Russian pianist Mejoueva marks 25th anniversary of her debut in Japan

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Irina Mejoueva

Irina Mejoueva, a pianist from Russia, recently celebrated the 25th anniversary of her debut in Japan. Mejoueva, 47, came to Japan at age 22 and currently lives in Kyoto. Over the past quarter century, she has improved her Japanese to the point of fluency and continued on her own to polish her expressive skills on the piano.

“The twenty-five years since my arrival in Japan have passed so quickly,” said Mejoueva. “I’ve lived here longer than I did in Russia. I’ve gotten old … ” She spoke politely, and a little shyly, conveying a sense of humble cultivation.

“Kabuki, noh, bunraku, I like them all. For me, Japan is a special place,” she said.

When she sits at a piano, she creates an entirely different impression. In spring this year, she released an album, under the Bijin Classical label, on which she plays Johannes Brahms’ Piano Sonata No. 3. Listening to the piece, one keenly feels the solemnity and sturdiness of the German composer’s notes.

“I adore somber, large-scale works. I feel something fateful in Beethoven and Brahms in particular, because they are not ‘easygoing,’” she said.

Mejoueva’s stoic performance style may derive from the traditions of Russian piano schools that date from the 19th century.

In Moscow, Mejoueva studied under Vladimir Tropp, who instructed her in a style directly inherited from Heinrich Neuhaus, a legendary piano teacher.

What she aspires to, she said, is “a heroic temperament born through classical formal beauty and balanced forms.” She has remained committed to this aim, both before and since moving to Japan.

“Nowadays, people tend to just ‘have a go at it’ when they read books or listen to music, don’t you think?” she said. “People experience things in a superficial manner and do not try to deeply understand them by spending time on them.”

There is no end to the pursuit of a better performance, and from this fact springs her persistence. She plays on a roughly 100-year-old Steinway piano, and always places the score on the piano’s music stand. “To be loyal to the intentions of the composer, it’s better to play while reading the score,” she believes.

However, on her latest album, “Nostalgia,” which covers short works by Frederic Chopin, Antonin Dvorak and Nikolai Medtner, her strict attitude toward music seems to have softened. The sounds seem lighter and smoother.

Perhaps looking back on a past now forever gone has brought out the pianist’s sentimental side. “Musicians become more aware of spirituality as they get older. That’s only natural,” she said.

Mejoueva will hold a recital at Toppan Hall in Tokyo’s Iidabashi district starting at 7 p.m. on Dec. 12. She will perform Brahms’ Piano Sonata No. 3 and Franz Liszt’s Years of Pilgrimage, Third Year.