MARRY ME, ILYA!
RUSSIAN PIANIST ON A ROLL
An edited version of this preview article appeared on The Straits Times on 29 November 2007.
It is said that winning international piano competitions no longer has the same career-launching impact for artists as before. But do not tell that to 23-year-old Russian pianist Ilya Rashkovskiy, who is presently touring Asia as the unanimous first prizewinner of the inaugural Hong Kong International Piano Competition in 2005.
Besides netting the substantial prize money of 25 thousand US dollars and a recording contract, his concert engagements in Asia have taken him to Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou, Bangkok, Kuala Lumpur, Jakarta and Manila, all managed by The Chopin Society of Hong Kong, organisers of the competition.
Performing in Asia has been an eye-opening experience for the soft-spoken Rashkovskiy, who was born in Irkutsk, Siberia. In Beijing, he was impressed by the maturity and sophistication of the audience, while in Shanghai, much of his listeners were witnessing a piano recital for the very first time. But little matched the adulation he received in Manila, where young ladies smitten by his musicality (and smouldering good looks), were heard asking him to marry them!
When Rashkovskiy was 13, he was spotted by the eminent Russian pianist and teacher Vladimir Krainev, who later brought him to Hannover, Germany to study with him. Leaving Siberia for the first time on his own, he lived in Krainev's home and was looked after by the pedagogue's octogenarian mother. It was after winning 2nd prize at the Marguerite Long Piano Competition (Paris) in 2002, that he found a place of his own.
Taking part and winning in Hong Kong helped prepare Rashkovskiy for the rigours of a concert career. The final round itself was a marathon as he had to perform two concertos consecutively with hardly a break in between.
While his rock-steady but stylish manner in the earlier rounds identified him as a front-runner, Rashkovskiy's finals performance of Rachmaninov's Third Piano Concerto won him the plaudits. That reading was described by Dr Thomas Hecht, Head of Piano Studies at the Yong Siew Toh Conservatory, as "the perfect and complete performance, one that had everything".
Rashkovskiy's recital programme in Singapore is "Inspired by Dance". All the works he will play are waltzes or based on the three-quarter time, by composers like Chopin, Scriabin, Schubert, Liszt and Ravel. An earlier touring programme, consisting wholly of "Piano Fantasies", has been recorded and issued on CD.
The son of a scientist and musician, Rashkovskiy enjoyed another discipline related to music – mathematics. He could have pursued that as a career, but the piano – inevitably – always came first.