"For me it is fundamentally important not to stop evolving, not to preserve interpretation..."
Alexander Klyuchko was born in Saransk, Republic of Mordovia in 2000. He studied music at the Moscow State College of Musical Performance "Frederic Performance in the class of tutor Sergei Artsibashev. Then, he graduated from The École Normale de Musique de Paris "Alfred Cortot" in Paris where he studied with Professor Rena Shereshevskaya. Since 2021, he studies at the Tchaikovsky Moscow State Conservatoire with an Honored Artist of the Russian Federation, Professor Pavel Nersesyan. The pianist has performed with the National Philharmonic Orchestra of Russia, the Spanish Radio and Television Symphony Orchestra, the St. Petersburg State Academic Capella Symphony Orchestra, the Youth Orchestra of Catalonia, the Rostov Academic Philharmonic Orchestra and many others. He has played at the Great Hall and the Small Hall of the Moscow Conservatory, the Moscow Philharmonic, the St. Petersburg Capella, the Bolshoi Theatre, the Salle Alfred Cortot (Paris), the Palacio Festivales de Cantabria in Santander, the Palau de la Musica Catalana in Barcelona and more. Alexander Kluchko has won many awards at famous international competitions: the 6th Vera Lothar-Shevchenko International Piano Competition in Yekaterinburg in 2016, the 4th Astana Piano Passion International Young Pianists Competition in Kazakhstan and the 9th Nariman Sabitov International Performing Musicians Competition in Ufa in 2017, the 20th Ile de France International Piano Competition in France and the 13th International Young Musicians Competition in Moscow in 2018. He won the 2nd prize at the 65th International Maria Canals Music Competition (Spain) in 2019, and achieved victory at the 5th Manhattan International Music Competition in the USA in 2020. His record of winning prizes was extended in June of this year to include the First Prize and the Gold Medal from the International Rachmaninoff Competition.
Alexander Kluchko: Any competition is quite a serious test, first of all mentally, because any competition is, first of all, stress, but physically it was, of course, also hard, because four big rounds with different programs that you had to prepare, and performing in the Great Hall of the Conservatory which is a very large hall, requiring a lot of efforts. So, of course, it wasn't easy. My greatest satisfaction with the solo was probably with Scriabin's Waltz and my performance in the finals: the Ravel Concerto and probably even more so with the Rachmaninoff Concerto. I try to think more about some kind of artistic victories, because music and sports are not really compatible. I have no goal as such to win the competition. The most important thing for me was to achieve something in creativity, in the interpretation of the repertoire that I played on stage. For me it is fundamentally important not to stop evolving, not to preserve the interpretation at any particular point, but rather to keep finding something and developing my findings.
Saint Petersburg Musical House (SPHM): To quote Rachmaninoff: "A talented student never has a sleeping sense of interpretation. It is always awake, even if the talent is still very young... But if there is talent, this feeling is alive and effective." Are you a proper student in terms of Rachmaninoff?
Alexander Klyuchko: I really hope that I can be brought under this Rachmaninovian concept. I think every musician has those moments in his life when he goes down a beaten path in his art. These are very dangerous moments. And I try to avoid them in every way possible. I try not to allow this blurring of the ear, so I try to play to different people, hear different points of view, try to change the program quite often, because with a large number of concerts and performing the same program a certain fatigue sets in, and in this situation just this blurring is more likely. A change of program helps in this case. Overall, though, I hope I fit that description.
SPMH: You studied at the École Supérieure de Musique Alfred Cortot in Paris. How are the postulates there? Is there any fundamental difference with the system in place at the Moscow Conservatory or Chopin College?
Alexander Klyuchko: Speaking of my studies at the Alfred Cortot school, the main difference separating it from the Chopin College and the Moscow Conservatory is a certain freedom to choose the subjects you want to study. This is because the main emphasis at the Cortot School is on instruction with a teacher, on actual training of the program for contests and concerts. All other theoretical subjects are optional, that is, the student is free to choose which subjects he wants to take and which do not. On the one hand, it's positive, because there is some freedom, more free time for classes, not such a busy academic schedule. But here, of course, there is a great temptation not to engage in theory, which is not a good thing. Because I think a fundamental theoretical systematic education is very important for any musician, and even more so for a concert musician.
SPMH: What makes up a musician's individual style? How it needs to be worked on to ever be said to be unique - inimitable - signature. And how to avoid "following in the footsteps" of absolute authorities in music and start borrowing their techniques, the manner?
