Who or what inspired you to take up the piano and pursue a career in music?
My mum is an excellent pianist (she is a Professor at the Rostov State Rachmaninoff Conservatoire in my hometown Rostov-on-Don) and listening to her playing Chopin Valses while I danced under the piano inspired me to learn how to play.
So I took my first lesson when I was 6 years old and gave my first performance 18 months later – Bach’s F minor Concerto with the chamber orchestra of my neighbouring city, Krasnodar. After winning the Tchaikovsky Competition for Young Musicians aged 16, I started to take music more seriously as a future career.
Who or what have been the most important influences on your musical life and career?
My mum, and my teacher Naum Shtarkman. He was one of Igumnov’s favourite students and he won 3rd Prize at the Tchaikovsky Competition in 1958 when Van Cliburn came first. My mum was his first ever student at the Moscow Conservatoire and I was one of his last. I think all the great Russian pianists like Richter, Gilels, Sofronitsky, Yudina, Ashkenazy have influenced my perception and interpretation of the music I play. Listening to their performances on a near-daily basis in Russia inevitably left a strong impression on my musical taste!.
I also am very lucky to have had lessons with Rostropovich as one of his scholars – he had (and it still continues) a large foundation to support musically talented children in Russia.
I don’t remember many details from those lessons as I was terrified of not doing what he asked for on the spot, but I remember that he was extremely generous when he liked the way I played and very kind if something didn’t work, saying that this will come later with more practice.
I have also been privileged to take part in masterclasses with Sir Andras Schiff. He is an admirable person and of course a fantastic pianist – very thoughtful and attentive, quite strict but very inspiring to play for! I remember I played Haydn’s “Andante and Variations in F-minor” for him. It wasn’t a new piece as I had studied it with both my German Professor Klaus Hellwig at the University of Arts in Berlin and also with my dear Russian Professor Dmitry Alexeev at the Royal College of Music. Schiff’s suggestions were completely different, very specific and very original. They made me realise that it is impossible to please everyone – including competition juries – with a single interpretation. An authentic artist must have an interpretation they truly believe in, and that is what makes music such a unique and special art form.
What have been the greatest challenges of your career so far?
I think loneliness is the biggest challenge I have encountered. After I finished my studies at the RCM, I was suddenly on my own, without guidance and without a place to go on a daily basis. I still struggle sometimes as I am a very sociable person, but I love teaching and really care about my students – this and chamber music give me the balance I need.
Also I find it harder to concentrate and to memorize with the years. I guess it is inevitable, but I think mobile phones and other gadgets do have an influence as well!
Which performance/recordings are you most proud of?
I rarely listen to my recordings but the live video recording of Schumann’s Symphonic Etudes on my website is one I am more proud of.
Which particular works do you think you play best?
I am most confident in Russian repertoire, just because I really understand what it means, I think. Studying for almost 5 years with one of the most prominent German teachers (Klaus Hellwig) was great as he taught me the power of structure and harmonies, the logic of architecture and the style of the great European composers especially Bach, Beethoven, Schubert and Schumann.
How do you make your repertoire choices from season to season?
This depends very much on what I would like to play and also if there’s something interesting to celebrate in one particular year. I have a small annual Festival I run at the Russian Cultural Centre in London so I try to choose the programmes according to my selected theme:
2018 Debussy and Friends (dedicated to 100 years since Debussy’s death
2017 the Music of the Russian Revolution 1917 (dedicated to 100 years since the Russian Revolution)
2016 The International Prokofiev Festival
Do you have a favourite concert venue to perform in and why?
I love the Purcell Room in London and cannot wait to be back there on 2 Feb for our all-Prokofiev recital!
Who are your favourite musicians?
So many! I seriously admire Yuja Wang and Daniil Trifonov of my age, also Hamelin, Bronfman, Perhaia and Berezovsky are just unbelievable. Not to mention the old heroes: Rachmainoff, Rubinstein, Horowitz, Cziffra, Serkin, Arrau, Dinu Lipati, Gilels, Richer, Sofronitsky and so many other great pianists.
Since the question is about musicians, I have to include also Rostropovich, Oistrach, Kreisler, Kogan, Repin, Vengeroff, Barenboim, Rattle, Mehta, Schwarzkopf, Bartoli, this list can be endless!
What is your most memorable concert experience?
Playing the Grieg Concerto in the Berlin Philharmonie. It was the first time I played in that hall and it was just luck – I had to step in at very short notice for a soloist who was ill.
As a musician, what is your definition of success?
Oh, this is a hard one. I think I still am figuring it out. But I guess it is the ability to express true emotions and thoughts in through my interpretation of a piece to people who really appreciate it.
What do you consider to be the most important ideas and concepts to impart to aspiring musicians?
One must feel or imagine what the composer really wanted to say in his composition.
Do not practise with your head elsewhere, unless it is a purely a technical exercise.
Listen to singers – instrumentalists often forget that there needs to be breathing in our phrases too.
Yulia Chaplina curates and performs in a Prokofiev Music Festival, 2-3 February 2019, at the Purcell Room, Southbank Centre, and at Pushkin House.
Born in Rostov-on-Don, Russia, Yulia gave her debut performance aged 7, performing Bach’s Keyboard Concerto in F minor with the Rostov State Symphony Orchestra. Since then, she has performed extensively in Europe and Asia, most recently in Japan, Spain, Germany, Russia and Ukraine.
Since her first major competition win in Poland, aged 9, Yulia has won first prize in piano competitions in Paris, Andorra, Kiev, Kharkov and St. Petersburg. After winning the first prize and gold medal in the junior section of the 2004 Tchaikovsky International Competition, Yulia appeared as concerto soloist in Moscow, Dubrovnik, Busan and Tokyo.A subsequent recital tour of Japan followed, as well as recitals in Italy, France and Poland.
Yulia’s debut CD recording – of the solo piano works of Badarzewska – was made in Japan in 2007 and a subsequent documentary was made about her musical life by the Japanese Broadcasting Corporation (NHK). As well as recent concerto performances with the Hiroshima and Sendai Symphony Orchestras, Yulia appeared as concerto soloist in the Philharmonie, Berlin in October 2010.
Yulia studied in Rostov and Moscow with Naum Shtarkman before moving to Berlin in 2006 to study with Professor Klaus Hellwig at the Universität der Künste. Amongst numerous scholarships, she has received awards from the Menuhin and Hindemith Foundations in Germany and the Mstislav Rostropovitch Foundation in Russia. She holdsMaster of Music degree (Distinction) from the Royal College of Music in London where she studied with Dmitri Alexeev.
Yulia also had lessons with Andras Schiff, Mitsuko Uchida and Paul Badura-Skoda. Amongst numerous scholarships, she has received awards from the Menuhin and Hindemith Foundations in Germany and the Mstislav Rostropovitch Foundation in Russia. Yulia was a Mills Williams Junior Fellow at the Royal College of Music in 2012/2013.
I like the honesty and passion in Yulia’s answers. What an amazing accomplishment to win the Tchaikovsky Competition at such a young age. It’s also refreshing to see a concert pianist involved in other areas of the music business, hosting the Prokofiev Music Festival in London and hosting the The Pianist Platform.