Although music is now her life, in her early days concert pianist Elena Bashkirova was not sure that it was going to happen. Living in Berlin with husband Daniel Barenboim, she was born in Moscow, the daughter of prominent pianist and teacher Dmitri Bashkirov and a mother who was a violinist, she was drawn to the theater. ”I thought perhaps I should become an actress or a stage director,” she recollects in a phone interview from her Berlin home. But she studied piano from an early age, and although she was formally her father’s student for only three years, she believes that it was he who influenced her most.
In Israel, pianist Bashkirova is associated mainly with the annual Jerusalem International Chamber Music Festival, which she founded in 1996 and has been directing ever since, despite the fact that she is an artist in her own right, who has performed here in the framework of her festival and with local orchestras.
“In my father’s lessons, which often took place at home,” she says, “quality of sound and a sense of form were essential.”
She adds that as a teacher, her father never limited his students to piano music but tried to widen their music horizons. ”We listened to opera, symphony music, whatever.”
She was 16 when her father agreed to accept her into his class on the condition that she take her music studies seriously, ”I decided to give the piano a chance,” she laughs. But it was not until she was in her early 20s that she began to get a sense of the stage. She started to accompany the prominent violinist Gidon Kremer ”to whom I’m very grateful for his trust and for what I learned from him,” she says. Although her peers already felt comfortable on the concert stage, she only started to perform in public. But she doesn’t regret being a late bloomer. ”I think that my endeavors in other art forms gave me a wider vision,” she says.
Today, Bashkirova performs as a soloist with symphony orchestras, as well as playing in chamber ensembles and giving solo recitals. As for her musical preferences, Bashkirova defines them as classical, with Mozart being her favorite composer. ”He is often regarded as difficult to perform, but I feel so at ease with his music.” And she finds contemporary music interesting to perform as well.
Fifteen years ago, Bashkirova established the Jerusalem International Chamber Music Festival with the clear idea of contributing to this country’s musical life. This annual event, which traditionally takes place in early September and hosts leading European musicians, attracts its dedicated audience from all over the country. ”As soon as my kids grew up a little, I felt free to do something else. It would be wrong to say that I found the festival or the festival found me – but it looks like we were created for each other and are happy together.” She adds that since not every music lover would travel to Israel, ”we are now running mini Jerusalem Festivals in several cities in Europe, as well as in New York.”
The concert program features Manuel De Falla’s Nights in the Gardens of Spain and César Franck’sVariations Symphoniques, as well as Ravel’s Rapsodie Espagnole and Debussy’s Nocturnes. She describes the program as ”most beautiful and delicious” and says she is looking forward to appearing again before the responsive Israeli public.
Next week Bashkirova will appear in a concert series of the New Haifa Symphony under the orchestra’s artistic director Noam Sherif on May 28 – June 1, performing Nights in the Gardens of Spain and Variations Symphoniques.