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The George Enescu Festival-Pianist Nikolai Lugansky

Monday, 14 September 2009 , ora 15.32
The Great Orchestras Series
September 14th, 19:30, Palace Grand Hall

You grew up in a family of research scientists. When did you know you would not follow your parents' steps, in terms of profession?

I think it is impossible to know exactly when. My parents were fond of music, they used to go to concerts, to the opera, but they never thought that someone in the family would become a professional musician. My father happened to find out that I had absolute hearing, which was extraordinary for him but, in fact, did not mean anything. For my father, though, that discovery was so interesting that he took me to some people who had connections in the music world and, at the age of seven, I began to study at the Moscow Central Music School, probably the best educational institution. The system was very simple and very efficient: both general culture and music courses took place in the same building. I think there is no other country that has this kind of system.

Actually, we have the same educational system here, in Romania. There are many similarities between the Russian and the Romanian systems of teaching classical music.

Yes, there could be such schools in Eastern Europe, but they cannot be found in Western Europe, America or Japan.

Later, your professional life was mostly influenced by the great pianist Tatiana Nikolayeva. What was your relationship with her?

I had known Tatiana since I was very young, only eight years old. My first teacher was Tatiana Kestner who introduced me, when I was only in my second year, to Tatiana Nikolayeva. She was eighteen years younger than Kestner, but they both had been students of Alexander Goldenweiser's, a great Russian professor, and they were very good friends. So Nikolayeva had known me since I was a little child. And after having studied with Kestner, I became her student. Tatiana Nikolayeva was teaching at the Moscow Conservatory, I was still young and still a pupil at the Central Music School and, despite all that, she became my teacher. I studied with her for nine years, a long time. We played much music together, I listened to much music with her. Of course, she was not so often in Moscow because she used to travel a lot, being one of the few artists allowed to go anywhere in the world. So we could not meet every day, but when we met, I would play for her very much and we would listen to much music together.

Tatiana Nikolayeva had a great influence on me, she was a great musician and an excellent person. She was very warm, she used to remember everything about the annual exams (even about those that were five years old!). Her appetite for music was extraordinary. Someone asked her once: 'You play so much, you take part in juries at competitions, and you listen to concertos, recitals. Do all these not tire and bore you?' And she answered: 'I do not understand how anyone can get bored with music.' She was an example for her students, she was very warm, very solar and had a positive attitude. And even if she disliked something about music or life, she did not share these things with anyone, she used to speak only in positive terms.

I know you do not approve of the idea that there is a Russian piano school and you prefer talking about art personalities, about musicians.

I do not necessarily reject this idea. It is just that, you see, I was born and I grew up in Moscow. Russia is a large country and Moscow is a megalopolis, so I cannot have a view of the Russian pianism from the outside. There are so many influences, so many personalities and so many schools. So, if I lived in France or in Germany, it would be easier for me to speak about a Russian piano school, because I could have a look from the outside. But what is clearly specific to Russian piano schools is the rigorous education children receive and the idea of continuity. There are very strong connections between the Moscow Central Music School, the Moscow Conservatory and the post-graduate studies that can be attended here. You are therefore trained, as a musician, from the age of seven to the age of twenty-four. It is something very serious, no blanks and leaps, the same educational system goes all the way. I think this is what the Russian piano school means.

Of course, my explanations consist in nothing spiritual or romantic, they are very concise. And from the spiritual point of view, what Russians themselves state about their traditions is that piano must be an instrument very close to the human voice and this is why the melodic language is very important. But if you read certain criticisms about Russian or Soviet pianists who have won many important competitions, you will find totally different opinions saying that the Russian school is a factory of virtuoso instrumentalists with extraordinary techniques. I think these conclusions are not so important though, because, in music, the personalities are of significance. Great artists are renowned due to their talent, spirit and personality. It is something related to individuality and has no direct connection with a certain interpretation school.

