True accordion virtuoso

Globally known pianist Vladislav Pligovka ‘consumes’ thirteen accordions, teaches Chinese and finds wife at competition
By Lyudmila Minakova

This talented young man, aged just 27, has been called ‘an elite musician’, ‘a virtuoso master’ and ‘an accordion tamer’. He has already travelled worldwide, winning prestigious musical contests.

Aged 5, Polotsk’s Vlad took up the accordion and, just two years later, surprised everyone at a St. Petersburg international festival by playing Tchaikovsky’s Children’s Album (24 technically complicated pieces). Famous far and wide across the globe, his concerts always gather full houses. A certain Portuguese fan even bought every ticket for one show, so that he could listen alone to Mr. Pligovka’s performance.

Do you remember your first experience with an accordion?
Everything began in my early childhood, when I managed to open the cover and reach the keys of an ancient piano, which belonged to my grandfather, from Baku; I hit them with my toy hammer and, eventually, damaged the edges of the keys. My father was furious, since the piano was an antique, but my parents noticed my interest in music and bought me a small accordion — a semi-toy. I learnt to play ‘Chizhyk-pyzhik’ and then mastered Oginski’s ‘Polonaise’. After this success, my parents were convinced of my capabilities and asked a famous teacher, musical college lecturer Mikhail Ivashkin, to teach me. He was afraid at first, having no experience with children and I was only just 5. However, under his tutelage, I finished a five-year programme in just 3-4 months.

You began studying aged five and, by the time you were seven, were taking part in international competitions. In St. Petersburg, you shocked the audience by performing Tchaikovsky’s 24 pieces, from his Children’s Album, for over an hour, without taking a break. Do you remember how you felt?
I remember that night as if it were yesterday. The hall was decorated in an ancient style, with white timber, gold, candlesticks, frescoes, wood-carved chairs, sparkling parquet and subdued lighting. I remember the audience’s reaction and my explosion of feelings.

How many accordions have you ‘consumed’ so far?
Quite a few: around thirteen.

Do foreigners understand our accordions?
Yes, as most European bands use them. They boast endless possibilities, being able to reproduce an incredible number of tones, sounds and effects — such as birdsong and human breathing. It can replace an organ, a piano or a violin, as if containing a whole orchestra.

You’re now taking part in international contests as a jury member. What’s easier: playing or judging? And why?
Of course, it’s easier to judge others, as you aren’t caught up in the excitement. However, you do bear great responsibility. I have many friends worldwide so, when their pupils perform, I have to set aside my personal feelings.

You met your wife while travelling abroad. Tell us more...
We met at a Bulgarian contest, in September 2008. It was a serious competition, featuring various instruments. Sasha is also an accordion player, from Orenburg; we performed one after another. We were waiting, standing in a corridor, rehearsing, when Sasha suddenly misjudged her place. It may have been my staring which disturbed her. It was her turn to come on stage and I could see that she was nervous.

I felt pity so I approached her, to ease her anxiety, saying, “Don’t worry; you’ll remember everything once you go on stage.” She looked at me with trust, and then performed brilliantly. We kept in touch and she even predicted my Grand Prix prize. We exchanged details and went home but I then realised that something had been ignited. I was rehearsing for a World Cup (held in Scotland in October) and an international completion (in Italian Castelfidardo) but I simply couldn’t concentrate.

What about Sasha?
She called me every day, inspiring me to win. After the contest, she was also a mess. Her teachers were reprimanding her, urging her to concentrate and asking what was wrong. She replied that she’d fallen in love and admitted that I was the object of her passion. They were all surprised as I was little known in Bulgaria, although I’d already won various contests in Russia. Of course, I didn’t boast of my victories but Sasha learnt of them from her teachers. I took first prize in Italy and at the World Cup. After those competitions, I returned home, buying gifts and a train ticket, going straight to Sasha, to Orenburg. We were married within the year, when I was 23 and studying at the Music Academy.

You’ve been many times invited to tour solo abroad but you always return to Belarus.
People say that the grass is greener elsewhere but I feel it’s better where I live.

What are your dreams?
Not long ago, many of my dreams came true. Since then, I’ve not had any new ones. The birth of my daughter is my greatest joy now.

Will she become a musician do you think? Or is it too early to say?
We’ll definitely teach her to play but she can chose her own profession. I’m absolutely happy but I have goals rather than dreams these days. I want to train students for international competitions, sharing my knowledge and experience.

You’ve toured dozens of countries during your solo career. Which trip was most memorable?
Each tour is special but those to remote places stay with me most. I was impressed by my first trip to China, with its different customs, cuisine and outlook. Accordion playing was gaining in popularity in China in 2006 and 2007, so the Chinese were eager to learn from me, even though I was only a student at that time.
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