Ioana Lupascu

To Liszt through Berman, the story of pianist Ioana Maria Lupașcu

To Liszt through Berman, the story of pianist Ioana Maria Lupașcu

On thursday the 7th of April 2022 I went to Ploiesti to listen to Ioana Maria Lupașcu playing at and with the local philharmonic. She has played The first concert in Es moll for piano and orchestra by Franz Liszt, a very difficult work, especially by the technical point of view, full of virtuosity that isn’t at everybody’s ease. That is the reason why we can rarely hear it.

“Liszt practically offers to the pianist the whole possibilities of this magnificent instrument, letting the performer shining and demonstrate one’s abilities, but this also can be a test stone that sometimes can be hard to overcome, because all of it comes from the composer that has wished to become the greatest world  piano  virtuoso of all times and has succeeded.” confessed to me the performer, in a dialogue we had after the concert. 

“The technical barrier is so high that just few pianists are able to really overcome it. But also, the beauty of this music comes to surface only after these technical difficulties are overcome and this isn’t at all easy. Liszt is very profound, but to reach the depth and philosophy of the musical message, one need to consider no more the virtuosity as a problem”, says Ioana Maria Lupascu smiling and having in her smile the relaxation of 5 years of high interpretative requirements set by great pianist Lazar Berman. Apparently, after being his student, nothing seems to her  too difficult or impossibile. 


His complete name was Lazar Naumovich Berman, and he has begun to study piano with his mother Anna, ( student of  Skriabin and Prokofiev) and when being only 10 years old, he has played as soloist with Moscow Philharmonic Orchestra. He has studied at Moscow Conservatory with Alexander Goldenweiser and after that he has received the influence of great Sofronitzky.

He was often surnamed “The Last great romantic of russian pianistical world’, and he has very early become famous for his amazing technical way of playing and he has become a legend with the fact that he could play the last mouvement of Chopin ‘s Sonata no 2 in less than 50 seconds.

He was the winner of Franz Liszt Competition in Budapest and Queen Elisabeth Competitio in Belgium and he was considered to be “the second Liszt”.

In the middle of the 70’s, being very impressed by Lazar Berman’s recording of the 12 Transcedental Etudes by Liszt, an important agent organised for him a great tour in America.

At his american debut, the ucrainian Emil Gilels, has declared that the only pianist in this whole world that is better then him is Sviatoslav Richter. After a couple of years, he has changed his oppinion saying that Lazar Berman is better then both of them, and calling him ” the musical world phenomenom “.

After he had toured the whole world, Berman had recorded together with Herbert von Karajan, the famous Concert no 1 by Ceaikovsky and he had played together with all great orchestras of the world and with all famous conductors such as Karajan, Eugene Ormandy, Claudio Abbado, Carlo Maria Giulini, Riccardo Mutti, Leygraf and many others.

His discography includes over 200 titles and his renditions of Franz Liszt, Alexander Skriabin, Serghei Rachmaninov, Modest Mussorgski, Prokofiev and Beethoven remains a reference.

In 1990, together with his wife (Valentina Berman, also pianist, that has graduated the Moscow Conservatory and now being a piano professor at Accademia di Musica di Firenze. ) he has moved to Italy. He has begun to teach piano at Accademia di Imola and Franz Liszt Conservatory in Weimar, Germany, and since 2000, he has moved again his teaching class at Accademia Europea di Musica (Erba, Italia). Since 1995 he has lived in Florence, City where he has died in 2005.

Ioana Maria Lupașcu reveals to me the fact that she admired Lazar Berman, since she was a Child, but she never hoped to work with him.

“After my admission exam at Master Level at Lausanne Conservatory, I saw a poster in the lobby of that building that was announcing a summer masterclass with Berman in Slovakia. There was going to be an audition in that country, because he was going to choose only 12 pianists between those that were wishing to work with him , but I said to myself that it is worth the risk and I was accepted.

After that those two weeks have passed, I came back home. The autumn came and I have started my lessons as master student in Lausanne. I couldn’t get along at all with the teacher and I knew I have to go to study somewhere else. I said to myself that before trying to become student at another conservatory, I can try to see whether there is a chance to work with Berman. I called him and he told me that he was just to end his collaboration with Imola Conservatory and was about to start his piano class at Accademia Europea di Musica, in Erba. I could not go to the admission exam as I did not receive the visa so I called him again. I found out that a place remained unoccupied. We were 100 competitiors for that place and I have entered the last one to play. Immediately after that moment, I was given my first piano lesson as his student there. It seems that that place has waited for me, that that was my destiny to work with him, level that was not reached by any other romanian pianist.

