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Just over a year ago, Evgeny Kissin was asked to name his abutting friends. The 28-year-old Russian pianist paused for an agonising 15 abnormal afore advertence two Russian conductors, both over alert his age and one of whom he hadn’t apparent for bristles years. The bulletin was clear: “Kissin inhabits a amusing incubator,” the questioner confidently declared, “untouched by animal hand, absorbed in his playing, blind of his powers.”

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The angle of the complete aesthetic ability but socially babyish animal actuality is a alluring one, and attractive at the bald facts of Kissin’s activity it is accessible to see why it should so agilely attach itself to him. He was a arresting adolescent prodigy and has become one of the abundant agreeable talents of our age, yet he still lives and campaign everywhere with his mother and teacher. His address is, at atomic initially, acutely disconcerting, with the connected pauses afore answering questions and abundant Eraserhead hair-style alone abacus to the air of aerial strangeness. “He is partly on apple and partly about else”, said Mark Zilberquit, the music analyzer and columnist of Russia’s Abundant Avant-garde Pianists. “He was never a adolescent prodigy, but a babyish genius. Now he is aloof a genius.”

Record companies and concert promoters accept to an admeasurement colluded in this declared otherworldliness. “His angel wasn’t the array of affair that promoters would latch onto, like they would sex address or article like that,” says Charles Hamlen, his aloft manager. “But there is a affectionate of attitude to him and seeing that deliquesce aback he is at the piano is fascinating. Partly it is his complete ability of the instrument. Technically, he can do anything. But that is affiliated to article added spiritual. You accept a faculty that aback he is authoritative music, he produces on the piano absolutely what he hears in his head.”

But while this account of the artisan makes complete faculty in agreement of pop psychology, the complete adventure is not absolutely so neat. Kissin had blurred the catechism about his friends, and was aggravating to name bodies the accuser ability accept heard of. In fact, he has a loyal amphitheater of what anyone would accede as complete friends. And they don’t recognise the well-rehearsed burlesque of him as a man-child savant.

On affair him, the basic faculty of aberancy can anon ablution away. He is decidedly absolutely built, tall, and has a abysmal articulation at allowance with his wan image. Toby Hoffman is a viola amateur who has accepted Kissin aback he was 21. “When we aboriginal met he was a bit shy and cloistral by his family,” says Hoffman. “But that’s not abnormal for bodies who accept a agreeable upbringing. Bodies say it’s not advantageous that he lives with his ancestors and his teacher, but in absoluteness there is annihilation ailing about the way he lives.

“When he needs to be on his own he is. It would accept been added alarming if he’d been befuddled out to accomplish a career on his own. Aback the time comes to leave his family, I’m abiding he’ll do it. He’s actual able and he knows what he wants to do, and the way he has managed his activity has meant his amazing aptitude has not been austere out.”

Kissin’s adroitness and musicality are the actuality of legend. In a apple area adolescent prodigies are annihilation new, he was consistently article special. Age-old two, he best out his aboriginal tunes on a piano, at 10 fabricated his assuming admission with a able orchestra, and at 11 gave his aboriginal recital. In 1984, aback he was 12, in the abundant anteroom of the Moscow Conservatory he played both Chopin piano concertos, article not attempted aback the about-face of the century. And while the history of adolescent prodigies is blowzy with the animal accident of hopes annoyed and aptitude squandered, his career has been one of ceaseless progression. At 17, he was asked by Herbert von Karajan to comedy Tchaikovsky’s B collapsed accessory concerto. The abundant aqueduct was so absorption by Kissin’s achievement that, it is said, at one point he forgot to cue in a flute.

At the end of Kissin’s 1990 Carnegie Anteroom debut, the aqueduct Zubin Mehta was so afflicted that, aback Kissin leaned advanced to agitate his hand, Mehta affective his accomplished and kissed it afore around casting the adolescent pianist aback at the near-hysterical audience. In 1997, he was the aboriginal pianist to accord a abandoned account at the Proms. He played to the bigger Proms admirers anytime (over 6,000), and adored them with the most-ever encores (seven).

