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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Totally Focused on Music

"Go see Yevgeny Petrov", a friend urged me. "Write about what it's like to be an extremely talented person in this country".


Off I went to the Highway of Enthusiasts on the eastern edge of Moscow, where Petrov lives with his mother and grandmother. I knew little about Petrov, other than that he is 21 years old and plays the clarinet more beautifully than most people in the world.


Petrov's mother ushered us into the living room, where the only signs of musical genius were a simple metal music stand, a piano and a metronome. Petrov, a tall and thin young man with a gentle face, sat opposite me with his hands folded lightly in his lap. As soon as I began asking questions, I recalled a poet I knew who balked when asked to explain his poetry. "If I could explain what I was trying to say, I wouldn't have written it in a poem! " he barked.


Petrov was not rude or impatient; he was simply not very forthcoming.


Gradually, however, with the help of Natalya Petrovna, the musician's talkative mother, a biography emerged.


Petrov was musical even as an infant; at the age of 9 months, he began singing the songs his mother, a piano teacher, had played to quiet his crying. He started playing the clarinet at the age of 6, after a doctor suggested that playing a wind instrument might cure his chronic tonsillitis. It soon became clear that the young student not only had perfect pitch, but that he had an extraordinary talent and feeling for music.


At the age of 10, he began studying music at Moscow's Central Music School with Vladimir Sokholov, Russia's greatest clarinetist and still Petrov's teacher.


Petrov began touring in Russia and abroad when he was 11. During the past 10 years, he has won awards and competitions throughout the world, performing at prestigious concert halls in Europe and Japan, and at the Kennedy Center in the United States. In 1989, he won first place at the Concertino-Prague International Competition; a year later, he took a second place at an international competition in Geneva and received an International Young Talent Award.


But Petrov, a third-year student at the Moscow Conservatory, remains. unimpressed with his travels. "It's sort of boring", he said. "It all seems the same".


He does not come across as snobby or jaded; sightseeing simply isn't meaningful to him. Other than music, his interests are simple -astrology, religious philosophy, camping and chess.


"A musician needs to free life's path from all superfluous things", he told Komsomolskaya Pravda during a more expressive moment last year. "The development of a person is like a ray focused on only one point. When the ray shines in all different directions, a person can be developed in many areas, but he'll be a dilettante in everything. This is not for me".


While other Russian musicians have emigrated to find acclaim in the West, Petrov has no desire to live abroad. He is not seeking fame or fortune. He simply wants to play music "to express myself and earn enough money to support myself".


"I don't need much", he said. "I don't need a car or a dacha. I just need enough to live on".


If only that were simple. Soloists in Russia earn from 5, 000 to 10, 000 rubles ($8 to $16) for a concert. Petrov, who is building his career as a soloist, continues to have offers to perform, but the opportunities come suddenly and sporadically. His mother describes his future as "undefined".


When asked what he wants for himself 20 years from now, Petrov thought for a moment and said, "Stability".


"To perform, just enough to have enough money to feel independent", he said. "To read, rest in the country, and have one or two talented students. To teach would be interesting, just to continue the tradition of the school".


When our conversation lulled, Petrov played a videotape of a performance last year. He sat on the couch, perfectly still, while he watched himself perform. On the screen, his knees dipped gently and his shoulders swayed, as he played. The sound was magnificent, mesmerizing. Like the poet's poem, it was inexplicable.


Yevgeny Petrov will perform in Moscow on Thursday at the House of Composers and again on Saturday in Rachmaninoff Hall at the Conservatory.