"There is nothing more challenging than engaging in competition with oneself, contesting one's own musical vision..."
Andrey Taranukha was born in 2005 in Sevastopol. He started his musical education at the ‘St. Petersburg’ Lyceum of Arts under the guidance of Boris Estrin, an honored cultural worker of Russia. Since 2023, he has been a student at the N.A. Rimsky-Korsakov Saint Petersburg State Conservatory.
At the age of 10, Taranukha became the laureate of the I Prize at the III International Competition of Children's and Youth Creativity, "Melodies of Scarlet Sails," held in Saint Petersburg. A year later, he achieved the I Prize at both the II International Competition of Young Musicians, "Art-Premium Awards," in Saint Petersburg, and the International Competition-Festival "DrumsFest Russia" in Moscow. In 2019, he won the I Prize at the I All-Russian Competition of Young Musicians, "Constellation," hosted by the educational center "Sirius." The year 2022 brought further success with his victory at the IV International Competition of Performers on Percussion Instruments in Saint Petersburg.
Andrey Taranukha: Music has been an integral part of my life since early childhood. In my parents' car, the "classic rock" of the 1980s-2000s was a constant presence, and I believe it was during those times that my love for rhythm began to take root. After completing a preparatory piano class at the age of 5, based on my piano teacher's advice, I decided to switch instruments. I chose percussion. Of course, at that age, I couldn't have imagined that, instead of practicing on a drum kit, I would begin learning to play the xylophone and snare drum. However, the longer I pursued it, the more I fell in love with classical percussion instruments.
At the age of 6, I joined Boris Ilyich Estrin's class, and since then, we have been inseparable. Boris Ilyich ignited my passion for percussion instruments from the very first lesson. His ability to inspire children during lessons is something inexplicable. Students in his class at the St. Petersburg Lyceum of Arts often refer to Boris Ilyich as a magician, and I believe it's not without reason. Boris Ilyich pays significant attention to hand positioning on the snare drum, enabling his students to perform virtuoso pieces on the vibraphone and marimba without strain. However, the most crucial aspect of his teaching, in my opinion, is the incorporation of vocal expression into musical interpretation. I believe my sense of phrasing developed under Boris Ilyich, especially after we sang together during lessons while I performed certain pieces.
Saint Petersburg Music House (SPMH): Does a well-developed sense of rhythm influence the rhythm of life outside of music?
Andrey Taranukha: The more I study compositions from the "golden percussion repertoire" of composers like, for example, John Cage, the more I ponder this question. The primary element in Cage's compositions was "time." Performers of such music must be able to feel polyrhythm – the combination of two or more different rhythmic patterns within a single musical meter. The synchronization of various pulsations, all subordinate to a unified "time," seems to me to particularly reflect time in real life. Perception of time is entirely subjective, but the hands on the clock actually rotate at the same pace... Nevertheless, for a percussionist, in my opinion, punctuality is a crucial professional quality because assembling all our instruments usually takes much more time than it does for string players. Therefore, we must live at somewhat different tempos than they do.
SPMH: The percussion family is quite extensive. What instrument appeals to you the most?
Andrey Taranukha: Among the percussion family, I'm most drawn to the marimba. It has the widest pitch range, providing greater possibilities. There are more compositions written for the marimba, and mastery of this instrument implies a good command of the piano. I believe that's what attracts me the most.
SPMH: Your profession is quite noisy. How is this issue addressed in daily life?
Andrey Taranukha: It's one of the main challenges; practicing at home is absolutely impossible as I have great respect for my neighbors. To practice not only on the marimba but also on multipercussion, I sometimes have to arrive an hour or even an hour and a half before rehearsals to search for instruments throughout the conservatory. It's even more challenging to coordinate with fellow percussionists to ensure the assembled set isn't dismantled. Sometimes, you come the next day after setting up, and you see that only one drum remains as a reminder of what happened, forcing you to relive the entire journey from the day before…
SPMH: From a young age, you've been a winner in various competitions. Is this an important aspect of a musician's success, in your opinion?
Andrey Taranukha: Certainly, as a child, competitions serve as motivation. It's very pleasing to envision oneself on stage receiving an award, and receiving praise from teachers and peers at a young age is always flattering. However, as you grow older, you realize that competitions motivate you to surpass yourself. The musician's main competitor is oneself. There's nothing more challenging than competing with oneself, challenging one's own musical vision, and learning a substantial program in a short period. While there are currently few serious competitions for percussionists, they can be counted on one hand, I believe in the future development of our competitions. Who knows, maybe one day our specialty will even be included in the Tchaikovsky Competition; I really want to believe in that.
SPMH: When and how did you realize that music would become your profession?
Andrey Taranukha: I think the turning point in my biography can be considered the "Constellation" competition. It was the first competition where I carefully selected the entire program with the intention of performing it in concerts. After winning the competition, I started learning many more compositions and derived incredible pleasure from it. In fact, I began actively performing in concerts right after the "Constellation."
SPMH: When did you first encounter the marimba, and what impression did the instrument make on you?
Andrey Taranukha: The marimba was the first thing I noticed when I entered Boris Ilyich's class. This enormous instrument, somewhat reminiscent of an organ, captures the attention of all visitors to the percussion class. Of course, from the very first lessons, I dreamed of starting to play the marimba. However, due to physical limitations, one can start studying the marimba around the fourth grade, and that was my motivation for lessons. Apparently, I felt our predisposition to each other (me to the instrument) already at that time.
