On This Day
2 July: Denis Kozhukhin Was Born

Winner of the First Prize in the 2010 Queen Elisabeth Competition in Brussels, pianist Denis Kozhukhin has established himself as one of the great pianists of his generation. His performances are praised by critics as “spellbinding,” “imperious,” and “mesmerizing.” Technically flawless, Kozhukhin “wisely combines the brilliance and power of his playing with a masterful sense of form, maturity, and unique sensitivity.”

Denis Kozhukhin Performs Bach/Siloti: “Prelude in B minor”

Tied with a Scarf

Denis Kozhukhin

Denis Kozhukhin

He was born on 2 July 1986 in Nizhny Novgorod, a city known during Soviet times as Gorky. His mother was a piano teacher, and his talents were discovered at an early age. Denis started piano lessons with his mother at the age of five, but he never felt under pressure from his parents. As he explained in an interview, “I had a special childhood, comparable to someone who is preparing for a professional sports career. I had to practice a lot and make sacrifices, but I never had the feeling that I missed out on anything.”

A funny anecdote relates that his mother once tied him to a chair with a scarf so that she could give piano lessons without being distracted. Denis remembers that his mother gave private piano lessons in their small flat, and there was no space to put him in a separate room. “When I was disturbing her she intervened with that scarf.” Denis also sang for nine years in his father’s choir, which he considers “one of the most stimulating learning environments for young people.”

Maurice Ravel: Piano Concerto in G Major (Denis Kozhukhin, piano; Swiss Romande Orchestra; Kazuki Yamada, cond.)

Loss of his Mother

Denis Kozhukhin

© Johan Jacobs

Denis actually had ambitions to become a singer, but once his voice had broken as a teenager, it was simply not strong enough for a professional singing career. “Being in a choir,” he explained, “you learn to keep your ears open. Especially if you then become a solo instrumentalist, it is a highly valuable experience.” Singing also fostered his great love for chamber music, and he simply loves cooperating with other musicians.

As a child, Kozhukhin attended the Balakirev School of Music, and after the death of his mother when he was only eleven, he continued his piano studies with Natalia Fish. As Denis later related, “I usually avoid making direct connections between my life and my music, but the loss of my mother marked my life forever. Even the happiest person on earth, when playing music, must become an actor. When you perform something that is very tragic, very dramatic, you have to enter into the role of the character, or in our case, the music.”

Denis Kozhukhin Performs Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No. 2 in C minor, Op. 18

Studying Under Dmitri Bashkirov

Dmitri Bashkirov

Dmitri Bashkirov

At the age of 14, Kozhukhin decided to move to Madrid, Spain, to further his training at the Reina Sofia School of Music. For Kozhukhin, these were the most important years of his life, both personally and professionally. He spent seven years at school, and he fell in love with Spain, quickly considering it his second home. “The fascination of the Reina Sofia School was not only the excellent training they offered us but also that they organised concerts across the country playing chamber music. The teachers were wonderful, with great dedication and generosity.”

According to Kozhukhin, his main reason for moving to Spain was to study with the great Russian teacher Dmitri Bashkirov. “I was lucky to be accepted. He made an exception because normally, he does not take on young students.” According to Kozhukhin, Bashkirov was a very inspiring man with a strong and sometimes explosive character. “He did not train us to play concerts and win competitions, but he prepared us for the future when we need to study alone.” Kuzhukhin also took lessons from Bashkirov’s assistant Claudio Martinez Mehner, whom he described as “an extraordinary musician.”

Sergei Prokofiev: Piano Sonata No. 7 in B-flat Major, Op. 83 (Denis Kozhukhin, piano)


Denis Kozhukhin

Denis Kozhukhin

For Kozhukhin, playing the piano is all about imagination. The problem sometimes is knowing exactly what you want. “The piano is a percussive instrument: the hammer hits the strings. But the piano is also a magic instrument. When one knows what one can get from the piano, the piano has absolutely no limits whatsoever. All the ideas are first born in your head, in your ears, in your imagination.”

Kozhukhin does not chase perfection in every performance. “You can play a concert without
hitting a single wrong note, and I really admire people who can do that. It’s an achievement, of course, and this is what we all aim for. Obviously, if you have too many wrong notes, it can kind of destroy the whole picture. However, you can go to concerts and sit there for two hours and not hear a wrong note, but it can be boring and empty. So, this thing of playing wrong notes, it’s really overjudged sometimes, and it shouldn’t become an obsession.”

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Denis Kozhukhin Performs Schubert

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