Elisabeth Leonskaja is a highly respected (former Soviet) pianist whose career blossomed in the shadow of Sviatoslav Richter and Emil Gilels. Known for her modesty -- not unlike older compatriot Maria Yudina -- Leonskaja was mentored by Richter and often played duets with him. She would never reach the critical and artistic heights of her great teacher, but her reputation as an imaginative interpreter and formidable technician have lifted her to almost legendary status, with comparisons to Clara Haskil and other keyboard icons. Her choice of repertory has been fairly conservative over the years, with staples in the concerto and solo genres by Chopin, Liszt, Brahms, Tchaikovsky, Prokofiev, and with much chamber music. In the latter realm, she has collaborated with the Alban Berg and Borodin quartets, with the Vienna Philharmonic Chamber Ensemble, with cellist Heinrich Schiff, and many other artists. Leonskaja has made numerous recordings with a variety of labels, including Melodiya, Teldec, Elektra, MD&G, and others.
Leonskaja was born on November 23, 1945, in Tbilisi, Georgia, to Russian parents. She was an exceptionally gifted child, giving her first concert at 11. She studied music at the Moscow Conservatory and, while there, won prizes in several prestigious international competitions, including the Queen Elizabeth, Marguerite Long, and Enescu.
Leonskaja was soon noticed by Richter and the two developed what would be a lifelong friendship, often appearing together in duet concerts. In 1978 she emigrated to the West, settling in Vienna. Her debut at the 1979 Salzburg Festival was a great triumph, after which she quickly established a reputation that yielded invitations in the next decades from the leading orchestras abroad, including those in New York, Cleveland, Los Angeles, London, Berlin, Leipzig, and Hamburg.
Leonskaja's recordings were drawing acclaim as well: her 1992 CD of Brahms' sonatas won Belgium's prestigious Caecilia Prize. In 1996 Teldec released what would be one of Richter's last recordings, duet sonatas by Mozart and Grieg, with Leonskaja. Richter died the following year.
In the new century Leonskaja has been very active on the concert scene with numerous appearances at major concert venues. She debuted at Carnegie Hall in November 2006 with Kurt Masur leading the London Philharmonic Orchestra in an acclaimed performance of the challenging Prokofiev Piano Concerto No. 2. Among her later recordings is another highly praised Brahms CD, this one an MD&G release of piano music from Opp. 116-119.