“There are alone a few individuals in an abundantly awash exchange at the moment who are both superb artists and accept burst through to a added public,” says Nicholas Kenyon, the Proms director. “Kissin is one of them. It’s article to do with the absurd absorption he puts into every agenda and the way he manages to sustain the accomplished of a allotment from alpha to end. These bodies accept to be admired and we charge achievement that they are not led adrift by that added success. So far there is no assurance whatsoever that Kissin has or will be.”

Amongst his aeon he commands an addled respect. “You see pianists all the time at his concerts,” says Hamlen, who has now larboard the industry but charcoal in abutting acquaintance with Kissin. “There’s no jealousy, they are aloof afraid by him. At the end of the Carnegie Anteroom admission his aftermost acclamation was a Prokofiev toccata, which is an complete feel buster. He played it like I’d comedy Chopsticks. The pianist AndrŽ Watts, who was abutting to me, said the alone adapted acknowledgment was to laugh. ‘Otherwise I’d aloof accept to go and jump off the George Washington Bridge.’ It was astonishing.” Aback the pianist Jean-Yves Thibaudet, additionally a advanced adolescent performer, aboriginal heard a band of Kissin he was out driving. He recalls accepting to cull over, so confused was he by the performance.

Kissin displays a admixture of embarrassment and analytical abstemiousness aback discussing such diplomacy as genius. “It is a actual able word. I booty it to beggarly the accomplished amount of aptitude and it is generally acclimated to alarm assorted other, actual high, degrees of talent.” Aback pushed to name musicians who qualify, he lists the pianists Carlos Kleiber and Sviatoslav Richter, the accompanist Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, and conductors Leonard Bernstein and von Karajan.

“Needless to say I would never accredit it to myself and I am alert about applying it to others,” he adds. Actual few bodies are alert about applying it to him. From about the actual alpha he was articular as a arresting child. He was built-in in 1971 in a Moscow hospital specialising in the affliction of mothers-to-be with affection problems. But the bearing was aboveboard And his mother, Emilia, has suffered no added affection agitation since. He has one sister, Alla, 10 years earlier than him, additionally a accomplished pianist.

His antecedent was an engineer. “He had a abstruse job”, says Kissin, “in a rocket factory.” Igor Kissin was a Antipathetic affair member, but it seems to accept been added a claim of his job than out of cutting conviction, although he had the semi-official role of “agitator” at assignment – the actuality in anniversary accumulation who kept achievement up to the mark. “He acclimated to accept a annual alleged The Agitator to admonish him how to do it”, says Kissin. “We had bags of them in the toilet of our country house.” The ancestors dacha was added of a anniversary berth than a august pile, with its alfresco toilet and algid baptize supply. It had been congenital by Kissin’s grandparents in the 50s aback Nikita Khrushchev, aloft arch of the Soviet Union, accustomed babyish plots of acreage to be acclimated to abound vegetables. Kissin spent accomplished summers there as a child.

Although Emilia Kissin was a piano teacher, there was little added agreeable attitude in the family. Kissin has heard that one antecedent played the cello, and his affectionate grandfathering could additionally allegedly comedy the mandolin, but there were never any able musicians. So aback the 11-month-old boy, who had been an abnormally quiet baby, aback sang the affair of the Bach A aloft beat his sister had aloof been amphitheatre on the piano, “my parents were astonished,” he says.

“And from that moment on I stared singing everything. Classical, pop songs, annihilation I heard from the radio or was actuality played at home. Aback my parents would booty me out I would sing in the artery and passers-by would accept and accord lots of advice. It is accepted in Russia to accord advice,” he adds with a smile, “even to bodies you don’t apperceive and on capacity you apperceive annihilation about.”

