Preview: Nelly Akopian-Tamarina, Wigmore Hall, London

From Russia with love rekindled
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The Independent Culture

The Russian pianist Nelly Akopian-Tamarina has a wonderfully poetic touch with Brahms and Schumann, but her forthcoming Wigmore recital is one of her very rare public forays. Why so? The story which unfolds in answer is a typically Russian one, with an ending which, in its obliqueness, is typically Russian, too.

Her musical life began in Moscow, egged on by her ambitious mother. "Winning was the only option in my family – coming second was no good at all," she says. By the age of nine she was playing Haydn concertos with orchestras, and when she went to study at the Moscow Conservatoire it was with an amazing roster of teachers. "All were major pianists in their own right, who saw it as their duty to pass on their artistry to the next generation." She settled for working with Alexander Goldenweiser, a friend of Leo Tolstoy who virtually lived in the previous century. "When he asked me what I played, and when I told him about my Bach and Chopin and Prokofiev, he said Prokofiev was too modern for him. For my first lesson he said I must learn Beethoven's Third Concerto – in one week, and by memory. It took me two weeks, but by then I really had learned it. I had practised all the hours, but as a teacher now I demand the same. Playing by memory gives you a chance to let the piece grow in your imagination, rather than being a slave to the text.'

She went on to glittering early success, but was stopped in her tracks when her sister married a Jewish musician and applied to emigrate to Israel. Nelly was tainted by association, and became a victim of KGB machinations, sent to play in Siberian gulags rather than Western concert halls.

She emigrated to the West, became a respected teacher in Prague, but lost her nerve as a performer and turned instead to painting. Having to restart as a pianist later in life has been a blessing, she says: "I now play with more wisdom. We all walk through the darkness in this life. What I am hoping is that my Wigmore concert may be a little beacon of light in that darkness – for other people, and for me."

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