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?
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
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: New Business Development Manager / Sales - UK New Business

£24000 - £36000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Join a fast growing, UK based I...

MBDA UK Ltd: Mission Planning and Control Solutions Systems Engineer

Competitive salary & benefits: MBDA UK Ltd: What’s the opportunity? A pro-act...

MBDA UK Ltd: System Design Capability

Competitive salary & benefits: MBDA UK Ltd: What’s the opportunity? The small...

Recruitment Genius: Time Served Fabricator / Welders - Immediate Start

£25000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Fabricator welder required for ...

Day In a Page

Sepp Blatter resignation: The beginning of Fifa's long road to reform?

Does Blatter's departure mean Fifa will automatically clean up its act?

Don't bet on it, says Tom Peck
Charles Kennedy: The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

Charles Kennedy was consistently a man of the centre-left, dedicated to social justice, but was also a champion of liberty and an opponent of the nanny-state, says Baroness Williams
Syria civil war: The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of this endless conflict

The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of Syria's endless civil war

Sahar Qanbar lost her mother and brother as civilians and government soldiers fought side by side after being surrounded by brutal Islamist fighters. Robert Fisk visited her
The future of songwriting: How streaming is changing everything we know about making music

The future of songwriting

How streaming is changing everything we know about making music
William Shemin and Henry Johnson: Jewish and black soldiers receive World War I Medal of Honor amid claims of discrimination

Recognition at long last

Jewish and black soldiers who fought in WWI finally receive medals after claims of discrimination
Beating obesity: The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters

Beating obesity

The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters
9 best women's festival waterproofs

Ready for rain: 9 best women's festival waterproofs

These are the macs to keep your denim dry and your hair frizz-free(ish)
Cycling World Hour Record: Nervous Sir Bradley Wiggins ready for pain as he prepares to go distance

Wiggins worried

Nervous Sir Bradley ready for pain as he prepares to attempt cycling's World Hour Record
Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Reds baulk at Christian Benteke £32.5m release clause
On your feet! Spending at least two hours a day standing reduces the risk of heart attacks, cancer and diabetes, according to new research

On your feet!

Spending half the day standing 'reduces risk of heart attacks and cancer'
With scores of surgeries closing, what hope is there for the David Cameron's promise of 5,000 more GPs and a 24/7 NHS?

The big NHS question

Why are there so few new GPs when so many want to study medicine?
Big knickers are back: Thongs ain't what they used to be

Thongs ain't what they used to be

Big knickers are back
Thurston Moore interview

Thurston Moore interview

On living in London, Sonic Youth and musical memoirs
In full bloom

In full bloom

Floral print womenswear
From leading man to Elephant Man, Bradley Cooper is terrific

From leading man to Elephant Man

Bradley Cooper is terrific