British pianist James Lisney is looking forward to his spring and early summer concerts with excitement.

The Cross-Eyed Pianist caught up with James to talk about how he and the music industry in general has fared during the past two years of the pandemic, the challenges and unexpected benefits of the enforced isolation, and the expectation of returning to live concert-giving once again.

The last two years have been extremely challenging for our industry. Have you seen any benefit from the enforced isolation of lockdowns and lack of live music?

The life of a self employed pianist has, in many cases, not been too adversely affected by the pandemic. Study, recordings, writing and online teaching have filled the gaps – but I am aware that there are many musicians who have had their careers decimated by the collapse of orchestral choral concerts in particular. Their phones and emails went ‘dead’ almost as soon as Covid was flagged up and, even when concerts started again, the full forces have not been employed on a regular basis. This economic hardship has not been specific to the young musicians, but there are scary statistics about how many musicians of all ages have either decided to retire or change profession. Apart from the lack of income, the expenses of their vocation continue: large insurance payments, membership of industry bodies, diary service subscription, instrument maintenance etc.

The matter of concert cancellations has been frustrating but it has also allowed unexpected time to rest and to study. For me this has enabled me to learn two monumental piano challenges by Beethoven: the Sonata in B flat (‘Hammerklavier’); and the ‘Diabelli’ Variations’ which I’m programming throughout the group of concerts that I am giving this spring and early summer. The lack of time pressure has allowed for deep and relaxed study – processes that have refreshed my love of music and the piano.

With time suddenly becoming a plentiful commodity, I have had time to explore Scriabin (for the first time), work at the music of Jan Vriend (always a slow process for me!), Chopin’s Études and Liszt’s Feux Follets – and I’ve even studied technical exercises that I’ve been intending to ‘get around to’ for about forty years!

The concerts I’m giving this spring and early summer are a gift to myself (programmed around my sixtieth birthday) and feature works that are the fruits of the pandemic (including Beethoven’s ‘Diabelli’ Variations and Scriabin Vers la flamme, for example); and music that I have performed for over four decades (such as Chopin’s Sonate funèbre and Ronald Stevenson’s ‘Peter Grimes Fantasy’).

During the pandemic you gave a concert at St George’s Bristol to an empty hall. How do you feel venues have adapted to the “new normal” and supported musicians during the past two years?

St George’s Bristol have been a fantastic support for me and many other musicians during Covid. They have adapted finances and concert formats, organised industry-leading livestream events, and kept in touch with their community, both local and nationwide. I performed the final sonatas Haydn, Beethoven and Schubert in autumn 2020 to an empty hall, but arrived home to email messages from audience members in the USA, the Czech Republic and New Zealand!

I am very much looking forward to returning to St George’s with Chopin on 21 May.

Talking of Chopin, he is a composer who remains very close to your heart. What is the attraction of this repertoire, for both player and audiences?

Chopin has been central to my programmes since I was eighteen. Audiences love this music and it is a constant fascination to attempt to play it – but it is also a constant inspiration in my work as a teacher. Chopin gets to the heart of our physical relationship with the instrument – and to the beauty and meaning of the score. He exemplifies exactitude and classical values with the skills of poetic recreation and improvisation. When one considers, in addition, the premises of his teaching philosophy, it is difficult to find an area of his influence that is not essential to the study of music from almost all of the eras of keyboard music.

The Sonatas and Fantaisie [Opus 49] have been in my repertoire since my teenage years and continue to fascinate and evolve for me – each return to study revealing a more essential layer of understanding. The pandemic has been a chance to work on the Mazurkas – music as dense in implication and as demanding intellectually as late Beethoven. The trio of Mazurkas, opus 56, for example, cover a huge intellectual range and can hardly be considered as “miniatures”.

The music salon at the 1901 Arts Club

Pre-pandemic you launched your …petits concerts series at the 1901 Arts Club. Tell us more about this series.

I am looking forward to returning to the large recital halls such as St Georges, the Bradshaw Hall in Birmingham and the beautiful Stoller Hall in Manchester – but I have a special place for the resumption of the …petits concerts series held at the bijoux concert venue and salon that is the 1901 Arts Club in Waterloo, London. This project was thriving in the seasons before Covid and enabled a spontaneous and simple organisation for concerts, contact with a relaxed and intimate audience (both during and after the performances) and the chance to raise money for a variety of purposes. The latest instalments in this series will be fundraisers for The Amber Trust (which supports the musical expression of partially sighted and blind children), of which I am proud to be a patron, and Help Musicians, a charity which has done so much to help musicians during the pandemic.


James Lisney will give concerts in Norwich, London, Birmingham, Manchester, Bristol, Cheltenham and Tunbridge Wells between April and June. For full details and booking, please visit his website

Readers can enjoy generously discounted tickets for the first …petite concerts recital on 25 April at the 1901 Arts Club. Use code LUDWIG when booking.

Guest interview by Michael Johnson

portrait of Irina Lankova by Michael Johnson

The Russian pianist Irina Lankova, based in Europe for the past 25 years, has kept her career moving despite the lockdowns and confinements of the covid pandemic. She performs at Carnegie Hall’s Weill Recital Hall in May 2022, and has other engagements to the Salle Cortot in Paris, the Concertgebouw in Amsterdam, “and many concerts in between”, as she said in our interview.

Her new album Elégie, a “very personal selection” of her favourite emotional pieces by Rachmaninov, Schubert and Bach, has been critically acclaimed in Europe where she has built her career as a soloist. Her playing is notable for her erudite talks in French, English or Russian before recitals, and her expressive interpretations. It is not unusual, she says, to leave members of the audience in tears. “I also cry, at least internally, when I play,” she says.

She has issued six other albums featuring Rachmaninov, Scriabin,  Liszt, Schubert, Chopin and Bach.

In this YouTube clip she performs one of the selections from the album recorded during her recital at the Salle Gaveau, Paris

She reads voraciously and draws on the Russian masters – Dostoevsy, Bulgakov, Pasternak, Pushkin, Akhmatova and others “to understand the suffering and the spirituality of the characters”.

Her new album and her internet clips are illustrated with the work of the late photographer Peter Lindberg, who sought her out after absorbing the “strength and fragility” of her playing. She writes in her liner notes that “with all his kindness he was able to capture this duality and something more, invisible.”

Now raising a family while practicing long hours on her Steinway B, she balances her Russian origins with her European life, still playing with much of her Russian school training in evidence.

Ms. Lankova granted this telephone interview (below) from her home in Belgium and mine in Bordeaux covering her musical origins, what matters most to her continued development as a musician, and where she is headed next.

Here is an edited transcript of our conversation.

You come from an unusual family of mechanical engineers? Are your parents music-lovers?

My parents were not musicians, but they were what we call intelligentsia, people who read, listen and think. There was a piano at home, so it was the most natural thing that I started to go to a music school at the age of 7.

When did the piano first become important to you? 

Almost immediately after I started. I was very shy, introverted, bored and sensitive, so music became all at once a friend, a shelter, a source of intellectual challenge and beauty.

Were you attracted to one of the big-name Russian pianists – Gilels, Richter Yudina, Kissin, Tatiana Nikolaeva, Lev Naumov? Did you or do you listen to their recordings? Do they influence you?

Sure, all of the above, but mostly Horowitz, Lipatti, Gould, Rubenstein, Rachmaninov and later Grigory Sokolov. Their recordings forged my musical taste, made the reference point for what is my commitment to music, the quality of work, the depth of the interpretations, and the attitude towards the performance – respect for the score, becoming a musician at the service of Music and not the opposite.

When were you first recognized as an exceptional talent?

Around 10 or 11 years old, I guess I was playing Liszt’s paraphrases and I wasn’t realizing that I was playing something difficult, so at some point my parents were told that I should consider this professional orientation. At the same time, I was also doing exceptionally well at school, so my parents were not inclined to let me choose music unless I entered the best college. At age of 13, I still didn’t know what I wanted to do. This persisted until the day I pushed the door open to the Gnessin Musical College and from that moment there was no second option for me, that’s where I wanted to belong.

How many years did you study at the Gnessin Musical College? Was it very demanding? A wonderful experience? Or was it hell on earth?

