Van Cliburn

Cliburn Confidential: meet Oleksandr Poliykov

Cliburn confidential

24 of 30

A series of conversations with the Cliburn competitors

Oleksandr (Alex) Poliykov

(Pronounced A-lex POHL-ee-kov)

Nationality: Ukrainian

Born: Kiev

Lives: Poliykov divides his time between Kiev, where he studies at the Tchaikovsky National Academy of Music, and Boston, where he continues his postgraduate education at the Boston Conservatory.

Age: 25

His reaction to the Boston Marathon bombing: “I found out about Boston’s tragedy from mass media, and the next moment, I called my friends to ask if everything is all right with them because at that time I was in Ukraine,” Poliykov says via email. “I’m shocked that such wild, cruel and intolerable actions of violence [still exist] in our modern civilized world. And I express my deepest condolences to all the victims of this terror and their families.”

Musical memories: “I started playing at the age of 3, and was taught by my mother, who is a piano and vocal teacher,” he says. Music has surrounded him as long as he can remember, whether in the form of his mother’s students or coming from a record player at night.

“Later, she was organizing concerts where I could play solo, four hands, or chamber music, and I loved those minutes of performances,” he adds. “The older I was becoming and the more I was playing, the dream to become a great artist was becoming more and more conscious.”

Why he’s also studying to be a conductor: “The world of orchestra music was always interesting for me, and I made this decision, to have a right and possibility, to touch orchestral masterpieces with my own hands,” he says, adding that he was always astonished by the level of artistry and musicianship among well-known conductors, including Leonard Bernstein, James Levine and many others.

“One of the many interesting and important facts about conducting, and I don’t think that average listener usually [gives] this a thought, is that each field of conducting, whether it is a symphonic work, an accompaniment with a soloist(-s), an opera, or a ballet, requires very specific adjustments in technique.”

What he does when he’s not playing: Reads scores, meets with friends, attends concerts. “When I travel, I like taking photographs, which is also my hobby, and I graduated from the New York Institute of Photography.” He really loved the movie The Artist, the modern silent film that won the 2011 Best Picture Oscar.

Recent books he has read include Hermann Hesse’s Das Glasperlenspiel, aka The Glass Bead Game, Hesse’s final novel, which is a 23rd-century-set story about a man obsessed with becoming a master of the complex Glass Bead Game; and a rereading of The Van Cliburn Story, by longtime Chicago Tribune arts critic Howard Reich.

What he’s listening to: Tchaikovsky Concerto No. 1 (1958) by Van Cliburn, Kiril Kondrashin, conductor; Brahms: The Complete Symphonies, Berlin Philharmonic, conducted by Herbert von Karajan; Mstislav Rostropovich conducting Prokofiev’s fifth and seventh symphonies; Shostakovich’s 10th symphony performed by the Leningrad Philharmonic and conducted by Evgeny Mravinsky. For popular music, he listens to Queen and Sting.

If he could meet any composer, dead or alive, who would it be and what would he ask? “It [would]l be a tremendous gift to meet with any of them, and the question would be: ‘How would they feel if they knew that their pieces, that were written with soul and heart, are used in a music contests?”

— Robert Philpot