Then and Now
Renowned pianist Bella
Davidovich was born in Baku and began studying piano when she
was six years old. Three years later, she accompanied the Philharmonic
Orchestra performing Beethoven's First Piano Concerto. In 1939,
she moved to Moscow to continue her musical education and in
1949 won First Prize at the Chopin Competition in Warsaw, an
achievement that launched her on a very successful career in
the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe. From 1950-78, she appeared
as soloist with the Leningrad Philharmonic and also taught at
the Moscow Conservatory (1962-78).
In 1967 she made her first appearance outside the Soviet Union
in Amsterdam but when her son, Dmitry Sitkovetsky, defected to
the West in 1977, her concerts abroad were canceled. Eventually,
she managed to join him in 1978 by emigrating to the U.S. where
she became a naturalized citizen in 1984. In 1988, she returned
to Russia with her son, being one of the first emigrés
to be invited to perform there during Gorbachev's period of Perestroika.
Davidovich continues her international performances and has taught
at the famed Juilliard School of Music in New York City since
1982. In the summer of 1999, she returned to Baku to give Master
classes to the young musicians there.
What experiences and interests in childhood would you say shaped
your life and career?
I grew up surrounded by musicians. Everyone in my family
was deeply involved in music except for my father, a distinguished
surgeon in Azerbaijan. Both my mother and grandfather worked
at the Opera Theater. Mom trained the vocalists and my grandfather
played First Violin. Mom's students were always coming over to
our house to practice. Also, radio had a great influence on me.
Of course, in the beginning I couldn't read notes, but I used
to listen and pick up the music by ear. When I was three and
a half years old, I figured out one of Chopin's waltzes on the
piano. When I was six, I joined a group of special talented children
and began formal music education. At nine, I was soloist with
Baku's Philharmonic Orchestra performing Beethoven's First Piano
Concerto. At 12, we left Baku for Moscow so I could attend the
Moscow Conservatory and study with Professor Konstantin Igumnov.
A year later, World War II started and my family had to return
to Baku as my father was mobilized to work as a surgeon in a
military hospital there.
My mom returned to her work at the Opera Theater. In 1946 I graduated
from music school in Baku and again left for Moscow Conservatory.
During my third year of studies there (1949), I was chosen to
perform at the Fourth International Chopin Competition for Piano
in Warsaw. I took First Place.
My success in Warsaw was celebrated in Azerbaijan. During World
War II, many cities of the USSR were under occupation and, of
course, cultural activities came to a halt. However, Baku was
able to maintain itself as a cultural center at that time. Concert
halls were full. People were passionate about music.
How was your own childhood different from that of kids growing
Today when I read the newspaper and watch TV, I get so disappointed
hearing about the terrible things that the youth are involved
in, especially in America. How is it that students bring weapons
to school and shoot their teachers and classmates? How is it
that girls get pregnant when they are 14-15 years old, give birth
in school bathrooms and discard their babies in garbage cans?
And drugs? When my son was growing up, I never heard of such
Unfortunately, some young people misinterpret the word "freedom"
and do whatever they please. I hope these things will change
as time goes by. Of course, there are always very good schools
and excellent opportunities for those who seek them.
At the same time, I was overjoyed when I returned to Baku both
in 1998 and again this year and witnessed the concert halls full
of young people who had come to listen to classical music. It
shows that Baku's youth are still interested in this form of
music. I was thrilled to see it.
What advice would you give to young people as they enter the
First of all, I wish them health. Let them be healthy. I hope
there won't be wars in the 21st century. At the moment, there
are so many hot spots in the world. Even though I'm living safely
in a rich country like America, I get very sad when I read about
Chechnya, Grozny and Makhachkala in the news. Those places are
still so dear to my heart as I used to pass through them while
traveling by train to Moscow. It's very disturbing to read that
people are getting massacred in those places.
We haven't been very lucky this century. There have been so many
victims and hardships for people. I hope the 21st century brings
peace to the world.
As far as the youth are concerned, I would advise them to listen
to music, especially quality music. It's so hard for me to understand
contemporary Western music with electronic instruments.
What would you say is your greatest achievement in life? What
do you want to be remembered for most?
The first important success in my life was winning the Chopin
Competition. It gave me the possibility at the age of 21 to travel
and perform all over the Soviet Union and abroad. That led to
my coming to the United States where, at the age of 51, I made
my debut at Carnegie Hall. Nobody had really heard me there but
the Hall was sold out. This recognition created the possibility
for me to perform with the best orchestras and musicians in the
most important music halls of the world - Japan, Israel, South
America, Europe and the States.
It's very hard for me to name the most important performances
I've given. I have a very large repertoire, including about 30
concertos for symphony orchestra and also perform with chamber
orchestras, especially in the U.S.
was interviewed by Vafa Mastanova in November 1999.
(7.4) Winter 1999.
© Azerbaijan International 1999. All rights reserved.
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