Who is Alexandra Dariescu? The groundbreaking Romanian pianist’s biography, performances and recordings

21 September 2021, 16:51

Alexandra Dariescu is a ground-breaking Romanian pianist playing at Classic FM Live 2021
Alexandra Dariescu is a ground-breaking Romanian pianist playing at Classic FM Live 2021. Picture: Courtesy of Adrian Stoicoviciu

By Rosie Pentreath

Meet the Romanian pianist playing at Classic FM Live, who is championing storytelling, inclusivity and diversity in her visionary piano performances, recordings and patronages.

Alexandra Dariescu is a Romanian pianist and creator of The Nutcracker and I, a groundbreaking multimedia recital exploring the traditional Nutcracker story.

She was born in Iași, in Romania, on 16 August 1985. She began playing the piano at the age of seven, studying under Cornelia Apostol and Mihaela Constantin.

“My mum saved up a lot of money to buy this little upright that I still have at home,” Dariescu said in an interview with The Hallé back in 2014.

“At the beginning it was for fun, to see if I liked it, but I think it became very certain within a few months that I really enjoyed it – and that I would completely sacrifice any going out with friends and going outside to practice.”

“What I loved about it is the fact that you always discover something new in music, so it never gets boring,” she added.

She was hooked. Dariescu moved to the UK when she was 17, and continued her studies at Pocklington School in Yorkshire, after winning a scholarship to attend.

Read more: 12-year-old pianist stuns passersby at railway station with virtuosic ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’

After that, she attended the Royal Northern College of Music on a scholarship from the Associated Board of the Royal Schools of Music, where she was tutored by Nelson Goerner, Alexander Melnikov, Dma Parakhina and Mark Ray.

“England welcomed me with open arms, and I fell in love with it immediately. And I’m still here, many moons after, building a home away from home,” the pianist has said.

She attended the Guildhall School of Music and Drama for her masters, and was a Young Classical Artists Trust (YCAT) artist from 2008 to 2012.

Dariescu describes YCAT as “a life-changing experience.”

“Little by little, I started touring and experiencing the life of a concert pianist. And let me tell you, what a heck of a ride!” she says. “It’s hard work, plus an insatiable desire to learn and curiosity without limits... Plus resilience and perseverance that need constant feeding. You also need to like your own company, as it’s not easy living out of a suitcase.”

Alexandra Dariescu was the first ever female Romanian pianist to perform at the Royal Albert Hall
Alexandra Dariescu was the first ever female Romanian pianist to perform at the Royal Albert Hall. Picture: KD SCHMID

The first ever female Romanian pianist to perform at the Royal Albert Hall

In 2013, the prodigious pianist made her debut at London’s Royal Albert Hall, becoming the first Romanian woman in history to perform on the iconic stage. She described it as “one of the beautiful but also terrifying experiences” she’s ever had.

In the same year, Dariescu was recognised with an Arts and Culture category win in the Women of the Future Awards.

She has also performed at the hallowed Carnegie Hall in New York, the Concertgebouw in Amsterdam, Austria’s Musikverein, the Staatsoper Berlin, and the Wigmore Hall and Barbican in London.

And she has been a soloist with many of the world’s most esteemed orchestras, including the London Philharmonic Orchestra, the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, the European Union Youth Orchestra, the Detroit Symphony Orchestra, and the Sydney and Melbourne Symphony Orchestras.

In September 2021, Dariescu will once again grace the Royal Albert Hall stage as she makes her debut at Classic FM Live, playing Rachmaninov’s Piano Concerto No.2.

Read more: Classic FM Live at the Royal Albert Hall: last chance to get tickets to our spectacular concert

The groundbreaking ‘Nutcracker and I’

In 2017, Alexandra Dariescu created The Nutcracker and I, a fabulous 50-minute stage show for the piano, ballet dancer and accompanying digital animation. The recital tells the story of Clara and the eponymous Nutcracker, but in parallel with Dariescu’s own story of being a girl from Romania who became an international concert pianist.

