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Elisabeth Leonskaja (Piano)

One French journalist wrote she was “the last grande dame of the Soviet school while a Spanish critic named her the “Anti-Diva”. Both are right.

For decades now, Elisabeth Leonskaja is one of the most celebrated pianists of our time. In a world dominated by the media, Elisabeth Leonskaja has remained true to herself and her music and in so doing is following in the footsteps of great Russian musicians of the Soviet era such as David Oistrakh, Svyatoslav Richter and Emil Gilels, none of whom ever wavered in their focus on the quintessence of music despite working in a very difficult political atmosphere. Her almost legendary modesty still makes her somewhat media-shy today. Yet as soon as she walks out on stage audiences can sense the power behind the fact that music is and always has been her life’s work.

Born in Tbilisi in Georgia to a Russian family, she was regarded as a child prodigy and gave her first concerts as early as the age of eleven. Her exceptional talent soon brought her to study at the Moscow Conservatoire. While still a student at the Conservatoire she won prizes in the prestigious Enescu, Marguerite Long and Queen Elisabeth International Piano Competitions.

Elisabeth Leonskaja’s musical development was shaped and influenced to a decisive degree by her collaboration with Svyatoslav Richter. The maestro recognised her exceptional talent and fostered her development not only through teaching and giving her advice, but also by inviting her to perform numerous duets with him. The musical partnership and personal friendship between Svyatoslav Richter and Elisabeth Leonskaja endured until Richter’s death in 1997. In 1978 Elisabeth Leonskaja left the Soviet Union and made her new home in Vienna. Her sensational performance at the Salzburg Festival in 1979 marked the beginning of her steadily blossoming career as a concert pianist in the West.

Elisabeth Leonskaja has appeared as a soloist with virtually every leading orchestra in the world, among them the New York Philharmonic, the Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra, the Cleveland Orchestra, the London Philharmonic Orchestra, the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, the BBC Symphony Orchestra in London, the Tonhalle Orchestra in Zurich, the Berliner Philharmoniker, the Gewandhausorchester in Leipzig, the Radio Orchestras of Hamburg, Cologne and Munich and the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra to name but a few under the batons of such leading conductors as Kurt Masur, Sir Colin Davis, Christoph Eschenbach, Christoph von Dohnányi, Kurt Sanderling, Mariss Jansons and Yuri Temirkanov.

Elisabeth Leonskaja is a frequent and welcome guest at prestigious summer music festivals including the Salzburg, Vienna and Lucerne Festivals, the Schleswig-Holstein Musik Festival, the Schubertiade in Hohenems and Schwarzenberg, and she also gives series of piano recitals at the world’s major music centres, such as Paris, Madrid, Barcelona, London, Edinburgh, Munich, Zurich and Vienna.

Despite her busy schedule as a soloist, chamber music has always played a prominent role in her career and she frequently appears with the Emerson, Borodin and Artemis Quartets.

Numerous recordings bear testimony to the pianist’s outstanding artistic achievements, and she has been awarded prizes such as the Caecilia Prize for her Brahms piano sonatas and the Diapason d’Or for her recordings of works by Liszt. Other significant recordings include the Tchaikovsky Piano Concerti with the New York Philharmonic Orchestra under Kurt Masur, the Chopin Piano Concerti with the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra under Vladimir Ashkenazy and the Shostakovich Piano Concerti with the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra.

Elisabeth Leonskaja’s outstanding achievements have also gained her great recognition in her adopted home of the Republic of Austria. She has been made an Honorary Member of Vienna’s Konzerthaus. In 2006 she was awarded the Austrian Cross of Honour, First Class, for her services to the country’s cultural life – the highest award of its kind in Austria. Today the “lioness of the keyboard” has matured into an exceptional pianist, one who is above emphasising her virtuoso play and who enjoys the warmest of receptions wherever she appears.

Writing for the Parisian music magazine Diapason, André Boucourechliev wrote that “Elisabeth Leonskaja’s journey leads from one pinnacle to another. By constantly excelling herself, driven by her own personal demands, by her passion and her intelligence, she has scaled the heights achieved only by the greatest, not just of today, but of an entire epoch – those of a Clara Haskil, a Lipatti, and of modernity to boot.”

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