Anton Belousov, better known as the Blind Pianist, is interviewed by The Sunday Times of Malta ahead of his upcoming performance in aid of the ongoing restoration works at St Augustine’s priory, Valletta.

Anton Belousov, 26, is considered a musical prodigy, having been born blind and starting to learn to play the piano at the age of seven, under very difficult conditions. He is currently performing as a solo pianist and orchestra pianist with the Philharmonic Orchestra of St Petersburg and the Ryazan Philharmonic Orchestra.

You were born blind but became a professional pianist. It is already very difficult for a person who can see to become a professional pianist, so it must have been even more difficult for someone who cannot see. What is your story? What motivated your decision?

I was very young when I decided deep in my heart to become a pianist. I was almost four years old. We moved quite a lot because of my father’s work and always lived in flats.

In one flat there was a very old piano and a friend of my mother started to come regularly to our flat to play the piano. I was fascinated. I loved to hear the melodies, and when she went away I started to repeat the melodies I had heard on this piano. I was impressed by the music and it influenced me a lot.

Then we had to move again, I was five or six years old and I was very upset because I lost the piano and I cried a lot, so my mother bought me a little synthesiser. I started to improvise and to play different melodies that I heard on the radio.

I had a strong will, and finally, when I turned seven, my parents bought me a piano and they started to look for a teacher, because they recognised that I was seriously interested in playing piano.

So you finally started piano lessons at the age of seven, but how did you manage to learn the piano properly without seeing?

That was the point. To find a piano teacher was not that easy. My parents went to the music school and asked the director. He was very helpful, but he could not find a teacher. All the teachers were afraid to teach a blind child. It was absolutely new for them, so they all refused, saying: “how will he learn notes if he cannot see; it is impossible to teach him”.

What happened next?

I was lucky. By chance I met Vitaly Popov, at that time master pianist in my town Ryazan. He was very creative and was not afraid to start working with me. He just said “OK, let’s try”. He worked very successfully with me. Through him I started my real piano career.

So you learned piano only by listening?

In the beginning, yes; he recorded all pieces beforehand, moved my fingers, taught me all about the piano, the music, he was a very creative teacher. He always had new ideas. He was strict, but also like a friend. He was a really good teacher, the best teacher I could have to start my career.

How will he learn notes if he cannot see?

Later I got to know a blind lady in our library for blind pupils and she told me about Braille notes for the first time. She motivated me to learn this skill and taught me the basics. At that time I had two teachers, Popov and her. It is very difficult to get Braille notes, especially for interesting and difficult pieces.

You obtained a master’s degree in piano with summa cum Laude at the Russian State Specialised Academy of Arts (RSSA). Tell us about the academy.

The RSSA is a world renowned and recognised institution for highly talented disabled artists in Moscow. There disabled people can graduate in all sorts of art. The entrance examination is difficult as the institute sets high demands for applicants. So I was very happy that I managed to become a student. I studied in the piano class of Yulia Pavlovna Antonova and I finished my studies last year with distinction.

You are already playing concerts with the world famous Philharmonic Orchestra of St Petersburg. You have performed as solo pianist at several concerts in Germany and the Netherlands; you have won many prizes at different international piano competitions while President Vladimir Putin has even awarded you a special honour. Why were you attracted by this project in Malta of ‘just’ playing in a church to fund its restoration?

When Xenia Lorenz-Rebers asked me if I would like to take part in this project I was very excited for two reasons. Although I am blind I appreciate architecture because I can touch it.

I am also very interested in the history of different parts of the world, and I am interested in getting to know new countries and new people.

I have heard a lot of things about Malta, about the Maltese, and about the great opera singer Joseph Calleja. And I have enjoyed reading about Malta’s history and its architecture. So it was a wonderful opportunity for me to participate in a project aimed at saving a heritage building of Malta.

But there is another important reason why I wanted to participate in this project. I believe in God and I believe we all have one God. It does not matter for me if we are Catholic, Protestant or Orthodox. I am Russian Orthodox, but for me, God lives in any church, so I am very happy that with my performance I can help to restore God’s house.

What are your future plans?

First of all I want to continue perfecting my piano performance and I want to learn more interesting pieces. Secondly I want to develop my skills and it is very important for me to communicate with a lot of interesting people, other musicians, and of course, with the people of Malta.

What you would like to tell our readers?

Please come to the concert to support this wonderful project. It will be my pleasure to play for you all. I am looking very much forward to get to know you.

Saving St Augustine’s Priory

This concert forms part of a series of events designed to highlight the architectural features of St Augustine’s Priory building in Valletta and its imperilled art pieces. Efforts to save the chapel and frescoes housed on the first floor are being stepped up.

The Augustinian church, sacristy, oratory and priory comprise one whole block of Valletta between Old Bakery, St John, Old Mint and St Mark streets. The sacristy consists of a rectangular space with a second attic and vaulted roof. The priory building is mostly on three floors at Old Bakery Street with another two floors of rented housing and shops beneath the convent on Old Mint Street. The oratory occupies part of the ground floor beneath the Augustinian convent. Structural changes were made in 1845, converting part of it into a sacristy.

These events are organised by German cultural manager Xenia Lorenz-Rebers, who fell in love with the historical and cultural aspect of the priory while on a visit to Malta, together with Fr Alex Cauchi.

The concert takes place on Wednesday, June 5 at 6pm at the Augustinian Priory in Valletta. For tickets, call Fr Alex Cauchi on 7928 6785.

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