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Pianist Lily Maisky and Cellist Mischa Maisky – musicality runs in the genes

(This article is published in this month's German Ensemble Magazine.)

Lily Maisky - photo credit: Benjamin Brolet

As the daughter of world-renowned cellist Mischa Maisky, pianist Lily Maisky always felt a special connection to her father, who naturally inspired her reverence for classical music. “My father always was this enormous figure in music and naturally shared his gift and the joy of music.”

It was obvious early on that Lily’s younger brother, Sasha, would become the missing violinist of the Maisky family trio, which had been a dream of her father’s. “My father always had that vision of us making music together, but it was never forced. He gently encouraged both of us, giving musical advice in a way that was fun, not pushing technique, but rather inspiring my imagination,” says Lily, who freely admits to being somewhat of an awkward child, not fitting in with her classmates’ social climate. “I was never accepted, I was eccentric and always running off to practice, “she says,

photo credit: Ilona Oltuski – taken during rehearsal at the Martha Argerich Festival in Lugano Born in Paris and growing up in Brussels, Belgium, Lily started piano lessons at age four. Her teachers included Lyl Tiempo, Hagit Kyrbel, Ilana Davis, and Alan Weiss. “As a child, I was not the most eager piano student, always finding ways to cut daily practice time, often reading a book while pretending to pay attention, playing with one hand,” she says. But it was her early experiences of the musician’s lifestyle that preserved her fascination with the music’s context and the musicians in her personal life. “I always got along with adults better than with my peers. The grownups around my parents were my friends as well,” she remembers.

Photo: With Sasha, after rehearsal

“In the summers we would travel to music festivals with my parents, where my father performed.” At age six, Lily was present at the first edition of the illustrious Verbier festival; there were tours to Israel and Sienna, Italy, where Mischa Maisky gave master classes at the academy. Lily’s exposure to the world of performance over the years instilled in her pervasive ambitions: in 2001, she became a pupil at the Purcell School of Music, where she also expanded upon her classical training, foraying into Jazz performance. She began to partake in master classes with famous musicians like Dimitri Bashkirov, Joseph Kalichstein, Pavel Giliov, Vitali Margulis, and Oleg Maisenberg, and when she was 15 years old, she performed with her father for the first time, which both of them describe as a revelation: “I was working on the very intense Brahms E-minor Sonata; I asked him to run it through with me. We had a party for my mom’s birthday, and we decided to make it a surprise performance for her. My mom got nervous, but when we played together, it was the most natural thing in the world, it felt as if we had always played together,” says Lily, and Mischa confirms: “we did not rehearse but sat down and played, and it was fantastic. She was ready – if you can ever be ready – and played with such great instinct, emotion, and sensitivity; in that moment I realized – my dream is coming true, it felt like we are related,” he says with the typical warm and humorous fashion of his storytelling.

photo – Mischa Maisky and Lily Maisky – courtesy of the artist

In 2005, Lily performed her first professional recitals with her father in Emola and in Ravenna, Italy: “I was still finishing up school and was building up repertoire, and this was my first serious collaboration as a chamber musician. I knew then that chamber music was to become my forte, and that this was meant to be. I was never built for nor interested in a virtuoso career,” says the petite-framed pianist, who at that time had experienced some fatigue symptoms and was battling a severe case of tendonitis. The rehearsal schedule of a chamber musician, which was less physically demanding than performing with orchestras, appealed to the pianist, who refers to herself as: “unteachable, by the pedagogues in my life.”

“All my teachers told me I was pretty much too strong headed to be taught, I always learned by performing.  And I feel it was faith that the performance with my father inspired my independent interest in chamber musician.” In 2008 she performed as a soloist, with a program of Scriabin, Chopin, and Janacek at the yearly Progretto Martha Argerich festival in Lugano, and built up her experiences with different chamber music partners. “It is important to know one’s strength and weaknesses and I feel I have the gift to listen to others and have the flexibility to adept to different styles and performance situations and I find the dialogue on stage utmost exciting. Every chamber music partner has the potential to inspire a different kind of collaboration and to explore and present the repertoire in a different way,” she explains.

Photo: With Alissa Margulis at the Progretto Martha Argerich

The young artist is very aware of the pitfalls of being a famous musician’s daughter: “Of course there is always a struggle for finding your own voice, the fact that I do not play a string instruments is helpful.” After all, the rigorous musical training necessary in every musician’s upbringing does not except the fact that many musicians come from musicians’ families, where the recognition of musical talent and its necessary nurturing and sustained support are standard practice. Referring to her famous father she says: “Of course I became very associated with him, and perhaps I felt a bit more pressured on stage, carrying more responsibility with the name, that goes without saying. But at the end, you have to find your own voice and not care too much about what people think or say. He would not perform with me if he felt I could not play well enough. He is too much a musician for that; but the fact that our musical alliance developed so naturally and we matched so beautifully gave me the necessary self-confidence to overcome the feeling that I had to constantly prove myself. Of course it’s a continuous learning process, I constantly keep on growing over time, and that learning process continues with each new collaboration.

Photo: Bernard Rosenberg

My father is my most important musical influence, and I separate the father from the cellist. I learned many important musical principles from him, more than from anyone else, and I am still picky when it comes to collaborate with a different cellist; his sound is so ingrained in my head.”

In rehearsal there is not much being spoken between father and daughter. Most things vital to making music together, like timing and phrasing, are picked up by listening and an occasional glimpse of the other’s moves. The two musicians are in great correspondence, exercising a lot of body language as they play. “Naturally, I try to share my experience, what I know and love about music, through my playing, but it’s a two way street, and I am very open minded,” says Mischa. “ She influences me as often as I influence her; that’s the beauty of playing music together and keeping that kind of communication going – this is also what keeps me young,” says Maisky, renowned for his individualistic sound as well as his distinctly relaxed and youthful performance outfits.

The father-daughter team has never been stronger, it seems. Maisky’s very public separation from his wife when Lily was 14 years old was a traumatic event for Lily that forced her into an early maturity beyond her years. She says: “I was often the mediator, I was outraged and it took me years to recover, but it also made me fiercely independent and eager to support myself.”

For 2016, the father and daughter plan on touring with the charismatic violinist Julian Rachlin. Hear father and daughter perform here



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