Steinway, Čajkovskij, and the education of young people: interview with Konstantin Scherbakov

by Gloria Galbiati

On 28 September the Russian-Swiss pianist Konstantin Scherbakov will perform at Cremona Musica, during the Steinway Piano Festival. Wainting for his piano recital, we interviewed him to talk about his approach to music.


Maestro Scherbakov, we’re happy to listen to you for the Steinway Piano Festival. What do you love of a Steinway?

A Steinway grand piano is a unique instrument. The crown of the development of history of piano making, this is a superb instrument indeed! It has qualities which no other piano can compete with: depth, richness and volume of tone, huge variety of color, sophisticated and refined but easy-to-handle-mechanics. Besides, it is a piano with a strong personality, however at the same time it is a piano willing to submit to the player. Playing on a Steinway is a challenge: to be able to manage its wealth you have to know well what you want of it. A Steinway is the best partner on stage: it can feel and instantly accomplish your most intimate musical intentions, anticipate your desires or even suggest you something that you were not thinking of just a moment ago. Really, if the Steinway didn’t already exist it would be worthwhile to invent it!


Your recital program is very interesting, with Čajkovskij and Chopin. Chopin’s music is usually present in concert programs, while Čajkovskij is less common. At least in Italy. Is there a particular relationship between musicians and composers in Russia?

No more and no less than in any other country in the world where composers gained world     fame and recognition: for example, Chopin in Poland, Dvorak in Czech Republik, Albeniz in Spain, Britten in Great Britain. The meaningful term “national school” derives from the unity between composers and performers, their mutual enrichment and fruitful cooperation. Besides, Tchaikovsky’s music is just so beautiful. The other aspect is the problematic of the modern concert life where musicians’ conformism happily meets the traditionalism and cautiousness of concert presenters.


Which composers do you love most?

Always the composer whose music I currently play – this is only being a professional trait J. My all-time favorites are Beethoven, Rachmaninoff, Chopin and Schubert.


You recorded opera Omnia for piano of some composers, like Godowsky, Shostakovich, Medtner, Čajkovskij, Skrjabin, and Respighi; you recorded Liszt’s transcriptions of Beethoven’s Symphonies, too. How did the idea of these challenging projects rise?

I was very lucky to have found a great partner in my repertoire endeavors, the labels Naxos and Marco Polo. It was partly their and partly my ideas to record all these massive projects. Naxos records every single note of any given composer; this combines well with my ambition, musical curiosity and repertoire insatiability.   


You come from a prestigious piano school: you were a pupil of Lev Naumov, a great Russian teacher, who was a disciple of Heinrich Neuhaus, an important pillar of Russian pianism. What are the greatest things you have inherited from this school?

Respect for profession, artistic responsibility. Generosity of expression. Apart from that – excellent schooling and general musical education.


Now, you’re also a piano teacher. What do you want to communicate to your students and to young musicians in general?

Selfdedication and never ending enthusiasm; love to music and piano playing. Search for solutions. Students will be one day on their own. My aim is to give them enough knowledge about music, piano playing and profession so that they can stand on their own and withstand multiple challenges in their professional life.