Nikolaï Lugansky, quasi sans exclusive

From La Libre Belgique , 19 November 2002
Written by Martine Dumont-Mergeay
Translated from the original French by M. Urian
Edited by Valour

A tall young man, reserved, with a gentle regard and an air of wisdom, whom a sensational hairstyle and a leather jacket could easily transform into a rock star or a hero in a Western .... Listening to him - playing, of course, but also speaking - one rapidly gathers that in spite of his self-confessed introversion, his reserves of energy and commitment are inexhaustible. His playing is marked by the authority of one who can do everything without agitation, feverishness, or the least sign of effort, but who has a gift for summoning telluric forces. We met him at his hotel on the eve of the concert he is giving with Vadim Repin. The interview was conducted in French, a language that the young pianist had learnt while working in France, ‘inevitably, since they don’t speak anything else...’ .

Having discovered music when you were five years old, you chose the piano from the start. Why this instrument?

I played my first notes on toys, a sort of melodica then an organola, and when I was seven I received my first real piano (celebration!) but also a violin. I had perfect pitch, so I could have chosen the violin but I understood right away that its technical complexity and sonority were very far removed from what I wanted to express, while the piano would take me there directly.

At twelve, you were already appointed "the pianist of tomorrow" by your professor from the Moscow Conservatory, the famous Tatiana Nikolaieva.

Unlike here, musical and even professional education starts in Russia from childhood, so it is normal for the talents to be established by twelve or thirteen.

Your recordings prove a great mastery of the keyboard. However, your virtuosity is not showy, your tempos are not extravagant, and your playing is rather restrained, interior, even with Romantic composers.

I consider that a compliment. If people are divided between extraverts and introverts, I clearly belong to the second category. This is what makes me search for what is beneath the text, especially for composers that I feel close to - and this applies to the ones that I play - Rachmaninov, Chopin, Beethoven, Mozart - as well as the ones that I listen to, like Bruckner or Sibelius. Not forgetting Bach. Some are further away: Berlioz and Liszt, for example, whose theatrical pathos is quite alien to me. But there is room for everything in my soul. Apart from, perhaps, a certain type of contemporary music; the idea that the twelve notes of the scale have the same value is very far from my sensibilities. For me, tonality exists. But this doesn't stop me from playing a Schönberg fantasy tomorrow with Vadim Repin....

What about the composition of the program of this concert? 

In the first part, we are playing the Second Sonata by Schumann and the First Sonata by Prokofiev. In the second part, two ‘fantasies’, one by Schönberg, the other by Schubert. This Fantaisie by Schubert is the most difficult music ever written for the piano. More difficult than all of Rachmaninov’s concertos put together....Vadim’s idea was to make the maximum contrast between the two pieces, starting with the sick world of Schönberg, ending up with the clear C major of Schubert.

What are the differences between working for a recital or a concerto, and working for chamber music ?

The concerto is the most democratic, the recital the most difficult - each time it is a dive into the unknown - and chamber music, the most pleasant and comfortable, even if it demands the most work. 

What about your experience with Vadim Repin?

I met him once in Japan in 1991 and once in 2001 at Folles Journées de Nantes, but this is the first time we are playing together. He is at such a level that, with him, I literally feel drawn upwards. Moreover - surprise - he likes working and inspires an incredible feeling of security. Life is beautiful!

The Nikolai Lugansky Web Site