I studied at Gnessin from the age of 14 to 18. My four years there were absolutely wonderful. I studied with Irina Temchenko, who was wonderful to me, and who taught me so much. I’m still in touch with her on a regular basis. And I also was taking occasional lessons with other great Moscow professors which broadened my outlook. These included Olga Tchernjak, Lev Naoumov, Vladimir Tropp.

How did the move to Belgium at age 19 affect your playing? Was Russian training removed and suppressed from your musicality?

No, not at all, maybe just the opposite. In Brussels I studied at the Royal Conservatory with Russian professor Evgeny Mogilevsky (himself a pupil of Heinrich Neuhaus), so I totally continued with the Russian school. I also worked with Vladimir Viardo and Vladimir Ashkenazy. I was exposed to other influences by living in Europe and going to concerts. For example, Early Music that I loved ever since. But my taste for a specific piano sound was already formed by Russian teachers.

How would you describe the “Russian school”? Do you feel it in your bones? Is it more aggressive and expressive? Or is this a meaningless question?

I think it is real. The secret of Russian pianism is probably in the singing and depth of sound, in the rich scale of colours and nuances, and a special expressiveness. We really look for a large scale of colours, from pianissimo to fortissimo. Not being afraid of expressiveness. We avoid making it overly sugary.

In your stagecraft, you demonstrate an attractive grace, smooth movements of arms and hands, controlled emotions. Is this your natural demeanour or have you been trained for this image?

The movements come from the desire of a particular sound that I want to achieve: the singing sound, full and deep, without harshness, long melodic lines. So, whatever my arms and hands are doing in order to achieve that doesn’t matter to me.

Some pianists fill concert halls with their non-musical trickery – stunning gowns, exaggerated grimaces, bouncing on the piano bench… How have you resisted these temptations?

I need to be myself when I perform. I dress in the same style on stage and off stage — simple, classy and elegant. This means jeans and jackets off stage, long dresses and flared trousers on stage. I feel good in that way and I don’t need to eroticize my looks. And second, and the most important, I think classical music is not about the looks. It’s above all a spiritual and intellectual experience. The music of Bach, Beethoven, Rachmaninov aim to elevate the human being. When I perform, I’m very humble in front of these composers and the public. I’m not flirting with public, neither I try to impress. Instead I’m putting all my heart and soul into the performance, and I want to share the emotion.

Your playing in your new album “Elégie” creates moods by making the piano “work” for you. The listener feels your floating resonances, your sensitive pedalling, your tone, breathes with your pauses and silences.

I am not aware of that but if you hear it that way I am touched. Elégie is very personal selection of pieces that I love. That’s what I hope you sense while listening. Two thirds of that album is Rachmaninov, my favourite composer. I love his expressivity, the gravity, the drama, the spirit, the sincerity, the richness, the intelligence, the melodies, the harmonies, the unpredictability, the humour, the sadness — everything!

Evolution of your repertoire today will take you where – towards Baroque, Classic, Romantic, Contemporary?

Through the years, it seems that I have gone backward from Rachmaninov and Scriabin, to Chopin, then Schubert, then Bach. Today, I’m kind of turning back to Scriabin and Chopin in my next season’s program and CD. And I also want to perform Mozart concertos. If I feel the emotion, I will play it.

You are an avid reader of books. Who are your favourite Russian writers. How do you bring their poetry, philosophy or prose into your playing?

Totally, I read all the time in Russian, French and English. Right now I’m finishing the new book of my favourite Russian author Ludmila Ulitzkaya. Of course, I have read most of classics to Tolstoy, Dostoevsky, Bulgakov, Pushkin, Akhmatova. I think it’s important to read Russian literature to understand Russian music, to understand the suffering and the spirituality of the characters of Dostoevsky, Tolstoy and Bulgakov in order to feel the depth of Rachmaninov’s music. I also read a lot in French and English. For me, it’s important to go from contemporary writers to the classics and back.

You have written transcriptions and cadenzas. Do you foresee more ambitious composing objectives ?

No, I don’t think so. I’m not a composer. I’m very happy with my role as an interpreter. It’s an important role in music. We are sort of guardians of what the human race has been doing best — classical music.

