"My primary and only competitor is myself."
Ravil Islyamov was born in 2001 in Vladimir. He graduated from the Central Music School affiliated with the Moscow State Conservatory named after P.I. Tchaikovsky, where he studied under the tutelage of People's Artist of Russia, Professor Alexander Vinnitsky. Currently, he is a student at the Moscow State Conservatory in the class of the same mentor. In 2016, Ravil achieved the Grand Prix at the XII International Beethoven Violin Competition in Austria. He also secured victory, earning the Gold Medal, at the XV Youth Delphic Games of Russia in Tyumen and the XI Youth Delphic Games of CIS countries in Moscow. Furthering his success, he emerged as the winner of the III All-Russian Music Competition in Moscow and the XVII Youth Delphic Games of Russia in Vladivostok in 2018. In 2019, Ravil earned the title of "Best Participant of the II Round" at the XVI International Tchaikovsky Competition. In 2023, he attained laureate status with the II prize at the XVII International Tchaikovsky Competition held in Moscow and St. Petersburg. Engaging in an active concert career, Ravil has captivated audiences both in Russia and abroad. Currently, he showcases his artistry on a 1735 Giuseppe Guarneri "del Gesù" violin, provided by the St. Petersburg Music House. Ravil has been a participant in programs at the St. Petersburg Music House since 2017.
Saint Petersburg Music House (SPMH): How profoundly has the Tchaikovsky Competition impacted your life?
Ravil Islyamov: Following the Tchaikovsky Competition, everything expanded. More concerts, heightened responsibilities, an increased desire to express myself through the music I perform. The only thing that diminished was one — free time. For instance, if I could afford to relax on the road before, now it's a luxury. Nevertheless, I feel freer now — not only on stage but also in life.
SPMH: Your impressions of the competition: the atmosphere, competitors, organization...
Ravil Islyamov: The organization of the Tchaikovsky Competition is consistently top-notch. It's logical — every time, the goal is to maintain the status of the country's premier musical competition. However, this year, the anniversary edition of the competition, everything unfolded in a particularly special way. The atmosphere was festive, welcoming — even the hot, stuffy weather outside, which prevailed during those days and seeped into the Small Hall of the conservatory where the violinists performed, couldn't dampen it.
As for the competitors, I adhere to the belief that my primary and only competitor is myself. In a competition, especially a musical one, you need to overcome your nervousness, gather yourself, and showcase your individuality in your performance. That was the biggest challenge before me. Other participants are more like friends and colleagues, with whom you can share your impressions, thoughts, exchange experiences, and sometimes just relax and have fun.
SPMH: The vast audience, both online and in the concert hall, represents not just an interest in the competition but a broader enthusiasm for classical music. Do you feel that your audiences at concerts have become more receptive and interested?
Ravil Islyamov: With over 50 million online views at the close of the competition, it's truly a massive audience and a significant achievement. Here, I would like to acknowledge the cohesive team of organizers who made it possible for so many people from around the world to share in this event with us.
People are showing increasing interest in classical music. This is evident in consistently full concert halls in many cities where I perform and in the audience's reactions. Festivals are currently popular: a team of performers arrives in a city, giving concerts for two or three consecutive days – and such festivals typically play to full houses. For instance, I just returned from Voronezh, where I performed for two evenings in a row with Fedor Amosov and the Voronezh Academic Symphony Orchestra under the direction of Igor Verbitsky. The audience gave standing ovations at both concerts, and I was delighted to play two encores for them
SPMH: Tell us about your instrument: how has it influenced your performance in the competition and your overall artistic career?
Ravil Islyamov: I'll start by expressing my gratitude to the Saint Petersburg Music House for providing me with the opportunity to play on the remarkable 1735 Giuseppe Guarneri "del Gesù" violin. Undoubtedly, this experience has impacted both my "technical equipment" (violas of such caliber demand a special approach to sound extraction) and my worldview. Just imagine, around two centuries ago, the great violinist and pedagogue Giovanni Battista Viotti played this instrument, renowned for his concerts that are still part of the standard repertoire for violinists today. Now, I, too, have become part of this centuries-old history. Regarding my performance specifically in the competition, the violin has been a tremendous help. This was felt more on an intuitive, spiritual level – at the right moment, it assisted me in playing the music exactly as I would like to hear it.
SPMH: How long have you been collaborating with the Saint Petersburg Music House?
Ravil Islyamov: In general, any Russian musician aged 16 or above can become a participant in the programs of the Saint Petersburg Music House. It just so happened that in 2017, the spring selection coincided with my sixteenth birthday – and, as you can understand, seeing myself on the list of new soloists was the best gift for me! Thus, for six and a half years, all my achievements (including victories in many prestigious competitions, with the Tchaikovsky Competition being the most significant) have been closely tied to our collaboration.
I must say that being a soloist of the Saint Petersburg Music House is not only prestigious but also very responsible. It is the only organization I know that, on such a scale, supports and promotes young talents – organizing concerts, including international ones, masterclasses with the best teachers, and providing rare and unique instruments of the highest class. All of this provides tremendous assistance in preparation for competitions and ensures good results. Essentially, ideal conditions are created for our development as soloists, for which I am very grateful to the Saint Petersburg Music House and its artistic director, Sergei Pavlovich Roldugin.
SPMH: How did you find yourself in the world of music?
