88 keys and 88 years: A Russian pianist defects then performs in Kansas City
Pianists Mikhail Voskresensky and Stanislav Ioudenitch join Classical KC's Christy L'Esperance for an extended conversation about Mikhail's life and music ahead of his performance in Kansas City. Mikhail shares the story of his harrowing escape during a Nazi attack when he was six years old, and how that experience helped motivate his choice to leave Russia in protest of their 2022 invasion of Ukraine.
When Russian-Ukrainian pianist Mikhail Voskresensky was a child, his mother made him a deal: if he practiced for three hours a day for two weeks straight, he'd receive a new bicycle.
"I lasted two days," Voskresensky says with a laugh.
Those two days soon turned into a diligent practice routine, catapulting him into a long, fruitful career as a pianist and teacher. Voskresensky is a medalist of the First Van Cliburn competition, has performed internationally with world-renowned ensembles, and was on the faculty of the prestigious Moscow Conservatory. He left that post - and Russia - in 2022, however, to protest the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
Voskresensky was a young child during World War II, and remembers vividly the destruction Nazi occupiers left in their wake. "[There was] bombing every day. It was horrible," he remembers.
"Everything was fire. All of the houses in this small city were burned."
His grandfather was a priest and was able to prevent their home from destruction through his work. Voskresensky never forgot the horrors he experienced as a child, and saw echoes of those actions in Russia's invasion of Ukraine.
"I understood that I must do something, but to go on the street with the flag and cry? It is the way to prison," he notes. "I thought that I must express my protest through my actions."
He left behind his material belongings (including three grand pianos), friends, students, and colleagues to come to the United States - many of whom didn't support his idea.
"Propaganda in Russia is very high level. Every day they told us 'oh, we had to go to war to fight against fascists.' But the people in Ukraine are just like us."
With the help and support of colleagues in the United States, he and his some of his family members emigrated here in 2022. One of those colleagues is Stanislav Ioudenitch, artistic director of Park University's International Center for Music.
"I've known [Voskresensky] for a very long time," Ioudenitch notes, "because he was a star. I would even say superstar."
Although difficult and dark times are the reason Voskresensky came to the United States, the joy and passion of his music-making is a shining light.
"Music makes people more noble, think more about the existence of God, and music makes people be quiet and to improve their feelings, to improve their souls," Voskresensky adds.
Stanislav agrees, saying, "since music saves us, it saves the world as well."
"I'm very happy that I am a musician because I can to play for the people who want to listen to me," Voskresensky reflects.
"These people receive some very interesting direction of their human feelings, which help them to fight with the difficulties of life."
You can learn more about Mikhail Voskresensky at mikhailvoskresensky.com. More information about Mikhail's performance in Kansas City, Stanislav Ioudenitch and Park University's International Center for Music at icm.park.edu.