Nikolai Lugansky - Interview, Las Palmas, 1998

Interview by Luisa del Rosario
Originally published in Spanish, in
Translation by Concepcion Diaz
Edited by Valour

Pianist Nikolai Lugansky, who received us in a hotel in Las Palmas, plays before the audience in an overwhelming manner. His work has strength and security, but outside the concert hall he seems to be shy, reserved and even somewhat nervous.


Q: You have won important piano competitions, like Tbilisi or the Tchaikovsky in Moscow, but you have said on several occasions that you felt physically ill in these sorts of competitions. Is the effort worthwhile in the end ?

NL: Well, competitions donít bring anything to the music in itself, and yet they are part of the system, so you must participate if you want to be part of it. On the other hand, even with this negative aspect, contests give you celebrity. The audience gets to know you because of the fame they give, and that means concerts.


Q: But isnít that dangerous? Doesnít one run the risk of becoming only a competitive musician ?

NL: That is possible. Sometimes you donít get too many concerts, which means having no job. So unfortunately there are people who are obliged to take part continuously in contests and competitions, but I donít think they are very happy doing it.


Q: You were the pupil of pianist Tatiana Nikolaeva, to whom you have always professed a great respect. Can you tell us what about her influenced you most ?

NL: She didnít teach me anything concerning piano techniques, but she taught me all about the nature of music, how to feel it, the sort of equilibrium I had to find on each piece. She didnít teach me how to play, how to move the hands, and that sort of thing she did in a suave and wonderful way. How she made those movements is still a mystery to me.


Q: Some critics say you have an unlimited talent. What does that mean to you ?

NL: Thatís more a wish than a reality. Only Rachmaninov or Paganini had unlimited talent - not me. On the other hand, I think they are referring to the technique, but I canít see any difference. I donít understand the difference between musicality and technique. These are two aspects that cannot be separated. When I want to make a determinate sound, I put all my will on getting it, until I get as near as possible to it...but there is always a little difference between what I want and what I get.


Q: So must a student be trained in acquiring a technique from the beginning ?

NL: Thereīs a significant difference between musicians educated in Russia, like me, and the musicians of the West . I was trained since I was five years old as if I were a professional pianist, in all aspects. If we compare the average level of musical education of Russia and another country, we find the Russian school gives you a much  superior technique. But then we would have the question of musicality, which is something inside everyone. Radu Lupu or Michelangeli show you that inside each genius, each maestro, there is a way of playing.


Q: Who do you admire as a pianist ?

NL: I adore Michelangeli because heīs the only pianist who really gets what he wants, shows in music the idea he had previously in his mind. Most of us can get near but never totally reach that.


Q: Youīve just recorded Chopin pieces, in which Maria Joao Pires seems to have established the non plus ultra. What do you think of Piresīs recordings of Chopin ? Have you compared them to yours?

NL: No, Iīm sorry, I donít know those recordings. I have some recordings of hers, but not her Chopin.


Q: And how were you able to learn Rachmaninovīs Third Piano Concerto in only three days?

NL: Well yes, I did that. I worked 8 and 9 hours a day for three days, and I learned it. It was not exactly easy, but it is not as hard as one may think. It was simply within my technical possibilities. That is why I could do it.


Q: Glenn Gould complained of the inconvenience of the tours, hotels, and pianos. How do you feel in these conditions ?

NL: I think Glenn Gould wasnít able to find what he wanted: a sound, an appropriate shade for a phrasing, so he made all kind of excuses; bad pianos, bad acoustics of the concert halls, anything. I think we say those kind of things when we donít reach perfection, the perfection Michelangeli gets. I like this feeling of traveling, hotels. It is like an adventure. You donít know how you will end up - happy or depressed because you didnít get what you wanted.


Q: Do you have any superstitions when you give concerts?

NL: No, no. I like everything to be normal, normal and natural, having a nap at mid-day - even when I am not always able to do it any more. I donít like to change my habits, so I donít get nervous.


Q: Perhaps that is your superstition: not changing habits. Everything must be normal.

NL: (Laughs) maybe.


Q: Would you change to another keyboard instrument ?

NL: I prefer pianos. I think that with the possibilities it offers, the piano is the instrument with which the most has been achieved in classical music. You can play the music of 200 or 300 years ago, so itīs not necessary to change instruments.


Q: Can we speak of star instrumentalists and all the implications ?

Indeed, some classical musicians really have a life of stardom, and are even determined to have it, but I donít like that at all because it means every move you make will be followed by a lot of people, and that sounds awful. I like to be with the audience in the concert halls to make my music, nothing else. I have my private life.

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