At the age of seven, and living in Belarus, a country between Poland and Russia, Andrey Ponochevny was placed in a Soviet school that focused on competitive musical training alongside the standard school subjects. His father, who played a little piano, wanted to introduce the instrument to his son.
The capital of each republic within the Soviet Union traditionally has a special school for the best musicians in the region. Ponochevny studied for 11 years at the school in Minsk, the capital of Belarus.
However, Ponochevny was not convinced that he wanted to be a professional musician until a few years after entering the school.
“At the age of 13 or 14 something clicked, and I thought ‘oh, this is what I want to do,’ ” Ponochevny says.
After graduation, Ponochevny’s education moved across the street to the Belarusian Academy of Music, where he went to receive a master’s degree in music.
Competitions are essential for a pianist hoping to make a career, and Ponochevny has been participating in and winning them since his school days.
“You have to prove that you are good enough, unless you are a genius like Mozart,” Ponochevny says.
While winning competitions can bring cash prizes, the real prize is future recital engagements.
“I was lucky to win some good competitions,” Ponochevny says. “It definitely helps to make yourself more confident and to prove [yourself] as an artist.”
His extensive resume includes prestigious awards from China, the U.S., Germany, Russia and Poland, to name only a few. Perhaps the secret to Ponochevny’s success was to forget he was competing.
“I was lucky enough to understand the difference between competition and concert, and I decided not to compete with anyone else,” Ponochevny says. “I just considered each competition as a performance opportunity. I don’t play for judges … I don’t play for the audience; I play for myself first of all. That definitely helps to avoid stress.”
In performance, Ponochevny captures his audience. According to the Des Moines Sunday Register, “Ponochevny plays with a firm technique and a delicate and sometimes breathtakingly crystalline tone color.”
The press raves about his mesmerizing ability to play difficult pieces, but given his musical prowess, the audience perceives the pieces as easier to play than they really are.
After Ponochevny won first prize at a 1998 concert in Washington, D.C., he received many invitations to play within the U.S. After about four years of traveling frequently between Belarus and the U.S., Ponochevny realized that it was impossible to continue living and performing in two separate places, so he immigrated to the U.S. After he moved to the U.S., Ponochevny continued his studies at Texas Christian University and Southern Methodist University.
“It was a good adjustment to America, and I got to study with great teachers,” Ponochevny says.
In 2008, Ponochevny received an offer to teach at the University of Dallas. While Ponochevny appreciates the ability to help UD students within the current music program, he would like to see the university eventually offer a music major.
“One other reason why I would like to play regularly here in my solo recitals on campus [is] to remind people that music exists here, and we have wonderful faculty here,” Ponochevny says.
On Feb. 13, Ponochevny will perform various selected works composed by Rachmaninoff, Tchaikovsky, Chopin, Liszt and Medtner in a recital at Christ the King Catholic Church.
Ponochevny chose his repertoire for the concert so as to provide a broad selection of styles and composers to suit different tastes within the audience. The selected compositions are pieces that Ponochevny loves to both hear and perform.
Ponochevny will also be giving a recital on campus in the Church of the Incarnation. The church is a sacred place, so there was some debate as to how to hold the concert; nevertheless, organizers agreed to place a large Yamaha grand piano within the church.
“It’s not even a full grand piano, but it is enough,” Ponochevny says with a smile.
Due to an injury, Ponochevny’s recital at the Church of the Incarnation has been rescheduled for sometime in March-April. Details to follow.