"I don't pattern myself on any pianist," says Vovka Ashkenazy. Those words, though quietly uttered by this soft-spoken young man, serve as a loud and clear declaration of independence from one very obvious role model--his father, renowned pianist Vladimir Ashkenazy.
At 24, the young London-based musician is slowly establishing a career free from the shadow of his more illustrious father. As he prepares for his U.S. debut, tonight in Hollywood Bowl with the Los Angeles Philharmonic, Ashkenazy describes the pros and cons of such a tricky venture.
"It is an attractive name," he admits, referring to the instant recognition he commands. "Of course, it's not always the right kind of attention. The comparisons are always being made. Actually, by now I'm used to all the questions about my father. I think it's encouraged me to go out and play in my own right."
His schedule has been light in the three seasons since he turned professional, Ashkenazy points out--40 to 50 dates a year. In fact, his performance of Rachmaninoff's First Piano Concerto tonight is his only U.S. appearance in 1986.
For the present, this unhectic life style suits him just fine. "I don't have any preset goals in mind. I haven't even considered whether I want to emphasize recital or concert engagements." Last summer, he adds, he spent time at the Marlboro Festival in Vermont, "and that really whetted my appetite for chamber music."
One reason, perhaps, that Ashkenazy's career has unfolded at such a leisurely pace is his avoidance of the get-famous-quick road taken by the competition crowd. The pianist has never entered any contests--for a simple reason: "The judges would be constantly making comparisons with my father. He strongly advised me not to enter them.
"I'm perfectly content to introduce myself to audiences as a soloist in a symphony concert. I think it's a better way (than a recital) to get exposure. Managers tend to see it as a way to draw an audience. People will come to hear an orchestra and, incidentally, the soloist."
But what sort of an impression can he leave by playing one piece of music? "I think audiences can accept a new pianist in only a single work. Maybe they'll want to hear more. They might want to hear me in a Mozart or Chopin piece."
Despite his intentions to "develop my own style," in matters of repertory Ashkenazy says that he and his father share the same preferences. "I'm following my own instincts, but we both enjoy the broad Romantic pieces."
The few occasions when both made music together have largely taken place in the recording studio. The two committed to disc Bartok's Sonata for Two Pianos and Percussion and a small Chopin piece as part of pere Ashkenazy's recorded Chopin cycle. Other than that, the young pianist reports he rarely plays with his father--not out of any conscious desire to maintain any distance. The reason, simply, is a matter of schedules: "My father is so busy, I rarely see him."
Ironic, then, that as a young man growing up in Iceland (after his family left the Soviet Union), Ashkenazy was forced to look outside his home for a piano teacher. "I kept telling my mother that I wanted to play. Finally, when I was 7 I started lessons."
At age 14 he traveled to Manchester, England, to begin four years of study with another Soviet emigre, Sulamita Aronovsky. Though the two parted company on less than ideal terms ("I started to rebel against her when she tried to rid me of the complex about my father"), Ashkenazy credits Aronovsky with starting him on the right direction. "The technique was drilled in, of course, but she showed me how it is merely a tool. Other things, such as expression, were drilled in too. Now, I find I'm always developing, always discovering new things."
Ashkenazy admits the first stages of his career have not been easy. "My father has been trying to maintain neutral ground, to avoid any connection with me, and I admire him for that. I'm having to work everything out for myself. That first year (as a professional) was tough. But I feel I'll develop much further because of that."