Music Festival: Pride at the piano

By MAXIM REIDER
August 27, 2011 01:43

With his love for music, pianist Denis Kozhukhin is constantly widening his repertoire.

4 minute read.



Denis Kozhukhin

Denis Kozhukhin 311. (photo credit:Courtesy)

’When I approach a new piece, it is important for me do it justice and to strike the right balance between the emotional and the intellectual, but this is just me; others will see in the same music different ideas, and this is the beauty that is in the art,” says pianist Denis Kozhukhin, who will be performing at the International Chamber Music Festival in Jerusalem next week.

Last year Kozhukhin, 25, won The Queen Elizabeth Piano Competition in Brussels, a city he now calls home. The win gave a powerful boost to his career: “I’ve received many invitations from important conductors and orchestras, but in the world of today, with so many competitions around, you cannot build your future on winning the title of this or that music contest, you have to develop your music personality, to learn new repertoires, to think and to listen and be clever in managing your career. It is not easy; traveling and performing takes most of your time, but it’s worth the effort,” he says.

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Born in Nizhny Novgorod (then Gorky) into a musical family – his mother a pianist, a father a composer and choir conductor – Kozhukhin studied music from the age of five, “but at the beginning my parents weren’t sure I would become a professional musician.”

Things changed when he started studying piano with Olga Fisch, who became his teacher for many years. He was 13 when he auditioned in Moscow for renowned pianist and teacher Dmitry Bashkirov, a professor of the Reina Sofia Academy in Madrid, who said to his father, “Usually I do not accept young boys, but if you are ready to let him come to Spain, it’s okay with me.”

Kozhukhin is very grateful to Bashkirov, with whom he spent seven years as a student. “He was a caring friend. I used to go to his home to ask for his advice not only about music. The first months in Madrid were not easy, but as soon as I learned Spanish, everything changed. Since then, I’ve moved a lot and now, looking back, I realize that it was good to leave home at an early age: I adapt easily to new places, I rely only on myself, and I learn from my mistakes.”

But above all, it was about music.

“When I ask myself what is most characteristic of Bashkirov as a musician and a teacher, I think it is his sincerity, his utter dedication to music making and to his students, as well as his high standards. As a true musician, he never stops. With many decades of teaching and performing behind him, he is never tired of playing the same pieces once and again because, together with his students, he keeps analyzing the same pieces, very often revealing new aspects.”

Bashkirov is a passionate person. “More than once an emotional avalanche went down on us, his students, when we played something wrong or just not well enough, and I have to admit this was not easy. But, at the same time, we always knew that his criticism was constructive, that the storm would pass and that as soon as we did something really well, he would not hesitate to praise us.”

After spending three years at the Lake Como Academy, “a very special institution with leading musicians coming to give classes to six or seven students,” Kozhukhin continued his studies with Kirill Gerstein, one of the world’s leading pianists of the young generation in Stuttgart.

“Kirill is blessed with a swift analytical mind, but he takes his time and enjoys deconstructing a piece, trying to discover its hidden aspects. His repertoire is immense, and as a result his advice is extremely instrumental,” he says.

Kozhukhin grew up on Russian music: “We had a huge LP collection, and I grew up listening to recordings of Tchaikovsky, Rachmaninov, Stravinsky, Shostakovitch.”

Today, Brahms and Schubert are among his major loves, but he says he is constantly widening his repertoire. “I also listen to a lot of symphonic music. A pianist has a lot to learn from the orchestra.”

Who are his favorite pianists? “There are so many – I would not like to give any specific names because nobody’s perfect, even the great ones. But for me, Sviatoslav Richter is probably the model of totally sacrificing oneself to the music. Nowadays there are quite a few pianists who play amazingly fast and clear, but it is not all about technique as some may think. Technique for a musician is like colors and brushes for an artist. This is about the ability to speak and to sing on the piano. And that is what Bashkirov tried to teach us. So when I choose a musician to listen to, I opt for those for whom I feel music-making is their life.”

How does Kozhukhin envision his future as a musician? “To learn and to perform new music with interesting artists. There’s no end to this. You can never say, ‘Okay, now I’ve understood it all. And at the end of the day, I want not to be ashamed of what I have done.”

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