“Music came to me, enthralling and conquering me, instantly and forever.”
Andrei Telkov was born in Voronezh in 1991 and began studying music at the Voronezh College of Music, where Larisa Bich was his instructor. In 2005 he matriculated at the Saint Petersburg Conservatory’s Secondary Specialized Music School, where Vladimir Suslov was his instructor. In 2015, he graduated from the Saint Petersburg Conservatory named after N.A. Rimsky-Korsakov, having studied under Professor Alexander Sandler, Honored Artist of Russia. In 2021, he completed an assistantship with the same professor. At the age of 15, Andrei won the special prize for performing in a trio at the Charles Hennen International Chamber Music Competition. In 2008 he won second prize at the International F. Chopin Piano Competition in Narva, Estonia. In 2013 he won the Grand Prix at the Jāzeps Vītols International Piano Competition in Riga, Latvia. Andrei has been named best accompanist multiple times: in 2014 at the All-Russian Music Competition and the International Sviatoslav Knushevitsky Cello Competition, and in 2014–2016 at the Mravinsky International Competition. The artist has a very scrupulous approach to playing in an ensemble, which brings to mind the brilliant pianist Anton Rubinstein, who reached unprecedented heights in this art form while serving as accompanist at the court of the Grand Duchess Elena Pavlovna. Andrei Telkov frequently performs recitals in Russia and throughout Europe. He is leader of the Mariinsky Theatre Chorus. He has been involved with the Saint Petersburg Music House since 2011.
Andrei Telkov: Music came to me, enthralling and conquering me, instantly and forever. I consider myself very lucky because I have never had any doubts about what I should do in life. There is not a single professional musician in my family. My mother is a university physics lecturer, while my father and grandmother studied engineering. Nevertheless, music is something that has always accompanied our family. My great-grandmother learned to play piano in Kazan and even considered entering a conservatory, and my mother graduated from a music school but chose to work in academia. There was always music in the house, and my circle of friends was always comprised of artists and intellectuals—journalists, actors and ballet dancers. Thus, my natural disposition for music found fertile ground. My parents noticed right away that hearing classical music on TV put me into some kind of special “attentive” state. I was a very whiny baby, and classical music was the only way to soothe me. I am very grateful to my parents for fostering these inclinations of mine. They took me to the opera when I was just one and later to concerts in the Philharmonic. These were the impressions that made it all happen. I remember those sensations even now, so vividly that they still excite me, so many years later. By the time I was 5, I was absolutely sure that I did not want to do anything else.
Saint Petersburg Music House (SPMH): Besides the piano, what instrument could you coexist harmoniously with?
Andrei Telkov: The answer is simple and provided in my past. From my very first year of music studies, I studied both piano and violin. At first I simply could not make up my mind. I really wanted to play violin, but piano teachers advised me to study the piano. As a result, I studied the piano at the Voronezh Specialized School, and I studied violin in the Children’s School of Music, which was very convenient because both schools occupied the same building. I continued learning on both instruments until I moved to Saint Petersburg—although there too, I spent two years learning violin as an elective course in my high school, until I finally realized that it was of no use to me anymore. Then, all that was left was piano.
SPMH: You perform both as a solo pianist and an accompanist to great success. What is most important to you as a pianist and as an accompanist?
Andrei Telkov: Indeed, I combine both solo and chamber music. I don’t really like the word “accompanist,” since for an average person it usually means someone at the piano who plays something extremely peripheral to whatever the soloist is playing. In reality this is not the case at all, and the chamber pianist is the peer partner of the instrumental soloist or the vocalist. There are indeed chamber pieces where the piano part is reduced to a harmonic banality, but there is also plenty of music where the piano accompaniment is just as intense and complex as, or even surpasses, the solo part. I’ve always done a great deal of ensemble playing. For me it is a special pleasure. I love the state of communication, the interaction with another person during a performance and during rehearsals, as well as the chance to discuss upcoming concerts. It is hard to say what the main thing is for each role. I don’t distinguish one from the other whatsoever: Both roles involve working on images, characters, style, and studying the composer’s personality to some extent. In an ensemble, I do all that with my partners. To be frank, when I play solo pieces, especially from the Romantic period, and Beethoven too, I always hear and think as an ensemble or orchestra would perform them. It is in the nature of Romantic music, it is most often based on the principles of symphonic progression, particularly when it comes to monumental works. I am very happy that Saint Petersburg Music House kindly offers me the opportunity to perform with some of the finest young instrumentalists in our country. It is very valuable to me.
