Russian pianist Dmitry Shishkin on being a classical music star in the digital age

Ahead of his Abu Dhabi Classics performance, the artiste speaks about how he's benefited from his genre's online embrace

Perhaps no niche genre has benefited from streaming services more than classical music.

The emergence of music platforms and YouTube, with mood-driven playlists and concert footage, transformed the likes of Milanese composer Ludovico Einaudi from musician with cult following to arena-selling superstar.

A new generation of classical music artists, through the aid of social media apps, also extended their reach to a global audience and, in turn, provided insight into an unforgiving genre valuing rigour and perfection.

Russian pianist Dmitry Shishkin, 29, is one artist who has benefited from classical music’s online embrace.

However, as he tells The National before his Abu Dhabi Classics performance on Thursday, with Vienna’s leading chamber music ensemble Wiener Concert-Verein, it is done on his own terms.

With more than 100,000 Instagram followers, an impressive number for a non-crossover artist, Shishkin says the industry is scratching the surface of what an online presence can afford.

“We are still starting to understand the benefits of social media in the classical music world. Where, before, we looked at it as not something integral to our career and, instead, something extra, it has become important to do,” he says.

“I am not using this for celebrity. I want to show people a little bit of the life of the classical musician, the competitions I went to and the people who helped me … basically, it's my story.”

Not only for show

With his mother being a teacher and pianist, Shishkin was already adept at playing short works from the age of 2, before making a stage debut at aged 3.

Considered a future prodigy, he attended the prestigious Gnessin State Musical College in Moscow before going on to win various prizes, including first place at the Geneva International Music Competition in 2018.

As an in-demand soloist, Shishkin collaborated with St Petersburg's Mariinksy Theatre and the Tokyo Symphony Orchestra.

Critics praised his emotive and flamboyant renderings of works from the Romantic period.

Some of those pieces will feature in his Cultural Foundation performance in Abu Dhabi, including Frederic Chopin's Piano Concerto No 1 and Edvard Grieg's Holberg Suite.

Shishkin is not too worried about suggestions that some of his flair on stage is for show.

“I don’t consider myself to be a showman but if people say that, then, that is also great. At least they are connecting with the concert in some way,” he says. "It is always the music that comes first and the pieces from that Romantic era are full of drama.

“When I hear them and play them, I really get an insight into the character of the composer and the emotions they were going through."

More than sport

Some of those feelings, Shishkin says, will be experienced by a new generation of classical music talent making their way to Expo 2020 Dubai next month.

On Thursday, November 11, winners from this year's International Chopin Piano Competition will play three shows at the world fair's Dubai Millennium Amphitheatre.

As someone coming sixth in one of the classical music world's most rigorous contests in 2015, Shishkin says the occasion should inspire a deep satisfaction within the artists.

“It is a moment to be proud and a great occasion for people to see them, because the competition is very difficult,” he says. “But I also want to add that we cannot compare these things to sports.

“There are many people, like myself, who didn’t win it, but they took that experience and went on to have a good career. These experiences are all part of the journey for a musician.”

It is a story Shishkin will continue to tell to a growing audience on stage and online.

Dmitry Shishkin and Wiener Concert-Verein will perform at Abu Dhabi's Cultural Foundation on Thursday, October 28. Show begins at 8pm; tickets from Dh100 at culturalfoundation.ae. Those over the age of 12 are required to be fully vaccinated to attend and must provide a negative PCR test result taken within 48 hours of the event

Updated: October 26th 2021, 12:27 PM