25 May 2023
By Ellie Palmer
Back in October, Ukrainian pianist Illia Ovcharenko was named Prize Laureate of the prestigious 2022 Honens International Piano Competition. He walked home that day with 100,000 (CAD) and an Artist Development Program valued at a half-million dollars. Over half a year later, he is thriving and is enjoying his playing more than ever. Below he opens up on his experiences in Canada, his Carnegie Hall debut, and how he balances his fast-paced lifestyle...
How has winning the Honens International Piano Competition changed your life?
I am often lost [for] words when trying to describe how my life has changed since winning the Honens International Piano Competition. It was changed drastically! It truly feels like a beginning of a new chapter in my life as a musician. Most of the time I am either on a plane or in front of the piano and I must say, I love it! The best part is performing and being on stage as well as always preparing for something.
Curating is a prominent aspect of your practice. What influenced you artistically to create the programme that is now out as a Honens Live album?
Honens is a very unique and special piano competition that helps you express yourself as a complete artist.
Since it is my first Live album, what I wanted is to show a variety of music works in different styles and instrumentations. Picking Ginastera’s Piano Sonata No 1 as a solo piece was my choice as I enjoy and feel inspired by pieces with folk influence. There was immediately some kind of chemistry between me and the piece when I first started learning it.
Mozart’s Piano Concerto No 12 and Beethoven’s Sonata for Violin and Piano No 7 are also included on the album. Performing the Mozart Concerto during the competition was very enjoyable for me as I collaborated with the incredible Viano String Quartet and that chemistry I was talking about in Ginastera was also definitely present on stage. I really owe much the magic of that performance to these wonderful musicians of the quartet.
Beethoven’s Violin Sonatas represent some of the most sophisticated traits of his legacy. That’s where his dramatic and intellectual sides converge, so performing the Sonata No 7 with an artist like Martin Beaver (violinist) was a delight.
©Monique de St. Croix
You performed two separate Carnegie Hall concerts this past winter, each with an entirely different repertoire. How did you prepare two programs simultaneously?
It was very exciting, I think Carnegie Hall means a lot to any musician. Of course, the fact that two concerts were so close to one another made it more challenging, especially because I was very eager to prepare this special Ukrainian programme for one of the concerts and most of the pieces were completely new.
So first, I focused on learning those pieces I had never learnt. Before each of the recitals, I told myself that a week before I would just practise through the whole programme intensively every day. That helped me to be mentally ready.
It was truly not an easy journey but what a thrill and satisfaction it was to have achieved it. It also gave me a lot of courage for the future, as I believe a happy and joyful life needs some risks to always feel alive!
What does your daily practice routine look like, and does it change when you are travelling?
One of the privileges of being a classical musician is that you have ample freedom in scheduling your day as you like. I am not an early bird, so I usually start practising in the afternoon. Right now, I have noticed that I started to practise more due to a heavy schedule. At the same time, while travelling, I really have to recover sometimes and that taught me to become much more efficient in my routine.
"I believe a happy and joyful life needs some risks to always feel alive!" - ©Ewan Nicholson
Can you tell us a bit about your upcoming solo tour?
I am very much anticipating the upcoming tour this summer where I will experience all kinds of music making - chamber music, piano duos, solo recitals, concerto performances, all one can dream of.
It will be divided between two continents as I begin with a performance at Dresdner Musikfestspiele, as part of my residency at Auver-sur-Oise Music Festival, where I am having my debut with Île-de-France Symphony Orchestra.
I am continuing with an opening night at Toronto Summer Music Festival, recital at LacMus Festival in Italy, fellowship at Bravo! Vail, recital at Ottawa ChamberFest, recital at Domaine Forget in Quebec, and returning to Europe with performances scheduled at Moritzburg Chamber Music Festival, Duszniki Chopin Piano Festival, and Gstaad Menuhin Music Festival.
Which piano recordings do you turn to when seeking inspiration?
I am a real admirer of Vladimir Horowitz since childhood. Both his personality and integrity of his playing. So, I quite often listen to him playing Scarlatti, Chopin or basically anything!
As of current artists I am always very inspired by Yefim Bronfman. I had [the] privilege to get to know him a little bit in person and I have to say that he is an incredible human being and a great artist.
Listen to Illia Ovcharenko's 'Live at Honens 2022' album below.
Main image: ©Vere Music Fund