Denis Matsuyev, 37, makes a long-awaited debut with the Israel Philharmonic this Monday. Born in the Siberian city of Irkutsk, Matsuyev was surrounded with music from an early age.

When the family moved to Moscow to further the young pianist’s education, Matsuyev was embraced by the New Names Foundation, which nurtures young musical talents. He entered the Central Musical School and graduated from the Moscow Conservatory. By 1998, he had won the prestigious Tchaikovsky competition and his career took off.

Speaking about his musical credo, Matsuyev confides that as a student he managed “musical love affairs with all the major pianists of the past and of today, such as Horowitz, Rachmaninov and Van Cliburn, which is quite natural for a beginner musician in search of his own style.”

Although he plays music of various periods, the Romantic repertoire is his favorite: “Today, I am able to perform it technically, intellectually and emotionally.”

Five years ago Matsuyev recorded an album of Rachmaninov’s unknown pieces. “After a concert in Paris, the composer’s grandson approached me and said he had a present for me - scores of Rachmaninov’s pieces that had never been played before. According to the legend, they were composed in his student years and sent to Tchaikovsky, whose opinion was of the utmost importance to him, but they were thought to be lost and were found only six years ago. I played and recorded these wonderful pieces at Rachmaninov’s home near Lucerne, on his Steinway piano - and that was a landmark moment of my musical life.”

As head of the Rachmaninov Foundation, Matsuyev, together with the composer’s grandson, works on various musical projects related to Rachmaninov’s legacy.

“Rachmaninov is one of the world’s most performed Russian composers and as such does not need promotion.

But still, there are many brilliant pieces that are rarely performed, so we try to bring them to the public.”

Matsuyev now heads the New Names Foundation and, “This charity foundation helped me a lot when I just came to Moscow in 1991. The foundation provides young musician with scholarships and instruments, organizes tours and summer camps, but maybe above all creates a friendly environment. There are many foundations around, but New Names is the one that really helps.

When it started in the early 1990s, it was a breakthrough project. Just imagine, we played several times in the Vatican for the pope; we performed in front of the Queen of England; and we played for NATO top officials. The next day, newspapers came out with the headline “Russians have conquered NATO” with photos of little kids - I was among them!” The pianist conducts auditions on his tours throughout Russia “and I am still amazed at how many outstanding talents can be found all over our land. They just need to be nurtured. I prefer calling them little sparks rather than stars - the latter definition can have a devastating effect on a young artist’s future.”

Denis Matsuyev plays Prokofiev’s Third Piano Concerto, “one of my favorites, under Yuri Temirkanov, whom I appreciate a lot and with whom I have appeared many times.”

The concerts take place tonight, May 28 and June 1 in Tel Aviv and May 30 & 31 in Haifa. For reservations: 1-700-703- 030.

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