15 Of The Greatest And Most Famous Russian Piano Players

Written by Robert Jackson
Last updated

Russian piano players have been well-regarded in orchestras and concert halls around the world for centuries. The most famous Russian piano players are considered some of the best players to ever live. 

In this article, we’ll go through some of the most famous Russian piano players and their impact on their respective genres. Keep reading if you’re looking for a quick entry into the legendary realm of Russian piano. 

1. Sergei Rachmaninoff

Sergei Rachmaninoff is widely praised as one of the top pianists of his time and is currently one of the most well-known Russian pianists to ever play.

Learning to play piano from the age of four, Rachmaninoff’s musical family drove him to new heights with each successive year.

Although born in Russian, he and his family fled to New York after the Russian Revolution in 1918. 

Rachmaninoff is considered to be one of the last great pianists of Russian romanticism, and his Second and Third concertos for piano are generally his most recognized.

His works are played regularly in concert halls around the world to this day by some of the best classical pianists alive today. 

2. Vladimir Ashkenazy

Vladimir Ashkenazy is an award-winning Russian pianist born in Gorky (currently Nizhny Novgorod) in 1937.

He was a child prodigy, earning passage into the prestigious Central Music School at eight years old. 

Though Ashkenazy has spent the majority of the last twenty years conducting orchestras, his piano skills are what originally put him on the world stage.

In his youth, he won several first and second prizes at international competitions in the 50s and 60s that cemented him as a well-respected Russian piano player. 

3. Vladimir Horowitz

Considered one of the greatest pianists to ever live, regardless of nationality, Vladimir Horowitz was born in Kyiv when it was still a part of the Russian Empire.

After the Civil War, he cut his teeth in live performance when he went on tour around the country but paid in bread and butter. 

Horowitz is best remembered for his unequaled rapport with whatever audience he played in front of.

After immigrating to the West (or fleeing, depending on how you look at things), Horowitz played across Europe and America and won so many awards that it’s hard to keep count. 

4. Alexander Scriabin

Considered one of the most controversial composers of his time, Alexander Scriabin pushed the boundaries of piano compositions that were either loved or hated by his contemporaries.

He was one of several talented pianists to “suffer” from synesthesia, a condition that caused him to hear in color. 

While Scriabin’s music was looked down upon in the West during the early 20th century, he’s since become a quasi-godfather figure of the post-Russian Romantic period. 

5. Sviatoslav Richter

Born in Northwestern Ukraine to a family of German heritage, Sviatoslav Richter is not like other pianists on this list, in that he never set out to become a professional piano player.

Failing to be a conductor, he was picked up by the Moscow Conservatory at age 22, and his fate was intertwined with the piano forever. 

Richter is best known for his nearly endless repertoire of music that he had committed to memory.

He was a master of almost every piece he tackled and rightfully regarded as one of the greatest pianists of all time. 

6. Evgeny Kissin

By all accounts, Evgeny Kissin was a child prodigy and, today, one of the most influential pianists of our time.

By the age of two, he improvised pieces and entered the international spotlight after performing Chopin’s works at the Great Hall of the Moscow Conservatory at 12. 

Kissin is best known for his concert hall performances and recording masterworks frequently enough to merit awards regularly, including a Grammy, the Edison Klassiek, and the Diapason d’Or. 

7. Grigory Sokolov

While many other pianists on this list double as composers or perform as part of orchestras, Grigory Sokolov almost exclusively performs solo recitals.

He gained international acclaim with his performances by the time he was 16 and is considered one greatest living Russian pianists. 

Today, Sokolov regularly tours around Europe playing numerous pieces from his repertoire of great masterpieces.

He’s released several albums and is often nominated in the classical category of various music awards. 

8. Sergei Prokofiev

Universally regarded as one of the major influential composers of the 20th century, Sergei Prokofiev was a Soviet pianist born in Ukraine in 1891 when it was still part of the Russian Empire. 

He’s best known for his compositional works that numerous pianists have recorded over the years and performed as a soloist for the London Symphony Orchestra, among others.

After immigrating to the United States, Prokofiev returned to Russia several times to perform in famous concert halls in St. Petersburg and Moscow. 

9. Daniil Trifonov

Daniil Trifonov is a Grammy Award-winning pianist hailing from Nizhny Novgorod in Russia.

He’s globally applauded for his renditions of classic works by the likes of Chopin and Liszt and currently tours throughout the US, Europe, and Russia. 

He’s also won several other awards, including first prize at the International Tchaikovsky Competition and the prestigious Herbert von Karajan Prize at the Salzburg Easter Festival.

10. Emil Gilels

Born to a Jewish family in Odessa, Emil Gilels was fast-tracked to piano superstardom by his early teens.

By the early 1940s, Sergei Rachmaninoff had contacted Gilels to recognize him as his successor in the pianistic tradition. 

As a result of this boost to his international acclaim and homegrown success, he became one of the first Soviets to tour the West.

Today, he’s considered one of the few pianists to hold a candle to Rachmaninoff’s success. 

11. Tatiana Nikolayeva

Tatiana Kiolayeva was a Russian pianist born in 1924 Bezhitsa during the start of the Soviet Era.

Unlike many of her contemporaries, Nikolayeva didn’t cling to the traditional stylistic tendencies that defined the era. 

She became a well-regarded teacher of music to numerous pianists who forged substantial careers, and her renditions of famous pieces are some of the best to ever be recorded.

She also has several compositions, including her most famous, The Piano Quintet. 

12. Boris Berezovsky

Boris Berezovsky is another Soviet pianist who gained recognition playing concert halls and organizing competitions and music festivals.

He was born in Moscow and educated in piano at the Moscow Conservatory. 

He’s best known for his advocacy and expert repertoire of Medtner and even put together a competition specifically to showcase his music.

He has numerous recordings of Medtner, but also Tchaikovsky and Chopin, to his name. 

13. Alexander Malofeev

Alexander Malofeev is a rising star in the global piano community and was considered a child prodigy by his teachers during his formative years.

He first stepped onto the global stage in 2014, he won the Tchaikovsky Competition for Young Artists at 13.

In 2016, he recorded his debut album for the Masters Performers Label.

14. Maria Yudina

Most recently recognized in the fictionalized account of her relationship with the Soviet leader Stalin in Death of Stalin, Maria Yudina was a recognized Soviet pianist of the 40s and 50s.

While she achieved some fame in her younger years for her renditions of the classics, she became best known for her teaching skills which supported her through the rest of her life. 

15. Mikhail Pletnev

Mikhail Pletnev is an award-winning Russian pianist, composer, and conductor who has achieved the highest levels of international acclaim.

He is one of the best living pianists today and notably formed the first independent orchestra in Russia’s history in 1990.

He currently leads orchestral lineups in concert halls around the world but is based in Moscow.

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Robert is a professional pianist and writer who's been playing the piano for over 20 years. He studied music education at college and now works as a full time musician and piano teacher all over the country.