Soft pedaller

Boris Berezovsky isn't famous yet. But he soon should be. As soon as he stops sharing the limelight.

Evgeny Kissin's preternatural gifts - and hyperbolic fame - can lead people to think that he's the only pianist of note to emerge from Moscow's forcing-houses in recent years. He may be the most exotic bloom, but he's by no means alone. Yakov Kasman - runner-up at last month's Van Cliburn competition, where American chauvinism deprived him of the gold - is one of Kissin's coevals, and casts no less potent a spell.

Boris Berezovsky - who opens the Cheltenham Festival tomorrow - is a bosom pal of Kasman's, and yet another product of the fabled Gnessin school. A one-time winner of the Moscow Tchaikovsky competition, he is now a quiet family man living in Golder's Green; the London taxi he drives about in is an apt symbol of the nationality he is finally about to have enshrined in his passport. He has a fabulous keyboard technique, which he deploys with fastidious restraint (it comes as no surprise to learn that the late, great Shura Cherkassky was his hero and mentor). He is not yet famous, but he has golden professional repute: the anguished fax that arrives in the middle of our interview (does he know Brahms's Piano Quintet, and can he stand in for another pianist who has suddenly fallen ill? Yes, and yes) is nicely symptomatic.

Classmates at the Gnessin recall him as a reluctant swot who yearned to be out on the football field. His mother, who conducted a Russian Orthodox choir, oversaw his studies with the zeal of a prison wardress. His father was - still is - one of Moscow's leading teachers of music theory; it was thanks to his tuition that the 10-year-old Boris first made his mark. "I was emphatically not a child prodigy," he says, "but I was giving a concert, playing a piece by Shostakovich, and it was pointed out afterwards that, though I'd played it well, I'd played it in the wrong key. I hadn't noticed, because my father had trained me to transpose so fluently that the key made no difference." He describes the Gnessin itself as offering something more akin to circus training. "It meant that later I had no technical problems, that I was comfortable with any challenge I had to face."

Comfortable is a word he uses often. With his crazy little laugh and his startlingly soft handshake, he's a comfortable sort of man: prowling his cluttered workroom, extracting kitsch from his Clavinova, demonstrating a point on his 100-year-old Steinway, under which nestles a stash of his daughter's fluffy toys. He has no trouble - feels "comfortable" - with pianistic nightmares like Liszt's Feux Follets and Chopin's second Etude, in which three digits play a fast legatissimo melody, while the other seven punch out chords. He gets a buzz out of the risk inherent in every performance, and he's a fast learner: Tchaikovsky's Second Piano Concerto in three days is his record to date, although that did mean 16 hours per day. Aficionados may be interested to know that he has trouble with trills: he can't turn the notes into a satisfactorily even blur. For relaxation he plays tennis; he unwinds mentally with Dickens, Oscar Wilde, and PG Wodehouse. How English can you get?

Meeting him is pure pleasure, but writing up the meeting is not. This is partly thanks to his modest refusal to deliver "quotes": each thoughtful reply tails off into further thought. And it's partly because he seems more interested in others than he is in himself. He talks with curious detachment about his career - about feeling "a bit offended" at only getting fourth prize in the Leeds competition; and about being certain, from the initial moment when he was allocated the number 100, that he would win the Tchaikovsky.

The concerto with which he won that competition, and which he will play again tomorrow - Tchaikovsky's First - is his cue for the acknowledgement of a debt. "That is one of my favourite pieces, thanks to an English pianist. After the competition, I grew to hate it, so I listened to all the recordings I could lay my hands on, but they all made it boring. Then I found a very old recording by Solomon. It opened my eyes. It was so light, like ballet music, with its atmosphere of Christmas and winter. Ever since, I've played it entirely differently. I began by copying Solomon; gradually I've made it my own."

Asked about the pianistic rat-race, he replies with an accusation. "In England you're more interested in imported musicians than you are in your own, and this has always been true, ever since Handel. Your government should promote your artists, as the French government does. It sponsors opera, but it doesn't sponsor pianists. Have you heard Hamish Milne - one of the best Romantic transcription pianists in the world? Or John Bingham, who is also wonderful? Bingham's Wigmore Hall concert last year was the first he had given for five years. It's an absolute shame that such people should not be heard." He strides over to his CD shelves, pulls out the relevant ones, and presses them into my hand. "Take them home and listen to them!" When I do later, I'm duly impressed.

There are many things wrong with Russia, he adds - "but they do at least promote their musicians as national assets." Berezovsky plays once or twice a year in Russia, for the standard minimal fee. His last Moscow concert was sponsored by a certain Boris Berezovsky - "a very rich underworld figure, and no relation". In Russia these days, musicians sleep easier than sports stars: unless their name is Rostropovich, they're not worth robbing. "And Rostropovich has powerful friends."

As I leave, Berezovsky remembers one more pianist he wants to champion: his classmate Oleg Poliansky. "He's wonderful, one of the best." Three years ago Poliansky faced an impasse at the National Power Competition in London: he'd been misinformed about the repertoire, and had not prepared the requisite Chopin sonata. "I knew the work well, and for two hours I tried to persuade him to let me play it for him. The lighting in the hall was dim, we are as alike as twins, nobody would have noticed that it wasn't him playing. Unfortunately he was too scared to do it." A pity; Oleg might well have won.

Now Berezovsky has another plan: a four-handed double act, working title: The Polsky Twins. These burly 28-year-olds have different strengths - Berezovsky the Romantic virtuoso, Poliansky the supreme classicist - but together they should be dynamite. The Russians are coming.

