This article can also be found in the April 2018 issue of Mercer Island Living Magazine.
Growing up, music was always a part of Dr. Natalya Ageyeva’s life. “It’s a cultural thing,” said the acclaimed concert pianist about being exposed to classical music from a young age in her native Russia. Ageyeva currently resides on Mercer Island, but has performed sensational piano music for audiences all over the world.
Originally from Moscow, Ageyeva’s father was a naturally talented musician with a degree in choral conducting, and her mother was a professional opera singer. Musical excellence seemed to run in her blood, but Ageyeva’s parents never pressured her into studying music.
Most professional musicians begin formally learning music by age five or six. Ageyeva, however, was a unique case in that she didn’t start seriously studying piano until the age of 13. It was her remarkable natural talent and passion for classical music that paved the way for her early success as a pianist.
At 13, Ageyeva was accepted to the esteemed Special Music School for Talented Children in Moscow, and by 16 she had already played with an orchestra. “That was my biggest accomplishment,” she recalled fondly.
The Special Music School for Talented Children provided students with an education up through the 12th grade and the opportunity to obtain a bachelor’s degree. The school was also affiliated with the Tchaikovsky Conservatory – the world’s most prestigious music school – so students could go on to graduate from the Conservatory with a master’s degree.
Ageyeva often spent six or seven hours practicing piano every day during the week, and on the weekends as many as nine hours per day. However, it was solely her own fervor that motivated her to do so. “My mom never pushed me into practicing,” she said. “It was my own choice.”
She graduated from the Tchaikovsky Conservatory in 1997 with honors and a master’s degree after just four years of study.
Ageyeva moved to the United States two years later in 1999, intending to take a break from her musical studies and resume later on in Moscow. However, an incredible scholarship opportunity at the University of Washington changed her path completely. She was accepted into the Brechemin Scholarship program and, after about four years of study, graduated with a Doctor of Musical Arts in 2005. She’s been living in the Seattle area ever since.
Ageyeva has performed as a recitalist, a chamber musician and a soloist with orchestras all around the United States and throughout the world. While living in Moscow, she performed all over the former Soviet Union. In the United States, she has performed at the likes of the Washington Governor’s Mansion, Benaroya Hall and even New York City’s Carnegie Hall.
Although she’s played and studied all different types of classical music, Ageyeva’s first true love has always been Russian music. “Russian classical music has a lot of emotions, a lot of depth,” she said about what draws her to it. “You can feel those emotions.”
Her love for Russian music served as a huge inspiration for the creation of the Russian Chamber Music Foundation of Seattle, for which she is the artistic director. The Foundation, which was chartered in 2007, holds several events in the Seattle area every year – most of which are on Mercer Island – and aims to bring the best of Russian music to American audiences. The very best musicians from around the world are invited to perform.
Youth outreach is also a big part of the mission – children are welcome at many of these events as to promote well-roundedness and early exposure to classical music.
One of the Foundation’s biggest events every year is the Russian Piano Festival and Competition, which provides piano students, ages five and older, the opportunity to compete against one another and perform in front of a judge. The event draws around 140 contestants every year and is open to the public.
When she’s not playing classical piano music, Ageyeva particularly enjoys listening to jazz or flamenco. “I have a wide range of musical tastes,” she said. She hopes to one day learn how to play jazz music and hone her improvisation skills.
Ageyeva has been incredibly instrumental in bringing music and the arts to Mercer Island, where she and her daughter have resided since 2010. “I’ve been collaborating very closely with arts in the community,” she said. She also teaches piano lessons with the Mercer Island Piano Conservatory.
Additionally, she loves how close the Island community is. “People will see me walking down the street and say, ‘Oh I know you, I heard you play!’” she said with a laugh.
“I moved to Mercer Island because of the community,” said Ageyeva, and she’s certainly helping to bring the community even closer together through her love of music.
You can visit http://www.russianchambermusic.org/ to view upcoming events for the Russian Chamber Music Foundation of Seattle.