You are not the same musician you were 30 years ago. As you reach maturity, how has your musical approach changed? Are you getting better and better?

I hope better and better. You develop as an individual and a human being as well as a musician, and your understanding of life and music become deeper and you have more to say in music when you are 40 than when you were 20, providing you continued to read, learn, play and grow.

How much practice do you need daily to maintain your technique? Do you spend all day at the keyboard?

No, no. If I did, my playing would be very boring. Four hours is ideal for me, but in real life is doesn’t work like that. Sometimes it’s one hour one day versus eight hours the next. The routine is very flexible. I practice on a Steinway B. It’s my friend. We know each other. I can rely on it. It responds to what I want to do.

How reliable is your musical memory? Is it changing as you become more mature? What is your technique for remembering? Do you visualize the score?

I think it’s not the memory that needs to be reliable, but the confidence. Few years ago, I had a very difficult period in my life that damaged my confidence and I had a blackout on stage. It was an important moment for me. It was very painful. After that experience, for a few years I was not able to play by heart. Even in recitals I played with the score before me. It took me a lot of effort, determination and help from various people to get the confidence back and to trust my memory again. Today, I play by heart again, I feel free and love it. But it’s not something I take for granted.

Where did the idea of delivering short music lectures at your recitals come from? Was it your personal concept or did a teacher guide you?

I started intuitively long ago with very short introductions to the pieces, with an idea to provide some key points. And gradually I felt more and  more comfortable in talking on stage and I found it helped me to relax and to establish a connection with the public. And the feedback was very good. I made some videos that I called Piano Unveiled and before I realized it, this became my signature.

What has been the impact of the Covid pandemic on your art and your career?

Despite the negative side of cancellations and change of plans, there was a positive side for me. I have had more time to reflect on many things, on my repertoire, on things I wanted to prioritize in the future. I also made recordings, including the new Elégie album.

How do you see your career evolving over the next five or ten years ?

I want to continue establishing myself internationally, playing on a variety of beautiful stages everywhere – Japan, Germany, Austria, Scandinavia, North and South America.

Irina Lankova’s website


Michael Johnson is a music critic and writer with a particular interest in piano. 

He has worked as a reporter and editor in New York, Moscow, Paris and London over his journalism career. He covered European technology for Business Week for five years, and served nine years as chief editor of International Management magazine and was chief editor of the French technology weekly 01 Informatique. He also spent four years as Moscow correspondent of The Associated Press. He is a regular contributor to International Piano magazine, and is the author of five books.

Michael Johnson is based in Bordeaux, France. Besides English and French he is also fluent in Russian.

You can order Michael Johnson’s most recent book, in French and English, with drawings by Johnson: “Portraitures and caricatures:  Conductors, Pianists, Composers” here.

This interview first appeared on the Facts and Arts website

Critically acclaimed British pianist Brenda Lucas Ogdon returns with her new album ‘Ravel que J’Aime’ (released 1 October 2021).

The album marks only the most recent chapter of Brenda’s rich musical history. Having been awarded the Gold Medal from the Associated Board for the highest marks in any Practical Subject throughout the British Isles, Northern Ireland, and Eire, Brenda has since gone on to perform amongst the London Symphony Orchestra, BBC Scottish Orchestra, Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, and across the US, Australia, the Soviet Union, Hong Kong, and more.

Brenda Ogdon has announced that her royalties from the album will be donated to Shelter – the UK homeless charity. This act follows in the spirit of the artist’s previous charity work. In 1993, Brenda established the John Ogdon Foundation – a foundation which completely funded three scholarships for gifted young musicians allowing them to pursue romantic and contemporary piano to a post graduate standing. The initiative was founded in honour of Brenda’s late husband concert pianist John Ogdon who died in 1989.

[source: press release]

In this Meet the Artist interview, Brenda Lucas Ogdon talks about her influences and inspirations and the experience of travelling and performing with her husband when he was still alive.

Who or what inspired you to pursue a career in music?

