"On stage, the heart beats differently, muscles work in a unique way, and the mind and psyche undergo a profound transformation."
Born in 2002 in Yekaterinburg, Mikhail Usov embarked on his musical journey at the Moscow Secondary Specialized Music School named after Gnesin, under the guidance of the honoured artist of Russia, Tatyana Berkul. Presently, he is a student at the Moscow State Conservatory named after Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky, studying under the tutelage of the same mentor.
In 2017, Mikhail emerged as a laureate of the 2nd prize at the Leopold Auer Competition in St. Petersburg. The following year, he secured laureate status at the Andrea Postacchini Violin Competition in Italy, and also attained the 2nd prize at the All-Russian Delphic Games in Vladivostok. In 2021, he clinched victory at the First All-Russian Selection of the Russian National Orchestra and was awarded the 3rd prize at the International P. Stolyarsky Competition in Odessa.
In 2022, he triumphed at the IV All-Russian Music Competition. Mikhail Usov has graced the stage with renowned symphonic orchestras across Russia, earning a permanent place in the concert programs of the "New Names" Foundation and the Vladimir Spivakov Foundation, as well as participating in the "Attraction" Festival by Danil Kogan. Since 2022, he has been a part of the programs at the St. Petersburg Music House.
During the XVII International Tchaikovsky Competition held in June, the jury recognized Mikhail as the best participant of the second round who did not advance to the finals.
Mikhail Usov: I didn't have to make the decision to participate in the competition; my performance in the first round was already "reserved" for me thanks to my victory at the All-Russian Music Competition. Of course, I seized this opportunity. It was during the competition that I first felt that my own body was saving me. I couldn't be more nervous than I was capable of. The filled auditorium greatly helps with its friendly attitude towards the musicians, distracting from the thought that it is a competition. Everything turns into a concert performance. In addition to the obligatory pieces specified in the competition conditions, I tried to include music of different styles and from different eras in my program. Among my particularly beloved works, I can highlight Eugene Ysaÿe's "Elegiac Poem" and Tchaikovsky's "Melancholic Serenade." As for preparation, I believe it is impossible to pinpoint a specific date when you start preparing for a competition. It is a continuous process of practice and exploration.
Saint Petersburg Music House (SPMH): After completing your performances following the Second round, did you continue to follow the performances of your colleagues? Whom were you rooting for?
Mikhail Usov: All six of them are fantastic violinists, and each one is interesting in their own way. I sincerely wish the best to each of them and whatever it is they would like to achieve.
SPMH: You still have Tchaikovsky and Mozart unperformed. Where would you like to play these concertos?
Mikhail Usov: As of today, I already know for certain that I will perform Tchaikovsky's Concerto twice in the upcoming concert season. Once in the Krasnoyarsk Philharmonic and once in Kislovodsk. Honestly, I never dreamt of stepping onto the stage of a specific concert hall. The acoustics and sensitive conductor and orchestra are what matter. They greatly assist and inspire me.
SPMH: Who helped you prepare for the competition and provided support?
Mikhail Usov: I believe it's the same for everyone - my family (I was fortunate enough to share the stage with one of my family members in both rounds of the competition - my mother, Lyudmila, accompanied me) and my teacher, Tatiana Semyonovna Berkul.
SPMH: Did participating in projects at the Saint Petersburg Music House before the competition contribute to your preparation and affect the outcome?
Mikhail Usov: Of course, it helped. Paradoxically, it is only by performing the program on stage that you can truly prepare yourself for the stage. No matter how much you desire it, you cannot fully recreate the atmosphere of a concert performance at home or in the classroom. On stage, the heart beats differently, muscles work in a unique way, and the mind and psyche undergo a profound transformation. It is important to "rehearse" this state, and the concerts organized by the Saint Petersburg House of Music undoubtedly aided me in that regard. One of the most vivid memories is my performance in the concert hall of the Mariinsky Theatre, where I played Brahms' Concerto accompanied by the Mariinsky Orchestra, conducted by Nikolai Zinman. It is an awe-inspiring venue, with incredible music and wonderful stage partners.
SPMH: If the choice of repertoire were entirely up to you, what works would you include?
Mikhail Usov: Perhaps in music, I value lyricism and depth more than external brilliance and "circus tricks." I want technical difficulties to serve the music rather than work against it. I love Sibelius, Brahms, Tchaikovsky, Prokofiev, and Bach. I think the concert program would primarily consist of works by these composers.
SPMH: How did your journey as a musician begin, and did you have any doubts?
Mikhail Usov: Difficulties and doubts accompany any professional musician throughout their life, but they never compelled me to change my path dramatically. My journey started quite traditionally. I sang the song "Seryozhka from Malaya Bronnaya" and clapped a rhythmic pattern during the entrance exam for the preparatory department of the Moscow Gnessin Special Music School.
SPMH: When did the "mandatory" period of your education come to an end?
Mikhail Usov: From a certain perspective, that period continues to this day. It's just that before, my mother used to enforce it, and now I am capable of motivating myself. Overall, with time, I realized that this process can be extremely captivating.
SPMH: What does a person in your profession need for success?
Mikhail Usov: Talent, patience, and luck!
SPMH: Today, the world of classical music is quite open to unexpected interpretations, fusions with other genres, and experimentation "on the edge." What resonates with you more: classical music in its pure form or the possibility of variations?
Mikhail Usov: At the moment, I am more drawn to the classical approach. Perhaps someday I will appreciate synthesized forms of art, but today it seems to me that I will never fully comprehend the depths of classical music "in its pure form" in a lifetime. For example, the mystery of Bach's Chaconne, in my opinion, can be unravelled throughout one's entire life. However, if I desire something different, I simply listen to entirely different music, like the band Queen or Tom Waits.
Interview by Tatiana Mikhailova