Alexander Tselyakov will
be the Ladies' Morning Musical Club's guest on April 22. Prizewinner at the
Tokyo (in 1983) and Tchaikovsky (in 1986) competitions, this Russian pianist,
member of a musical family, now makes his home in Toronto. Called by critics
"phenomenal," "a brilliant virtuoso," but also "a fine original colorist," he
still retains the influence of the Russian tradition of virtuosity and lushness
of sound. He has recorded CDs, done several radio broadcasts and performs
regularly here and abroad. Despite his grueling touring schedule — he spends 10
to 12 hours practicing, but still finds it is not enough! — he was able to spare
a few moments and granted La Scena Musicale this interview.
La Scena Musicale: Why did you choose the piano?
Alexander Tselyakov: I started piano when I was four years old. My mother
was my first teacher. Being very creative, she tried to find different ways to
make piano lessons interesting and enjoyable. For example, she drew pictures and
asked me to draw as well, told me stories and asked me create stories about what
I played. More importantly she taught me to work hard.
Like any kid, I wanted to play outside with my friends instead of spending
hour after hour playing the piano. However, she was strict with me and I am
thankful for that. I had my first recital when I was six years old, playing
I came from a family of musicians: everyone in my family plays at least one
musical instrument and sings, so everyone in my family taught me music. It
wasn't easy, especially when they criticized me. Nobody asked me if I liked
music. My family decided: Alexander should be a pianist. I had no choice.
LSM: What kind of teaching did you receive as a youngster and how were
you influenced by your teachers?
AT: I was really lucky. I always had great teachers and I am forever
grateful to them. When I was six I went to the music school for gifted children.
The school was sponsored by the government and one had to get a scholarship to
get in. I had music lessons on a daily basis for 11 years.
The lessons included solfege, music theory, harmony, music form analyses,
music history, chamber music, ensembles, piano, and others subjects. Every
semester, we had exams. It was similar to a regular Russian music school, but a
lot more intensive. I had a great teacher, Mme. Giazanova. She continued what my
mom had started. She spent hours with me. Sometimes she would make me work on
just one phrase, on a detail or two for hours, again and again, asking me to
play the same phrase with different sound, different touch, different
articulation. When I was nine I played with Haydn's Concerto with the
State Symphony Orchestra. I started entering and winning different
After one of those competitions, I was accepted as a student at the Moscow
Conservatory without any exams (which is unbelievable and extremely rare for
Moscow Conservatory). As a future participant of the prestigious International
Tchaikovsky Competition, I could choose any professor at the Moscow
Conservatory. Of course I chose the legendary and great Professor Lev Naumov
(custodian of the Heinrich Neuhaus methods that are credited with producing the
extraordinary strain of twentieth century Russian keyboard masters such as
Gilels and Richter).
It was absolutely amazing to find out how many ideas Professor Naumov could
bring to the music. He worked very hard. He never played one empty note and his
interpretations were always very deep and natural. I was very fortunate to be
his student. He had a rule: all his students had to play only by memory and
always use their own interpretations. There was never a lesson with just you and
the professor, there were always many listeners —and very educated listeners at
LSM: How and when did you choose the career, was there a moment when
you just knew?
AT: It sounds like a cliché, but I feel that I didn't choose the career,
it chose me. From a very early age there was never any doubt in anyone's mind
that I would be a musician. I guess you can say that I always knew that this was
something I should be pursuing. There were never really any other serious career
considerations. Music school led to recitals and competitions, which led to the
After the Tchaikovsky Competition, I was appointed as a soloist with the
Belorussia Philharmonic Orchestra. As a result, my yearly schedule had 3-5
concerts each month in different Russian Philharmonic Halls, as a soloist with
orchestras and recitalist. Unfortunately for all Russian musicians, it was
almost impossible to travel and perform abroad.
After the Japan International Competition and Tchaikovsky International
Competition, I had a number of great offers for solo and concertos concerts.
However, due to the political and social situation in the former Soviet Union, I
wasn't allowed to accept these offers. Unless you had connections, you couldn't
do a lot of things you wanted to do. Russian Culture ministers changed a lot of
LSM : You recorded a Russian music CD? Are these the composers closest to
AT: Of course, as a Russian I'm delighted to bring the genius of Russian
music to audiences around the world. Scriabin is one of my favorite composers. I
like his mystery, his very specific harmony, so I find it very unfortunate that
he is not very popular in North America. However, I am sure that in the future,
if performed more often, his music will win the hearts and ears of the North
American audience. I also really enjoy Prokofiev. His Sonata No. 5 is one
of my favorites. And of course, who can forget Tchaikovsky? I really enjoyed
working on Tchaikovsky's Variations. This composition is very rarely
played, so it is very important to bring it to life, to try to find a way to
show its beauty, to show the audience how colorful and interesting it is.
