A couple of Russian-Ukrainian pianists choose Montreal | War in Ukraine

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A Russian-Ukrainian pianist couple chooses Montreal | War in Ukraine

She is Ukrainian. He is Russian. Pianists Olga Kudryakova and Maxim Shatalkin left Moscow last August in the hope of pursuing their careers in Canada, convinced that they would find values ​​in harmony with their own.

Russian pianist, refugee in Montreal, Maxim Shatalkin.

As their music school and their career as a pianist had an international influence, their life in Russia had become impossible. Having been in contact with foreign countries placed Olga Kudryakova and Maxim Shatalkin in a delicate position in the face of Vladimir Putin's regime.

Besides, they were against the war, and it had become dangerous for them to say so. Some of their friends had been arrested during a demonstration against the invasion of Ukraine, a tragic warning of the fate that threatened them.

Emotionally it had become unbearable: we could no longer say what we thought about events in Ukraine without risking prison, and we were afraid of being deprived of our rights, says Olga Kudryakova, who recalls being shocked by the influence that Putin's propaganda was reaching to have on certain people in his entourage.

The gap that was beginning to divide Russian society and the growing climate of mistrust pushed them to consider exile, not without heartbreak. In Moscow, we were renowned pianists and teachers. Our life was good and we had no desire to live anywhere else, admits Maxim Shatalkin.

Listen to the report broadcast on Téléjournal with Céline Galipeau

Pianist Olga Kudryakova.

They obtained visas from the Canadian government in under the program set up in the wake of the conflict in Ukraine. It was just before the Russian mobilization decreed by the regime, which could have forced Maxim Shatalkin to go to the front.

We chose Canada for its rich cultural life. It's important for us musicians because we want to continue teaching piano and performing live, says Olga.

Olga Kudryakova and Maxim Shatalkin landed in Toronto at the mid-August, from Amsterdam. Following the advice of a friend, they chose Montreal, where they met Serge Hervouet-Zeiber, a retired linguist who has since become a close friend of the couple.

Maxim Shatalkin, Olga Kudryakova, and Serge Hervouët-Zeiber, who speaks Russian and has become close friends with the couple.

They are very open, they understand the society in which they find themselves. They've only been here a few months and they understand the dynamics in Quebec. They took up French, explains Serge Hervouet-Zeiber.

Olga and Maxim met in 2009 at the Tchaikovsky Conservatory in Moscow. They won international duo and solo competitions and opened their music school in Moscow.

In Montreal, they wanted to resume their musical activities by teaching piano to young Ukrainian refugees. In the Côte-des-Neiges district where they live, the Sylvan Adams leisure center lends them a music room to give their lessons.

“They are truly remarkable people. Remarkable. Interesting, resourceful. Courageous. […] They are virtuosos. They are renowned pianists. »

— Serge Hervouët-Zeiber

Olga Kudryakova and little student Karina Lezhina.

In their luggage, they have precious memories, photos and their talent. They have found a second-hand piano and an apartment where they can play without disturbing the neighbors too much.

Their desire to reconnect with the scene is beginning to take shape. Maxim Shatalkin replaced the pianist of the Fibonacci trio in October, learning in a few weeks a complete program to play at the prestigious Bourgie Hall.

And there are other concert projects on the horizon, notably at the historic Bon-Pasteur chapel. Olga will open the next season on September 24. Then the couple will present their duet on November 30. Finally, on January 28, 2024, Maxim will give his recital there.

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Like so many others, they are cut off from their families and friends. Grateful, they say they are well received and surrounded in Montreal.

For me, people who love music are alike, no matter where they live or where they come from, concludes Maxim Shatalkin with a smile that speaks volumes.

Music, this universal language, transports them elsewhere and helps them to tame their new city, their new life.

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