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Marianna Prjevalskaya

Praised by critics as “a grand pianist” (Il Cittadino, Italy) and a “master of piano” (Music Magazine ‘Auditorium’, Korea),  Marianna Prjevalskaya performs worldwide as a recitalist and concerto soloist.

Winner of the 2014 New Orleans Piano Competition, 2013 Cincinnati World Piano Competition, 2011 Jaen International Piano Competition.


Marianna Prjevalskaya – Photo credit: David Rafie


‘Deep musical background’ 

I come from a family with a deep musical background. My father is a violinist and my mother is a pianist, who taught me for the first eleven years. My parents never considered to ask me if I wanted to become a musician or if I had other interests. It was just assumed with no doubt that I will be a musician too. The only question that was raised was about instrument preference. For some reason I preferred the piano, probably because my older cousin was (and still is) a very accomplished pianist and I felt I wanted to become a pianist as well. I started my piano lessons at the age of six, and as a kid, I enjoyed them. I played concerts and made my first debut with a symphony orchestra at the age of nine, but I would probably say that my conscious realization of the fact that I want to devote my entire life to music and to the piano came several years later after I moved to Spain with my family in 1992. It was there where my interest in music started to seriously grow. I became so absorbed with it that there was no return. And I am very grateful for that, I cannot see my life without music.
Recent work …. 

My most recent work included several important performances: a solo recital at the Shriver Concert Hall Series in Baltimore, a solo recital at Carnegie’s Weill Hall in New York past February and a performance of Schumann piano concerto with Louisiana Philharmonic at the end of this month. Right after performing in Louisiana, I will return to Baltimore to give another recital at the Music in the Great Hall concert series. 

I have an important project coming up too. I will be recording both sets of variations by Rachmaninoff – on a theme by Corelli Op.42 and on a theme by Chopin Op.22 – for Fanfare Cincinnati label. It is a really exciting project for me, as I have been willing to record a CD entirely devoted to Rachmaninoff long time ago. There are not too many recordings of Rachmaninoff’s works out there. Both of these compositions are outstanding, twenty years separate them, and I think it’s fascinating to experience how composer’s harmonic language and sense of form evolved, but at the same time other traits remained intact. Variations on a theme by Chopin are very rarely performed. It is a gem of a piece that is unfortunately neglected and remains under the shadows of his other famous piano works such as the second sonata for example. 

also have another project in mind, hopefully I will be able to make it to life in the near future: I would like to record two books of Préludes by Debussy, this should be a 2CD set. This is in terms of recording projects. 

Future performances

As far as future performances: I will be returning to New Orleans to play with Louisiana Philharmonic, I also have several concert tours in Colorado and Germany this summer, and I will be also performing in London’s Wigmore Hall, I am waiting for the date to be confirmed. 


Marianna Prjevalskaya – Photo credit: Chi Xu.


The most difficult thing you have overcome as a pianist? 

This is not an easy question. In fact there are certain things that I prefer to keep private. However, out of those I can share, I would probably say that I learned how to remain who I am no matter what others think of me or expect from me. And that was not easy! I am very vulnerable, so it was hard, sometimes it’s a struggle, but I manage. 

To bring you an example: this applies to competition experiences as well. It is hard to go to compete without ever thinking how well other contestants will play and whether the impression you will leave on a jury will be positive or negative.  I guess it is natural these type of thoughts might cross your mind, but they are very distracting! They push you away from who you are and they close the door to express yourself in an authentic way. You start loosing your confidence and it becomes very obvious from the outside. To remain intact of influences (and I don’t only mean during competitions, but even in a daily life) and the surroundings is hard, but possible. 

Which other living concert pianists influence you and why?

I could name several, but there is only one name that really stands out for me: Grigory Sokolov. 

I don’t like to use the word genius, but this is the only case I would use it. His performances are transcendental experiences. He is a performer who speaks from his truest self. 

I attended one of his recitals in London’s Wigmore Hall while I was a student at the Royal College of Music in London. For the first two minutes I was not sure if I loved it or I hated it, but on the third minute I noticed tears in my eyes. The first half of the concert was entirely dedicated to Rameau and the second half included works by Schubert and Schumann. Then six encores followed. It was beyond any description! I went backstage to talk to him, as I wanted to express my gratitude and to congratulate him, but as soon as I approached him I broke into heavy tears and could not say a word for a while. He just touched my soul so deeply that I understood his performance made a very powerful impact on me, no one else made it at such a large scale. Years have passed, but he remains for me, probably, the only one. His artistry is the type that resonates with me most, each note has a meaning, each silence has a meaning, each note has its beginning and its end! This is what matters most! There is no single superficial note and there is no note or phrase that lacks feeling or emotion. His musicianship is so powerful that he hypnotizes you, he takes control over you, and that is extremely hard to find nowadays. He is not trying to impress you with anything, he is just authentic. 

Advice to young pianists … 

My advice would be: never give up, be who you are no matter what, keep growing as a person, that will help you to grow as a musician, be authentic and inspiring. Life will respond to you. 

Don’t think 10 hours of daily practice will change you as a musician. Sometimes life experiences are responsible for that biggest change. And I don’t only mean happy experiences, but those unhappy as well. 

Hopes for the future …

I want to keep performing as much as I can, I want to engage as much audiences as possible. I also enjoy teaching, and hope I can be helpful sharing my experiences and knowledge with young students. 


Photo taken during recital in Carnegie’s Weill Hall by Jeffrey Holmes.




