Pianist Vladimir Viardo, who makes his Hollywood Bowl debut tonight, is Soviet born and bred, but part of his soul lies deep in the heart of Texas.
It was in Ft. Worth in 1973 that the then-23-year-old Viardo won the Van Cliburn International Piano Competition. While there, he developed close ties with the local family with whom he stayed, to the extent that when world politics later intervened and he was forbidden to leave the Soviet Union, all members of the family visited him at least once in Moscow.
And when Viardo was engaged earlier this summer to replace colleague Alexander Toradze at the Bowl after the latter withdrew, Viardo first booked a flight to Ft. Worth for a reunion.
"Texas is sort of a native land for me," he said in fluent English by phone from the family's home.
"I started here. I have such a special feeling for it, such tenderness. The relationship with this family outgrew that of host and guest. And it's not only them that I love. I made many other friends here."
Tonight's Bowl concert marks Viardo's first U.S. appearance since 1975. He had performed at Carnegie Hall and in numerous other places in the two years after his Van Cliburn triumph, but then was confined to his native land until just a year ago.
In that pre- glasnost era, Viardo said, "Some of us stopped playing, and some of us matured. If you couldn't express yourself in the outer world, you could at least purify yourself; if I had seven concertos before, now I have 30. And I played a lot of chamber music, which I wouldn't have done otherwise."
Presumably, then, he was one Soviet musician who matured?
"Well," he said, with a rueful chuckle, " mature is an easier word for getting older."
At 38 ("I'm a strong Scorpio"), Viardo prefers not to classify his playing style in any particular fashion.
"I think universalism is the point we should reach. Our occupation is to take a piece, fall in love with it and draw from it.
"I do belong to the famous Russian (pianist) Heinrich Neuhaus' Dionysian school--that the main thing is to live the moment you are playing, to be in the middle of the process rather than show how well you're prepared for what comes next.
"I try to be sensitive to the music," he added.
The work he will play at the Bowl, for instance, Rachmaninoff's Third Piano Concerto, "is nostalgic for me, and very painful. I feel it as firmly as if it were written with words--it's picturesque. Rachmaninoff went abroad (after the 1917 revolution) and suffered because he was not able to be in Russia. But you could also have this nostalgia for your childhood."
For the past 13 years, Viardo has been imparting his performing philosophy to students at the Moscow State Conservatory, where he himself had trained under Lev Naumov.
"I adore Naumov, and I still drop in sometimes to play for him," he said. "He is the highest judge for me. "
The pianist's first teacher, in his native Krasnaya Polyana in the Ukraine, had been his grandmother.
"My mother was an excellent singer and pianist, and she was away touring to support us," he recalled. "When I was 6, my grandmother, who wasn't a musician, told me, 'You're going to be a musician, you have perfect pitch' and put me to the piano. From then on, it was school, school, school."
As for the future, Viardo will renew his Lone Star ties on a fall tour with the Dallas Symphony throughout Texas and at Carnegie Hall in New York City; record the Rachmaninoff Third with the Dallas orchestra, and perform with the Ft. Worth Symphony. He will also make a solo recital album and return next spring for recitals in Carnegie and in Connecticut, Michigan, Alabama and, of course, Texas.
Eventually, too, he would like to feel worthy of performing the works of two of his favorite composers, Bach and Chopin.
"I love them, but I don't play them much because I'm afraid to ruin the images I have of them in my head," he explained. "You have to feel equal to the composer you're playing--you can't just be admiring of him."