Playing from the heart

Concert pianist Nikolai Lugansky makes his Israeli debut with the IPO and Chopin's Piano Concert No. 1

November 26, 2010 16:10
4 minute read.

Pianist 521. (photo credit: Gadi Dagon)


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‘I usually perform up to 100 concerts a season – concerts with orchestras, recitals and a lot of chamber music – and until recently, I was very proud of my ability to play so many different programs. But now I hope it is going to change, not only because it is physically tiring or because it is hard to be separated from my family, but also because it is emotionally wearing. I believe that a musician should not expend his entire reservoir,” says Nikolai Lugansky.

The Russian pianist is here to perform Chopin’s First Concerto with the Israel Philharmonic under another Russianborn musician, Kirill Petrenko. For both of them, this is an Israeli debut.

Born in Moscow in 1972 to a family of music-loving scientists, Lugansky astonished his parents at the age of five by demonstrating his perfect musical pitch. He studied at the Moscow Central Music School and the Moscow Conservatory with Tatiana Kestner, Tatiana Nikolayeva and Sergei Dorensky. During the 1980s and early ‘90s, he won prizes in numerous piano competitions and since then has been appearing at some of the world’s most prestigious venues.

“In the Soviet Union, a gifted child could receive a professional musical education under almost ideal conditions, no matter whether his parents could afford it or not. We started our professional life very early. I was eight when I performed at a school concert at the Moscow Conservatory concert hall,” he says.

On Saturday morning, the tall and slim Lugansky is sitting in the lobby of the Hilton Tel Aviv and talks about music. The more you listen to this soft-spoken, tactful, conscientious and modest man, the better you realize that you’ve met a true representative of a rare, if not extinct, type of human being – Russian intelligentsia.

He feels totally at home in the realm of world culture. While speaking about music, he refers to poetry and compares and analyzes cultural phenomena freely but then immediately retreats and apologizes: “But who am I to talk about Alfred Schnittke? He was a great composer.”

Lugansky’s repertoire includes about 50 concerts for piano and orchestra, Chopin’s First being among his favorite pieces. “What an unbelievable inspiration for a 20-year-old composer!” he marvels.

Speaking about his music preferences, he says it has nothing to do with epochs or national schools. “I try to play pieces with which I’m simply in love.”

Sergei Rachmaninov is one of his favorite composers. “I love almost everything he wrote I enjoy both playing and listening to his music, and I admire not only his musicianship as a pianist and conductor but also his integrity. As a human being, he was at the level of his gift, which does not always happen.”

For Lugansky, the Golden Age of music started in the early 18th century and ended with Rachmaninov, Richard Strauss and Prokofiev. “Within that period, I love a lot of music, but later an act of pure creation on the whole gives way to a cultural dialogue with what had already been written in the past, and the same happened in the other arts. This music could be captivating, but I prefer an immediate creation that comes like an explosion seemingly from nowhere. But I have to admit that the 20th century also had composers who managed to keep their independence both from cultural influences and from not always- friendly surroundings.”

What does he anticipate for the future? “Like Faust, I can say: ‘Oh, give me back my youth again!’” he says, quoting in German with a smile. “For a performer, unlike a conductor or a composer, music is not only about the life of spirit but also about his muscles. But there are quite a few happy examples of musical longevity, like Rubinstein, Horovitz, Richter.”

Surprisingly enough, Lugansky confides that he is not a goal oriented person.

“Never in my life have I set goals for myself. I entered major competitions not because I dreamt of winning them but because that was what my teachers advised me to do. The very process of life and life in music is already such a gift, and I want to preserve the young and reverent attitude toward music, like that of my teacher Tatiana Nikolaeva and many others. But if we speak about one person, for me it is [the great Russian poet] Alexander Pushkin. Not only was he a young genius with immense wisdom and an insatiable love of life, but he also knew no fear. And that courage I would like to emulate, even if it is impossible,” concludes Lugansky with a humble smile.

Nikolai Lugansky with the IPO under Kirill Petrenko performs Chopin’s First Piano Concerto on November 26 at 11 a.m. at the Henry Crown Auditorium, Jerusalem Theater, (1-700-70-3030).

November 27 and 28 at 8:30 p.m. at the Mann Auditorium, Heichal Hatarbut, Tel Aviv. And November 29 at 8 p.m. at Kibbutz Yifat. Lugansky will perform a chamber music program with IPO members Lazar Shuster and Micha Haran on November 27 at 5 p.m. at the Tel Aviv Museum, 27 Shaul Hamelech (1-700-703-030)

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