Rachmaninoff does not need any introductions. People like his passion. In the
near future I would like to record Rachmaninoff's Sonata, which I will be
performing at my upcoming concert for Ladies' Morning Musical Club in Montreal
on April 22.
However, my new home is Canada, and it is a great country. I enjoy playing
Canadian music. Just recently I recorded music by Canadian composer Srul Irving
Glick (Angel's Kiss) on CBC Radio. The composer dedicated this piece to
me, and I am very honored by it. There is also a project on the way to record
Canadian music on CD.
LSM : What are your favorite piano works? Have some of these works been part
of your life for a long time?
It is very hard for me to tell which ones are my favorites. When you work
with music, you feel it at that moment, you live in it, you become one with it
and it becomes your favorite. But can you play and perform without these
feelings? I have been performing on stage for more than 30 years now. Currently
I am working on four different concertos: Chopin's Concerto No 2,
Rachmaninoff's Concerto No 2, which I will play with the Nova Scotia
Symphony, Tchaikovsky's Concerto No 1, which I will play with the Toronto
Symphony, and Beethoven's Concerto No. 4. I am also working on a number
of solo programs by different composers such as Mozart, Chopin, Beethoven, and
Rachmaninoff. They all are my favorites. They are all my life.
LSM: Do you have time for teaching? What are the things you would find
essential to transmit to the younger generation of pianists?
AT: I teach a bit, but mostly I am very busy preparing for concerts. I
practice 10 to 12 hours a day , but I still feel that it is not enough. On a day
of a concert I work less, but it is still 4 to 5 hours but I enjoy teaching. I
feel it is very important to pass on to the future generation of pianists the
love and passion for music as well as the deep understanding of it. I want the
younger generation of pianists to be able to communicate with their audience
through music, to make their audience feel the emotions and feelings of each
musical piece. And I think it is the most important thing that I can pass to my
students. Currently, I am preparing one of my students for the Toronto Symphony
Competition. I give master classes in various universities and I enjoy doing
this. But it's always a question of time.
LSM: Who are the pianists you admire the most (dead or alive) and why?
AT: Horowitz, Richter, Gilels.... It is not easy to explain why in one or
two sentences, because they are bigger than life. But in short: most pianists
are great performing one or two composers, but these three can perform music by
any composer magnificently. Amazing!
LSM: Do you feel classical music is in danger?
AT: Yes and no. First of all, unfortunately, historically, classical
music was not for everybody. In the times of Chopin and Liszt, concerts were
mostly given in salons. Now the situation has changed—we have beautiful, great
halls. When I perform in these halls full of enthusiastic and appreciative
audiences, I feel energized and I continue to work even harder.
There are a lot of people who work very hard to ensure that these concerts
come to life: producers, critics, journalists in radio and print, and CD
producers. These people make sure classical music stays alive, but I'm sure even
more can be done. For instance, very rarely do we see classical music on TV,
very few movies are made about composers and classical musicians. TV and movies
can help bring new audiences to classical music. For instance, in the past when
music became recordable, the audience grew immediately.
LSM: Tell us about upcoming projects: concerts, recordings, etc.
AT: So far this year was very exciting for me and is promising to get
even more exciting. I recorded a new Russian CD Germany, in one of the most
beautiful halls in the world, at Bad Kissingen. Of course I would like to
continue the trend and record more Russian music. I am looking forward to the
concert for the Ladies' Morning Musical Club in Montreal, then I am off to
Halifax to play Rachmaninoff's Concerto No. 2 with the Nova Scotia
Symphony Orchestra. After that, I'll be returning to play in Germany, in Bad
Kissingen, then at the International Portland State University Festival in the
U.S.A., also with the Ottawa Chamber Music Festival, the International Festival
in Istanbul, as soloist with the Kitchener-Waterloo Chamber Orchestra,
(Beethoven Concerto No.4), with the International Seiler Klavier festival in
Germany. I will give recitals at Boston University, in Shostakovich Hall in St.
Petersburg with the Moscow Symphony Orchestra, with the Warszawa Philharmonic,
at Wigmore Hall (in London), at Oxford and Leicester universities in England, at
the Gaming Festival in Der Kartause Gaming in Vienna, and will appear in
concerts in New Zealand, Malaysia, and Japan. A very busy life as you can
Alexander Tselyakov will be performing works by Mozart, Beethoven and
Rachmaninoff in Montreal on April 22. For information, call 514-932-6796.