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Profile: Jelena Makarova, pianist

22/03/2021

Who and/or what have been the most important influences on your musical career?

I started playing piano as a child at a very early age in Lithuania where my family relocated to from Russia.

I was born into a musical family. My mother was a pianist and there were also musicians on my father’s side – some violinists and an opera singer.

I was also blessed with receiving a great musical education and being trained by fantastic piano teachers, each of whom contributed towards my development as a pianist.

I received my first piano lessons with Liudmila Deksnienė in a music school where my mother was also teaching at the time. Ms Deksnienė had a very important influence on my musical career. On her advice I auditioned and was accepted to study piano at M.K.Čiurlionis School of Arts, Lithuania’s top specialist boarding music school. My piano teacher there was Jūratė Karosaitė, who has taught many wonderful pianists all of whom have developed very successful international careers.

I am also extremely grateful to my piano teachers professor Olga Steinberg at the Lithuanian Academy of Music and Theatre and professor Colin Stone at the Royal Academy of Music, as well as my chamber music teachers Irena Čiurilaitė, Michael Dussek and Nicola Eimer, who further moulded me into a musician that I am today.

I also participated in several masterclasses with world-renowned pianists Pierre Laurent-Aimard, Paul Lewis, Ian Hobson, Roger Vignoles, Joan Havill, Nelly Ben-Or, Herbert Zahling and pianist-composer György Kurtág, whom each had an influence on my style of playing.

What have been the greatest challenges of your musical career so far?

The greatest challenge for me as a musician so far has been undoubtedly surviving during these times of the pandemic.

Just like many professional musicians across the world, I lost the majority of my performances last year (and some this year) due to cancellations arising from Covid-19 restrictions. Luckily most have been re-scheduled. It was a great challenge to cope with this loss both, emotionally and practically.

Needless to say, losing many of your performances like that has a very significant impact on one’s mental state. Like many musicians, I lived for the stage. It was very challenging to stay motivated. I had to review what it means to be a musician in times of the pandemic and to review how to continue to keep going. Also, from a practical point of view, in order to continue to perform, just like my colleagues, I had to move my performing activity online, which was a very unfamiliar territory to me. I had to really work on myself to quickly adapt to this new way of making music.

What for you are the particular pleasures and challenges of collaborating with other musicians?

I am a very sociable person and I enjoy collaborating with other musicians very much. I have been very fortunate to have been working with many amazing musicians, some of whom became my very good friends.

Being a soloist can be quite a solitary experience, so collaborations are a great way to connect with your colleagues and exchange musical ideas. I find making music with others very stimulating: one can learn a great deal. I also like applying my skills in a variety of different ways and participating in various interesting performing projects as a chamber musician and an accompanist.

I am a co-founding member of Trio Sonorité, Living Songs, the vocal and piano duo, the St. Katharine’s Piano Duo and Chromatikon, the cross-arts ensemble of the composer, musicians and an artist. I have also collaborated with the London New Orchestra, Baltic Art Form, National Youth Orchestra of Great Britain and Royal Ballet School.

During this pandemic it’s become so important to make music with others. In fact it has become a lifeline. Although the majority of it has been online, I have been very grateful that this option has been available to me, for it has been a great opportunity to re-connect with my fellow musicians.

It can be challenging to schedule rehearsals, as each musician has their own international careers and freelance work. Also, each musician has their unique personalities and different ideas about musical interpretation. However, overcoming these differences is all part of the process and the pleasures of collaborating with other musicians greatly outweigh the challenges.

Are there any composers with whom you feel a particular affinity?

My musical tastes are quite varied. I feel that I am quite versatile in that respect. I would say that I particularly enjoy playing music by 20th-century composers, especially works by Shostakovich and Stravinsky, who composed in the neo-classical style. Here is one example: Stravinsky’s Sonata 1924 which I recently recorded.

I also have a close affinity with music by Schubert. I regularly perform his music as a soloist and chamber musician, including on behalf of the Schubert Institute UK (SIUK). There is a natural simplicity of his melodic lines and an intimate sincerity of his music that is very close to my heart.

Because of my Russian and Lithuanian background, it is only natural that I perform a lot of music by Russian and Lithuanian composers, both historic and contemporary. I recently have been performing a lot of repertoire by female composers including works by Galina Ustvolskaya, and intend to perform more of her works. Her style of writing is so unique.

As well as music of a more traditional nature I perform a lot of modern music. I have collaborated with and premiered works by many living male and female composers, including Causton, Riley, Hesketh, Wallen, Woolrich, Vitkauskaitė, LeFanu, Westwood, Slater and Medekšaitė.

I love that feeling when you première works that have never previously been performed.

Which works do you think you are able to perform best?

I usually perform best the works which I can connect and relate to.

