Katya Apekisheva

The Russian pianist on the genius of Musorgsky and why Schumann’s Kinderszenen isn’t for children at all.

Back in December 2008 BBC Music Magazine spotted Katya Apekisheva as a talent to watch. We caught up with her ahead of a solo recital at Wigmore Hall this December to find out what she was up to.

You’ve now recorded both chamber and solo piano repertoire. Which do you see yourself specialising in?
I wouldn’t particularly want to label myself as either – I like both equally. These days I think classical musicians like to do different things because whatever instrument you play, chamber music makes you a better musician – you learn from your colleagues. I wouldn’t want to give up playing chamber music at all because it means I can play amazing music and hopefully enriching my own solo playing.

For your programme at Wigmore Hall this month you’re bringing together music by Schumann’s Kinderszenen and Musorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition. How did you decide on the programme?
It was a combination of things. My last Wigmore programme was more adventurous – I did a Russian/French programme with some quite unknown pieces. I pulled it off but it was quite a challenge. I felt that towards Christmas I wanted to do something a bit more audience-friendly and this particular concert has ended up having a lot to do with pictures too. I’ve played the Musorgsky piece for quite a few years and I think it’s a work of genius. [It shows] what the piano as an instrument is capable of. It’s not a coincidence that Ravel orchestrated it. This work goes so much deeper than just the titles and pictures. Some people say the ‘Promenade’ is people walking through the exhibition looking at paintings, for me it’s much more poignant than that – more connected with life and death.

Do you have to change your approach when you’re working on pieces that are very pictorial?
In some ways it makes life a little bit easier because you have the titles, the concrete image. So it helps you to interpret it – as opposed to something called simply ‘Sonata’, which is generally much more of a challenge because it doesn’t reveal how to interpret the music. But then some of the titles – in Kinderszenen for example – are quite mysterious. They’re not so clear as to say ‘Here it has to be lyrical, here it has to be fast and strong’. It’s not that simple. The pieces themselves aren’t technically hugely challenging – you can imagine younger people playing them – but the emotion is very subtle and I think even for adults they’re sometimes quite difficult.

You’re also performing a piece by your friend Dobrinka Tabakova in this concert too – can you tell us a bit about that?
Tabakova and I both came to study in London around the same time and we’ve been good friends since. I’ve played some of her chamber music before and I always find her music very appealing. She has her own language which I think is quite rare to find these days. The piece I’m playing in this concert is called Halo. She wrote it about 10 years ago and the inspiration came from seeing a beautiful halo which formed around the moon one summer’s night.

Katya Apekisheva will be appearing at Wigmore Hall on 22 December at 7.30pm

Interview by Elizabeth Davis