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Meet Elisabeth Leonskaja

Posted on 1 October 2018

Child prodigy, pupil and friend of the great Sviatoslav Richter, and one of the most celebrated pianists in the world today, the legendary Elisabeth Leonskaja chats to us ahead of her recital at Sage Gateshead as part of our Piano Greats series in November.

The programme you are playing for us is beautifully crafted. What inspired you to create it in this way?

I really enjoy performing this programme. When I first played and studied music by the three most important composers of the Second Viennese School – Berg, Webern, and Schoenberg – I realised that working on these scores helped me to hear music by Mozart, Schubert, Brahms, and other major classical composers in a totally new way. This is what first fave me the idea of combining their works into one programme.

You have had a long and distinguished career playing Schubert. What does Schubert mean to you as a composer?

There are so many different aspects to Schubert. Every one of his directions in the score is crucially important – he gives such detailed dynamic shading. It is hard to categorise Schubert’s music – it has its own romanticism, yet it is written in a strict classical style. You can trace the evolution of the piano sonata through his works, from the early Haydnesque pieces, to later ones where you can hear his adoration for Beethoven, then eventually huge works of Brucknerian dimensions. His late sonatas cannot be compared t anyone else, and require great emotional tension and concentration.

What are your musical inspirations and influences?

I always pay attention to every tiny detail in the score, and find this gives me great inspiration. I listen all the time, and have a mind open to new ideas. If I hear something that impresses me I can use it in my work.

You have such a distinguished background in Russian pianism. How does that influence your interpretation of the kind of non-Russian repertoire we will hear in your recital?

The Russian Piano School is famous with good reason. Total technical mastery of the instrument is a given. The task is then to interpret the music of the great masters!

How does you feel that British audiences respond to your music-making as opposed to audiences elsewhere?

I have played my music all over the world, and yes the audiences are very different. I have enormous respect for everyone that comes to my concerts – that is the most important thing!

What does it take to be a Piano Great?

Every concert I give, and every programme I play, I give it all my energy and musicianship. It is a great responsibility to share this wonderful music.

Hear Elisabeth Leonskaja’s Schubert on Friday 16 November in Sage One.