From Tel Aviv comes the next Artur Rubinstein
In the cut-throat world of the classical virtuoso, the 26-year-old Russian-born Israeli pianist Boris Giltburg has come a long way in a short space of time, and certainly since his first public performance in Israel as seven year old. His sensational BBC prom debut last summer, in which he performed Liszt's first piano concerto, had critics rhapsodising over his "breathtaking, crystalline sound", and drew comparisons with Artur Rubinstein.
But it was his win at the Santander International Piano Competition in Spain in 2002 that really put him on the musical map.
"Santander was probably the big break for me," says the softly-spoken pianist down the telephone from Israel. "After it, I was given invitations to play at about 70 concerts in Europe, the USA, South America and China. It was the first real opportunity of being on tour and performing regularly with major orchestras."
Since then, Giltburg has appeared with, among others, the Israel Philharmonic (the result of an audition with Zubin Mehta) and the Jerusalem Symphony Orchestra. He now gives between 45-55 concerts a year.
"Classical music itself is my big love," he says, "and one of the most important things in my life. I love the repertoire and the medium of course, whether it's concerti, solo or chamber music."
Had he always wanted to play the piano? "Well, my mother was a pianist and piano teacher so there was always music in the house, and as the instrument was always available, it seemed like I should start to play as well."
Concerned about rising antisemitism in Russia, the family emigrated to Tel Aviv in 1990 - Giltburg now lives just outside of the city - but it was a lengthy and awkward period of adjustment.
"Our first seven years were not easy, he says. "My father was a high-level economist back in Russia, and both my parents had to take up non-related occupations as finding work here was very difficult. For me, it was much easier, and I felt at home more quickly. But I also felt that my parents emigrated on my behalf, so in a way I was the culprit," he laughs.
After several years of study with a Russian piano professor, Giltburg began private lessons, at 11, with the great Israeli pianist, Arie Vardi, "one of the greatest influences on my life".
This Sunday Giltburg will be making his third appearance at the Wigmore Hall in London, a venue he always enjoys. "It has such an incredible acoustic, and the atmosphere is very special. But it's also the history of the place and all the people who have performed there, many of whom are my heroes."
He will be playing Chopin's four Ballades and some Mazurkas, Prokofiev's sixth sonata and Ravel's La Valse. Giltburg says he has a preference for what he terms the "two big groups" in the repertoire, the German composers and the Russians, "though the Russians are a bit closer to my heart.
He adds: "I try, when I build a programme, to have a variety of styles and composers, as the juxtaposition of various pieces can sometimes focus your attention on a specific thing in one piece, making some pieces stronger when you put them together with another."