Ravil Islyamov: No one in my family is connected to music, although it has always been present in our home. My dad is a radio engineer, and my mom works in public service. My parents introduced me to music for general development, so I wouldn't be idle. However, it turned out that it became my main pursuit in life. No, not just a pursuit – rather, it is my life now.
SPMH: Does a musician's personality influence the interpretation of musical works? And how does this happen in your case?
Ravil Islyamov: In my opinion, the musician's personality is evident right from the beginning of working on a musical piece. At this stage, the musician hasn't fully grasped the composer's concept, and the music is in a raw state, not yet having its own character – hence, it borrows the character of the performer. In the subsequent work, the musician has the opportunity to explore the history of the composition, listen to different performances, receive advice from the teacher, contemplate their interpretation – ultimately leading to the synthesis of all the above. However, when stepping onto the stage, one cannot hide their nature – that's precisely what the audience refers to as a "personal touch."
SPMH: Which performers inspire you?
Ravil Islyamov: I think, first and foremost, David Oistrakh should be mentioned. My teacher, People's Artist of Russia, Professor Alexander Vinnitsky, studied with him, and I admire his performance style – extremely well-balanced yet very emotional. I see my style as very similar. However, it's crucial not to fixate on one performer. In the process of working on a piece, you need to listen to as many different interpretations as possible, and thankfully, technological capabilities now allow us to do so without much trouble. In my playlist, for example, you can find Leonid Kogan, Hilary Hahn, Itzhak Perlman, Jascha Heifetz, Anne-Sophie Mutter, and many other violinists. As for contemporary performers, I try to keep an eye on my peers from around the world whenever possible because I feel the need to know the musical environment in which I will live.
SPMH: When faced with challenging situations, is there a particular composer whose work resonates with you, perhaps one for all of life's occasions?
Ravil Islyamov: Fortunately, I haven't encountered many truly difficult situations in my life so far, and in those moments, seeking good advice may be more appealing than turning to music. Typically, I find solace in music during my travels, especially when feeling fatigued or lacking inspiration to compose. Music makes the journey more manageable; time on the road passes effortlessly, allowing me to disconnect from the outside world (which can be quite diverse, especially in public transport).
One composer whose creations hold a special place in my heart is Sergei Rachmaninoff. His ability to convey both the imagery associated with travel and emotions universally felt by people makes his music a comforting choice in any ambiguous or challenging situation.
SPMH: It's rare to find a performer who doesn't also compose. Could you share your achievements in this area?
Ravil Islyamov: My compositions are available on my YouTube channel, where I've received many positive reviews, particularly for my violin solo arrangement of Sergei Rachmaninoff's well-known Prelude in G Minor. Frequently, I include my solo violin or piano pieces as encores in my concerts. Lately, my adaptation of Igor Frolov's "Divertissement" has gained popularity. In my hometown of Vladimir, the Sonata for Piano was successfully performed at a concert, and the Piano Quintet "Christmas Fantasy" resonated multiple times in the halls of the Moscow Conservatory. Currently, I'm working on a Violin Concerto with an orchestra, and I'm eager to present it to a wider audience soon. I take pride in the fact that frequent travels haven't hindered my compositional activities. I bring my laptop on journeys, allowing me to continue composing. It's gratifying not to lose touch with the creative process, consistently contemplating my music and having the opportunity to record it instantly
SPMH: What distracts you from your musical pursuits?
Ravil Islyamov: It's incredibly challenging to divert my attention from music. It's a constant presence in my mind. Sometimes, I'm engrossed in some activity, and suddenly, a musical idea emerges from the depths of my subconscious. Involuntarily, I drop everything and start contemplating it. However, besides my musical endeavors, I do have genuine interests. I enthusiastically study the Japanese language, enjoy playing table tennis, and indulge in computer games—although, after the Tchaikovsky competition, time for these activities is becoming increasingly scarce.
SPMH: In one of the upcoming concerts at the Saint Petersburg Music House on December 8th, you'll be performing Igor Frolov's Concert Fantasy on themes from Gershwin's opera "Porgy and Bess" in Minsk at the Bolshoi Theatre of Belarus. How do you feel about arrangements of well-known works?
Ravil Islyamov: I love them. In fact, at the Tchaikovsky competition, I performed this very Concert Fantasy by Igor Frolov in the first round and Franz Waxman's Fantasy on Bizet's opera "Carmen" in the second round. These arrangements fully allow the violinist to showcase both technical prowess and musicality. Thanks to them, my competition program was warmly received by the audience.
SPMH: What, in your view, should remain constant and unchanging in music, something that doesn't tolerate interpretations?
Ravil Islyamov: I've been contemplating this more and more lately. It's easy to forget about ideals in the whirlwind of touring, and that's something I wouldn't want for myself. It's a complex philosophical question, and its answer can't fit within the confines of this interview. However, I'll try to briefly outline my thoughts.
Certainly, music exists in various forms—different styles, genres, and purposes. Yet, every piece of music shares an unchanging quality—the power to unite people around something common. What should music unite people around? In my view, people often forget in their daily routines that there are timeless ideals common to all—beauty, emotions, kindness, humanity. Although each person feels these differently and defines these concepts in their own way, on an intuitive level, they are universally understood. So, to remind people of these ideals, to infuse beauty into their lives, to encourage them to become better, to not lose their humanity, and to remain human in any situation is what I see as the unchanging goal of music and musicians. Every time the emotions of the audience in the concert hall blend into a collective burst of applause, I realize that I'm living and working for a meaningful purpose.
Interview by Tatiana Mikhailova