Born in April 1972 into a family of research scientists, Nikolai Lugansky was five when his innate musicality appeared, to the utter astonishment of his parents. Lugansky says he was “simply predestined to be a pianist.” He recalls an incident sometime before he had even been taught how to read music. At a neighbor’s house, he sat down at the piano and played a Beethoven sonata from memory—he had learned the piece entirely by ear. Soon afterwards he was taking piano lessons.
At seven he entered the Central School of Music in Moscow. Five years later, he began studying with the world-renowned pianist Tatiana Nikolaeva, at the Moscow conservatory.
In March 1988, he won first prize at the First All-Union Competition of Music School Students in Tbilisi. In July of the same year he won the Silver Medal at the 8th International Bach Competition in Leipzig. Two years later he was awarded Second Prize at the Rachmaninov competition in Moscow. In August 1992, he was named best pianist at the International Summer Academy Mozarteum in Salzburg.
In 1994, just a few months after sustaining serious foot and back injuries in an accident, Lugansky nevertheless decided to enter the 10th International Tchaikovsky Competition. His injuries had rendered him unable to practice for months and he felt that preparing for this colossal event would help him recuperate more quickly.
He won the competition in a brilliant style.
One Russian newspaper gave the following account of Lugansky’s performance in the final round of the Tchaikovsky Contest: “It was like getting sunstroke, a musical shock. Nobody could imagine that the soul of this unpretentious, modest young man, with his ascetic, but also poetic appearance, held such a volcano inside, with inspired and resolute control.”
But Lugansky’s victory in Moscow was only the beginning.
In 1995 he was awarded England’s Terence Judd Award as the most promising pianist of the young generation.
Lugansky has toured the globe, establishing his place as one of the world’s finest interpreters of the piano repertoire. Writes Alain Lompech from the French newspaper Le Monde: “Lugansky is not the most famous Russian pianist of our time: he is one of the major artists of our epoch.” Germany’s Neue Zuercher Zeitung wrote that “part of the fascination of Lugansky’s playing lies in his phenomenal technique. It seems to rise above the limits of the human body and to defy physics. Through his brilliant fingerwork, he succeeds in performing the most blazing virtuoso passages with unbelievable precision and clarity.”
Lugansky indeed attaches supreme importance to technique. In a recent interview with Liberation, Lugansky said that “some musical works, those of Mozart and Chopin for example, need no explanation. They speak to you directly and they are well-known to millions of people. That is why, when one plays them, one cannot have the slightest technical weakness.”
To date, Lugansky has recorded several CDs, released in Russia, Japan, the Netherlands and France. In November 1999 he signed an exclusive contract with Erato (Warner Music Group Company). His recent CD, Chopin Etudes was widely praised (“he climbed a pianistic mountain, and with excellence,” one reviewer wrote) and earned Lugansky the Diapason D’Or (“Gold Range”) for 1999-2000 in the category best-soloist-instrumentalist.
At 27, Lugansky has a long career ahead of him (in a few years, he said, he will be ready to tackle the incomparable Franz Lizst). And it may well be that he, as his teacher and mentor Tatiana Nikolaevna put it, is “The Next One.” To many, he has already proven he is worthy of the moniker. To those not yet convinced, he has plenty of time to prove it.
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