Boris Berezovsky plays Tchaikovsky's Piano Concerto No 1 at the Cheltenham Festival, 7.30pm tomorrow (booking: 01242 227979). The concert will be broadcast by Radio 3 on Sunday at 1.15pm

Arts and Entertainment
Characters in the new series are based on real people, say its creators, unlike Arya and Clegane the Dog in ‘Game of Thrones’
tv'The Last Kingdom' embraces politics, religion, warfare, courage, love and loyalty, say creators
Arts and Entertainment
Unless films such as Guardians of the Galaxy, pictured, can buck the trend, this summer could be the first in 13 years that not a single Hollywood blockbuster takes $300m

film
Arts and Entertainment
Miley Cyrus has her magic LSD brain stolen in this crazy video produced with The Flaming Lips

music
News
peopleThe Game of Thrones author said speculation about his health and death was 'offensive'
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
The new film will be shot in the same studios as the Harry Potter films

books
Arts and Entertainment
Duncan Bannatyne left school at 15 and was still penniless at 29

Bannatyne leaves Dragon's Den

TV
Arts and Entertainment
The French economist Thomas Piketty wrote that global inequality has worsened

books
Arts and Entertainment
David Tennant and Benedict Cumberbatch

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Ben Affleck plays a despondent Nick Dunne in David Fincher's 'Gone Girl'

film
Arts and Entertainment
Pete Doherty (L) and Carl Barât look at the scene as people begin to be crushed

music
Arts and Entertainment

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Pete Doherty and Caral Barat of The Libertines performs on stage at British Summer Time Festival at Hyde Park

music
Arts and Entertainment
Ariana Grande and Iggy Azalea perform on stage at the Billboard Music Awards 2014

music
Arts and Entertainment

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Zina Saro-Wiwa

art
Arts and Entertainment
All-new couples 'Come Dine With Me'

TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Black Sabbath's Ozzy Osbourne
musicReview: BST Hyde Park, London
Arts and Entertainment
Ed Gamble and Amy Hoggart star in Almost Royal burning bright productions
tvTV comedy following British ‘aristos’ is accused of mocking the trusting nature of Americans
Arts and Entertainment
Sassoon threw his Military Cross into the Mersey
booksAn early draft of ‘Atrocities’ shows the anti-war sentiment was toned down before publication
Arts and Entertainment
Actors and technicians on the march against changes made by Hollande
theatreOpening performances of the Avignon theatre festival cancelled as actors and technicians walk out
Arts and Entertainment
Kanye West performed in a chain mail mask at Wireless Festival in Finsbury Park
Rapper booed at Wireless over bizarre rant
Arts and Entertainment

They're back, they're big – and they're still spectacularly boring

film
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

    The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

    A future Palestine state will have no borders and be an enclave within Israel, surrounded on all sides by Israeli-held territory, says Robert Fisk
    A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: The German people demand an end to the fighting

    A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

    The German people demand an end to the fighting
    New play by Oscar Wilde's grandson reveals what the Irish wit said at his trials

    New play reveals what Oscar Wilde said at trials

    For a century, what Wilde actually said at his trials was a mystery. But the recent discovery of shorthand notes changed that. Now his grandson Merlin Holland has turned them into a play
    Can scientists save the world's sea life from

    Can scientists save our sea life?

    By the end of the century, the only living things left in our oceans could be plankton and jellyfish. Alex Renton meets the scientists who are trying to turn the tide
    Richard III, Trafalgar Studios, review: Martin Freeman gives highly intelligent performance

    Richard III review

    Martin Freeman’s psychotic monarch is big on mockery but wanting in malice
    Hollywood targets Asian audiences as US films enjoy record-breaking run at Chinese box office

    Hollywood targets Asian audiences

    The world's second biggest movie market is fast becoming the Hollywood studios' most crucial
    Grindr founder Joel Simkhai: 'I've found love on my dating app - and my mum keeps trying to hook me up!'

    Grindr founder Joel Simkhai: 'I've found love on my dating app'

    Five years on from its launch and Grindr is the world's most popular dating app for gay men. Its founder Joel Simkhai answers his critics, describes his isolation as a child
    Autocorrect has its uses but it can go rogue with embarrassing results - so is it time to ditch it?

    Is it time to ditch autocorrect?

    Matthew J X Malady persuaded friends to message manually instead, but failed to factor in fat fingers and drunk texting
    10 best girls' summer dresses

    Frock chick: 10 best girls' summer dresses

    Get them ready for the holidays with these cool and pretty options 
    Westminster’s dark secret: Adultery, homosexuality, sadomasochism and abuse of children were all seemingly lumped together

    Westminster’s dark secret

    Adultery, homosexuality, sadomasochism and abuse of children were all seemingly lumped together
    A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: Dulce et decorum est - a life cut short for a poet whose work achieved immortality

    A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

    Dulce et decorum est: a life cut short for a poet whose work achieved immortality
    Google tells popular music website to censor album cover art in 'sexually explicit content' ban

    Naked censorship?

    The strange case of Google, the music website and the nudity take-down requests
    Howzat! 8 best cricket bats

    Howzat! 8 best cricket bats

    As England take on India at Trent Bridge, here is our pick of the high-performing bats to help you up your run-count this summer 
    Brazil vs Germany World Cup 2014 comment: David Luiz falls from leader figure to symbol of national humiliation

    David Luiz falls from leader figure to symbol of national humiliation

    Captain appears to give up as shocking 7-1 World Cup semi-final defeat threatens ramifications in Brazil