I was inspired by the lovely, glamorous pianist Eileen Joyce. Not only by her amazing pianism but by her elegant changes of beautiful dresses during her recitals. I was also inspired by the recordings of the Beethoven Sonatas/Concerti by the great pianist Artur Schnabel.

What has been the greatest challenge of your career?

The sudden, unexpected death of my husband, John Ogdon. I was a widow at the age of 53 and my life was turned around. After performing the duo piano works with John for at least 12 years, I had to revive my solo career. It took some time but eventually it happened.

Of which performances/recordings are you most proud?

I am very proud of the send recording we made of the two Rachmaninov Suites for 2 pianos. EMI amalgamated these with other recordings we made for them of Debussy, Bizet, Arensky, Khachaturian, Shostakovich, in a two-CD set, still available on the Warner label. I am also proud of my solo discs of The Well-Tempered Clavier Book 2 by J. S. Bach, released in 2018 on Sterling Records.

Which particular works do you think you perform best?

I really do not have a view on that question. At the moment I am releasing a double album of Ravel “Ravel Que J’Aime”, so I am hoping that it is Ravel.

What do you do off stage that provides inspiration on stage?

I am always listening to other musicians which gives me a lot of inspiration. My daughter Annabel and I listen frequently to the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra via their website.

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

I do not tour or give live concert performances anymore as I am 85 years old and those glory days are not possible for me physically. I have always loved recording so that is what I am happy to do now. The Ravel is for the charity Shelter – I am donating all my royalties to this charity, which I feel passionate about.

What is you favourite concert venue and why?

The Wigmore Hall in London. It is just such a perfect recital hall.

What do you feel needs to be done to grow classical music audiences?

More funding for primary education in instrumental tuition in state schools. The rest will follow.

What is your most memorable concert experience?

Difficult to pin down one experience against another: several memorable Promenade [Proms] concerts with John; a travel nightmare to give a concert in Spain when the French air traffic controllers were on strike so we missed the date. We eventually travelled and arrived in Malaga in the middle of the night. We played the concert a day late and when we walked on stage the audience erupted in the loudest applause I have ever heard! It was quite memorable and great fun.

As musician, what is your definition of success?

Success is when everything that you have worked and prepared for clicks into place at the right moment.

What advice would you give to young or aspiring musicians?

For performing musicians it is a tough world at the moment. Competition is strong and standards are very high – for example, the recent Leeds International Piano Competition where really amazing pianism was evident. Young musicians should listen to performances by major artists. They should try to accept the fact that there will be disappointments as well as triumphs in the life ahead of them and deal with that in a calm manner.

What is your most treasured possession?

My Yamaha Model C6 Piano

Brenda Lucas Ogdon’s latest album ‘Ravel que J’Aime’ is released on 1 October 2021, preceded by two singles of Miroirs: II. Oiseaux Tristes and À la manière de Borodine. All royalties from the album will donated to the homeless charity Shelter. 


Brenda Lucas Ogdon graduated with honours from the Royal Northern College of Music, where she met her future husband, John Ogdon.  She embarked on a world-wide solo career and a piano duo partnership with John.  This took them to almost anywhere in the world where grand pianos existed.  Brenda has appeared at the Cheltenham, Aldeburgh and Edinburgh Festivals, and also Sintra in Portugal and Maine in the U.S.A.  She has recorded for several major labels including EMI & Decca and her work has frequently been broadcast.  She has appeared with major orchestras throughout the UK, Australia and the U.S.A.

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Who or what inspired you to pursue a career in music and who or what have been the most important influences on your musical life and career? 

My parents foremost – there was music around the house at all times, and my mother had a beautiful voice and sang often with my father accompanying. Then my first teacher, from age 5, Barbara Boissard. Then Kathleen Long, a natural pianist and musician with a beautiful sound. I stayed with her until I was 12 when I went to study at the Paris Conservatoire for 6 years. By then my mind was firmly made up – but these people were good early influences who would have helped my resolve to be a musician grow. 

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

In my younger years, there was an injury or two which involved some important last minute cancellations, which I hated being obliged to do. You have to keep faith that you will heal completely, which of course I did. However emerging from the pandemic is really challenging – planning impossible and great flexibility needed, as well as zen-like qualities. 