Alexander Klyuchko: I can't say that a musician's individual style is some objective thing that can be achieved by certain techniques. I think a musician's style develops naturally. Because all musicians are influenced in some way by their teachers, their favorite musicians, and so on. I think if you try to add certain elements to your style artificially from the outside, people will spot it right away, and you lose the naturalness you absolutely need on stage, the naturalness at the piano, and even the naturalness of the performance. I don't see any problem with following in the footsteps of some great musicians, because nowadays we have a huge number of records that we can listen to. And I think that's one of the sources of inspiration. You can mark interesting findings. And then I may use them by transforming them through my own performing vision. You can't copy exactly the same thing anyway. Because no pianist is exactly the same. Again, it all depends on naturalness. If a person openly tries to copy, for example, Pletnev or Sokolov, then, on the one hand, it will be obvious that the person is trying to copy, but, on the other hand, he will still not succeed like Pletnev or Sokolov, because he is not that kind of pianist and not that kind of musician.
SPMH: What music do you think is most in tune with our time?
Alexander Klyuchko: There are different answers to this question. Of course, we have modern music that is being written in our time. And there are some trends and vectors of modern music that are specific to our time. Putting it another way, for me, for example, the question of the relevance of some music, be it Bach, be it Rachmaninoff or Chopin, is completely irrelevant. That is, for me there is no question at all of the irrelevance of the music of these composers. I think a large number of people listen to classical music because it is timeless music, despite all the differences in styles and genres in music.
SPMH: You are performing with the Capella Symphony Orchestra in the Saint Petersburg Music House's " Musical Team of Russia" series on October 8 at the Capella. The program includes, in particular, the Scriabin Concerto. Do you feel connected to his innovative ideas, his philosophy?
Alexander Klyuchko: Speaking of Scriabin, of course, it's a phenomenon. And speaking of his philosophical ideas, it's very interesting. His dream of creating a mystery is a paradox, in my opinion, because it is a dream inherently unrealizable. And he strove all his life to fulfill that dream, despite knowing that it was impossible. It's a very romantic concept, in my opinion. I started performing Scriabin not so long ago. I have already played several of his sonatas, though, and I have performed a cycle of Preludes, a Piece for the Left Hand, and a Waltz. What I'm going to do next is Scriabin's Concerto. This composer appeals to me very much, first of all, because of his some emotional characteristics. And I am very happy that I will be performing the Scriabin Concerto at the St. Petersburg Capella in the Musical Team of Russia project. I have participated in several concerts of this project. And, of course, I really appreciate the Saint Petersburg Music House for its tremendous support for young musicians. We already have that team of performers. We pretty much know each other. And we meet in different cities at concerts of this project. And I'm very glad that we have that opportunity.
SPMH: Your most reckless or daring musical impulse?
Alexander Klyuchko: I'm a pretty rational person. It's in my nature. Speaking of impulses, one such impulse for me, for example, was to perform Beethoven's Hammerklavier Sonata No. 29, because this sonata is huge and extremely difficult for absolutely any musician. And I hope I got something out of this sonata. I performed it several times in different cities of Russia. For me, the impulse is to perform a piece, to learn something in a fairly short period of time. I cannot say that I am reckless in my musical impulses on stage. Of course, there are some emotional spontaneities in the course of the performance, but I can't call them reckless.
SPMH: Have you experienced the state of overcoming when, for example, the music "doesn't lend itself", when the right key is not found?
Alexander Klyuchko: Of course, such states of overcoming are familiar to absolutely all musicians. They come in all kinds. There are times when the music of a particular composer is hard to follow. Working on Chopin's pieces, for example, is always difficult for me. This is some special characteristic of his music. It always takes me quite a long time to somehow feel comfortable playing a Chopin piece. There are situations when, for example, this or that place in a piece is not technically feasible. And here, too, there may be different solutions. Change the approach to practicing in that particular place. Sometimes it helps, on the contrary, to stop dealing with that piece altogether, and then return to it after a while, and a fresh mind helps you find the right solution.
SPMH: Are you good at making discoveries? For example, to find something in music that no one has ever seen or fully understood before?
Alexander Klyuchko: I do hope I'm good at making discoveries. That, of course, is for the public to judge. It would be very presumptuous to say that I perform a piece the way no one else does. I do not undertake any comparative analysis of all the recordings of a particular piece in order to find something that only I have in my interpretation. But I hope I find something in the course of work, and I always try to find something that I've never noticed in a piece. Yet in the broader context, I think that will be judged by the public and will be judged by history.
Interview by Tatiana Mikhailova