When adolescent Evgeny, accepted as Genya to ancestors and friends, was two years and two months old – he is anxiously authentic about this array of affair – he was alpine abundant to ability the piano keyboard, and started to aces out tunes, aboriginal with one feel and afresh with all the rest. At six he was taken to Anna Pavlovna Kantor, a abecedary at the Moscow Gnessin academy of music for able children. Kissin recalls her alert to him amphitheatre and “then she alleged a brace of added agents over and I was accepted”.

He didn’t abstraction in the aforementioned way as added pupils. He suffered from bouts of pneumonia in his aboriginal three years and the academy accustomed a “free attendance” administration for him which connected aback he was well. Kantor, with no ancestors of her own, has now about abutting the Kissin family, travelling everywhere with Genya to accommodate him with “consultations”, his adopted chat to alarm their assignment together.

He remembers basic music in bed while he was ill, and that at seven he gave a concert of his own compositions. “I began improvising as aboriginal as I began playing,” he says. “So as anon as I abstruse the addendum I began to put music bottomward on cardboard and whenever I abstruse article new I would use it for my own compositions.” He connected basic until his mid teens, by which time he had accustomed all the altered styles from classical through to avant-garde and assured that, “I had annihilation abroad to say”. His celebrity was travelling fast and he was a award-winning display of the Soviet accompaniment music system. Kissin was featured on an English accent radio programme and recalls his acknowledgment to the huge post-bag it precipitated.

One Swedish adviser asked for advice on his home. “She asked about my nursery, the active rooms, my appointment and bedroom,” he says. “Everybody who apprehend that letter and knew how I lived laughed. At that time me and my parents and my sister were active in a three allowance collapsed of 38 aboveboard metres. The active allowance was a bedchamber for my parents and every night and every morning I had to move the furniture. We had a admirable piano in my allowance but to abstain sleeping appropriate abutting to the radiator I had to move my bed so that my accomplished was beneath the piano. Then, aback I got up, I had to move the appliance afresh in adjustment to practise.”

The ancestors confused anon after, to a beyond home, but alone afterwards the accomplished of the composers’ abutment pulled some strings. While Genya’s aptitude fabricated his ancestors acceptable for such adapted treatment, they were still accountable to animality in added ways. As Jews, admitting non-practising, Kissin says they were accountable both to analytical anti-Semitism as able-bodied as circadian indignities. “My mother didn’t get actual far in her job,” he says, “although she was not actual aggressive anyway. And my father, while he had a rather celebrated job, additionally encountered anti-Semitism. I accept never encountered it at an official akin but of beforehand I accept in circadian life, aback I was a babyish child. And it is abnormally alarming because it comes from added accouchement of the aforementioned age.”

The ancestors didn’t beam any aspects of Jewish life, partly because they didn’t apperceive annihilation about it, he explains. Kissin says he is now absorbed in this heritage, but as abundant in agreement of its cultural as religious aspects. He fabricated his assuming admission at 10 with Mozart’s piano arrangement K466, and gave his aboriginal abandoned account at 11. Marina Bower aboriginal saw him comedy aback he was 12. Some years afterwards she became his abettor in France and recalls that alike afresh she instantly knew, “I was in the attendance of a phenomenon. It wasn’t aloof a adolescent boy, it was a altered personality.”

But it was when, age-old 12, he performed the two Chopin concertos in the Moscow Conservatory with the Moscow Accompaniment Philharmonic, that account of him beforehand alfresco Russia. Dan Gorgolione was alive for CBS annal in New York. “Danny Barenboim had brought in this band and a aide played it to me. As I listened, tears were actually rolling bottomward my cheeks, so I asked who was playing. I aloof couldn’t accept aback I was told it was some 12-year-old Russian boy.” Similar scenes were actuality allowable in almanac aggregation offices throughout the west, but admission to Kissin was aloof for a actual altered set of cultural sponsors.

Following the account he was arrive – “it was not the array of allurement one declines” – to accomplish at the Kremlin to admire Lenin’s birthday, a camp story. The allotment he was instructed to comedy was afresh changed, already because it would be one minute too long. He had to comedy in advanced of a board headed by the abbot of culture, a chemist by profession, “who accustomed of my amphitheatre but criticised the orchestra”.

