Pianist at Ebeneezer Maxwell concert is 9,000 miles from home

by Len Lear
Posted 5/23/24

Artem Tenkeli, who will perform a piano concert at Ebenezer Maxwell Mansion in Germantown at 3 p.m. on Saturday, May 25, is a long way from home.

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Pianist at Ebeneezer Maxwell concert is 9,000 miles from home


Artem Tenkeli, who will perform a piano concert at Ebenezer Maxwell Mansion in Germantown at 3 p.m. on Saturday, May 25, is a long way from the often frigid hometowns where he was born 35 years ago.

The Russian-born pianist grew up in the country's far eastern mining towns, where temperatures are subarctic for most of the year and obtaining a piano was difficult. For years, Tenkeli played on a toy synthesizer that his father brought home on a business trip.

But on Saturday, when he sits down to perform a concert of 19th-century music in the mansion's Victorian parlor, Tenkeli will play on an 1840 grand piano amid a spring day in Germantown.

"There were no musicians in our family, but classical music was respected," Tenkeli told us last week. "For many years, unfortunately, music lessons were not something serious. Until the age of 15 and 16, I practically did not study. And the fact that by some miracle I entered a music college is still a mystery to me."

Tenkeli may have been a late starter, but he has obviously bloomed quite beautifully. According to Rich Galassini, co-owner of the Cunningham Piano Company in Germantown, "Artem Tenkeli stands as a beacon of musical excellence, an award-winning musician whose talents have traversed the globe." Galassini, whose company hosted a concert by Tenkeli in February, described the pianist's recitals as resonating "with a blend of technical prowess and emotional depth."

Tenkeli has collaborated with musicians, singers, orchestras and soloists of the world's leading opera houses. They read like a who's who of the classical music world, including performances with luminaries from the Bolshoi and Mariinsky theaters, as well as with members of the Moscow Virtuosi. The composers whose works he most likes to perform include Brahms, Beethoven, Schumann and some modern composers.

Tenkeli came to the U.S. two years ago and lives in New Jersey. Although he has won several piano competitions, he insists that "the main competition is a competition with yourself: loyalty and devotion to your favorite work, constant study, and an inexhaustible interest in the art of music."

In college, Tenkeli befriended a security guard and played chess with him so that the guard would let him play the piano in a nearby hall. He says that pianists and other musicians who had many more years of experience put tremendous pressure on him to perform at a high level.

"I always felt under-technically equipped," he said, "and age was not in my favor, since I began to study seriously very late. (Most serious classical musicians start taking lessons at a very young age.) Nevertheless, I could not live without music, and it was the most important thing in my life."

Tenkeli eventually attended the Ural State Conservatory in Yekaterinburg, Russia. "I chose this conservatory because my grandmother lived five hours from Yekaterinburg," he said. "I don't know how my life would have turned out without this wonderful person. She did a lot for me. She was also the first to see my attraction to music. When she came to us, it was impossible not to practice the piano.

"She used any means to ensure that I sat down at the instrument. When they gave me the highest score at the music school, they immediately explained that this score was not for me but was addressed to my grandmother. She was the most sensitive and enthusiastic listener at my concerts."

Tenkeli recently performed with the Capital Philharmonic of New Jersey, for "Ballet Mecanique" by George Antheil in Trenton, where he "only had a day-and-a-half to master the complex score," in the Rachmaninoff Triumph Festival at the Academy of the Arts in Center City and at various museums, libraries, galleries and churches. "I try to perform wherever there is a good instrument," he said.

When he is not playing the piano, Tenkeli loves reading and listening to classical literature, especially the works of Somerset Maugham, Vladimir Nabokov, Anton Chekhov and Ivan Bunin. He also loves traveling, especially to wild places. "It could be mountains, lakes, trails, the ocean," he said. "While in Russia, I traveled a lot. The North Caucasus especially captivated me with its beauty, hospitable, kind, brave people and national music ... I very often include it in classical programs."

When asked what was the best advice he has ever received, Tenkeli said, "I received a lot of invaluable advice, as I studied with many excellent teachers, attended orchestra rehearsals and listened to good conductors. But what I remember the most was this advice: you need to be very demanding of yourself."

What is the hardest thing Tenkeli ever had to do? "Live without a piano for a long time."

For more information, visit ebenezermaxwellmansion.org.