I tend to tailor my recital programmes with great care, so that they flow well. This is very important to me and that is how I chose works I perform.

And then it’s a matter of how much work I put into practising so in that respect I don’t favour any particular works I have performed. The amount and effort of my preparation is what determines the quality of their execution.

Which works or performances are you most proud of?

I tend to value all my performances. Each is a stepping stone in my artistic journey and each is a learning curve.

I am particularly proud of my recent lockdown performances. I am delighted to have been able to overcome the challenges of losing many of my concerts due to the pandemic lockdown restrictions and create new opportunities for performing online, which was way outside my comfort zone.

I was involved in a series of lockdown performing and recording projects.

I premiered ‘Kindred’ 6 miniatures for piano composed for me by Sarah Westwood in a popular online concert series called Bitesize Proms“. 

I also recorded “Kindred” and music by Rameau for an upcoming album to be released later this year. With our Trio Sonorité, I also premiered – in an online live and also via video performances – a work by the Lithuanian composer Rūta Vitkauskaitė called “Edge of Time”, which was funded by Help Musicians Scotland and the Lithuanian Council for Culture. The live performance also included projections of paintings by the British-American painter Aimee Birnbaum (The Royal Institute of Painters with Watercolours).

My other lockdown premieres were Heads on Sticks by Colin Riley and Textile_6 by Lithuanian composer Egidija Medekšaitė which I performed along music from Beethoven and Ustvolskaya for the 250th Beethoven’s Birthday Anniversary recital series at Brunel University London.

I also very much enjoy to perform music by Čiurlionis, which I grew up with, at London’s Razumovsky Academy for the composer’s 145th Birth Anniversary, which was also played on the Lithuanian National Radio. Here is an excerpt from the performance.

What are your most memorable experiences as a performer, composer or listener?

As a performer I have many wonderful experiences. It would be difficult to list them all but here are some that are particularly vivid in my memory.

Back in my student days at the Royal Academy of Music I took part in the György Kurtág’s music festival Games, Signs and Messages where I was coached by the composer. György Kurtág is such an inspiring and monumental figure in contemporary music. Despite his age he was full of life and creative energy. Working on his piano pieces (“Játékok”) was great privilege to me. This inspired me to play more music by contemporary composers.

I also performed at the festival’s gala concert, where I shared the stage of the academy’s Duke’s Hall with the great Mitsuko Uchida. Performing along one of my favourite pianists and seeing her backstage getting composed prior to her performance was very special.

Undoubtedly one of my most memorable experiences was performing at the Carnegie Hall (Weill Recital Hall) in New York.

I was invited to perform music by the renowned Azerbaijani composer Jevdet Hajiyev (student of Dmitry Shostakovich) by his daughter Pervin Muradova-Dilbazi, to mark the composer’s 100th birthday anniversary. It was a very interesting project to be involved in. I love New York. It is the city where I got engaged. It has amazing energy. To perform here in one of the world’s greatest concert halls was a huge honour and experience I will never forget.

A very special memory was performing for a Holocaust Memorial Concert at the Lithuanian Embassy in London, where I was an accompanist to a celebrated Lithuanian mezzo-soprano Judita Leitaitė, who sang a soundtrack in Yiddish to a film about the Vilnius ghetto called “Ghetto” by Audrius Juzenas. This was a concert performance I will never forget. It was so much more than just about performing. The atmosphere in the room was electrifying, it really made me reflect on terrible events in our human history.

A more recent memory was my performance in Portsmouth for the Portsmouth Music Club. I really enjoyed giving the recital there. The audience was so very welcoming and supportive. I would definitely like to come back to Portsmouth and perform there and in the surrounding area.

What advice would you give to those who are considering a career in music?

Go for it, but be prepared that you will need to have a lot of inner strength, patience, determination and perseverance.

Talent alone is not enough; you will need to work hard and not only at practising. You will have to create your own opportunities, build your audience and also do your own self-promotion. That takes a lot of time and effort, so it is important that you set clear goals and maintain the right balance in order to not burn out.

The majority of modern musicians have so-called “portfolio” careers, which for pianists comprises being a soloist, a chamber musician, an accompanist and also teaching. It can become quite overwhelming. Be prepared for the possibility that you may end up doing many different things.

There are many fantastic musicians out there, so I think it is important to have your own unique voice and follow your own path.

Collaborations are a great way to meet and make music with other like-minded musicians, share musical ideas and expertise.

Keep your eyes on online courses, summer schools, masterclasses and workshops.

No matter how hard it can be at times, it is all worth it in the end.

How would you define success as a musician?

To me being a successful musician means reaching a level of technical proficiency in musical skills that allows you to freely communicate with your audience through the music you perform.

A successful musician always continues to perfecting one’s craft and understands that one is as good as one’s last performance.

