Tickling the tabletops never sounded so nice
Georgian pianist Luka Okrostvoridze
Georgian pianist Luka Okrostvoridze is a wonderfully articulate teenager. English is his third language, and yet his defence of partying is positively inspired.
“My profession requires me to be more mature,” Luka says. “However, it’s important for me to go to parties and visit cafés with friends. Musicians can’t sit at the keyboard all the time; it’s impossible to learn how to make music that way. The genius artists lived full lives. People who only practise have little to offer. Life experience is necessary.”
This is refreshing: a 17-year-old explaining that stepping out for a night on the town is a job requirement. He looks like a kid who knows how to politely refuse a joint at a Sonic Youth concert.
And considering that he was plucked from impoverished Georgia to perform in Russia at the age of six, it’s impossible to doubt his sincerity.
Vladimir Spivakov, music dir- ector and principal conductor of the Russian National Orchestra, discovered Luka in the Georgian capital Tbilissi.
“Meeting Spivakov changed my life, though I already had a musical career. I was playing concerts and many people in Georgia knew who I was.”
Spivakov arranged to assist his family financially by assigning the protege a patron.
“The stipend I still receive is a big help,” Luka says. “I’m very grateful to my patron. There are lots of people with money who don’t want to share.”
The cash Luka receives pays for his small flat in Suzdal and covers his costs at the Moscow Conservatory. Suzdal is a small municipality on the outskirts of Moscow that hosts a major music festival each year. The first time Luka went there, in 1996, he was the festival highlight. Before then, his family could barely afford to pay for access to a piano, let alone lessons.
Life was tough in Georgia, but Luka has studied at the Moscow Conservatory full-time for the last three years. His mother and his brother now live nearby. However, his father and his other brother still reside where they work.
“It’s a terrible thing to be separated from your father,” Luka says darkly. This is indisputably true. Nonetheless, it would seem that his early years of hardship have only steeled his artistic resolve.
There’s a lot of talk about people being unable to develop themselves because of money issues. Luka’s example flies in the face of this assumption.
“I’ve learned to practise on tables,” he explains, “and sometimes a tabletop is better than a piano. If the piano is out of tune, it’s very frustrating. I can hear everything better in my mind, especially in the last few years, now that I’ve got perfect pitch.
“On a tabletop,” he adds, “I can hear if I’ve hit a wrong note.”
If Luka doesn’t have access to a table, he can always practise with just a copy of the score. If he already knows the piece, he doesn’t even need that. And he can compose mentally, too.
Last year, Luka came up with a strange and interesting idea, blending the piano music of Shostakovich and Chopin into one composition.
“It’s a very difficult thing to put romantic and modern music together that way and make it sound natural,” he says. “I had to think about it for months. It’s a Shostakovich/Chopin sandwich.”
Hearing this work performed (it can be found on YouTube), Luka’s touch brings to mind the pianistic sensitivity of PierreLaurent Aimard; the textures are as important as the phrasing, and his intensity is palpable without being hammy.
Here in Toronto, Luka will be performing his solo recital debut. The program includes some preludes by his favourite composer, Sergei Rachmaninoff.
“For me, Rachmaninoff ’s music is very deep,” he says. “Its soul is both Russian and from the Caucuses. His lines are very long, but containing a single, large thought.
“And once you’re inside them,” Luka adds, with a grin, “you can’t get out.”
Luka Okrostvoridze performs tonight at 8 p.m., in the Studio Theatre, Toronto Centre for the Arts, 5040 Yonge Street. Tickets are $15 to $20, available from Ticketmaster, 416-870-8000.