Austin | Dallas | Houston
Scales, arpeggios & octaves

Van Cliburn gold medalist whiz kid weighs in on Pussy Riot, Coldplay and music in his head

Enlarge
Slideshow
Vadym Kholodenko
Society for the Performing Arts hosts Vadym Kholodenko for his Houston debut. Photo by Ellen Appel / The Van Cliburn Foundation
Cliburn winner Vadym Kholodenko
Vadym Kholodenko is the gold medal winner of the 14th Van Cliburn International Piano Competition. Photo courtesy of The Cliburn
Vadym Kholodenko
Kholodenko lives in Moscow, where he's a student of Vera Gornostaeva at the Moscow P.I. Tchaikovsky Conservatory. Courtesy of Ellen Appel-Mike Moreland/The Cliburn
Vadym Kholodenko
Cliburn winner Vadym Kholodenko
Vadym Kholodenko

When one thinks of classical musicians from across the pond, one typically assumes that they come from a musical family whose métier extends back generations. After all, classical music is embedded in the history of so many European countries. It's in their blood — so it seems.

That's not the case for 27-year-old Vadym Kholodenko, the gold medal winner of the 14th Van Cliburn International Piano Competition, which was held in Fort Worth this summer. The Ukranian-born musician, encouraged by his parents, was enchanted by the art form from an early age. At 13 years old, he was already traveling the world performing solo recitals and headlining with symphony orchestras of repute. Today, Kholodenko lives in Moscow, where he's a student of Vera Gornostaeva at the Moscow P.I. Tchaikovsky Conservatory.

Society for the Performing Arts hosts the pianist for his Houston debut Saturday in a program that includes Mozart's Rondo in D Major, K. 485 and Rondo in A Minor, K. 511; Franz Liszt's Réminiscences de Don Juan (after Mozart); and Sergei Rachmaninov's Études-tableaux, Op. 39.

CultureMap chatted with Kholodenko via email from his abode in Moscow to learn a tad more about what makes this musical genius tick.

CultureMap: To prepare for the Van Cliburn competition, you practiced upward of 10 hours per day. Describe the kinds of things you do to be in tip top shape.

Vadym Kholodenko: It's usual practice time. I prepared as much as I usually do for a season concert. Also, I like to practice in old fashioned style — playing scales, arpeggios, octaves — that sort of thing.

CM: You composed your cadenza for Mozart's Piano Concerto No. 21, which you played at the Cliburn, on the plane en route to Fort Worth. Without being able to sit at the piano, how did you do it? Do you hear music in your head?

VK: This is fun for all musicians. It's very demanding and interesting, though, it's not necessary to sit at the piano to be able to write three minutes of stylized music. I composed in my childhood, but abandoned this a long time ago. I'm not talented in composition, but I do I hear music in my head all the time.

CM: Who gave you your start in music? When did you know you wanted to be a pianist?

VK: My mother brought me to musical school. From the very beginning, I felt that music took a special place in my life. I don't remember the particular time when I realized I wanted to be a pianist because it was so natural for me.

CM: Recently, Russia has been scrutinized for human rights concerns that include gay rights and the treatment of Pussy Riot artists. Recently, Gergiev sided with Putin against the actions of Pussy Riot. What do you think about all this and what's your wish for Russia?

VK: Gergiev has his own point of view. If somebody would like to help gay people or Pussy Riot in Russia, he or she should do something about it. Boisterous Internet discussions about these topics is just useless speculation and shady PR. I wish luck and prosperity for Russia.

CM: Your daughter, Nika, is almost 3 years old. Will you encourage her to play music, perhaps play the piano?

VK: I will try to get her interested in music overall, but I won't try to force it. My parents never forced me to practice, and I am very grateful to them.

CM: When you aren't listening to classical music, what type of music do you enjoy?

VK: I listen to different styles of music. When you are on the road, it's impossible to listen to classical music. Classical music requires special surroundings and circumstances. My favorites bands are Radiohead, Coldplay and System of a Down.

___

The Society for the Performing Arts presents Vadym Kholodenko in recital on Saturday, 8 p.m., at Wortham Theater Center. Tickets start at $23 and can be purchased online or by calling 713-227-4772.

Newsletters for exploring your city

Daily Digest

Houston news, views + events

The Dining Report

News you can eat

Insider Offers

Curated experiences at exclusive prices

Promo Alerts

Special offers + exclusive deals

We will not share or sell your email address