“I was born the year the USSR collapsed. The piano at home was a gift from my grandfather to my mom,” — Pianist Luka Okros in Brussels

Imagine being 18 and walking into a sea of applause at Carnegie Hall in New York City. Imagine sitting on the same piano bench used by legendary masters such as Vladimir Ashkenazy and Glenn Gould and Vladimir Horowitz. Imagine bowing in front of a crowd in tears, a mesmerized public that pleads for an encore. Imagine standing on that stage at 18. The same vaulted ceiling and velveted seats, the same balconies that Toots Thielemans once peered into.

Nine years after his stellar US-debut, Georgian pianist Luka Okros is visiting Belgium for the first time. On Saturday February 16th, he will perform at Bozar Centre for Fine Arts. The program includes pieces by Schubert, Liszt and Rachmaninov. Luka has won many awards, including the Piano Award by Tabor Foundation at the Verbier Festival, the Hong Kong International Piano Competition, the Valencia Iturbi Prize International Competition, and the Scottish International Piano Competition.

Ahead of his visit in February, Luka speaks with Brussels Express about his childhood in Georgia, his first encounter with music, his dreams for the future and the images that are evoked in his mind when he thinks of Belgium.


Luka Okros
Luka Okros – Copyright: Robert Piwko


Mauricio Ruiz: How was your first encounter with music and when did you start playing the piano?

Luka Okros: Everything started in 1994-1995, in very hard years for my country, when I was 3 or 4. We had a piano at home, it was a gift from my grandfather to my mom when she was a kid. It was very common thing to have a piano at that time in Georgia. I used to push keys and I fell in love with it, so I spent more and more hours at the piano. A friend of our family taught me in about a month how to read and write music scores. I was desperate to learn, so shortly, when we had some guests, I could already perform for them. Going behind the curtains, my mom would announce me and only after that I’d come out and play.



MR: Could you tell us a little about your upbringing and the life you had to follow to hone your skills?

LO: I was born the year the USSR collapsed, followed by economic, social and poverty problems. No jobs. Many families, including mine, lost a lot of money as a result of huge devaluation. Civil war and internal conflicts during 1990s made all this even worse. Not much of fun.

I remember how bad the pianos were. Few people would care to buy or restore them during that time. It was very cold in our music school, as the heating didn’t work, so we had to wear coats and gloves with wholes for the fingers to practice on the instrument. Gave me good skills – I can play nearly any piano but would try to avoid it.

MR: Could you describe what you felt when you performed at Carnegie Hall at 18?

LO: It was an amazing feeling. Acoustic is just marvelous, and the piano had a magical sound there. I was nervous a lot. Huge responsibility for a school boy. I’m happy, that I’ll be able to go back there this year, but now as an adult and will do a proper coming-back-debut this autumn. Very much looking forward to it.

MR: Why did you choose the particular pieces in this program (Schubert, Liszt, Rachmaninov)?

LO: When I was in Vienna I found scores of Schubert outside of the musical shop and I fell in love with those impromptus. I want to present them to public in a way I feel them.

With Rachmaninov it’s easier: he is my favourite composer, I feel him with my blood. This mix of Russian-European, but meanwhile with lots of Caucasian colours, it makes his music unbelievable deep and close to my soul. And obviously any piano recital should finish in a way, that people could definitely remember some sparkles – Liszt’s Rhapsody is just that ending dessert which gives you a wonderful after-taste.



MR: You’ve played in some of the most important locations in the world. What is it still out there for you? What do you dream of achieving that you haven’t yet done?

LO: I’d love to perform with orchestras, I’m dreaming about performing with legendary orchestras like LSO, Berlin Phil, Philadelphia Orchestra, and many others. As well as playing chamber music with amazing musicians. I really want to have more time for composition, as it’s my childhood dream to become a composer. I want to create my own festival to bring classical music to more people, especially to young generation. I hope that this is only my first steps to what I’d like to do in my life.



MR: Is this your first time in Belgium? If no, is there anything in particular you like about the city? If yes, what have you heard about it and what images come to your mind?

LO: Yes, this is my first time to Belgium. But since I have a sweet tooth, I’ve tasted a lot of Belgian chocolate. Hopefully the public will welcome me as sweet as your wonderful chocolates are. Also, two more things come to my mind – Belgium national football team and Tintin as I am a big fan of the cartoons.