Don't shoot the pianist
An interview with Nikolai Lugansky
From Novaya Gazeta, 18 March 2004
Written by Anna Epstein
Translated and edited for The Nikolai Lugansky Website by volunteers.

One could say about Vadim Rudenko, Denis Matsuev and Nikolai Lugansky: "This is the new pianism of the century". All of them are young, successful, talented and acclaimed, and all are students of the Moscow conservatory's Professor Sergei Dorensky. He knows how to select students   as evidenced by their awards at the Tchaikovsky Competition and the ovations they receive on their tours all over the world. Nikolai Lugansky has performed in more than 150 cities around the world. Today the majority of his concerts happen abroad.

In Europe, journalists interview him much more often, than in Moscow. Which languages does he prefer to use in interviews? Nikolai responds with the obvious: "in France -  French, in Germany - German, in England - English". Together with Alexander Kniazev, Nikolai Lugansky performed sonatas of Brahms, Shostakovich and Rachmaninov at a recent recital  in the Great Hall of the Moscow Conservatory. The musicians became friends, playing chess. Somehow, while sitting at a party they thought: ' indeed, why shouldn't we play music too?'

People say that you frequently beat Kniazev in chess, yet there is no place for rivalry in music. Do you always feel that you are correctly interpreting pieces in concert?
NL: I should be self-assured in concert, but frankly speaking, I would not say that it always turns out as I hope.

When are you listening to records of famous pianists - do you recognize the "hands" of each ?
NL: If they are the great ones: Rachmaninov, Michelangeli, Richter, Nikolaeva, Pletnev - I think I could. Though I haven't tried such an experiment.

You mostly play music of eighteenth, nineteenth and the first half of the twentieth century. Do you feel some nostalgia about the past, melancholy for the pre-Revolutionary era?
NL: Certainly, I can admire this or that era, but my personal longing can be only for the era of stability which I saw. I remember, I was a boy attending the recitals of Richter, Gilels, Nikolaeva. Many changes have occurred since then in the psychology of people. In the seventies, men lived in order to give,  but now they are - even at a biological level - accustomed to receiving. If an audience member goes to a concert in order to receive - to be relaxed and calmed - he is a poor listener. A good one goes to a concert in order to create - together with the performer - something great and significant.

Do you believe in this participation of listeners?
NL: It's not just a belief - it exists! It is important that such an attitude towards music prevails at all times. On the waves of raging enthusiasm of the 1920's the idea was introduced, almost at the level of an official policy, that the common man should learn to appreciate Beethoven's symphonies. In many respects it was fairly naive, even somewhat vulgar, but the idea was correct: that a person should work on himself and expend an effort in order to be introduced to highest manifestations of human spirit. There is no such policy now and people are content with the opposite idea, that one has paid money and expects to receive something in return. But in any given hall, I feel there are people who give back to the performer.

To which type of music do you feel a greater affinity: the one where there is a plot, a determined time - for example when there is an obvious dialogue of two themes, - or the one where it is as if time is absent and time has no determined direction?
NL: An interesting question. Certainly, there is music where time is strongly directed with a development of a theme and the climax; but there is a music where we hardly feel the passage of time. Take Bruckner's symphonies, for example, - there isn't that musical pulse we are used to hearing in the music of Beethoven or Tchaikovsky. There are fragments of a piece with hardly any development. Sibelius and Rakhmaninov sometimes have moments of such beauty which are almost suspended. Do you ask about that? A composer who strongly showed a directed time is Beethoven, but even in his works there are tremendous examples of suspended time.

As in the Ninth Symphony?
NL: Yes, in the third movement.

Critics remark upon the poetry, the subtlety and the careful treatment of the score in your playing. And they frequently write, that you are an intelligent musician. It would be desirable to ask such a  person: are there moral authorities in modern Russian society?
NL: I cannot name the moral authorities of our time. Certainly, there should be persons we think of with warmth. For me such a person would be Alexander Ivanovich Ermakov who made great efforts to restore the Rachmaninov House in Ivanovka. Perhaps, our times deny the right to designate moral authorities. They are dangerous to the device of a modern society; they can destroy the workings of a market economy. All the activities of TV, radio and newspapers are directed towards preventing such authorities from appearing.

The Nikolai Lugansky Website