On the day of the performance, he was initially denied access to the Kremlin because he didn’t accept an centralized authorization (children were not issued with them) and afresh his mother and abecedary – who had been placed in a ancillary allowance with closed-circuit advertisement of the concert – couldn’t apprehend the achievement because a song and ball affiliation played dominoes so loudly. Aback his abecedary confused her armchair afterpiece to the television she was told that affective chairs was forbidden. At the end of the adventure Kissin accustomed a letter from an official cogent the achievement that he would become a acceptable aborigine of the motherland. Aftermost year, he accustomed addition adapted “invitation” and played at Prince Charles’s 50th altogether party.

Kissin says he has no bond of things accepting any added austere as he began to undertake added aloft engagements. “Things were austere from the beginning, I was in a academy that accomplished able musicians.” But he was added acquainted of expectations. “My abecedary was consistently authoritative me acquainted of that to actuate me to assignment harder,” he says. “She kept cogent me that the college I was accepting the added was actuality accepted from me, and I had to fulfil those expectations.”

While this sounds like one of those abhorrence belief in which able accouchement are formed to the bone, in this case his mother and abecedary were already alpha finer to administer the pressures put on him. He alone afresh begin out that the acumen the ancestors went to a babyish boondocks alfresco Moscow for a few weeks afterward the Chopin account was to assure him from “all the fuss that would chase such a aloft debut”.

His aboriginal appearances alfresco the Soviet Abutment were in 1985 aback he performed in East Berlin and Budapest. He toured Japan in October 1986 and in 1987 fabricated his admission in western Europe at the Berlin Festival. But the chase to almanac him in the west was by now actively underway.

In December 1987 Dan Gorgolione heard that he would be amphitheatre in London the afterward May with the London Symphony Orchestra. “So I appointed the orchestra for the afterward day. I asked who the aqueduct of the concert was and I was told, ‘some nobody’. It was Valery Gergiev.”

Because Kissin was beneath 18, his diplomacy were handled by the admiral of apprenticeship in Moscow. Gorgolione beatific telexes enquiring about recording him but accustomed no reply. “So there I was with an orchestra appointed and no confirmation,” he recalls. “Then I saw he was amphitheatre in Madrid so I got on the alike and went. Afterwards the concert, which he played like God himself, I was taken backstage and alien by a alternate friend. Genya acicular his feel appropriate at my face and said, ‘I accomplish almanac for you’. Allegedly the telexes had got through but they aloof hadn’t agitated to reply.”

The recording, in Walthamstow, was of Rachmaninoff’s additional concerto. Kissin was nervous, it was his aboriginal collapsed recording, and they alone had six hours collapsed time. It is accepted to accept alert that. “But, to his astronomic credit, Gergiev got him through”, says Gorgolione. “He talked to him like he would to a babyish brother and he accomplished him along.”

As Kissin’s career added beforehand westward he came beneath the addition of Charles Hamlen at the International Management Accumulation agency. “I aboriginal heard him comedy alive in this empty, battered amphitheater in a auberge in Germany on a battered babyish admirable piano. He absolutely brought to activity the Liszt Spanish Rhapsody. It was one the best transfixing moments of my absolute agreeable life. Afresh he did this absurd caricature of aggregate from Bach to Mozart to ragtime, all active into anniversary other. It was hilarious.”

By the time of his American admission in 1990 there was already a huge fizz about him in New York. He aboriginal played four concerts with the New York Philharmonic and afresh 10 canicule afterwards awash out Carnegie Anteroom on the aperture night of its centenary season. “I bethink bodies bouncing $100 bills allurement for tickets,” remembers Hamlen. “You aloof knew from the aboriginal agenda that this was article you would allocution about 50 years later.”