The Maestro always had only 12 students and each lesson could be the very last , as he was very exacting and as other 200 pianists were waiting in line to work with him, he didn’t tolerate to lose his time with someone that didn’t level up his extremely high Standards.

Everything that I am today, pianistically speaking, i owe it to Lazar Berman. I have learned to approach everything in a whole different way : music, virtuosity, i have learned with every lesson to exceed my limits “, tells me the artist.


Being in this fully rusophobic wave, I have a curiosity and I open it up to Ioana Lupașcu: why are russians so good in music , also as performers but as composers as well?

”Their interpretive school, benefits from a special rigor, but also a very special approach. I had to learn again the pianistical touchee, when studying russian piano school. I have learnt that that russian pathos has a know how also, and I have learnt to take out the sound from any piano I was playing in the way I wanted and not in the way it comes out by chance. This is russian performing school. The talent and inspiration are making the difference between pianists, but this inspiration is based on a very exact technical knowledge. There are some tehnical secrets that are changing everything.

The russian school is teaching you a New perimeter: piano is more piano, vivace is more vivace , forte is more forte and so on. Everything is more intense. We can think of the colourfull way Horowitz was playing , how many colours he was doing while playing.

I remember what was saying my Maestro to anybody that was complaining about a bad piano, that there aren’t bad pianos , but only …bad pianists “.

In some of the hospitals from other countries I saw in their lobbies, a piano that could be played by a talented pacient maybe or a guest artist invited to play a mini recital for the pacients, but also for the hospital staff, because the science discovered the therapeutical effects of music and also of peinture.

In Switzerland there are some peinture workshops inside some hospitals. I ask Ioana Lupascu what kind of self inner “diseases” she could cure by playing piano?

“Music is therapy and healing in the same time, because it can raise up the vibration and somebody having a higher vibration can reach the healing. Music composed by someone gets a metamorphosis produced by the performer by his own feelings and in this way it reaches the audience. I cure myself everyday in order to alchemize what I give to the audience. I cured my traumas, deep feelings that were locked in the depth of myself, and I continue to do so. Some of these traumas got materialised in some imbalances in my body , but I learn day by day to cure myself, I learn to live” she confesses to me.


I ‘ve always asked myself why an artist living in România doesn’t get as much money as a foreigner artist. Ioana Maria Lupașcu explains to me the difference made by ” the position that art and culture have “, by the given value. ”  In Romania, the cachets are low,  the culture doesn “t get a big budget , on the contrary , the Government is taking money back from culture institutions. There are some institution that in some years have …zero budget.  I cannot even comment such a thing. A nation without culture is so easily to be manipulated,  because people don’t think with their own brain. Here is the answer, I think. “

“A very bad choice made in my youth” was the reason why we see her so rarely on stage despite her unique  performing qualities. ” But we cannot turn back time. This is a  common practice in music, kept in silence,  but that  often is happening : the powerful ones put obstacles to the small ones”.

Ioana Maria Lupașcu has begun to study piano at the age of four years old. Since 2007, she is concert soloist of Paul Constantinescu Philharmonic in Ploiești. She has recorded 4 cds , she has published a novel , she has composed music for a couple of documentaries movies for Digi World. She has played in concerts or recitals in  Italy, Croatia, Switzerland, Turkey, SUA, Greece, Lithuania, Slovakia, Moldova, Austria, Germany, France and Spain. She has played under the batoon of conductors such as Tiberiu Soare, Theo Wolters, Gottfried Rabl, Walter Hilgers, Sabin Pautza, Petre Sbârcea, Ovidiu Bălan, Koichiro Kanno. Many composers dedicated to her contemporary pieces. In 2021 she has graduated her Phd with  Summa cum laude. 

Ioana Maria Lupașcu represents  „the musical side” of  Pianul cu poeme ( The piano with the poems ) an exceptional cultural project that last since more than 10 years ago. The “poetical” side is represented by the actress Daniela Nane,  which is so expressive and incredibly talented while reciting lyrics by Eminescu, Blaga or Marin Sorescu.

In fact,  this the way i have discovered Ioana Maria Lupașcu,  in a february evening when the National Bucharest Theatre  hosted  “the Piano” and “the Poems”.

“This is a very beautiful Project, close to my heart. We created it in such way in order to create katharsis, to raise up the audience vibration. They leave the hall and go home but with a different energy.  

The audience comes based on the marketing and publicity done to the show . The people love everything that is beautiful , they need this kind of sensitive food for their souls.  