SPMH: Do you have any desire to expand your field of work and take up conducting or writing music, for example?
Andrei Telkov: I spent my childhood experimenting with composition, until I became convinced that my experiments were too inconsistent. There came a point when I realized that I just didn’t have the ability to do it. You have to have a special kind of mind. I’ve always thought about conducting, I still do, and I will probably do it.
SPMH: Which composer would you say you are absolutely and unequivocally “on the same wavelength” with?
Andrei Telkov: There is no single composer, of course, and I think that 99% of musicians would say the same. Composers, even the most brilliant ones, were still human beings, they suffered setbacks, failures, they were accompanied by creative depressions. And that’s not even mentioning that each one had to undergo a period of maturing and creative formation as they searched for their own language. There is no composer whose work is absolutely superb from the first note to the last. This is why it would be odd to exalt one of them to some kind of ideal. Nevertheless, there are composers who are dear to me. Chronologically speaking, they are Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert, Schumann (for piano music), Brahms, Wagner, Verdi, Mahler, Richard Strauss, Debussy and Berg. As for Russian composers, I would mention Mussorgsky, Tchaikovsky, Rimsky-Korsakov, Rachmaninoff, Prokofiev and Shostakovich. Then there are my favorite composers to perform, whose music, however, captivates me much less as a listener. Such composers include Benjamin Britten.
SPMH: Were there any events or perhaps encounters with people or works that strongly influenced you as a musician?
Andrei Telkov: Musicians are very complicated people. Their development and education is influenced by so many things, virtually by everything. It’s all about how they themselves transform all these influences in their inner dimension. If I were to single out one thing, it would be my conversations with my professor Alexander Sandler. The kind of leap in my understanding of music that I took thanks to his teaching happens once in a lifetime and remains forever. And this applies not only to playing piano, but to music in general and then some. There were whole parts of my life that acquired clear contours and meanings as a result. When it comes to musical works that have had a huge impact on me, first and foremost I would have to mention Berg’s Wozzeck. It is an incomparable, shocking experience which grows every time I encounter this masterpiece. It is undoubtedly one of my favorite works. By the way, I am not alone in this choice. Many other musicians mention this work as one that divided their lives into “before” and “after.” It really is a collision—so radical is this opera, so ruthless, and yet so brilliant in its compositional prowess.
SPMH: Do you think that the sanctions on culture will affect attitudes toward Russian art and artists in the future (when things go back to how they were)?
Andrei Telkov: Things might go back to how they were. Another issue is that even as things were, the attitude towards the Russian element in art was not entirely objective. One could always sense an arrogant, condescending attitude of the more “progressive” Western colleagues toward less progressive (in their opinion) Russian musicians. Progressive, by the way, most often denotes the fanatical worship of whatever dogmas and standards are in fashion today—mediocre, careful, inexpressive playing, which neither offends nor enthralls anyone and leaves everyone satisfied with its wellbeing and quality. A kind of musical commodity. It should be noted that in recent years western musicians often haven’t met with such a passionate public response as Russian artists, who charm with their sincerity, expressiveness, and humanity in performance. Maybe that is the reason for such virulent hatred? Perhaps the political situation is only a convenient excuse to try to eliminate dangerous competition? It is hard to say what the future will hold. But the return of Russian art is inevitable. And it will be just as triumphant as it was in the time of Diaghilev and the Russian Seasons, as well as when Gergiev in essence revealed Russian musical art to the West.
SPMH: The Embassy of Musical Mastery by Saint Petersburg Music House is planning a tour of Japan in late August and early September. How were the compositions selected? It is worth mentioning that the program includes Tchaikovsky who was recently “canceled” in some countries that consider themselves enlightened.
Andrei Telkov: Yes, the concerts are planned. God willing, I hope they will take place. I will be playing Beethoven’s Piano Sonata No. 5, which is one of the best known sonatas, probably the best of Beethoven’s early sonatas, in my opinion. In addition to this, I will perform Tchaikovsky’s Dumka and Balakirev’s Islamey: Oriental Fantasy. Those were two composers who had very different ideological positions in art. Dumka is one of the most heartfelt pieces of Russian piano music. Islamey is a world-famous bravura, which is oriental, intricately patterned, fiery and reckless. As for the “canceled” composers, history has already known such “cancelations”: They always ended in the shaming of those who did the canceling and the triumph of the canceled ones.
Interview by Tatiana Mikhailova