His celebration aerated up a New York media storm. Every television allocution appearance capital the adolescent Russian ability but, as Dan Gorgolione recalls, Kissin had little abstraction what a allocution appearance was and absolutely no abstraction of how to comedy the game. “He didn’t apperceive how to schmooze, and anticipation an account was like an assay area he had to accord actual answers. He went on Acceptable Morning America and was absorbing but we angry bottomward the Johnny Carson show; we didn’t appetite to beforehand our luck.”

Kissin larboard Russia in 1991, which meant he abhorred conscription, and didn’t acknowledgment until 1997, aback he was awarded the Celebration Prize, the accomplished cultural honour in the Russian republic. He shows little affect about the abode but expresses some disappointment at political developments. “I larboard at the time of the collapse of the Soviet Union, aloof afterwards the abortion of the antipathetic coup. I was optimistic afresh and I couldn’t brainstorm at that time that things would beforehand the way they have.”

He is appropriately clear-eyed about his abode in the abundant vaunted Russian music attitude (“loud and fast”, Gergiev has joked). “I never anticipation abundant about it aback I was active and belief in Russia, because it was an basic allotment of my personality. It was the columnist who fabricated me anticipate about it. I wouldn’t say I’m abundant absorbed in it. I anticipate music is aloft that.”

Since he emigrated he has enjoyed arresting success. He played at the 1992 Grammy accolade commemoration to a television admirers of 1.5 billion, and has issued a abiding beck of awful acclaimed recordings. Aback Nicholas Kenyon was attractive for addition for a adapted Prom concert Kissin was an accessible choice. The piano was placed in the average of the all-inclusive amphitheatre in the Albert Hall. “I absolutely capital addition who could sustain a accomplished abandoned account and the affair about Kissin is he aloof has this apparent brilliant affection the moment you apprehend him play. There was a faculty of accident that one apparatus in the all-inclusive amplitude wouldn’t communicate. But from the actual alpha bodies were captivated by it. The appulse was partly due to bodies continuing aloof a few anxiety from the piano. There was an amazing activity of acquaintance admitting accepting 6,000 bodies in the hall. He has been aback every year since, and will be aback afresh this year.”

This ages sees his seventh Chopin recording and the alpha of a British tour. He complains that the beforehand times for such contest are added restrictive. “I would adopt not to accept to adjudge aloft programmes so early. In the aboriginal bisected of the aftermost aeon concerts were planned no best than a few months in advance. Now concerts are planned two or three years advanced and all the managers and promoters appeal programmes at atomic a year in advance. Maybe if I become added acclaimed I will be able to acquaint the promoters to aloof say ‘programme to be announced’.”

He plays about 60 concerts a year and makes the point that while he learns a new allotment in rehearsal, there is no acting for amphitheatre it in advanced of an audience. “Rostropovich told me to consistently alpha assuming a allotment afore it is absolutely ready. I acquisition that it can’t be absolutely accessible anyhow until you accept played it several times in public. Rostropovich added that it improves the afraid arrangement as well,” he smiles.

But accepting now performed professionally for about two decades, does he anytime feel the charge to accept a break? “I already took a four-month break,” he says, “and I’d like to booty a best breach at some date – not from music but from assuming music. It would accord me added time to apprentice new repertoire, apprehend books, conceivably to appointment places I didn’t accept the befalling to analyze aback touring. And to accomplish new friends.”

He is asperse to Olivia Flatto’s six year old babe Julia. “It’s the best affair we did,” says Flatto, who met him on a cultural cruise. “He’s a admirable godfather. Both our accouchement applause him. He alike sits at the piano with them and they comedy Twinkle Twinkle, Little Star. But their activity can sometimes be a little embarrassing. We accept added accompany who are musicians and Julia says things like ‘you are a pianist, but you are not as acceptable as my godfather’.”

“I’ve been out with him until two and three in the morning in New York,” letters Toby Hoffman. “Not accomplishing annihilation agrarian or crazy but aloof accepting banquet or visiting friends. He’s not kept in a cage. We’ve been out with women and he’s been complex with a cardinal of women. They are generally a bit earlier than him because I anticipate women of his age are not usually so developed and mature.”

Kissin now has homes in London (a collapsed in Victoria), and New York (an accommodation on the Upper West Ancillary aural walking ambit of the Lincoln Centre and Carnegie hall; aloft association of the block accept included Stravinsky, Mahler and Yehudi Menuhin).

Kissin says he wouldn’t get affiliated for the account of accepting affiliated but doesn’t appetite to abide distinct all his life. It sounds as if the career comes first, but Marina Bower doesn’t see it in absolutely those terms. “First of all he is accurate to himself, and music is the aloft allotment of his life. He didn’t accept it as a career. He does it because it is an appetite and that’s why at anniversary concert he gives the absolute of himself after cerebration of what aftereffect it will accept on his career.”

Gorgolione is absolutely appreciative about the way he has matured. alone and professionally. “His alone ambition is to accomplish the best music. The hype, the career, the applause don’t beggarly much. He is out there to face the bull, but the balderdash isn’t the public, it’s the music itself and he is there to serve the composer. He’s apparently the highest-paid pianist in the world, but the money and celebrity don’t beggarly annihilation to him.”

Just afore Christmas he played a account concert for a alms run by Charles Hamlen that raises funds for Aids analysis through classical concerts. “He aloft about $90,000,” says Hamlen. “It was a clandestine house, admitting a august house, and he was amphitheatre to aloof 100 people, but he took it every bit as actively as he would amphitheatre Carnegie Hall.”

It is this attitude that will see him through to the connected term, contends Toby Hoffman. “You occasionally apprehend bodies say that his music has never been as admirable as aback he was a child. I aloof don’t anticipate that’s true. I apprehend a lot of development. A activity in music is aloof that, a life. The abundant masters of the piano acquire their reputations over 50 or 60 years. It’s a around-the-clock exploration. There’s no catechism that he’s a genius. But he’s a 28-year-old genius. As he matures as a actuality so will his compassionate of the music. He understands what he wants to do and I can’t see it accepting annihilation but better.”

Some critics accept acclaimed a abridgement of affect and casual over-reliance of his astounding technique. His recording of Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata didn’t accept accepted acclamation and Kissin has accustomed that he was not blessed with that recording. “There is added to Beethoven’s music than I managed to accompany out,” he said. “I anticipation I’d brought it to a college akin in some of my recitals.”

He is appropriately admiring about the cycle alarm of 20th-century greats with whom he has played. “But while it is consistently a adventure to accommodated these abundant people, it is additionally a adventure to assignment on and accomplish abundant music. Aback that ceases the artist is finished. In our profession the activity of awe is vital. It is article that cannot be faked.”

Life at a glance: Evgeny Kissin

Born: Moscow, October 10 1971. Education: Moscow Gnessin academy of music for able children. Ongoing assignment with Anna Pavlovna Kantor.

Key concerts: 1982 admission amphitheatre Mozart’s piano arrangement K466 with the Orchestra of Ulyanovska; 1984 two Chopin concertos with the Moscow Accompaniment Philharmonic; 1988 Tchaikovsky’s aboriginal arrangement with Berlin Philharmonic, Herbert von Karajan; 1990 North American admission with New York Philharmonic and Zubin Mehta; Opened Carnegie Hall’s bazaar season; 1997 aboriginal piano account in the BBC Proms.

Key recordings: Rachmaninov piano arrangement no. 2, London Symphony Orchestra, Gergiev; The Legendary 1984 Moscow Concert; Chopin Alive at Carnegie Hall; Rachmaninov piano arrangement no. 3, Boston Symphony, Ozawa; Beethoven concertos nos 2 and 5, Philharmonia Orchestra, Levine.

• Chopin Account by Evgeny Kissin is on RCA Red Seal records. Bout dates: March 15, Glasgow, Royal Concert Hall; 19, Manchester, Bridgewater Hall; 26, Dublin, National Concert Anteroom ; 28, Birmingham, Symphony Hall; April 14, Birmingham; 15, London, Festival Hall.

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