Although he won a major piano competition (Marguérite Long/Jacques Thibaud) in Paris in 1955, Dmitri Bashkirov is probably not best known as a concert pianist.. He suffered from the severe Soviet regime and was not allowed to travel abroad until the early 90’s. However, in the meantime, he gave many concerts in his native Russia and built a solid reputation as a teacher, who trained many famous, sometimes internationally acclaimed pianists such as Arcadi Volodos, Nikolai Demidenko and Jonathan Gilad. He currently teaches at the Queen Sofia Academy in Madrid. He also gives worldwide master classes. I attended a few of his lessons between 21 and 23 October 2003, when he visited Muziekcentrum Vredenburg in Utrecht.
Although he announced at the beginning that he was “very ill”(and he was indeed coughing dangerously!), he showed an unusual energy for a 71 year old pianist. When students, mostly prize winners from international competitions, played for him he clapped in his hands or tapped on the floor. He came across as severe, yet not harsh. His bewildered looks or disapproval whenever he heard something he didn’t like were sometimes quite obvious. However, he also showed a lot of warmth and understanding for his students and never publicly humiliated them as the famous soprano Elisabeth Schwartzkopf once did during her notorious masterclass in Amsterdam in 1987.
Bashkirov emphasized what counted most for him; absolute fidelity to the printed score(s) and consistent ideas about tempi. He frequently stopped students to point out that Chopin or Liszt (to whom his master classes were dedicated) hadn’t written any change of tempi in their scores. He was genuinely surpised when a Russian student, who had just played Chopin’s 4th Scherzo in a very whimsical way, asked him: “But do you want to hear all the notes?”
On the other hand, he was sometimes flexible and acknowledged that pianists were allowed to freely interpret indications like “piano”or “forte”in a score, as long as they realized what a composer had originally written down. He emphasized that such indications can sometimes be relative and only get their true sense in the context of an entire composition.
Furthermore, he put a lot of emphasis on the harmonic aspects of a composition. With a lot of pianists, left hand passages in Chopin’s and Liszt’s music tend to remain unnoticed. Bashkirov showed that you should not just play the melody, but that you should above all emphasize the harmonic audacities of both Chopin’s and Liszt’s writing.
His diverse knowledge was impressive. He was particularly able to convey compositional elements in Liszt’s music and how these should be reflected in the interpretation. He explained for example how the last bars of the transcription “Auf dem Wasser zu singen”(after a song by Schubert) should sound “clear as water”. To another student who started the Etude “Chasse Neige”, inspired by falling snow flakes with great effet, he said: “Why do you play with so much emotion? This piece is about nature!”
plays Scriabin Piano Concerto (1-3)