In this edition of ‘Q&A‘, Andrew got to catch up with Grand Dame of the piano, Elisabeth Leonskaja. A distinguished Soviet and Austrian pianist and teacher, she will be appear in her Australian debut with the ACO later this month! At 11 she made her first orchestral appearance with Beethoven’s Concerto No.3 and at 13 she gave her first solo recital. In 1964, Leonskaja won the Enesco International Piano Competition in Bucharet – the judges included the composer and conductor Aram Khachaturian and pianist Arthur Rubinstein.
What was it that drew you to the piano when you were young?
My mother had studied piano and singing in Odessa, but she had to stop because of the difficult life situation in those times. So she dearly wished for her daughter to make music her home. I had a bit of preparation, after which I was accepted at the local music school.
Did music come very naturally to you early on?
Yes, indeed, it all seemed easy and like a game. I only realized how serious all this was when I turned thirteen.
Lisa practicing the piano at her home in Tbilisi (1952).
What composers do you enjoy performing the most?
It’s difficult to say – I played all Mozart Sonatas and sometimes I was in despair that I wouldn’t be able to reach out to this beautiful celestial music, however it was a priceless experience which has helped me ever since. The world of Beethoven is also a very special journey, which cannot be equalled. And of course Russian music and Chopin’s are meant to enrich the soul and develop the virtuosity of every pianist. Brahms’ music is the language of the heart, that one wants to follow… I try to ‘wrestle’ every composer’s music that is on the program and to give myself fully.
What other interests do you have outside of music?
Life has soooo many elements – Nature with its beauty, art in all its forms, everyday life with its tasks.. I love everything.
Kreuzberg in 1998.
Do you enjoy being on tour? How do you find playing on a different piano at each venue and how do you manage to practice while on tour?
Travelling comes naturally to me and I remain very curious. Playing on different instruments is not always pleasant, but it gives me a lot of experience, just like playing in different halls with different acoustics does. While on the road, any quiet corner with any piano is enough for me to practice.
You were friends with Sviatoslav Richter, what was he like?
He loved art, theatre, paintings, music, flowers, young people with valuable ‘Geist’ (a German word meaning a mix of mind, spirit, psyche and intellect), he loved games that he would create himself and he was very dedicated to his work.
What is the best piece of advice you have been given and who gave it to you?
Sincerity! By my friend Richter.
In your opinion, what common mistakes do you see younger pianists make?
As young artists we all want to succeed and make a career. With these thoughts we ‘steal’ from ourselves.
How do you mentally and physically prepare for a performance backstage?
I stay quiet, concentrated, working or thinking about the performance.
What other skills are required to be a successful musician in today’s world?
Oh, I don’t know, we are all so different. Character, will, patience, endurance, curiosity…
What was your most memorable concert experience as an audience member?
I was present at many unforgettable concerts: Richter, Serkinh, Michellangeli, Radu Lupu, Alfred Brendel, Bernstein, The Czech Philharmonic with the Dvorak Symphonies, Rostropovich, Oistrach…