Of which performances/recordings are you most proud? 

It depends on which period of my life. The Philips recordings of Lieder with Wolfgang Holzmair were very special for me. As were the Schubert Live recordings from South Bank Centre a little over a decade ago. They were tough days, the rehearsal was recorded, as was the concert, with a patch session until late into the night. Each was a real marathon. 

But my set of recordings for Chandos have been, still are, a wonderful journey – all done at the amazing Snape Maltings with an excellent team. I have a particular fondness for the Liszt/Wagner recording, as well as for the Beethoven Diabelli Variations and “Iberia y Francia” , a lovely mix of French and Spanish masterpieces, large and small. 

Which particular works/composers do you think you perform best? 

It’s not really for me to say. I don’t take up any work if I am not 150% convinced by it, and feel that I have something really personal to express through a piece. I guess that Schubert and Schumann are particularly close to me. 

What do you do off stage that provides inspiration on stage? 

Get away from music! Read, be in the great outdoors, preferably walking..

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

Dominated either by practicalities (recordings, requests from promoters, festival themes) or, simply by a movement of the heart that impels me to such and such a composer..

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

There are so many. The Wigmore Hall is particularly dear to me as to so many of us – but also Spivey Hall near Atlanta GA in the US, Severance Hall in Cleveland, the Recital Hall in Melbourne, the Concertgebouw in Amsterdam…I hate to leave any out, but am obliged to!

What do you feel needs to be done to grow classical music’s audiences?

I would like to think that the amount of filming of concerts on the web during the pandemic, and their easy availability, might entice new audience members when venues open up more. If only newly interested viewers could realise what an even richer experience it is sitting in a hall sharing an amazing musical experience with others – the synergy between platform and audience…There is honestly nothing like it.

What is your most memorable concert experience? 

One was certainly the first time I played the last three Schubert Sonatas together in one concert, a marathon if ever there was one. It was in the hall at Westminster School, on a freezing cold night – a packed audience sat huddled up in their coats and listening so attentively. It was a two hours-and-ten concert, and I was like a rag doll at the end, but proud to have stayed the course..

As a musician, what is your definition of success? 

When I see that the music for which I have been a vessel has really reached the depths of people’s hearts and souls and that they are the better, or the wiser, for it. It is like speaking a message that has been clearly heard. If music-making is not about that, then for me it is not about anything. This has nothing to do with commercial success which is another story. 

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

Be humble about your ambition, whilst keeping your vision and goals clear. Be patient. And work work work – it is never enough. 

Where would you like to be in 10 years? 

Alive!

What is your idea of perfect happiness? 

Walking in the Italian countryside in spring, with the prospect of a simple meal with friends at the end of the day. 

What is your most treasured possession? 

My house and garden.

What is your present state of mind? 

Sane, mostly. 

Imogen Cooper performs at this year’s Petworth Festival on 24 July, playing music by Schubert, Liszt and Brahms. More information/tickets


Regarded as one of the finest interpreters of Classical and Romantic repertoire, Imogen Cooper is internationally renowned for her virtuosity and lyricism. Recent and future concerto performances include the Berliner Philharmoniker and Sir Simon Rattle, Sydney Symphony with Simone Young and the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra with Ryan Wigglesworth.

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(Photo credit: Sim Canetty-Clarke/Askonas Holt)

In this wide-ranging conversation Frances Wilson (AKA The Cross-Eyed Pianist) talks to pianist, recording artist and teacher Eleonor Bindman about the world of the amateur pianist, the pleasures and frustrations of being an amateur pianist, how teaching adult amateurs presents interesting unique challenges for teacher and pupil alike, and much, much more…..


Pianist, educator and mentor, Professor Julia Mustonen-Dahlkvist is Artistic Director of Ingesund Piano Center in Arvika, Sweden, and founder of the IPC’s Artists-in-Residence scheme, where up to ten young pianists are rigorously selected to take a ‘deep dive’ into their artistic, career and personal development. Each residency is fully funded.