As far as I have read, your favourite pianist - we might say your idol - is Arturo Benedetto Michelangeli. What fascinates you in his interpretations?

I hardly know him as a person. As a musician, I think there are so many aspects that are already famous, such as the professionalism and seriousness of his studies of the scores, but I think I can still add something. Let me detail: there is a first contact you have with music when you see for the first time the score, the text and there are so many things that have to be done in order to make the work sound as it is supposed to. It is very difficult, almost impossible. This is the first thing you must do, but it is the second in order of importance in creating the interpretation. There are other levels, much deeper, that sometimes do not even relate to the composer's logical ideas. It is very hard to express in words this other meaning of music.

I can only say that there are great, extraordinary pianists who have never been interested in discovering these depths. I know some very good recordings of Horowitz and Rubinstein, which I like very much, but in which this other significance of music cannot be found because they have not been interested in it. But it was very real for Michelangeli. There is likely to be something like a 'memento mori' in all of Michelangeli's approaches, even in the most amusing works. He has seen this connection with life and death, perhaps with religion, with something very far away from this world. Anyway, it is very difficult to explain in words. I simply adore his recordings and he is probably the only pianist whose live recordings do not differ a bit from those made in the studio. This is very strange. There were some perfect pianists, but I have always been able to tell the difference between their recordings in the studio and in the concert. With Michelangeli, I like both types of recordings, which is very strange for me.

This may be explained by the fact that he did not have a very strong connection with the audience. He was not so interested in the audience.

I think he had a very strong connection with music, stronger than the one he had with the audience. Yes, you are right.

Which contemporary interpreter do you admire the most?

I am very happy to say that here, in Romania: probably the best pianist I have heard in recitals and in concerts is Radu Lupu. I have been to two or three of his concerts and I think he probably is the most important pianist I have ever heard.

I know you have a collaboration with violinist Vadim Repin.

Yes, we perform together quite often. Since 2003, we have given recitals together in many countries quite often (in Europe, Japan, and the U.S.A.). And a few months ago we performed for the first time in Moscow, Russia.

Although you are both Russians...

Yes, but Vadim has lived in the West for a long time; in fact, he has never lived in Moscow. He is one of the greatest violinists I know, a very warm and nice person, a very good friend. And the way he works is fascinating. He is never on automatic pilot. Even if the work we play has been known for a long time, he never plays it automatically. He always starts from scratch, which is very difficult, but the result is always a very lively one.

Your love for Rachmaninoff (Rachmaninoff the composer, but also the pianist) is already well-known. Still, in Romania you are going to play Beethoven's Concerto No. 4. Why have you chosen this score?

I think the suggestion to play Beethoven came from the orchestra. It's true I play very much Rachmaninoff, but my repertoire consists of about fifty concertos with orchestra. And Rachmaninoff's are only five of them (he laughs). Beethoven's No. 4 is one of my favourites, one of those I love the most. I am very happy to play it. I hope I shall be able to play Rachmaninoff also in Bucharest sometime.

You said in an interview that this concerto, the fourth, is your favourite of Beethoven's concertos. Do you think this is due to the fact that it is the composer's most internalized concerto?

I do not know if I can say with certainty that it is my favourite, I like all of Beethoven's concertos. But No. 4 is very special indeed. It is very special to Beethoven, too. Because, let us say, there are two conditions in his compositions: one that is very active, dramatic and another in witch he prefers watching the world without doing anything. In Beethoven's Early and Middle period, his active side was more powerful than the contemplative one, but the Beethoven in the late scores (from Op. 90 on) was much more meditative. Concerto No. 4 was written in a period when he was incredibly active, dramatic and full of conflicts. It was then that he wrote the Eroica Symphony, the Appasionata Sonata, even Waldstein - all of them very dramatic and full of action music. And Concerto No. 4 is very special in this context, because there is almost no action here, no conflict; not even the rather tragic second part can be said to be conflictive.