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Primavera Shima

What motivates you to play Piano?

Piano, or music in general, is first and foremost a communication medium and meditative tool for me. It helps me to express and gather my own thoughts and emotions. It’s an empathic conductor.

In 2010 you became the first ever dual recipient of the Sterndale Bennett Prize and the Scholarship since its inception 140 years ago. The same year, you received the Managing Director’s Award in the Jaques Samuel Intercollegiate Piano Competition.

Can you tell us more about these and what they meant to you?

Competitions do not always make much sense. They are very subjective, and one could argue they hardly are a valid measure of true musicianship. But it does feel good to be acknowledged, be it by peers, masters or members of the audience. And they are, in the end, one of the most effective stepping stones for young artists to get a wider recognition and real performing experience.

The first time I participated in the Jaques Samuel Competition in 2009 was a complete disaster. I was such a nervous wreck that my fingers were out of control, and I skipped the entire middle section of Schumann’s “In Der Nacht”! So, coming out of it with an award in 2010 was a confirmation that perseverance is essential, and that hard work eventually pays off.

The Sterndale Bennett Prize and Scholarship were extremely rewarding successes for me. Competitions aren’t always as gratifying and feel impersonal, as we approach them from the perspective of a contestant and do not give much thought about their meaning and history. But in the case of this scholarship, which is associated with a musical lineage and an educational institution, you realise that you are entrusted with their legacy and that an honorific token has been bestowed upon you with the prize.

Of course, all these events and prizes also stand as great means to encourage young artists to take risks, and to reward them, both spiritually, and, let’s not forget it, financially. Countless people and organisations contribute to these events and make them happen, and we should be thankful for their dedication to the arts.

That being said, there’s much to be said about the way we try to promote young artists and put them on a path to success. Competitions are too often a negative and repressive experience, and many of us feel that we should rethink how we want to help upcoming musicians to develop and strive. Competition and creativity, in a field that is rather subjective, are orthogonal.

Who has influenced you as a pianist the most? (could be a teacher, friend, another pianist or family member)

Countless people have left me with something to think about and contributed to making me the performer / person I am today.

If I had to single out a few of them, I think my biggest influences are my former teachers, John Perry and Margaret Hair. However, it would be incredibly selfish of me to not mention all the other people who helped shape and refine my musical style, and supported me throughout the years. So I’d like to address my warmest thanks – in no particular order – to Elizabeth Powell, Ian Fountain, and Marian Rybicki.

But it’s not only about people I have been in direct contact with: listening to great artists motivates and inspires me. I’m also a sucker for Jazz Standards. There’s something magical, comforting, and bittersweet about it, that it somehow manages to dramatically turn my mood around.

Earliest memory involving piano playing?

I can’t exactly pinpoint the first time I ever played piano or the turnaround moment that got me into music or performing. However, one of my earliest memories as a child practicing piano was this one time during a lesson, when my piano teacher got upset that I couldn’t follow a rhythm. She made me cry and told me that if I couldn’t do this, I might as well just stop playing right now.

I guess it’s another sign that perseverance and effort matter.

Proudest career moment / to date?

Life as an aspiring musician is riddled with disappointing roadblocks, but thankfully there are some uplifting moments.

My participation in the Animato concert series in February 2012 was one of them. It was founded by Mr Patrick Amat and is directed by Mr Marian Rybicki, who is my professor at the Ecole Normale de Musique de Paris, which lends the prestigious Salle Cortot for the occasion. The last concert I did prior to Animato was about 10 years ago, and I had forgotten how much I enjoy performing in public. Ever since, the only occasions I had were competitions or school concerts, and it was refreshing and reassuring to be in front of a real audience again.

I think that I can be thankful for having been riding an upward curve since 2010, after a few rather bumpy times. I received the 2010 Sterndale Bennett Prize and Scholarship, and graduated in 2011 from the Royal Academy of Music with my Bachelor’s degree. And it might not seem like much and appear to be a normal or necessary milestone in someone’s life, but I took a long and winding road to get there. Finally, 2012 has been a good year for me overall, as I also reached the finals of 2 international competitions, in Mayenne and Rhodes.

I hope and work for other memorable moments ahead.

In your opinion, what are the most important qualities in a great pianist? Any tips to young people who want to become concert pianists?

For me, having sensitivity, passion, and sincerity are some of the most important qualities I look for in a musician. I prefer to be moved, rather than to be wowed. I look up to musicians who are able to transport you through various feelings and places; able to paint pictures, and communicate human joys and sufferings. Technique certainly helps in order to communicate, but it just is the legwork of musicianship. Bare technique without soul isn’t art. Musicianship and showmanship are different qualities, and I put a stronger emphasis on the former.

I don’t know if I am in the best position to give advice to other young aspiring concert pianists, but I’d say this: do not get discouraged by the constant feeling of rejection and competitive bickering inherent to our field. Be open to the criticism of your peers and elders, but first and foremost embrace who you want to be as a musician.

The biggest challenge you have overcome (in piano playing)?

Every time I go on stage! Irrational insecurities trigger in me an enormous stage fright, to the point that I always end up pleading with people around me to quit at the last minute. Although performing is very fulfilling and rewarding, it is also an emotionally and physically draining experience each time. I get paralysed by fear of failure and disappointment.

What are you working on at the moment?

At the moment I am busy channelling my new found love for my newly born daughter and her older brother. They drive my everyday life and are the catalyst for a new album, which is still in early stages and will hopefully be out by the end of 2012.


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