Mihaela Ursuleasa: Internationally-acclaimed pianist


Mihaela Ursuleasa was an internationally renowned concert pianist, who wowed audiences around the globe with her prodigious technique and often idiosyncratic interpretations.

The award-winning Romanian-born prodigy and winner of the prestigious Clara Haskil prize was found dead in her Vienna apartment after suffering what is believed to be a brain haemorrhage. She was 33. Ursuleasa had recently cancelled two concerts in the Romanian capital Bucharest on unspecified health grounds.

Although she split critics, they all agreed that Ursuleasa had a "je ne sais quoi" and her sparkling enthusiasm was as evident in her playing as it was in her writing and in her personality. Known for her large tone, fleet fingers and gentle caressing of the keyboard, as well as stunning programming, Ursuleasa was perhaps most closely associated with Romantic composers such as Prokofiev, Chopin and Schumann.

Confessing that, "The happiest recitals are those where you have lots of friends listening," Ursuleasa found solo recitals to be her forte. "Where else do you get to make the rubato you want?" she once asked.

In her short career, Ursuleasa performed with some of the world's foremost orchestras including the London Philharmonic, the Radio Symphony Orchestra of Berlin and the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra among others, appearing at major international events such as the Salzburg Festival, the Beethoven festivals in Warsaw and Bonn and the mostly Mozart Festival in New York. In 2000, she stepped in for Richard Goode – "another inspirational figure in my life" – to perform with the Academy of St Martin in the Fields and Sir Neville Marriner and toured with the Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra and the conductor Neeme Järvi.

She worked with other famous conductors, including Kurt Sanderling, Bruno Weil, Paavo Jarvi and Osmo Vänskä, and appeared at renowned venues such as Carnegie Hall in New York, Amsterdam's Concertgebouw, London's Wigmore Hall, Zurich's Tonhalle and Vienna's Konzerthaus.

In 2009, Ursuleasa made debut appearances with the Ensemble Orchestral de Paris under Andris Nelsons and also with the Orchestre Philharmonique de Strasbourg conducted by John Storgards, where her playing was compared to that of the great Argentinian pianist Martha Argerich.

Mihaela Ursuleasa was born in Brasov, central Romania, in 1978, during the Communist rule of Nicolae Ceaucescu. Her mother was a singer, her father a gypsy jazz pianist; they soon recognised her early talent and began supervising her piano-playing, teaching her "how to move most of my fingers on the keys and, most important, to have fun".

With the death of her father, Ursuleasa recalled, "I didn't have time for recreation," as her first teacher, the pianist Stela Dragulin, worked her up to 12 hours a day and urged her to tour; she was giving concerts by the time she was nine. This led to second prize at the International Piano Competition in Senigallia, Italy.

Following the collapse of the Communist regime in 1989, the acclaimed pianist Radu Lupu returned to his country and after one concert the 11-year-old Ursuleasa visited his green room, where they played Mozart together. A year later, she played for the Italian conductor Claudio Abbado, who recommended her to Professor Heinz Medjimorec at the Vienna Conservatory. Withdrawn immediately from public performances, under his tutelage, Ursuleasa perfected her technique and deepened her musical interpretation.

Likened to Clara Haskil, another Romanian, she reaped the fruits of this decision in 1995, when what one critic referred to as her "rare combination of vivacity and technical mastery: won her the revered Competition of the same name in Vevey, Switzerland at the age of 16. Although delighted with her win, she soon declared her aversion to competitions, stating, "It is the most unlogical way of dealing with music." In 1999, she graduated with a diploma cum laude.

Reviewing her first album in 1996, of Beethoven and Mozart concertos with the Lausanne Chamber Orchestra under Jesús López-Cobos, part of Ursuleasa's prize for winning the Haskil Competition, the critic Harold C Schonberg wrote, "Well, well. A competition winner who can convey strength without relentless pounding; who has temperament; who has a completely finished technique; who has a wide tonal palette." He particularly enjoyed "her sparkling finger work and a general feeling of joie de vivre," adding, "Here we have a real pianist, and we shall be hearing from her."

In 2010, her debut solo album, Piano & Forte, won the ECHO Klassik award for Solo Recording of the Year. Her second solo album, of Enescu and Bartók, Romanian Rhapsody, was released last year. Ursuleasa had planned to explore the gypsy music of her homeland.

The Romanian soprano Felicia Filip reminisced about Ursuleasa's début. "In my mind's eye I see the child lost in the immensity of the piano. I recall a child who couldn't reach the piano pedals."

Ursuleasa is survived by her mother and five-year-old daughter.

Mihaela Ursuleasa, concert pianist: born Brasov, Romania 27 September 1978; one daughter; died Vienna 2 August 2012.

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Exhibition Sales Executive - OTE £35,000

£16000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An expanding B2B exhibition and...

Recruitment Genius: QA Technician

£16000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This leading manufacturer of re...

Recruitment Genius: Office Administrator

£20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Due to expansion, an experienced and hig...

SThree: Graduate Recruitment Resourcer

£20000 per annum + commission: SThree: Sthree have an exciting opportunity for...

Day In a Page

General Election 2015: The masterminds behind the scenes

The masterminds behind the election

How do you get your party leader to embrace a message and then stick to it? By employing these people
Machine Gun America: The amusement park where teenagers go to shoot a huge range of automatic weapons

Machine Gun America

The amusement park where teenagers go to shoot a huge range of automatic weapons
The ethics of pet food: Why are we are so selective in how we show animals our love?

The ethics of pet food

Why are we are so selective in how we show animals our love?
How Tansy Davies turned 9/11 into her opera 'Between Worlds'

How a composer turned 9/11 into her opera 'Between Worlds'

Tansy Davies makes her operatic debut with a work about the attack on the Twin Towers. Despite the topic, she says it is a life-affirming piece
11 best bedside tables

11 best bedside tables

It could be the first thing you see in the morning, so make it work for you. We find night stands, tables and cabinets to wake up to
Italy vs England player ratings: Did Andros Townsend's goal see him beat Harry Kane and Wayne Rooney to top marks?

Italy vs England player ratings

Did Townsend's goal see him beat Kane and Rooney to top marks?
Danny Higginbotham: An underdog's tale of making the most of it

An underdog's tale of making the most of it

Danny Higginbotham on being let go by Manchester United, annoying Gordon Strachan, utilising his talents to the full at Stoke and plunging into the world of analysis
Audley Harrison's abusers forget the debt he's due, but Errol Christie will always remember what he owes the police

Steve Bunce: Inside Boxing

Audley Harrison's abusers forget the debt he's due, but Errol Christie will always remember what he owes the police
No postcode? No vote

Floating voters

How living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin

By Reason of Insanity

Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin
Power dressing is back – but no shoulderpads!

Power dressing is back

But banish all thoughts of Eighties shoulderpads
Spanish stone-age cave paintings 'under threat' after being re-opened to the public

Spanish stone-age cave paintings in Altamira 'under threat'

Caves were re-opened to the public
'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'

Vince Cable interview

'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'
Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

Promises, promises

But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

The death of a Gaza fisherman

He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat