choices are painful…. I have big appetite for repertoire, but a pianist has to set the priorities clear early enough as Alfred Brendel once said to me. You learn to live with the thought that you won’t be able to play everything you want, in a lifetime.

Usually, there emerges a certain theme, or a composer, or a piece which attracts me. I then start searching for a concept that would be strong enough to construct a program around it. It is curious that at a certain point there is always an element of surprise, a moment of spontaneity when you suddenly see the possibilities that you didn’t expect at all at first. It’s important not to miss that moment.

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

Perhaps I enjoy the most playing at places that are not regular concert venues. When they sound good, of course.

Who are your favourite musicians?

My most favourite musicians are those that are fearless, selfless and inquisitive.

What is your most memorable concert experience?

When I was 16 years old I went to a music festival in Casalmaggiore. At one point with few friends we went on a day trip to Venice. As we were walking past La Fenice a friend from St Petersburg noticed that Grigory Sokolov was playing that very night. We went in and bought last tickets. I had not a slightest idea who he was. He went on stage and the instant before he started playing I knew I was about to hear something I’d never forget.

As a musician, what is your definition of success?

Success is like food: the quantity and quality of it shapes you in a certain way over the time, whether you want it or not. Have too little or too much of it – and you will die, metaphorically speaking of course.

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

Funnily, my deep conviction is that no idea or concept of true artistic importance can be imparted or transferred. The real things are those that you grow yourself in your own garden, without anyone overseeing. In that sense art is the land of absolute sole responsibility. There is nothing that cannot be challenged, but in fact there is nothing that has to be challenged at all – quite simply, there really is nothing that is impossible, unless you’ve decided so.

Pavel Kolesnikov performs Rachmaninov’s Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini with the Britten Shostakovich Festival Orchestra who reach the UK next week for their inaugural UK tour from 17 to 25 September in Birmingham (17th September), Leeds (19th), Manchester (21st) and Cadogan Hall, London (25th September).

Pavel makes his debut at The Tetbury Music Festival on 5 October 2019. The festival runs between 28 September and 6 October – please visit www.tetburymusicfestival.org for more information and tickets


Since becoming Prize Laureate of the Honens Prize for Piano in 2012, Pavel Kolesnikov has performed around the world.  Significant recital and festival appearances include Zankel Hall at Carnegie Hall, Berlin’s Konzerthaus, the Louvre (Paris), Vancouver Recital Society, La Jolla Music Society, Spoleto Festival USA, Canada’s Ottawa ChamberFest and Banff Summer Festival, Plush Music Festival, and the BBC Proms.  Recent and upcoming orchestral appearances include London Philharmonic, Philharmonia Orchestra, Russia’s National Philharmonic, Orquestra Sinfônica Brasileira and Toronto Symphony Orchestra. Pavel is also a member of BBC Radio 3’s New Generation Artists for 2014 to 2016 and RCM Benjamin Britten Piano Fellow for 2015 to 2016.

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(artist photo: Eva Vermandel)

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