Life changed for pianist Denis Kozhukhin in 2010 when he won the Queen Elisabeth Piano Competition in Brussels and was catapulted into the hectic world of international touring.

This weekend the 26-year-old will perform with the WA Symphony Orchestra as part of a month-long tour that includes Adelaide and Japan. It’s an exhausting schedule but Kozhukhin wouldn’t have it any other way. “Being a musician is not a profession, it is a style of life. It is consuming but it is a rich life and being able to share the music is special,” he says.

The Russian pianist says there was no magic formula for winning the competition that launched his career, just a lot of time, nerves and adrenaline.

“It was the result of everything I had worked on the year before. Competition is mental agony because the stress is so high. If you don’t know how to control your nerves it is very difficult.”
Kozhukhin was born into a family of musicians and schooled in traditional Russian piano technique, initially from his mother, from the age of four. He attended the Balakirev School of Music (founded by his father) and continued his studies with Dimitri Bashkirov.

“Those years were wonderful,” he says. “They were the golden years of piano teaching in Russia when there was a concentration of great talent, masters who spent their life giving to their students. It was not just about technique but the way you make the sound.”

Kozhukhin’s Russian polish will be on display with WASO when he performs the third piano concerto by his compatriot Prokofiev. The high-energy concerto is Prokofiev’s most optimistic and lyrical, with melodies in the slow movement depicting the endless Russian horizon.

“Here Prokofiev is full of life. The last movement is extremely powerful and energetic, it rolls faster and faster and it doesn’t end it just explodes. The audience will have the experience of touching something young, pure, energetic and kinaesthetic,” Kozhukhin says. It is also technically challenging, a reminder of why Prokofiev was called the pianist with the iron finger.

“Prokofiev’s technique was very percussive. There is lots of syncopation in the third movement and the bar line feels like it is moving. It is very important to listen to the orchestra; I have to have a little conductor inside myself.”

Kozhukhin will also perform a solo concert on Monday as part of WASO’s new international recital series. On the program is Prokofiev’s Sixth Piano Sonata, one of 10 sonatas considered to be the most demanding music written for piano. Kozhukhin recently performed the complete sonatas in Tokyo and London and his debut recording with Onyx Classics with the same repertoire received a five-star review in BBC Music Magazine.

He describes the sixth sonata as an important historical document. It is one of Prokofiev’s three War Sonatas written in 1940 in response to Stalin’s reign of terror.

“It is brutal physically and emotionally; it takes something from me every time. The War Sonatas are related to a historical event about my country and its suffering. People should know this, it is an important document.” The recital also includes works by Haydn, Franck, Schubert and Wagner’s arrangement of Liszt’s Tannhauser Overture.

Denis Kozhukhin performs with WASO at Perth Concert Hall on Friday and Saturday nights. He will give a solo recital at Government House Ballroom on Monday night.

This article copyright The West Australian newspaper 2013.