Lilya knows the score

As a young student, the Russian-born pianist was told that with a name like ‘Zilberstein’ she would never be allowed to enter international competitions. The rest is history.

The 12th Felicja Blumental chamber music festival, which has won the reputation of being one of this country’s most exciting chamber music events, takes place between May 10 and 15 at the Tel Aviv Museum of Art. The festival, dedicated to the memory of the outstanding Polish pianist, was founded by her daughter, soprano singer Annette Celine, who also co-directs, along with Avigail Arnheim. Every year, the festival, which boasts creative programming and uncompromising music quality, presents new names to its devoted audience, and German-based, Moscow-born pianist Lilya Zilberstein is among them.

But the renowned pianist, who nowadays enjoys a busy globe-trotting career started her music studies almost by chance.

“It all began when I was five. I was a bold child, and while walking in the park with my Grandmother, I used to approach old people seated on the benches and ask them if they would like me to sing them a song,” recollects Zilberstein in a phone interview from Holland, where she is on a concert tour. “One of the old ladies who heard me singing told to my grandmother that I have a musical ear and I should be sent to music school.”

Zilberstein’s parents were not musicians, but her grandmother, the niece of the legendary Odessa violin teacher Pyotr Stoliarsky, found a private tutor for her. She was accepted to the Gnessin Institute and 12 later graduated with a gold medal. But she had her share of difficulties along the way.

“I was probably the only student there who tried to enter international music competitions,” Zilberstein says. But in order to represent the school, she had to undergo internal competitions, which she somehow always failed to win. Eventually one of the professors told her openly, “Lilya, with a family name like yours, you’ll never go abroad. You should fictitiously marry some Ivanov.”

“I was shocked,” Zilberstein says. “I was a naïve 21-year-old girl, and according to what we were told, the Soviet Union was a family of the equal. Nationality was never a criteria for my in choosing my friends.” Eventually, however, she succeeded in getting through as is, and in 1988 she won the prestigious Busoni Competition, which gave a push to her international career.

IN 1990, Zilberstein moved to Germany. Why, of all places?

“It was a new opportunity,” she says. “I performed in Germany and I inked a contract with the Deutsche Grammophon recording company. Also, I was pregnant with my first son and did not want, by any means, to give birth in Moscow – I was afraid of being infected with AIDS or some other disease, which was quite common in those days.

Nowadays, Zilberstein divides her time between performing and teaching at the Hamburg Hochschule fur Musik und Theater, where she is a guest professor. Her two sons are pianists, with their career on the rise, and since the younger one also plays cello, they appear together as a duo.

Zilberstein plays with orchestras under such conductors as Claudio Abbado, James Levine and Dmitry Kitaenko, and performs solo concerts, as well as appearing with various chamber ensembles. She plays a mostly romantic repertoire, which, she says, “spans a lengthy period, from Chopin to Rachmaninov, which is more than one hundred years. But I also play Mozart, Bartok, Prokofiev and Shostakovich. My career is very busy – I play different pieces every week, and I like it.”

Chamber music, however, is another story. Zilberstein performs it mostly at summer festivals, in places like Lugano and Lockenhaus with such partners as Maxim Vengerov, Gideon Kremer and pianist Martha Argerich, with whom she’s been playing a lot.

“From the outside,” she says, “Argerich makes an impression of being a very decisive musician with an infallible technique, but this is not exactly true. We spend a lot of time together, working on the programs, and we discuss various aspects of the pieces. Martha and I are very different, which is probably what makes the performance so successful.

“It’s true that a soloist’s career is a lonely career, which makes encounters with great musicians even more special,” Zilberstein says. “I remember a concert at the Martha Argerich Festival in Buenos Aires’s Teatro Colon – I looked from the stage into the concert hall and felt incredibly, unbelievably happy.”

Zilberstein plays Chopin’s Second Piano Concerto with the Kibbutz Chamber Orchestra under Yitzhak Steiner at the opening gala concert May 10 at 8:30 p.m. and will give a recital on Friday, May 14 at 12 p.m.

For reservations and a detailed festival program: 1-700-555-114, http://blumentalfestival.com.

By MAXIM REIDER
04/05/2010

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