World-class Russian pianist now calls Edmond home

Valery Kuleshov is recognized internationally for his perfect pitch and piano ability. Now he is artist-in-residence at the University of Central Oklahoma.
BY BEN LUSCHEN bluschen@opubco.com Published: February 9, 2014

The first time Valery Kuleshov visited the United States, it was to meet the famed pianist Vladimir Horowitz.

Kuleshov, now artist-in-residence at the University of Central Oklahoma, was personally invited to Horowitz's New York home to demonstrate a series of the composer's unpublished work that Kuleshov had painstakingly transcribed from only a few recordings.

The two Russian natives formed a quick bond. Horowitz asked him to play one of the works he had transcribed.

“I was so happy to play for him,” Kuleshov said. “There was no time to be nervous.”

After performing a few pieces, he apologized for perhaps mistranslating a few notes, but Horowitz smiled and assured him, as Kuleshov recalled, that his transcription was “absolutely right.”

Kuleshov counts this meeting chief among a long list of career accomplishments. As a pianist, Kuleshov has studied in prestigious institutions, toured internationally and performed well in competitions reserved for the world's most elite pianists.

Still, Kuleshov says no one medal or single performance can alone tell the tale of his true passion — his personal development as an artist.

“Most important was, for me, the music,” he said.

Katye Kuleshova, Kuleshov's wife of 24 years, said, “Developing as a musician was always his goal. He never stops. I mean, this development is still going on, because he's working every single day.”

Making the move

Though they've now lived in Edmond for close to two decades, there was a time when the Kuleshovs were not convinced a move to the United States was right for them.

They first were courted to the States by Steve Blevins, Ph.D., a friend and classical music enthusiast they had met at a performance in Oklahoma.

Blevins would later visit the Kuleshovs at their home in Moscow. During his trip, he asked the couple if they were interested in finding jobs in the U.S. Though Kuleshova said she and her husband did not immediately commit to the idea, Blevins soon found Kuleshov a position at UCO.

“UCO actually opened up a position especially for Valery, because they didn't have an artist-in-residence position at that time,” she said.

Kuleshov was playing in Carnegie Hall when a group of representatives from the university came to see him perform. They met with the pianist after the show.

“They already had a contract ready for Valery,” Kuleshova said.

A teacher's touch

Though the couple were excited about Kuleshov's new position, they immediately began noticing strong cultural differences in their new home. The general rush of the American lifestyle was the most noticeable.

“When I studied at school, my teacher, she didn't watch the time,” Kuleshov said. “It didn't matter if the next student arrived for their lesson, she would say, ‘Maybe next afternoon.'”

“It's not that it's bad, don't take it wrong,” Kuleshova added. “It's just very different.”

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