With the acclaimed production, the pianist wanted to “reach out to as many people as possible and to build bridges for those new to classical music,” and she pitches it as a story for anyone who dares to dream.

The Nutcracker and I has been the most special, incredible and riskiest (to say the least) ride I’ve ever been on,” the pianist has admitted. “I challenged myself to the extreme, suddenly becoming a producer, fundraiser and manager of 27 people, working very often through the night after huge debuts.”

The hard work paid off. Dariescu has toured the show around the world and in 2020 it was one of the very few Nutcracker performances that was able to happen during the coronavirus pandemic when the pianist produced a revised COVID-safe version of the show.

Acclaimed Alexandra Dariescu recordings

Dariescu has eight recordings under her belt, including a disc of rare and classic songs with Romanian soprano, Angela Gheorghiu, on Decca; acclaimed discs of Preludes by Lili Boulanger, Messiaen, Fauré, Chopin and others, which she describes as a “labour of love” and “a personal discovery and mammoth task that took seven years”; and a recording of Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto No. 1 with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra and Darrell Ang.

“Every recording I have ever made is the result of hard work, a long time planning, creating a vision and sticking to a plan,” the pianist told Frances Wilson on the Cross-Eyed Pianist classical music blog in 2016. “The joy of having my first concerto disc out is not easily put into words – honestly, a dream come true.”

She’s also recorded a Nutcracker and I audio book, and the piano piece Mesmerism, by British composer Emily Howard, which was written specially for her.

Championing a world of overlooked composers

Alongside her diverse and inclusive discography, Dariescu is making a name for herself premiering rediscovered and forgotten works of overlooked and undervalued composers.

“I love discovering new concertos and then spending most of my time trying to persuade conductors and presenters to programme them,” the persistent pianist says. “Sometimes I’m successful, others not. But what a thrill when they say ‘yes’ and we introduce our audiences to something new and exciting: Nadia Boulanger, Dinu Lipatti, Iris ter Shiphorst, Emily Howard, Ferdinand Ries, Alberto Ginastera, Danyal Dhondy, Germaine Tailleferre, and George Enescu, to name a few of the past and present composers whose extraordinary concertos I’ve had the privilege to premiere.”

In October 2021, she will join the Detroit Symphony Orchestra to premiere a newly-discovered Piano Concerto by Romanian composer George Enescu, which she is pairing with Clara Schumann’s Piano Concerto in A minor.

And the same year she’s making her debut with the Houston Symphony Orchestra, during which she’ll give the US premiere performance of Nadia Boulanger’s Fantaisie.

Watch Alexandra performing Florence Price’s ‘The Goblin and the Mosquito’ above.

What awards has Alexandra Dariescu won?

Dariescu’s disc of preludes by Lili Boulanger, Messiaen and Fauré was nominated in the Solo Music category of the International Classical Music Awards in 2019.

The year before, she received the prestigious Officer of the Romanian Crown accolade from the Romanian Royal Family, and in 2020 she was honoured with the Order ‘Cultural Merit’ in the rank of Knight by the Romanian President.

The pianist has been a Laureate at the Verbier Festival Academy and since 2016 has been the patron of the Music in Lyddington concert series.

She was selected as Cultural Ambassador of Romania in 2017, and chosen to be a Young European Leader by Friends of Europe in 2018. She also continues an association with the Royal Northern College of Music.

“I usually try to live in the present and enjoy what I have, and what is happening in that moment,” the inspiring young pianist says. “I can honestly say there’s nothing more beautiful in life than performing. For me anyway. Touring, with all of its ups and downs, and performing makes me fall in love with music again and again.”

We’re so glad we get to be at the receiving end of it.

Alexandra Dariescu performs at Classic FM Live on Wednesday 22 September. Listen to the full concert at 8pm on Thursday 23rd September in the Classic FM Concert with John Suchet.