An accomplished pianist herself, Professor Mustonen-Dahlkvist’s training in Russia, Germany, France, and Spain informed what would later become her own methodology, which when combined with her nurturing and passionate nature, has resulted in a unique formula for success, mastery and excellence. Here she talks about her early influences and how she was inspired to develop the programme at IPC.


Who or what inspired you to pursue a career in music and who or what have been the most important influences on your musical life and career?

I have multiple sources of inspiration. I have been consciously searching for musicians and pedagogues from whom I can learn something valuable. Everything started with my mother. She was a piano teacher at a music school working with kids, and wanted me to become a piano teacher too, simply because in the era of the USSR, this was a very good profession and a respected job to have. I grew up in communist Siberia at the end of the 1970s and beginning of the 80s. It really was a different planet. My grandparents were deported to Siberia and despite a not very pleasant time during my childhood there, I was very lucky to meet Larissa and Valery Starodubrovsky in the early stages of my life. They were actual students of the great Heinrich Neuhaus and studied together with Sviatoslav Richter, and were deported to Siberia during Soviet times to “help to develop the culture” in Siberia. Larissa was an especially important teacher for me, and I stayed connected with her until the very last moments of her life. Even when I was already living in Finland and Germany, I still travelled to Moscow to play for her (where they returned to after the dissolution of the USSR). I also kept contact during the years of my master’s degree in Berlin.

Another very important teacher for me was Vitalii Berzon. He could really tell his students that playing piano was not difficult technically; he showed us exactly how to play and gave us students all the tools for it. Erik T. Tawaststjerna in Helsinki told me how I will exactly achieve my dreams to become a pedagogue and pianist and showed me the way. After that, and essentially the most important part for me as a musician and pedagogue was meeting and studying one year with Alicia de Larrocha. To be able to see and hear so closely the sound world of such a legendary pianist was very special. If you hear this once in your life, you can’t unhear it anymore and my whole life I have been searching for all possible methods just to get closer, bit by bit, to her amazing sound world. I feel like every year I come closer and closer in understanding her heritage, which I was fortunate enough to experience in person.

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

I think my whole life was built on challenges. It feels like I have gone through many problems like long term injuries, deep psychological problems with stage performances, a not very easy upbringing with lots of trauma, and difficulties with finding out how to deal with piano playing and psychological balance. It took me many years to find a way to be a confident performer and it took several years to establish any kind of stability in pedagogical process – even if I was always sure that it is my true calling to be a pedagogue. In the beginning of my pedagogical career, I found it very challenging to be a young professor and also a woman in this position.

What do you do off stage that provides inspiration on stage?

Everything! I tend to learn from each special or new moment of my life and compare it to music, seeing how I can use it. Very often we can find inspiration in everyday situations in life, because the emotional content in music is unlimited, the same way as the emotional content in life.

Tell us more about the Ingesund Piano Foundation. What was the motivation for establishing this Foundation, how does it support young artists, and how do you choose the students?

The Artists-in-Residence idea stemmed from the growth of our class over the past years. As the class grew into a group of pianists of vastly different cultural experiences and personalities, it became a nurturing ground for those who are striving for the same goal – excellence and depth in music-making.

Our students decided to come to Ingesund in Sweden because of the compatibility we share. To us, what matters most is how well we may understand each other, and whether our style and approach fits best for the individual’s improvement in their current state. This created an absolutely fantastic environment of trust, openness and true musical exploration.

To decide to work together with a student is a very difficult and long process, because the whole professional life of this person will largely depend on the productivity and quality of our work. Personally, I get very attracted if I hear somebody with their own unique voice in their music making. Everybody has their own voice of course, but some are more intriguing than others. In my case I have to intuitively see “hundreds of steps” forward, regarding how I may help to bring this pianist to become what he or she is dreaming to sound like. Most of it is down to hearing, and executing correctly. How realistic the process may be, and what kind of particular steps I can do to make it happen. Sometimes I absolutely love the musician, but after some trial – it may just not fit. I am intuitively always searching for pianists who possess some quality or potential to be the “real deal”. However, often these talents may not be the simplest personalities to deal with, and not the easiest musicians to teach. I guess we are indeed learning a lot from each other in the process.

