“I’m coming alone [to Texas],” says Oleksandr Poliykov (who goes by “Alex”), 25. But the young Ukrainian pianist knows they’ll hear him back at home all the same. “I’m especially glad that my family and friends in Europe and the U.S. will be able to watch the entire competition, thanks to the broadcast [streaming live, which you’ll also be able to see on our website].”
Poliykov travels the world like many of the Cliburn competitors, but in the past few years has planted some roots in New England, where he’s been studying at the Boston Conservatory with pianist Michael Lewin and others.
“From the time I started studying in Boston,” he says, “I experienced nothing but kindness and friendship from the people surrounding me. I’m so thankful to my American teachers for their professionalism and warmth.”
Born in Kiev, Poliykov began playing the piano at age three, gave his first recitals at six—and by age eight played Beethoven’s first piano concerto with a full symphony orchestra. He remembers much excitement and “many happy moments” from a childhood filled with music.
Third-prize winner at the International Franz Liszt Piano Competition in 2011, Poliykov has won a number of other awards, including second prize at the Liszt Competition in 2009, a recent third prize at the Vladimir Horowitz International Piano Competition in Kiev, and a first prize at the Steinway Society Competition in Boston. As a member of the Lumière Piano Trio, he won third prize at the International New England Chamber Music Competition.
He is an aspiring conductor, too. Earlier this year, he was at home in Ukraine to conduct performances of Tchaikovsky’s fourth symphony and opera, Eugene Onegin.
Poliykov seems to feel a special connection with the works of pianist/composer Franz Liszt. How did that come about?
“Once I had the honor of playing two Liszt sonatas for [Australian pianist] Leslie Howard, who is a great musician famous for his knowledge and for his connection with Ferenc Liszt—he performed and recorded all Liszt’s works on CDs,” says Poliykov. “That meeting changed my understanding of this composer, and I wanted to know more of his music, which is full of deep emotions and heart, not just brilliant virtuosity.”
What does he do for fun? He sounds realistic about his busy schedule: “If there is any gap of time, I love photography, meeting old friends, and going to concerts.”
This is his first visit to Texas, he says, adding that “it was my dream to meet Van Cliburn in person. It is a great pity that this is impossible. But I wish to visit the cemetery and bring flowers from me and my family, with all our respect and love to this remarkable musician.”
Poliykov is very interested in finding ways to get children and teens interested in classical music, and thinks Van Cliburn’s own story could be a part of that.
“I would like to tell kids about two legendary geniuses of art, Leonard Bernstein and Van Cliburn,” he says. “Both are great examples, for me also. They had equally high patriotic attitudes, and they were popularizers, introducing great masterpieces of music to the new generations. Their actions are close to my heart.” Recently, he’s organized several free orchestral concerts in Ukraine for students, and is in the midst of putting together a festival to celebrate the 180th anniversary of Johannes Brahms’ birth.
◊ Here is a video of Oleksandr Poliykov playing one of Liszt’s Mephisto Waltzes in the semifinals of the Liszt Competition in 2011:
Oleksandr Poliykov's Van Cliburn International Piano Competition Repertoire:
Preliminary Recital, Phase I
LISZT Hungarian Rhapsody No. 9
MUSSORGSKY Pictures at an Exhibition
Preliminary Recital, Phase II
WAGNER-LISZT Isoldens Liebestod
BRAHMS Sonata No. 3 in F Minor, op. 5
BEETHOVEN 15 Variations and Fugue in E-flat Major, op. 35 ("Eroica")
PROKOFIEV Sonata No. 6 in A Major, op. 82
BRAHMS Piano Quintet in F Minor, op. 34
BEETHOVEN Piano Concerto No. 5 in E-flat Major, op. 73
TCHAIKOVSKY Piano Concerto No. 1 in B-flat Minor, op. 23
◊ To see a slideshow of all of the competitors, with bios and links to our profiles of them, click here.