The way Daniela is reciting is absolutely unique, her feelings bring so much emotion and I tried to choose music so it can create a whirlwind. After the show, always people are coming to us and confess that  they were crying during the show. 

This is unleashing and unlocking  emotions, and going back to the previous question, it might mean also healing or well-being ” tells me the pianist. 

What woud Ioana Maria Lupașcu choose for a playlist for specialized music lovers, but also for a one for people not so used to classical music ? 

“For both of them I would choose Beethoven, as he is such a great example for everyone not to be overwhelmed by the difficulties of life. 

Beethoven, this amazing talent, had become deaf and he had learnt to accept his own destiny, to fight with the melancholy, to beat the despair, and each of the  notes he had composed brings within it the determination to reach the well being state of mind, the victorious Joy. 

I would also choose Liszt for the depth of his music , packed in a shining phrasing that was never overpassed. 

I would choose Rachmaninov, for his special harmonies, the shadows and pure russian perfume.

Bach, as his music is like a cathedral,  Schubert for the poetry of his melodies,  musical beauty without equal almost. 

For the theologians …I would choose Mephisto Walzer by Liszt. The incarnation of the devil is build up on a chain of perfect fifth, God’s interval and from this, a very deep message is born. 

The same fifth is the Foundation for Christ Oratorium by the same Liszt, but in this work it lacks the double hided meaning.”

Ioana Maria Lupașcu’s carreer would have been brighter if she would have taken the right decisions : ” it is sad for me to say it , but  it is the truth  , i think i was wrong to come back in Romania ” .

In the year her father died, she found herself at a crossroad point. She could continue to live in Italy , but she decided to come back. She didn’t know at that moment that she was going to make a big mistake. 

“While I was learning Oedip for the Project created by The baritone Ștefan Ignat :  Oedip understood by everybody, I was really impressed by Enerscu’s depression that could be easily heard in his music and i remember bow the way i was thinking about the importance of choosing well your partener.  In Enescu’s case,  Maruca. But all of us we can be more carefull…. such wrong choices can cost one a great deal. “

I remember Maruca’s Memories…. “Shadows and lights”, a book that I love so much that I have recently  searched for it in a deposit in Bacău, just to give it as a gift to the man i love.

It is such a drama to be Enescu, to love a woman that is in love with someone else, so in love that is capabile of self sacrifice , ready to set herself on fire and him, Enescu in his endless  generosity to wait for her and  to keep her hand  while she was in hospital! 

At the end of the concert she performed together with  Ploiești Philharmonic , where i felt that sometimes the conductor Alexandru Ganea kept her slower than she wanted , slower than she would have chosen to play and could have the skills to play this lisztian music,  Ioana Maria Lupașcu played a magical improvisation on Piazzolla  but also with the chords of national anthem. 

Which could be the sourse of such a “vision” that comes not only as muse for poets but also as enlightment for composers and even performers? 

In the pianist’s case, “God, day by day life, the love I carry in my heart”.

I confess that I myself have started to play piano even if I am 47 years old and I ask her if it is late. One should start study piano at 4, right ?

“It is never late, because it brings Joy to.the heart”, she tells me smiling with admiration and without hiding her amazement. “I don”t think it can be a general recipee as far as the age is concerned. For example, I had a colegue while being student of Lazar Berman that started to study piano at the age of 13, age that is considered impossible for aiming the high performance. But she was better than all of us , so it means she could overcome this ideea and recover the delay. Unfortunately she suffered an accident and her carreer stopped very quickly.”

Many of us seek the praising and ask ourselves not only which is the best movie the most beautiful book, the most amazing city and which is the most wonderful piano composition.

„Oooh, it is so difficult to say this….as so many are wonderful. I think what matter is the moment we find ourselves . There are works that are enchanting me with their beauty like Bach-Busoni Chaconne, or Beethoven’s Emperor or Vallee d‘Obermann by Liszt, Vivaldi ‘s Winter.

Winter is the vivaldian season that I love so much and there was a long period in which i was listening to it on repeat in my car, performed by Gheorghe Zamfir. Even if it was august …

I went to Ploiești to listen to Ioana Maria Lupașcu performing Liszt’s Concerto and I would do this again even if i were to be walking.

She doesn’t know this , but finds out now, while reading these lines: in my living, on a wall there is a big picture with Liszt last photo, alive. I have bought it many years ago , at an auction where I was “fighting ” with the ambassador of a wealthy country, and he gave up finally , probabil due to his masculine nobility.



To Liszt through Berman, the story of pianist Ioana Maria Lupașcu