We may speak here about a conflict resembling those in the Greek tragedies, but not at all about one like those in Appasionata or Piano Concerto No. 3. This condition in which Beethoven accepts the outside world (especially in the first and third part of the concerto), its beauty and is convinced of it, is very rare in this composer. This is what makes this concerto so special. Of course, it is very beautiful, too. There are other such works in his creation - the Violin Concerto and maybe Symphony No. 6, but I must say, I like Piano Concerto No. 4 most of all.

You will perform with Maggio Musicale Fiorentino Orchestra and conductor Cristian Mandeal. I think this is the first time you collaborate with him.

Yes, I will perform with him for the first time. I have heard about him, but we have not had the chance to work together so far.

Which is, in your opinion, the ideal relationship the soloist, the orchestra and the conductor should have during a concert?

The ideal can never be expressed in words. It is like love or family. If there is that 'something' between people, they can have very different personalities. I do not think a direct connection need exist between the soloist and the conductor. There must be a relationship within music. They can be in different positions, but from these different angles they go together in the direction of the music and there they meet. So, I can imagine even situations when people have no extraordinary affinities for each other, but if they are musicians who respect music, then they will meet inside the music and it will come to life.

I do not think there must be a balance of power, where someone is on the first place and other people are less important. Especially because Beethoven's Concerto No.4 is at the same time a symphony, collaboration is very important. Of course there are conductors I have performed with and I easily collaborate with: Russians like Pletnev, whom I have often worked with, and many others. But there is no such condition that people should know each other and be friends. Of course it is better this way (he laughs).

I know you love listening to music and you often say you no longer have the time to dedicate to these moments. I should like to ask you what discs, what recordings you have brought with you to Bucharest?

What an odd question! I have on me a disc with music for viola by Brahms, some transcripts, the Mass in C minor by Mozart, then there is a disc with Mischa Maisky who plays on cello Brahms's Violin Sonata No. 1. They are all discs that people offer me when I am away and we meet on the way. I think I also have a disc with Michelangeli playing Ravel and string quintets by Mozart. But every time I take something else with me, so it cannot be seen as a sign.

Many years ago you suffered a serious accident that made it impossible for you to practise for a few months. But after half a year you put your mind to it and succeeded in winning the Tchaikovsky Competition. You are, therefore, a man who likes challenges. Which is the next musical challenge?

You know, in time, I have met people that have really been challenged by fate, I have seen people going through very difficult times, people who have lost dear persons, one of my friends is now paralysed, he is in a wheel chair, so I shall never speak about my own hard times. Of course, there are good moments but also difficult ones.

My musical challenge is coming now, in this season, because I am giving recitals in many cities of the world where I am playing music that is new to me - Spanish music, much Granados and Albeniz (absolutely new to me). So, it seems to be a challenge. Of course, every season I play something new, I always bring something new to my recitals and I enrich my concert repertoire. Every year brings, therefore, new challenges. If you are eighteen, you need about one week to learn a new concerto and you can play that score relaxed, without anxiousness. Later, it becomes more and more difficult. This season, I shall play Concerto No. 3 by Beethoven and the Concerto by Grieg, which I played a bit fifteen years ago, quite long ago, so that, actually, they are new scores. I plan to record a CD, but I am not sure yet if I shall do it or not.

Are you undecided about the programme or about anything else?

I might play Chopin, but I am not sure yet.

You do not want to divulge more, I understand. One last question: I have read in almost every interview you have given that you think you were destined to become a pianist.

It is not really like this. I only said it was not a decision. Because many people ask me at what age I decided to become a pianist. But I have never decided to become a pianist. It was not a decision. But I am not 100% sure I was destined to become a pianist. I must probably be somewhere in the music world. I hope so. I know many people who have a better physical condition than me, better hands... It was just something that happened. I had become a pianist before I could think which my profession, my destiny was. But that it was destined... it may be too much to say.
Irina Cristina Vasilescu
Translated by Andrea Niculae and Elena Cigareanu
MA Students, MTTLC, Bucharest University