"I was born in Moscow, my great-grandfather, Samuel Okser, was a famous pianist, friend and colleague of Grigory Romanovich Ginzburg. Grandmother received 4 musical education - violin, viola, piano, and choral conducting. It was under her guidance as a child that I passionately fell in love with music. From the age of 4 she put on me records of operas, and also the best pianists: Richter, Gieseking, Grigory Sokolov, Pletnev, Sofronitsky and others. It is not surprising that already at the age of 5 I sat on the piano myself and it was impossible to pull me away from the instrument. There were times, when my parents had to lock it with a key so that I would not put too much strain on my hands. My grandmother was not only my primary source of music inspiration, but she was my first piano teacher. From her I learned the notes, and learned to sightread efficiently. She also played a lot for me herself: famous works by Beethoven, Mozart, Schumann, Chopin, Liszt, Rachmaninov, Tchaikovsky and others. At the age of 6, I was able to sightread complex works way beyond my age, including the Hungarian Rhapsody No. 6 Franz Liszt. 

I remember that I was very upset, realizing that my right hand was not physically ready to reach an octave ...

 

At the age of 8, I entered the Central School of Music to a studio of the famous professor, student of the Neuhaus, Alexander Bakulov. I had to study a lot to prepare my piano homework. At that time, (1990ies in Moscow) blackouts were the norm. There was nothing else to do in the dark. Yes, candles were in use, but they did not help much. So, I had to teach myself to practice in a complete darkness. Having learned the pieces quite fast, I started to get bored. As a result, I started play random sounds on the piano ... Gradually, the sounds started to form into finished phrases, logically progressing in musical thought and into more or less defined works with a well-delineated form. These were my first experiments in the art of improvisation. Hearing me improvised in a complete darkness, my grandmother took me to an open lesson at the Moscow conservatory. The studio belonged to the eminent Russian song and movie composer, Tikhon Khrennikov, where students could play their compositions. I played him my "Kizhi - a dying shrine". I remember how Tikhon Nikolayevich listened attentively to my music; after that he suggested me to sit next to him, and asked me about my childhood in music, my first experiences in composition, my family, etc. Then I talked with my grandmother and she announced that I would expect great luck, because Khrennikov offered to study composition with him, and that lessons are to take place 2 times a week. 

 

The next 6 years were a challenge for me. Twice a week in any weather (except for the New Year or the summer season) I had to go to the Conservatory to take lessons with Khrennikov, who did not tolerate any excuse to miss a class. On the bright side, he taught me everything that I know about musical forms, development, orchestration, fugues, etc. etc. But the most precious of all his concepts were a wonderful feeling of melody structure and superb sense of style. His lessons were based on the Russian method of teaching composition: from a simple melody a phrase developed a musical period, than a phrase, then a small Prelude, from the same theme as a fugue, then finally a Sonata form emerged.

Studying with Khrennikov, I composed lots of pieces for piano solo and duets, violin with piano and cello with piano. Fascinated with the poetry of Marina Tsvetaeva, I composed a Romance, entitled "Old Moscow Houses", which was a protest against the industrialization of Moscow. Learning about the death of Russian priest, Father Alexander Men (he was brutally murdered in 1990), I wrote third movement of my religious triptych, entitled: "Clouds over the Sergei Trinity." Hearing this work at one of the concerts, the Russian poet-dissident, Lev Razgon invited me to become a member of the Alexander Me University. Being only 11 years old, I attended these meetings of intellectuals, musicians, artists, and writers with great inspiration.

 

Simultaneously , I developed my piano studies. In years 1993-1996, as a member of the Central Music School class, I performed lots of concerts. Performances took place in Odessa, Yekaterinburg, Novosibirsk, Nizhny Novgorod. Being 12 years of age, I took part in the Artistic cruise, entitled "Russian Culture in the Mediterranean countries". The Russian delegation traveled to 4 countries - Turkey , Israel, Greece, and Egypt. The tour included famous Russian actors, orchestras, dance and vocal ensembles, and VIP personalities: Oleg Lundstram and his jazz bands, Valentina Ponomareva, Natalya Gundareva, Galina Polskikh, Aristarkh Livanov, the Russian Seasons dance ensemble, the vocal trio Relict among others.

Overall, my early years in Moscow were filled of performances, cultural impressions, and new artistic discoveries. One of the strongest impressions was in 1993, when my uncle, a fine pianist and ballet accompanist at Bol'shoj Theater, Valentin Okser, brought me a gift: a recording and a score of Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue with the author at the piano. It was at that time, when my style started to change, and the jazz chords and elements started to make their way into my works. Looking back nowadays, I see this gift as a look into the future, which started to realise itself with my immigration to the United States of America in 1996."

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