Cellist Mischa Maisky Brings His Family Life On Stage, As He Tours With His Musician Children
By J. S. MARCUS
Hideki Shiozawa "I'm doing too much," says cellist Mischa Maisky, speaking at his home in Waterloo, Belgium, in March. "In the last eight days I had seven concerts, playing four different programs in three different countries." After a Bach concert in Berlin, he adds, where he lost his hearing temporarily to a bad cold, "instead of having dinner, I had to go to the emergency room for a cortisone shot. But I'm still around to talk about it."
Born in Riga, Latvia, in 1948, the son of Ukrainian Jewish parents, he managed to shine at the Moscow Conservatory in the 1960s, at a time when resident giants included composer Dmitri Shostakovich, violinist David Oistrakh and his own teacher, cellist Mstislav Rostropovich. In the 1970s, after the authorities imprisoned him to prevent his immigration, he made his way to Israel. He later settled in Belgium with his first wife, who, he admits frankly, left him in 2002 "after 24½ years of marriage," leading to the loss of his much-loved country house, which once belonged to Belgian Art Nouveau architect Victor Horta.
Now married to his second wife and rehoused in a splendid—but, he assures me, comparatively modest—contemporary villa, he has embarked on what he calls "my third life." With two grown children from his first marriage and two young sons from his second marriage, the challenge for him these days, he says, is "to find a balance" between career and family. As it turns out, his two older children—Lily, a 23-year-old pianist based in Brussels, and Sascha, a 22-year-old violinist based in Vienna—have become accomplished musicians in their own right, and Mr. Maisky has begun to reach that balance by taking them on the concert stage with him.
In March, the cellist and his daughter recorded their first CD—a compilation of Spanish music for Deutsche Grammophon, set for release later this year. Following an initial South Korean tour this spring, the three will make their European premier next month at Progetto Martha Argerich, a decade-old music festival in Lugano, Switzerland, set up by Mr. Maisky's longtime collaborator—and his daughter's Brussels neighbor—Argentine- born pianist Martha Argerich.
Mr. Maisky's word for his general condition is "cosmopolitan."
"My first wife is American, and my second wife is Italian—but her father is from Sri Lanka, which makes it more of a mixed salad." His wife, Evelyn, who comes from Italy's Alto Adige region, speaks German to their two young sons, who will easily pick up Italian, he says, because they know French. "And that's not the end of my cosmopolitan story," Mr. Maisky adds. "I play an Italian cello with French and German bows. I use Austrian strings. I drive a Japanese car. I have an Israeli passport. I wear a Swiss watch and an Indian necklace, and my four children were born in four different countries."
Mr. Maisky first settled in Belgium, he says, because he had some friends here, and he was attracted by its convenience to other European locations. But he has also begun to appreciate the setting for less practical reasons. "I like being in Belgium—it's one of the least chauvinistic countries in the world. The French and the Flemish fight between themselves, which is totally crazy, but as a foreigner, you feel relaxed here."
Waterloo, which is about 20 minutes south of Brussels, is very international, he says. "From the top of the house," he adds, "you can see the battlefield, where Napoleon had some troubles.
"I never felt Russian," says Mr. Maisky. This lack of national identity has saved him from a longing for Russia that has cast a shadow over the lives of his fellow émigrés. "Most of my friends who left the Soviet Union, even those who had a difficult time and are very successful in the West, all have moments of nostalgia, of homesickness. In 38 years and counting, I never had a moment of this—not a single moment."
He has great reverence for Russian culture, he says, and is a celebrated interpreter of Russian music. (His 1999 CD of Shostakovich and Tchaikovsky piano trios, recorded with Ms. Argerich and violinist Gidon Kremer, a friend from his Riga and Moscow years, remains one of the most admired chamber-music recordings of its time.) But his connection to Russia itself is marked by "very, very mixed feelings." "I had this traumatic experience in prison," he says, "shoveling cement instead of playing the cello. But I don't resent it—in a perverse way, I am grateful. I got a more complete life education because of it, which was very important for my development as a human being, which is inevitably connected to my development as a musician."
He never pressured his children to become professional musicians, he says, but "it was essential for them to be surrounded by music—to learn to enjoy and appreciate great music."
Lily Maisky, who made her Carnegie Hall debut earlier this month, is about to embark on her first solo tour this fall, when she will play a program of Janáček, Chopin and Scriabin in Japan. "I am very much influenced by him," she says of her father, "but I hope I have my own message to give."
One way in which both she and her brother distinguish themselves from their father is their concert attire. Mr. Maisky—who abandoned suits, not to mention tuxedos, decades ago—is known for his open-necked, flowing shirts. Ms. Maisky, who wears a long concert gown, and her suit-wearing brother "have a more traditional approach," she says.
In the world of classical music, "professional" is a word associated with black tuxedos, and it is also a word that Mr. Maisky himself views with some skepticism. "I call myself a half-amateur," he says. "In Russian, 'amateur' is the same word as 'music-lover.' I still love music after all these years."
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