SPMH: Is the marimba a very complex instrument? How would you compare the sound of the marimba? And how do you work on achieving its sound?
Andrey Taranukha: The marimba is as complex an instrument as any other, such as the flute or cello. The challenge is added by the ability to move this instrument around concert stages. Every percussionist seriously considering a solo career must be able to ensure the instrument is well-packed in cases, as the risk of damaging a part of the instrument during any transport is very high. But in order to gift people the wonderful sound of the marimba, percussionists are willing to sacrifice a lot. I've often heard the marimba's sound compared to the sound of an entire orchestra. Working on the sound of the instrument through such perception is much more effective. Before marimba sessions, I love listening to orchestral and piano music; it helps channel my thoughts in the right direction. During rehearsals, I enjoy imagining that I'm playing the piano or cello – such thinking greatly helps achieve a beautiful sound.
SPMH: There are not many compositions for percussion compared to other instruments. How do you select your repertoire?
Andrey Taranukha: When choosing repertoire, I certainly consider what is considered monumental in percussion music. Our repertoire is not extensive, but it's very pleasing that more and more composers are paying attention to the marimba and vibraphone. I believe that we are entering a flourishing period for percussion music.
SPMH: How did your collaboration with the Saint Petersburg Music House begin, and what opportunities does it open up for an emerging soloist?
Andrey Taranukha: My collaboration with the Saint Petersburg Music House began with the concert "Embassy of Musical Mastery" in Tashkent. I performed Ney Rosauro's Concerto for Marimba with the orchestra, and my concertmaster at that time was Yevgeny Saveliev. It was an incredible concert, and it was very pleasant to be in the company of talented musicians with whom I shared the stage, spending time with them in Uzbekistan. Then there was a fantastic concert in the English Hall of the Saint Petersburg Music House. The acoustics in this hall interact very well with the sound of the marimba. The opportunity to perform percussion music in the best concert halls in the country, as well as to play concerts on tour, is personally very important to me. I am delighted to have become a soloist at the House of Music and, thanks to Sergei Pavlovich Roldugin, to have the opportunity to introduce audiences to percussion music. The opportunities provided to its artists by the House of Music motivate us to develop musical culture in our country, and this is very important!
SPMH: In the programs of the Saint Petersburg Music House, you perform Bach on the marimba. What new aspects are revealed in his music in such an exotic rendition? Which classical composers would you like to perform besides?
Andrey Taranukha: In my opinion, the music of Johann Sebastian Bach sounds equally magical on all musical instruments. The timbre of the marimba adds an unusual color to this music, altering the perception of well-known pieces for listeners. I often come across interesting arrangements of classical music for percussion; recently, for example, I heard Mozart's "Requiem" performed by a percussion quartet (2 marimbas and 2 vibraphones). Personally, I am fond of the Romantic period in music. Occasionally, ideas emerge to adapt Chopin's music for the marimba, but for now, they remain just ideas.
SPMH: On March 6, in the Saint Petersburg Music House's project "Music of Stars" at the Nizhny Novgorod Philharmonic, you will be performing Séjourné's Concerto for Marimba, and later, on March 21, the same Concerto at the Mariinsky Theatre. What particularly inspires you in this music?
Andrey Taranukha: I appreciate the music of neoromanticism. For me, hearing references to Rachmaninoff or Tchaikovsky in music specifically composed for the marimba is something that has the potential to captivate the imagination. I believe this is what attracts me to Emmanuel Séjourné's music, particularly in his Concerto for Marimba.
SPMH: Which musicians leave the strongest impression on you, and what contributes to this impact?
Andrey Taranukha: I love listening to performances by legendary pianists such as Vladimir Horowitz, Claudio Arrau, Vladimir Ashkenazy, Grigory Sokolov, and many others. Their otherworldly perception of music and instrument sound greatly inspires me to work meticulously on extracting sound from my instrument. I also enjoy observing conductors at work, how they control the music through gestures. It changes the way I perceive the musical score; it seems to come alive when attempting to conduct a piece I am currently working on.
SPMH: Performing on percussion instruments is akin to a small-scale spectacle. Do you see yourself on stage not only as a musician but also as a somewhat dramatic artist? And how do you prepare for your "role"?
Andrey Taranukha: Treating each piece as a distinct "role" helps me focus on the music, feel its continuous development, and even manage stage jitters. I believe this skill developed through training with my theatrical coach at the Arts Lyceum, Valery Anatolievich D'yachenko. The exercise "I am in the given circumstances," I think, is very beneficial for any musician. Even now, I strive to combine acting skills with my musical career. For example, starting this year, I'm part of the play "A Midsummer Night's Dream" at the Bryantsev Youth Theater. Percussion instruments are primarily about energy, so our music is inseparable from theater. In my dreams, there's a vision of creating several musical-theatrical performances, and I've already begun moving in that direction. It's heartening that enthusiasts surround me, ready to support such projects. I believe that the symbiosis of theater and music holds the future of our culture.
SPMH: How do you envision your future in music? Do percussion instruments have a significant future in store?
Andrey Taranukha: In the future, I see myself as a solo percussionist, and I'm grateful to the Saint Petersburg Music House for supporting me in this unconventional and unique form of creativity. I also enjoy engaging in chamber music and theater. I believe these three areas will be my focus. I truly want to believe that percussion instruments have a promising future and that soon our country will have its first percussion instrument theater!
Interview by Tatiana Mikhailova