Nafis Umerkulova, pianist

Who or what inspired you to pursue a career in music?

My mother, Gulnora Umarova, who was herself a talented pianist and a piano teacher at the Uspensky Specialist Music School. I listened to her playing, which sounded beautiful and I assumed I would start learning the same pieces as soon as I began. Naturally I was very disappointed to start with simple tunes played with one finger…

Who or what have been the most important influences on your musical life and career?

First of all, my mother, who supported me on the musical path and built the foundation for my artistic beliefs from an early age. I was also very lucky to have had many wonderful teachers throughout my life. There is a long list of names, but I should perhaps mention my childhood professor Natalia Tsintsadze, my first teacher in the UK William Fong and professor Mikhail Olenev with whom I never had regular lessons, but I travel to Moscow Conservatoire to play to him whenever I have an opportunity. Each at a different time, all three of these fantastic musicians helped me reach beyond what I thought I was capable of.

What have been the greatest challenges of your career so far?

Both on a physical and psychological level it has been a long-lasting hand injury I experienced a few years ago. For quite some time I felt very up and down, as the injury often interfered with my performance preparation. This changed when I went for a consultation with a wonderful hand specialist, Ian Winspur, whom I would highly recommend to any musician going through similar challenges.

Which performances/recordings are you most proud of?

My debut album ‘Darkness illuminated’, which just came out. The recording process required a lot of hard work, and the consequences of my hand injury made it more challenging. However, it has been one of the most fulfilling creative experiences of my career.

Which particular works do you think you perform best?

I love working on big programmes covering a wide range of musical styles. At certain times some pieces sound more natural than others. Perhaps the composers I feel the most at home with are Schumann and Scriabin.

How do you make your repertoire choices from season to season?

As pianists we are blessed with such incredible and varied choice of repertoire, and one lifetime is not enough to cover it. I always have pieces I want to learn and perform both as a soloist and a chamber musician. Sometimes I am able to do so as soon as the thought crosses my mind, sometimes I might have to wait for years. It also depends on my plans and engagements for the season.

Do you have a favourite concert venue to perform in and why?

I feel what really makes a difference to the performance is my state of mind and the inner balance, (the preparation does too, of course). Also having a receptive instrument, is, to me, more important than the venue.

What is your most memorable concert experience?

Verdi’s ‘Simon Boccanegra’ at the BBC Proms with Placido Domingo, Joseph Calleja and Antonio Pappano conducting. The performance was sold out, of course, so we had to queue for half a day, which somehow made the experience more rewarding. It was a magical concert.

In terms of my own concerts, probably performing Prokofiev’s 1st Piano Concerto at the Glasgow City Halls. I felt fully in control, and free at the same time, throughout the whole performance.

As a musician, what is your definition of success?

For me it would be frequently performing the repertoire of my choice at the highest artistic level. I would also hope to make an impact and bring something enriching to audiences through my art.

What do you consider to be the most important ideas and concepts to impart to aspiring musicians?

To stay true to their beliefs and to do what they love.

What is your idea of perfect happiness?

Happiness and well-being of people who are close to me and being able to fulfil my potential as an artist.

Nafis Umerkulova’s new album ‘Darkness illuminated’ is available on the on the Ulysses Arts record label and is available on iTunes. It includes music by Alexander Scriabin and his lesser-known contemporary Alexei Stanchinsky. Further information  

Nafis performs music from the album at St John’s Smith Square, London, on Wednesday 16th October, together with Beethoven’s Fourth Piano Concerto with the Purcell School Chamber Orchestra. Further information and tickets

Born in Tashkent, Uzbekistan, Nafis Umerkulova began playing the piano at the age of five inspired by her mother who was a pianist. She started performing from the age of seven and soon became a laureate of the “Sog’lom Avlod Uchun” National Piano Competition in Tashkent, the International Balys Dvarionas and the Nikolai Rubinstein Piano Competition.

In 2004, Nafis was invited to continue her musical education at the Purcell School, Royal Academy of Music (2006) and Royal Conservatoire of Scotland (2010). During these years, she studied with professors William Fong, Tatiana Sarkissova and Aaron Shorr and was the first pianist from Uzbekistan awarded a full scholarship at every place of study.

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