Portrait Lisa Smirnova

The first thing that strikes one about Lisa Smirnova apart from her red, glossy hair is her hearty, loud laugh, her euphoria. "Enthusiasm", she says, could summarise her life in one word were she only able to choose one. "Enthusiasm is the motor for everything; it carries one, no matter whether in life or in the arts." And she has always been carried by it, in the literal sense, across two cultures, from the east into the west, from Moscow to Vienna, where she lives today.

She was not endowed with all this at birth. Born in Moscow, she grew up in a family that leaned more towards the sciences and the technical than the artistic. "My parents were teaching staff at the university, my mother in mathematics and my stepfather as a physicist. My sister studied business administration." She saw herself as "very different", felt like she was in a "cage of laws, customs and dogmas"; whether at the renowned Gnessin-School to which her parents sent their gifted daughter, or years later at the Tchaikovsky Conservatory in Moscow, where she attended classes taught by Heinrich Neuhaus's assistant and successor, Lev Naumov. She had constantly an "increasingly strong feeling that one had nothing to say there as an individual". Her longing for "freedom" became insatiable, after all everything was regulated at the so-called "Special School of Music", which existed in a form only known in the Communist system. "As an adolescent there, one had a work day like »