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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

FACES & VOICES: Vituoso Plays With Passion, Lives Boy's Life

My telephone answering machine was beeping. Another Russian friend had rung and been too shy to leave a message. "That's sol, isn't it?" said Fedya. "I beg your pardon?" "Sol, you know, the note sol." "Well yes, I suppose it is."

It has been fascinating having Fyodor Veselyov stay with me. He is a "wunderkind" pianist, just 12 years old, and not only can he identify the pitch of notes emitted by my domestic appliances, but he can also play Chopin like the devil.

Accompanied by his mother Lena, he arrived from St. Petersburg last week to take part in a Moscow Conservatory competition for young pianists in honor of the legendary Russian pianist Genrikh Negaus.

Not knowing if he would have a place to practice, Fedya brought with him a keyboard drawn on paper which he planned to ply silently so as to exercise his fingers and jog his memory of the music. But as soon as he saw my upright piano, he began playing furious scales. "It doesn't matter that you haven't had it tuned," he assured me. "I can make the adjustments in my head."

How wonderful it has been to have him hammering out exercises by Czerny for hours on end. At last I have had my revenge on neighbors who play the pop song "Malchik khochet v Tambov (the boy wants to go to Tambov) chiki chiki chiki chiki ta" over and over again at 3 a.m. And Fedya is a very pleasant kid into the bargain.

I must admit he disturbed me a little by refusing to come into the kitchen for ice cream when he still had an hour's practicing left to do. But apart from that, he gave no other indication that he was a monster. He showed a healthy boy's interest in my video collection, a normal lad's reluctance to take a bath and great excitement when, on an outing into town, we saw some criminals in handcuffs being dragged into the yard of Petrovka 38.

For his balance he has his parents to thank. Some untalented adults live through their children and put pressure on them to succeed. But Lena and her husband, Sasha, are talented in their own right. She designs wonderful costumes for the theater and he is a theater director. They encourage Fedya without spoiling him. He is receiving a good general education, so if he does not grow up to fulfill his musical promise, it will be no tragedy.

"He is not a wunderkind," says his mom.

But he seemed pretty impressive to me.

On the morning of the competition, Fedya rose at 7 and woke me better than any alarm clock with his scales. He was nervous and kept dashing between the keyboard and the toilet. He walked to the Conservatory in thick wool gloves to keep his fingers warm. Some of the other competitors had even greater virtuoso skills than Fedya. Perhaps I was biased, but it seemed to me that they played like machine-guns. Fedya made a few mistakes, but he played his Chopin with soul. Apart from him, I was touched by a pale willow-like girl called Polina Bogdanova, also from St. Petersburg, who gave a distinctive, dreamy performance of Scriabin.

Fedya did not win. In his age group, prizes went to Andrei Gugnin, Alexander Kudryavtsev and Miroslav Kultishev. Fedya was not upset and his mother was happy. "It's not he winning. Its the taking part," she said. And in me at least, Fedya had a fan.