To my teachers…

I was born and grew up in one of the most beautiful, breathtaking cities in the world, the cultural heart of Russia – Saint Petersburg. From a young age, I was surrounded by unparalleled beauty. Stunning palaces in baroque and neoclassical style, romantic canals, and arched bridges were equally enchanting during the magical White Nights and the dark, long winter nights, sparkling with snow. It was impossible not to fall under the spell of this magnificent city with its extraordinary history. No wonder Saint Petersburg has been an inspiration to generations of famous musicians, poets, writers, artists, and filmmakers. It is hard to overestimate the role of Saint Petersburg in the world musical culture. It was here that “the Mighty Five” (Mily Balakirev, César Cui, Modest Mussorgsky, Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov and Alexander Borodin) met and worked  in the 19th century. It was here that the oldest music academy of Russia – Saint Petersburg Conservatory – was founded in 1862 by A. Rubinstein. The Conservatory nourished some of the world’s leading musicians – P.Tchaikovsky, S.Rachmaninoff, D.Schostakovich, S.Prokofiev, J.Heifetz, V.Sofronitsky – are a few names from the endless list of its famous students.


Here, in Saint Petersburg, in the finest traditions of the Russian piano school, I received the foundation of my formal musical training. I began my music studies at the age of 6 at a Saint Petersburg State music school after successfully passing an audition. There, for the next eight years I was taught by Valentina Nikiforova – a former student of the famous Russian composer and pedagogue Samuel Maykapar. She was very proud that as a child prodigy, she performed for Stalin himself. That was the highest honor of the time. A virtuosic pianist, Madame Nikiforova was a devoted and demanding teacher who instilled strong discipline in her students. She enforced a strict routine, which included learning an enormous repertoire, playing dozens of etudes and participating in 20 – 30 performances a year. Her expertise and tireless dedication helped me build a solid foundation in my early training.

Later, as an undergraduate student, I studied piano performance with two incredible musicians who were experts on romantic music – Joseph Lebed and Yuri Rastopchin at the Rimsky-Korsakov Musical College of the Saint Petersburg Conservatory. Lebed was a disciple of a legendary pianist of the 20th century – Vladimir Sofronitsky. Both Lebed and Rastopchin saw an artistic upbringing of a student as the main goal of their teaching. Lebed didn’t follow any dogmatic principles in his teaching. He expected the student to really understand a musical piece, to understand the language of each composer. He taught me how to see the work’s logic and structure, its harmonic organization, its character and emotional content.

Rita-Shklar-bkdHe could demonstrate the finest nuances of sound, phrasing, and rhythm on the piano with incredible ease. Often he played a piece in its entirety, sharing his vision for a complete artistic interpretation of it. He taught me how to pinpoint a technical problem and with a smallest fix make the most challenging passages seem easy. During my studies at the Rimsky-Korsakov College, I became interested in Chamber Music. This interest was largely influenced by my chamber music teacher Emma Estrin – an excellent pianist and musician. Her clarity of thought, remarkable attention to detail combined with humor and contagious, positive energy filled our lessons.

Together with my peers, I attended numerous concerts of great performers. Some of them were unforgettable. I remember the special air of awe that surrounded Horowitz’s performance. It was legendary. Everyone around me was excited for months before his concert. For us, soviet students it was impossible to comprehend that he brought his Steinway all the way from America. We watched in disbelief as the piano was lifted to the Large Hall of the Conservatory in a bullet-proof rig.

While still in Saint Petersbug, I was fortunate to have studied with professors Malov and Bazanov at the Saint Petersbug Conservatory. Both of them were exceptional, erudite musicians who shared with me the highest level of professionalism and the most refined piano playing.

In 1988, my family made a life changing decision – we decided to move to America. I arrived in Boston the same year, and immediately auditioned, and was accepted to, a graduate program at Longy School of Music in Cambridge, MA. I studied piano with Faina Brianskaya, and performance and chamber classes with Victor Rosenbaum (who was the director of the school at that time). I loved the inspiring, creative and intimate atmosphere of the small Conservatory setting, which was largely influenced by Victor Rosenbaum. Being a high caliber pianist with the most sincere, warm tone and elegant interpretations, professor Rosenbaum frequently invited outstanding musicians for master classes. I found myself playing for and discussing music with such legendary musicians as Menahem Pressler and Claude Franck.

After my family’s move to New Jersey, I completed my graduate studies at the Mason Gross School of the Arts at Rutgers University.  My mentor, piano, and chamber teacher there, was prominent American concert pianist and conductor Theodore Lettvine. He was a real tour de force with a larger than life personality and joy for life that was reflected in his playing and that he encouraged in his students.

The role of a teacher in one’s life cannot be underestimated. I consider myself fortunate to have had incredible teachers. I am forever grateful to all of my teachers for what they had shared with me. For more than twenty years, I have been passing along the traditions, the skills and the knowledge that I acquired from them to my own students.