For most of us, 25 sounds like the cut-off. By the time we all hit the ever-looming mid-20s mark, we want certain goals to be accomplished: Stop smoking, finish college, secure that elusive “real job,” find affordable dwellings that don’t resemble our parents’ newly remodeled guest room. Still for those other guys – the prodigies, over-achievers, go-getters and such – 25 might just be the new 40. With $20,000, a recording contract, three years of talent management and a U.S. concert tour secured for himself, it’s a wonder what 25-year-old pianist Alexander Kobrin will do next. After his not-so-surprising win at the 12th Van Cliburn International Piano Competition in Fort Worth, Texas, earlier this year, Kobrin is now set to embark upon his first solo U.S. tour.
Though the young Russian has been playing since he was only five, Kobrin did not enter the competition circuit until the age of 18. Over the course of the past seven years, he has been awarded top honors at the 1999 Busoni International Competition, the 2000 Frederick Chopin International Piano Competition and the 2003 Hamamatsu International Piano Competition. Noted for his high-intensity performance style, gifted ear for the nuances of classical composition, and often times perplexing knack for self-criticism, Kobrin epitomizes a prodigy in his prime. Still, standing on the cusp of what many think will be Kobrin’s big break, the young pianist appears as modest as ever and eager to see what the future has in store for him. In conversation with Artsweek, the gold medalist takes it all in, looks ahead, and vows to stay grounded, no matter where his career may take him.
Artsweek: Being so young, how do you approach the next three years? Where do you hope to be, professionally and personally, after the Van Cliburn prize runs its course?
Alexander Kobrin: I don’t like to make plans. I had plans before the Van Cliburn, and now, well, they are no good to me now. Things change.
How, if at all, does concert performance differ from competition for you? Do you enjoy one over the other?
(Laughs) I hate competition. That isn’t how I like to play. I like to perform. I like performance much more.
Where will this three-year contract take you, touring-wise? Are there any places in particular that you especially want to visit?
I am enjoying the U.S. I don’t know [if you know] I’ve never been here. I have not played here on tour, so it is interesting to me. I don’t know how familiar you are with Europe, but Italy … Italy is a beautiful place. And [I look forward to visiting] Japan … to playing in Tokyo.
Given that you have been playing since you were practically a toddler, but were you at all interested, or even influenced by other genres of music growing up? If so, who or what interested you? And what are you listening to now?
I started to play [piano] when I was five. I did not start competing until I was 18, which left lots of time to be a normal kid. I played soccer. I played piano, but that wasn’t my life. When I was a boy, it was not always [about] the piano. I was a regular kid. I think it’s very important to stay normal, to do normal things. I still do normal things. When I am in my car I listen to rock [or] pop like everyone else.
I have listened to the competition itself, but are there other discs in the works or that have been released?
There is a recording of the Van Cliburn, which you could buy now. It has the songs on there from [the competition]. I would like to do more recordings, but right now I will [be on] tour going all over the world.
How do you feel, being as young as you are and playing, even at college campuses, to a primarily older audience? What would you say, or want to express, to people of your generation regarding classical music?
It isn’t like a rock or pop concert. There isn’t really performance. People that come to see classical music should know they come for the music, not the action of, say, a show. It is more like the theater. It’s a lot like going to see a play at the theater, but with only one actor.
Alexander Kobrin will perform a solo recital on Wednesday, Oct. 5 at 8 p.m. in Campbell Hall. The show, which features pieces by Schumann and Rachmaninoff, is being presented by UCSB Arts & Lectures. Ticket prices are $40 for the public and $17 for students.