20-year-old French pianist Nathalia Milstein recently won the coveted first prize at the prestigious Dublin International Piano Competition — the first woman to do so in the history of the event. Born in Lyon, Milstein is currently pursuing postgraduate studies under Nelson Goerner at the Haute école de musique de Genève (HEM). Final Note travelled to the beautiful city of Lyon to chat with the young pianist about life since winning the competition.
Was your childhood home filled with music?
I was born into a family of musicians: my father is a pianist too and teaches in Geneva; my mother is viola solo at the Lyon Opera house; and my elder sister is a violinist. I have always heard music and the sounds of practising at home all day long, so being surrounded by such a musical environment naturally led me towards studying the piano! My father, Serguei Milstein, was my first and only teacher and mentor, until I entered the Haute école de musique de Genève, two years ago.
Did your studies at the Geneva Conservatoire of Music inspire you to become a concert pianist?
As I was studying under my father's direction, I entered his class in the Conservatoire when I was 14. I never had to ask myself whether I wanted to become a concert pianist, and no one ever forced me. My parents, both emigrants from the USSR, taught me in the same way as they were taught while studying in specialized music schools in Moscow. This means that you practice at a highly professional level from an early age, unless you are sure that you will not devote yourself to music later. So becoming a concert pianist has always been an obvious outcome...I never had to choose.
How would you define your current musical style, and whom do you count among your influences?
I guess my current 'style' of playing mostly includes elements from the Russian pianistic school. My grandfather was Professor of piano at the Moscow Conservatory; his teacher was the great Konstantin Igumnov, who is considered as one of the most significant figures of the Russian piano school. My father inherited this culture, and is transmitting it to all of his pupils. I often listen to the great pianists of the past century, such as Richter, Horowitz, Rubinstein, Gould.... Among current pianists, I greatly admire the art of Grigory Sokolov.
Is partaking in competitions an important part of your musical career?
I think that preparing for competitions is an efficient way to strengthen the experience of a young musician. You have to learn a heavy program, and play at your best from the very first moment of your performance in the competition. Every competition I did was an important step forward for me, in terms of my personal practice and stage experience. .
Why did you decide to enter the Dublin International Piano Competition?
I first saw the DIPC in the WFIMC (World Federation of International Music Competitions) list of competitions, and I really appreciated the fact that you could freely choose your entire program inside the given time limits, which I've never seen in other competitions. It was a great way of working on a program in which I could feel comfortable. This was the main reason for choosing this competition.
In the concerto competition, you selected Prokofiev’s Concerto No. 2 — why did you choose this piece, and what are the challenges of such a work?
I have chosen Prokofiev 2 for several reasons: as it is such a difficult work, it forced me to dive very deeply into many technical and musical issues — for example, you have practically no break in the entire piece, and this was an opportunity to improve on self-endurance! But I also consider this concerto as one of the greatest works ever written for piano — playing it with an orchestra for the first time was probably the most inspiring objective in my preparation!
What did you enjoy most about your experience in Ireland — have you made any new friendships?
The whole event was an absolutely remarkable professional and human experience. We were all welcomed and taken care of marvellously, and the DIPC team did so much work in putting all the competitors up with wonderful guest families, and giving them the means to practice. By the way, I would like to take this opportunity to thank them all again for their great professionalism, kindness and support. It was also of course very inspiring to meet fellow pianists, and listen to them. I am keeping in touch with some of them.
Since winning first prize at the DIPC, how has your life changed?
This prize is the first major award in my life. This is a huge jump in one’s career, and I didn't expect it to come at this point of my artistic development. Next season I will be playing in major European halls, and even have a debut concert in Carnegie Hall in New York, as part of my prize from the competition. Otherwise, it will not change any of my current plans. Winning the DIPC will undoubtedly help me to improve many aspects of my playing, and help to broaden my repertoire over the coming months and years.
What does your daily practice routine involve?
While I am working on a piece, I always try to imagine what is behind the score, and take into account the composer's intention behind every note, motif, modulation and so on. I then translate this into an idea or image, be that abstract or otherwise, for myself.
As a young pianist, what repertoire fills you with the most joy?
As a young pianist, I am open to all possible repertoire. I would just say I am maybe more in my element in romantic and early 20th-century music.
Are you enjoying your Masters at the Haute école de musique de Gèneve — what do you hope to gain from this qualification?
I have been studying with Nelson Goerner since 2013. I completed my Bachelor's degree under his direction, and am now pursuing my Masters with him. It is very important for me to continue the work we began two years ago. As a great concert pianist and artist, M. Goerner helps me and inspires me a lot. I will finish my Master's degree in 2017.
Tell us about your forthcoming concert at the National Opera House, Wexford as part of Wexford Festival Opera this October.
The recital at the National Opera House in Wexford is the first one I will be playing as the winner of the DIPC, and I am very much looking forward to playing in such a special setting.
Are you excited about your New York debut in Carnegie Hall next March — have you decided on your program yet?
Of course my debut in Carnegie Hall is one of the highlights of the next season. It will be my first time to visit the USA! I am not quite sure about my program yet, but of course I am trying to make the best choice for this important event.
What do you like to do for fun?
My hobbies include reading, listening to classical music, walking, following world news, or just meeting friends.
What are your plans for the remainder of 2015?
Essentially, I would like to work on my new programs. Besides those works that I wish to play in forthcoming concerts, I want to invest in my future musical projects — such as concerto repertoire, or a potential first CD.
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