On the evening of 11th October, we feature Anna Fedorova’s energetic 2015 interpretation of Rachmaninov’s Third Piano Concerto in our next online Concert Club event. To set the scene, we caught up with the young Ukrainian pianist to discuss her growth as a musician and her approach to Rachmaninov’s supremely difficult piece.

© Marco Borggreve
© Marco Borggreve

DR: You gave your national debut at the age of seven (at the National Philharmonic Society of Ukraine). Can you remember what that was like, playing such a prestigious concert at such a young age?     

AF: To be honest I don’t think I realised how prestigious the stage was at the time. I remember that I was excited: it was still new for me to be performing in front of an audience, especially one that big. But I remember that from the very first time I played at a concert (I was 5 at the time) I liked being on stage and was playing better than during practice. I guess I heard people saying that and it gave me more confidence, so I just enjoyed every minute.

Both your parents were professional pianists. Do you think that helped or hindered you in your development as a musician?   

It definitely helped a lot. In fact I must say that 90% of who I am now I owe to my parents. They both are wonderful pianists and top teachers in Ukraine. I was very fortunate to have my father as my official piano teacher until I was 18. My mother was also actively involved in my musical development. They led me through that long and very important period – basically my whole childhood! They helped me to build up the main technical and musical foundation, to develop my own musical approach and imagination, plus my understanding of styles. They introduced to the wonderful recordings, and the most important – they encouraged sincere and natural music making.

Some people argue that young musicians who’ve grown up solely in conservatoires haven’t gained the life experience to add real depth to their performances. Do you think it’s important to gain life experience outside of music practice in order to become a great musician?   

I think it’s definitely very important and it’s true that, at least during my childhood, I felt kind of isolated, as I was practising most of the time and all of school life was passing by without my involvement in it. At the time I compensated with reading. But of course the real depth comes with time and I think it’s great to live life to the fullest and get real life experiences. 

You’ve won top prizes in competitions all over the world, like the Chopin Competition in Moscow. How important have competitions been for the development of your career, and would you advise other young pianists to enter them?  

They were important for me at certain stages of my life but I can’t say that I owe everything to competitions. Yes, I’ve had a number of concerts from winning some of the competitions, but my career had a parallel life of its own and was gradually building up. Of course for young musicians, competitions (especially big competitions) are important as they are great exposure. Sometimes, even if one doesn’t win the competition but makes a strong impression, it might be more rewarding than winning the prize.

Your video of Rachmaninov’s Second Piano Concerto has a staggering amount of views – it’s now over 14 million. Do you think we’re moving towards a time when more people experience live classical music digitally than live in the concert hall?  

Of course now classical music is much more accessible as all you have to do is to go on the internet where you can find any piece and any performer you could wish for. But I still think that it cannot and will not replace the live experience of being in the hall, experiencing the live acoustic and atmosphere, being the witness of the sacred process of creation which is happening right there and right at that moment. This is something what can’t be replaced even with the greatest technology.  

Who is your piano idol, living or dead?  

I guess one of the big inspirational figures I could name is Lev Naumov. Although I never met him, he has always had a big influence on me. I was lucky to work with many of his students, including Sergei Babayan, Vladimir Viardo and Anna Malikova. Through them and their stories I felt that I got to know him a little. He had an absolutely unique, colourful imagination and his unusual metaphors in music could help a lot in finding unique colours or character. He also paid a huge attention to “speaking fingers” and saw the piano as a singing instrument which – as it is a naturally percussive instrument – is not so easy to achieve. Also I admire and am very inspired by Menahem Pressler and András Schiff. I was fortunate to play for them a number of times and they’ve influenced my musical approach a lot.

We’ll be watching your performance of Rachmaninov’s Third Piano Concerto in our Concert Club event. What does that piece mean to you?

I think it’s kind of similar to Everest for the pianist. It’s very complex, physically exhausting but at the same time incredibly lyrical, emotional and beautiful. This is what I’m trying to focus on when I am performing it. I am trying not to treat this Concerto as virtuoso piece but to bring out more of its lyricism in a contrast with the urbanisation and technological progress of life.

What music do you listen to when you’re at home?    

Apart from classical music I like The Beatles, Sinatra, Billy Joel, some Brazilian and Mexican music, and I love to listen to the Soviet singer, actor and poet Vladimir Vysotsky. 

We'll be holding a live Twitter Q & A with Anna Fedorova straight after watching the concert video on 11th October. Send her your questions using the hashtag #concertclub5.