Steinway artist Raphael Alexandre Lustchevsky performed a Chopin recital in Kota Kinabalu on May 8, 2010 as part of the worldwide celebrations “Chopin2010”. 2010 was the 200th anniversary of the birth date of Frédéric François Chopin.
I chatted with him after his masterclass, and he said:
Music is a thing of beauty; it brings good things to your life
The masterclass was at violinist Yap Ling‘s house. I looked through the window and could see Lustchevsky with a student. He was wearing a long-sleeved, white shirt, tapping his foot and making small conducting movements with his hand to encourage his student to keep up the pace. I thought: He’s grooving to the classics!
“That is deliberate,” he told me after the session was over. Lustchevsky does not believe in browbeating his students.
“Music is a thing to be enjoyed! The trick is to find the right words to capture a moment. When you want to describe something, you need to find a few choice words, usually something really every day and ordinary, which will get your point across. It helps the student warm up and relax a bit.
“It happened with me earlier today, with Yap Ling’s daughter,” he continued. “She was sitting at the piano, quite tense while she played, and I just said something — I can’t remember what — but was like, ‘Think of it like this’, and she laughed and relaxed! Her playing grew, developed like this (he spread his arms wide). It was a huge, immediate improvement.”
Lustchevsky home base is Warsaw, although his music base is Zürich. “My agent is in Zürich, and I play more music in Switzerland than I play in Poland.” He says this is not a problem, especially with the availability of budget airlines like Ryanair and Easyjet. “It means, if you plan ahead a bit, you can quite easily fly somewhere for an opera, stay overnight and come back in the morning. Things like that.”
Lustchevsky was an only child, his father was a scientist and his mother a piano teacher. She taught him when he was five but quickly decided that he needed to be taught by someone other than his parent, and found him a very good teacher in Poland. Lustchevsky continued taking lessons with this Polish teacher, even when the family moved to Mexico. He returned to Poland every year to take the state school examinations which would enable him to move through the Polish school system. So he brought back assignments from his music teacher as well.
“I suppose, because I was a child prodigy, a lot of attention was paid to me, articles in the newspapers and all that. I gave my first public performance in Mexico when I was twelve, and I think that’s when I realised that this was something I really liked doing, that it really pleased me.”
The family moved back to Poland when he was twelve, specifically because of his education. “We came back so that I could continue my education as a normal Polish child.”
Lustchevsky speaks Polish, English, Spanish, German, Russian and Portuguese. “Polish because it’s my mother tongue, English because we lived there for a while, Spanish because we lived in Mexico [SabahSongs guesses that Portuguese is a spin-off from that], Russian because we were taught that in school, and German because I had the chance to do my PhD in Germany, much later on.”
Having taught all over the world, Lustchevsky said, “Students everywhere generally have the same kind of problems. Some — this applies to many Asians, who are very hard-working — concentrate on the work of it, on mastering the technical aspects, and are very competent and brave and ready to take on a challenge. Yet there is sometimes something missing about the feeling of the music. Something is lost in all that work.
“On the other hand, I have also had students who are effortlessly gifted: their placement, their touch and the shape of their music can be just so right. But they don’t have the discipline to work. Either they don’t have the time to fit it in the practice, or they are disorganised. Anyway, they don’t grow, and I think, ‘What a waste!'”
I said Asian children tend to have a lot of pressure put on them. Many have some kind of tuition seven days a week. In this very competitive world, is it still worthwhile to study music, even if it will never show up on your cv, or earn you any money?
Lustchevsky was clearly passionate about the worth of music in a person’s life.
“Of course it is!” he said, eyes lit up.
“Music is a thing of beauty. It brings good things into your life. You also benefit socially — music brings good people to you. There’s joy in sharing. If someone says to you, ‘I have tickets to the opera, do you want to come?’ And you say, ‘Oh no. I don’t know about that, so I don’t like that,’ you lose something great that is out there to be enjoyed.
“Children should always be given the chance to be exposed to learning music. I believe that. Even if they have some exposure when they are young, and it stops for years and years, a seed has been sown, there is some understanding of the joy associated with making music. Later on, they might recall that and look for it again.”
What if the child hates his or her lessons, should a parent force them to continue?
His answer was emphatic. “No. That is an adult trying to fulfil unrealised dreams for themselves, and that is not a good thing.”
Looking to the future, Lustchevsky said, “There is so much out there written for the piano, that I could have several lifetimes and not be able to cover everything out there. I can’t ever imagine running out of new works to play.”
But he doesn’t have dreams of composing orchestral scores. “That means writing things down, and I don’t like to write things down. Sometimes I improvise, but I never write things down.”
Improvise? How about jazz then? “I don’t play jazz. The technique is completely different. To develop techniques for that kind of playing would negate the techniques mastered for playing classical music.”
Apart from learning new piano works, Lustchevsky wants the opportunity to travel more. “I have been to so many places, and yet I have a list of places I still wish to visit — I was talking to Yap Ling about it, the first on that list is China! And it’s such a wonderful way to discover the world, through the music.”