Olga Kern, based in Moscow, has brought to stages around the world some of the mix of charisma and power cultivated by pianists of the old Russian school. Born in 1975, Kern had a musical ancestry that her family traced back to the circles of Rachmaninov and Tchaikovsky. Both her parents were musicians, and after hearing her mother play Chopin, she took up the piano herself at the age of 5. Glamorous and naturally gifted when it came to projecting stage presence, Kern showed a knack for winning competitions. She won her first one at 11 with a performance of Mendelssohn's music, and she decided on a musical career when she stepped in front of an audience as piano soloist with an orchestra: "When I stepped on the stage, I felt so great," she told The Charlotte Observer. "I understood at that moment that I will never change professions....This is how it must be. I must be performing." Kern's teachers in Moscow included Evgeny Timakin at the Moscow Central School and Sergei Dorensky at the Moscow Tchaikovsky Conservatory. By the time she was 17, she was being sent abroad for competitions, and she eventually took home first prize at 11 of them, helped along the way by an honorary scholarship from Russian President Boris Yeltsin in 1996. The jewel in Kern's competition crown came in 2001 at the Van Cliburn International Piano Competition in Fort Worth, TX, where she shared first prize with Stanislav Ioudenitch and thus became the first woman in the nearly 40-year history of the event to take the top prize. She performed Liszt's Don Juan Fantasy, impressing judges with her sheer power and flair, and she launched her recording career on the Harmonia Mundi label with a fresh reading of the same work. Kern is noted for the real finger-busters of the keyboard repertory -- Rachmaninov, Liszt, and a range of lesser-known virtuoso Russian works. Her Cliburn victory launched her on a series of U.S. tours, and she made her Carnegie Hall debut in 2004, after a cancellation by another pianist freed up the hall. Kern seized the moment and earned rave reviews. She has also concertized extensively in her native Russia, in Europe, and in East Asia. Noted for her stamina, Kern has averaged some 150 concerts a year in the most demanding repertory the classical tradition has to offer. In February 2005 in South Africa, she performed all four Rachmaninov piano concertos and the Rhapsody on a Theme by Paganini three times over a span of six days, likely an unprecedented feat. A single mother, Kern often leaves her young son in the care of her parents in Moscow; he has begun piano lessons at the Moscow Central School.