Blog: Zlata Chochieva Flying Free

Zlata Chochieva’s sophisticated pianism and bold musical personality have drawn rave reviews in recent seasons. She talks to Andrew Stewart about her Wigmore Hall debut programme, the importance of self-awareness and the joys of individual expression.

It takes courage for a young musician to enter the danger zone of creative innovation. Zlata Chochieva has the heart for the journey; in fact, she thrives whenever she passes the borders of convention in search of fresh ways of expression, a point underlined by her growing collection of critical accolades and plaudits. The Salzburg-based Russian pianist, born in Moscow in 1985, regards knowledge and understanding as preconditions for being flexible and free in performance. That she owns the insight and imagination necessary for genuine artistic freedom was recently confirmed when Gramophone ranked her album of Chopin’s Etudes alongside those of Perahia and Pollini in its Top 50 of the greatest Chopin recordings.

Wigmore Hall’s audience has the chance to experience Zlata’s strikingly individual artistry on Tuesday 26 March 2019. Her debut recital could fairly be billed as ‘An invitation to the dance’. It opens with the Suite from the Violin Partita No. 3: Prelude, Gavotte & Gigue, Rachmaninov’s scintillating transcription of Bach. ‘I just love playing this piece, although it’s quite challenging to start the programme with,’ she observes. ‘But it’s a great way to grab the audience. We need to create our own world, our own voice, and understand what we want to bring to our art.’ The programme continues with a sequence of mazurkas by Chopin and Skryabin. ‘There’s something similar between them but also a huge gap,’ comments Zlata. ‘Skryabin went so much further than Chopin with the form.’ There are big contrasts, too, in her pre-interval choice of Liszt, a compelling combination of his wistful Valse oubliée No. 2 and daringly dissonant Second Mephisto Waltz.

Rachmaninov occupies the evening’s second half, which sets a captivating choice of miniatures – the Canon in E minor and Prelude in F, Fragments and the Oriental Sketch – in company with the Piano Sonata No. 1 in D minor Op. 28. ‘A lifetime is not enough to explore all the ideas in Rachmaninov’s First Sonata,’ she notes. ‘When you’re no longer a student and are alone with the audience, then you understand that the main teacher of your life is the stage. It’s about being self-aware. The stage makes you understand yourself more.’

Zlata’s determination to perform took hold at an early age. ‘My parents were extremely supportive and never pushed me,’ she recalls. ‘Since I was seven, my main desire was to become a pianist. That was very important for me. My mother never forced me to practise and be like a robot. I’m very grateful for that, because it can really destroy a personality if you force a child too much. I found it natural to perform then and would do exactly the same again.’

Young Zlata’s good fortune continued when Mikhail Pletnev offered to teach her. The opportunity changed her life. ‘That was the greatest luck of all,’ she recalls. ‘I worked with him for almost three years. During that time, I began thinking of myself as an artist. He helped me understand what I needed as an artist and what I should tell the audience. I started thinking in a more mature way about myself. Pletnev never told me what to do, but always motivated me to find my own ideas, to be creative and bring something new, something unique to every piece.’

This event was recorded at Wigmore Hall on Tuesday 26 March 2019

This article was originally published in The Score magazine in Spring 2019. The magazine is curated exclusively for Friends of Wigmore Hall and is published 3 times a year. To find out more about Friends of Wigmore Hall please visit here