Learning at the same time while teaching and developing together with the students is something very important to me. I have striking realizations from time to time and they often change the whole direction of my teaching and music making. In this particular moment, I am actually finding myself in such a revelation. It feels like I have never understood what piano playing was about earlier, compared to what I know now.

You were inspired by the Netflix programme ‘Playbook’. Tell us how this has influenced your approach and your role at IPF?

Patrick Mouratoglou, the coach of Serena Williams, is a genius who is capable not only of understanding but also working with human nature, understanding the psychology of highest-level performance under tremendous pressure. His ability to see the talent and foresee the steps of creating world-class players is very inspiring. The connection was immediate when Patrick, in the very beginning of the episode, started by comparing the practicing process of difficult details and passages at the piano, to the polishing of moves in tennis. He says, “Piano can be beautiful, if you listen to the piece from the start to the end. But if you repeat the same thing all the time…it drives people crazy. Of course it’s tough, and that’s why not many people can be Number One”. He is a huge inspiration for me, and in the same way, the work that we do is an inspiration for him. He talks about how the greatest weaknesses can become the greatest strengths, how emotions are your worst advisers, and how mistakes should not define you. I could suddenly relate to every word he is saying and recognize every situation he described in the preparation for the big stages. How can it be so similar? The psychology of the elite sport and the art of the piano performance, especially in competitions.

It does not matter what we do professionally, we are all humans, and our conditions in top-level performances are strikingly similar. Patrick said that his goal in coaching is very simple: we are there to help people to achieve their dreams. This is exactly the whole purpose of my piano teaching too.

What are the challenges facing young classical artists today and what are you doing to support and encourage them in their professional careers?

The challenges have been and will be always the same. First of all, it’s generally very difficult to get to the point where young artists are able to be ready professionally for all challenges for the future, and afterwards, once you are ready, it’s very difficult to get on the stage and be heard.

I personally hope that I am the pedagogue who is able to help professional development in a rather distinct manner. But lately I started to feel that it was not enough – because the professional world out there is not easy to enter for a young soloist and it’s not easy to get the right exposure. At Ingesund Piano Center we are trying to establish a useful platform and trying to think and work differently – curating an education which does not only take care of exams and degrees, but an education which would help to make a difference in the pianists’ careers and success on stage.

What do you feel needs to be done to grow classical music’s audiences?

I think we just need to find, recognize, support and educate young musicians, who can play their instruments at the highest possible level, have an ability to captivate audiences and make a difference with their performances on stage.

Many musicians are nowadays very well-promoted, but not really giving this experience to the audience which would make them go back to the concert hall. It’s like going to a very well-designed restaurant, where the food is not good. You will not go back there.

But I have also experienced many times people becoming the biggest lovers of classical music when they get a revelation provoked by some very good performances, which could open up this whole world to the people. Good musicians and talented performers are our best ambassadors.

As a musician and pedagogue, what is your definition of “success” in the world of classical music?

The biggest success is the inner success in finding who you actually are and what you can contribute to this music world. And after you find the purpose, you also find the balance between the professional and personal lives. I guess success is something very personal, for some, they really need a completely full schedule to feel successful, for others, it is enough to have a few small events to feel this way. Generally, I think it’s very difficult to define success because it’s something very personal. The biggest success is if you can contribute exactly what you have dreamed about and that you know yourself well enough to place yourself rightfully with regards to your inner talent in the music world.

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

Never stop searching, evolving and developing. Never think that you have any limitations, try always to search for ways how to go above them. Do not be arrogant, but be aware of who you are. Be always clear in your mind, about your current situation, your possibilities and problems, and always have very clear goals and paths to go, search for help that exactly pinpoints and solves problems in the playing for example, and drop all delusions as soon as possible, do not try to give yourself too much international display and attention too early, before you are really ready, but never stop dreaming!

Led by Julia Mustonen-Dahlkvist, Ingesund Piano Center in Arvika, Sweden, offers young world-class pianists the support to cultivate international, sustainable and high-profile performing careers. The final concert in Ingesund Piano Center’s inaugural NORDIC STAGE Gala Concerts takes place online 10 June. The earlier concerts are to view via the IPC’s website

Read interviews with the participating pianists here