Young Miami cellist ‘confident’ on eve of Tchaikovsky contest

Arts / Article

On Monday, Anna Litvinenko leaves for Russia, where she’ll take part in the XIV International Tchaikovsky Competition in Moscow as one of 25 cello contestants. At only 17 (she turns 18 in December), Litvinenko is making a good name for herself in greater Miami as a rising young star of the cello, and her entry in the Tchaikovsky — forever associated on the piano side with Van Cliburn’s historic 1958 win — indicates that the wider world might agree.

The word she had won a spot in the prestigious contest came like a thunderbolt.

“When I first found out, I was in shock,” Litvinenko said Tuesday as she readied for a recital at Our Lady of Lebanon Church in Coral Gables. “Now I’m very excited. I feel very confident, I’m very happy to be selected and I can’t wait to meet all the other people in the competition.”

Litvinenko, Ukrainian-born but long resident in the United States, studied the cello with her father, Konstantin, since the age of 7, when she switched over from piano. Konstantin Litvinenko plays cello in the Miami Symphony Orchestra and served for a time as its acting principal cellist.

Beginning at 12, Anna was a member of the Young Artists program at the MISO, and she looks with fondness on her time there.

“I really loved it. I soloed a couple times with them, and I learned a lot. It was a great experience,” she said.

Around that same time, she appeared on National Public Radio’s “From the Top,” the beloved radio program for young classical performers, and was a winner of one of its Jack Kent Cooke scholarships.

In order to prepare her for the competition in style, Fort Lauderdale-based WKCP-89.7 FM (Classical South Florida) launched a campaign to find a cello for Litvinenko that would project somewhat better than the 140-year-old instrument she uses now.

Five possible cellos came out of that effort, but nothing that fit the bill. Litvinenko said her father’s been doing some work on the cello she has in the meantime (“It will be fine,” she said.), and she and her family are deeply appreciative of the way people responded to the campaign.

“Unfortunately, we couldn’t find the one we were looking for. But we’re really grateful to people for their support,” she said. “So many people called and tried to help.”

The competition, which lasts from June 15 through 30 and closes with a gala concert on July 1, has several required pieces of repertoire for its contestants, who also have some choices they can make. In addition to movements from the Bach suites, one of the Op. 25 exercises by the Italian cellist-composer Alfredo Piatti (she’s doing No. 3) and, of course, Tchaikovsky (the “Rococo Variations” and the “Pezzo Capriccioso“), Litvinenko must also play a piece written especially for the competition.

This year’s composition is by the great Polish composer Krzystof Penderecki, and Litvinenko said she’s never learned a piece so quickly. It’s a six-minute solo work, and it took some getting used to, she said. “It’s grown on me a lot, and I’m excited to perform it,” she said. “It’s really close to me now.”

She’s also required to play one of the two Haydn concertos (she’ll play No. 1 in C) with a chamber orchestra and then the “Rococo Variations” and a concerto of her choice with a full orchestra. She’s chosen the Dvorak Concerto, probably the best-loved concerto in the repertoire.

While in Russia, Litvinenko also will be giving several recitals, starting in Ukraine. When she returns, she’ll be finishing up at the New World School of the Arts and looking ahead to college. She’d like to attend one of the music schools in the Northeast — Juilliard, Curtis, the New England Conservatory, for instance – and has already visited a couple of them to investigate curricula.

Litvinenko wants to be a professional cellist, though she finds it hard to say exactly what makes the instrument so special.

“I just love it, the sound you can get from it, the way it speaks,” she said. “You can get a great sound from every instrument, and I love the piano and the violin … but for me, the cello’s it.”