Interview with Nikolai Lugansky

From Liberation, 28th April, 2000. 
Written by Eric Dahan, 
Translated by Valour

Q: Who are your idols ?

A: I hear genius or 'the fire of God' in Beethoven, Chopin, Rachmaninov. Rarely in jazz, apart from Jobim. Still less often in pop, except for Whitney Houston and Freddie Mercury. These types of music are addressed to the masses, and classical music - to the individual person.

Q: Your teacher Tatiana Nikolaeva had declared before her death that you would be the pianist of tomorrow.

A: We gave some concerts of chamber music together. She played a great deal of Bach. So I spent my sixteenth year learning a very human Bach, not just intelligent or patient. Romantic, if you will. If I play Bach these days, I cannot put other composers into the same programme. He completed an epoch. There is a greater distance between him and Haydn than between Haydn and Schumann.

Q: "A Bach not just intelligent." Is this an allusion to Glenn Gould ?

A: I find him interesting, but never touching. He sees Bach through one window, always the same. While he remains one of the greatest perfectionists in history he personifies, for a Russian like me, the model of the Western intellectual. I much prefer listening to the CD's of Rachmaninov, the greatest pianist of the century. I love that era of virtuosity, that of Moiseiwitsch or Busoni. And in addition, Rachmaninov had genius in composition. The two powers, intellectual and poetic, were worked into each note. Since, I have acquired a liking for Michelangeli, the wisdom of Radu Lupu, the passion of Nelson Freire. But there are fewer words than combinations of notes possible for creating an understanding of music.

Q: Some compare you to Cortot; any progress in Chopin since 1933?

A: It is impossible to sound like Cortot. It was another time, other instruments and recording conditions. Nevertheless I see myself as a conservative. Some musical works, those of Mozart and Chopin for example, need no explanation. They speak directly to you, while at the same time they are well-known to millions of people. That is why, when one plays them, one cannot have the slightest technical weakness.

Q: With which conductors do you like doing concertos ?

A: Pletnev - since he is also a pianist and he knows all the notes that I play. I need conductors to be partners. I also like the graciousness and patience of Nagano. I admire Carlos Kleiber and Svetlanov, but they are very strong personalities.

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