He/she respects the audience and is humble and polite to the people he/she works with.

A successful musician is someone who understands that failure is part of being a musician, and is not afraid to experiment and take risks.  Music is a journey and not a destination.

A successful musician walks his/her own path and has his/her own story to tell.

A successful musician is an integral part of society and musical legacy.

Where would you like to be in 10 years’ time?

It is difficult to think about long-term goals in light of the current situation. The priority right now is to set short-term goals and adapt to all the changes caused by the lockdowns and the restrictions.

Ultimately I will continue working hard, pursue new horizons and will keep setting new musical challenges. I would like to perform with more orchestras and keep recording new material.

I also feel inspired by current movements of female empowerment and racial diversity such as Black Lives Matter. As a global citizen I want to make sure that I also play my part through the music I perform. Therefore in the coming years I intend to perform more diverse recital programmes which will include works by historically underrepresented female composers of all racial backgrounds as well as Asian and Black male composers.

I would also like to leave a legacy by working with a variety of musical organisations and by inspiring future generations.


Lithuanian-Russian pianist Jelena Makarova is based in London and is in high demand as an international soloist, chamber musician and an accompanist.

She performed in the world’s finest concert venues which include Carnegie Hall in New York, Mozart Konzerhaus in Vienna, St. John’s Smith Square, St. George’s Hall in Bristol and St. Martin-in-the-Fields, for the “Pianists of the World”, ILAMS and New Music concert series.

Jelena also performed for the Beethoven Piano Society of Europe, Lidköping Music Festival in Sweden, London Contemporary Music Festival, London Open House Day and Chetham’s International Festival and Summer School for Young Pianists.

She is a regular recitalist for various concert societies and music clubs in the UK and is also an educator at her local organisation Tower Hamlets Arts and Music Educational Services (THAMES).

Jelena received her initial training at M.K.Čiurlionis School of Arts, Lithuania’s specialist music boarding school. She continued her studies at the Lithuanian Academy of Music and Drama, graduating with honours and obtaining a master’s degree in Piano Performance, Accompaniment and Piano Teaching. During this period she won J. Gruodis Lithuanian National Competition for Young Pianists.

Jelena then moved to the UK and completed a Postgraduate Piano Performance Diploma course at the Royal Academy of Music, where she studied piano with Colin Stone and was supported by the Kathleen Trust.

During her studies, Jelena performed for a public master class with world-renowned French pianist Pierre Laurent-Aimard and participated at the György Kurtág’s music festival, where she was coached by the composer and played at the festival’s gala with a guest appearance of Mitsuko Uchida. She also won third prize at Marlow International Concerto Competition.

Jelena is a co-founding member of the RVW Trust-funded Living Songs project with acclaimed soprano Jessica Summers as well as St. Katharine’s Piano Duo, Chromatikon collective and Trio Sonorité, which was featured on Women’s Radio Station as part of the Future Classic Awards.  

She has collaborated with the New London Orchestra, the National Youth Wind Orchestra of Great Britain, the Baltic Art Form and the Royal Ballet School.

As well as performing traditional repertoire, Jelena actively promotes New Music. She has performed music by many established and emerging living composers including works by female composers.

Just before Britain went into a first lockdown, Jelena played a piano recital for the “Illuminate Women’s Music” concerts series, where she performed music by historic and living female composers, including Angela Elizabeth Slater, the founder of the series, and Sarah Westwood.

Her other lockdown performances included an online piano recital at Brunel University London and “Bitesize Proms” online concert series by Help Musicians, where she premiered a set of piano pieces entitled “Kindred”, composed and dedicated to her by Sara Westwood, which Jelena also later recorded along with piano music by Rameau for her upcoming album.

Recently awarded with a prestigious grant from the Lithuanian Council for Culture, Jelena premiered piano works by Lithuanian composers Medekšaitė, Bružaitė in the UK. She also, with her Trio Sonorité premiered online audio-visual work by PRS composer Ruta Vitkauskaite called “Edge of Time” for clarinet, cello and piano. The livestream performance, co-funded by Help Musicians Scotland, included art projections by British-American artist Aimee Birnbaum.

As well as being a pianist Jelena is also an educator. She currently works as a piano tutor and an accompanist at her local organisation Tower Hamlets Arts and Music Educational Service (THAMES)

For further information please visit: https://jelenamakarova.com/

Follow Jelena on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/jelenamakarovapiano/

Follow Jelena on Twitter: https://mobile.twitter.com/jelena_makarova?lang=en

Visit and ‘Subscribe’ to Jelena’ s YouTube Channel to view her videos: https://m.youtube.com/channel/UC_1NrZjlLqe_Xk1WGmRwvtQ

Author: Simon O'Hea with Jelena Makarova
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