Biography of Irina Kulikova – It’s about the touch
With the rare beauty of her tone and her enchanting presence on stage, Irina Kulikova catches the hearts of audiences across the globe. She belongs to that class of musicians that have something pure and special to say with their instrument. Her secret, in life as in music: It’s about the touch. ‘If you take special care of everything and everybody that is dear to you, if you show love and devotion in those little details that make a difference, then you may touch the lives of other people in a way that they will cherish.’
Irina Kulikova tours far afield, with appearances at leading festivals in Europe, North America and Asia and in concert halls such as the Amsterdam Concertgebouw, the Tchaikovsky Hall in Moscow, the Academic Capella in St. Petersburg, Schloss Mirabell in Salzburg, the Palau de la Musica in Valencia, the Musashino Hall in Tokyo and the Oriental Arts Center in Shanghai. She received over 30 awards for her artistry, including 1st prizes at the highly prestigious competitions of Michele Pittaluga in Italy, Guitarra Alhambra in Spain, Forum Gitarre Wien in Austria and Iserlohn in Germany.
Irina Kulikova graduated with distinction at the Mozarteum University in Salzburg (Austria), the Conservatoire of Maastricht (The Netherlands) and the Gnessins Academy in Moscow (Russia). She recorded four solo CD’s, three of which are distributed worldwide by the Naxos label. Today, Irina Kulikova resides in Los Angeles (USA), Salzburg (Austria) and The Hague (The Netherlands). Her concert career as a solist and with a variety of ensembles and orchestra’s, she combines with a personal dedication to teaching, touching the lives of promising students of all continents.
Irina Kulikova was born in 1982, in Chelyabinsk, the capital of South-Ural, Russia. Her mother, cellist Vinera Kulikova, guided her through the mysteries of music from the earliest age, bringing her along to recitals and classes. When she was five, Irina got her first guitar. She was confused: this was not the violin she had asked for. But her mother explained that this was a ‘violin with six strings’ and that she ought to give it a try. So she did. And holding the six-stringed violin in her arms, feeling the sound in her belly, little Irina knew that this was her instrument.
While the world around her was changing rapidly, a little girl sat at home studying for hours and hours every day. Mr Gorbachov introduced ‘glasnost’ and ‘perestroika’. There was freedom of expression for all Russians and Irina found her voice on the guitar. But in the shops, the shelves started to become empty and many families lost their income. One day, her father came home from work with six vacuum cleaners instead of his paycheck. Day after day, he took to the streets trying to sell them. Eventually he did. And he could pay for his daughter’s first international competition.
It was in Voronezh, a two-day train trip from home. Eleven year old Irina won her first international competition. In the jury was the great Spanish guitarist and composer José María Gallardo del Rey, who had worked with Paco de Lucía and Plácido Domingo among others. He was absolutely thrilled: ‘If you close your eyes, it’s like you hear an adult play. She truly is a musician.’ The year after, they both returned to the same festival. A brief encounter became an inspiration for life: the Spanish master had brought the young laureate a handmade guitar.
By the time she was twelve, Irina was playing gala concerts in most big cities of Russia and at festivals in Europe. At the beautiful festival of West Dean in England, she was discovered by some of the world’s leading guitarists, including David Russell and Sergio Assad. ‘A star is born’, Colin Cooper reviewed in Classical Guitar Magazine. At fourteen, her name appeared in Maurice Summerfield’s book ‘The Classical Guitar, its evolution, players and personalities since 1800’. Indeed, a rising star twinkled between the great names in the history of the classical guitar.
But no matter how high the expectations, there was no red carpet towards a future of fame and glory. Some say there should never be, for a musician’s soul should travel the depths of life to find the depths in music. At 17, Irina left home to study at the Gnessins Academy in Moscow. An impression of those years is best given by a snapshot of her grandfather, who had come to Moscow to support his little girl, bringing a large bag of potatoes. At 19, Irina broke her arm, as if life wanted her to stand still and make a choice for a career as a musician once again.
Irina did make her choice. She moved to Europe. For some years, she travelled between Moscow and Austria for studies. At the Mozarteum University in Salzburg, she developed her musical eloquence under the guidance of Marco Tamayo. She was frequently invited to festivals in Austria, Germany and Italy, performing both as a solist and in ensembles with a.o. violinist Luz Leskowitz and flutist Janne Thomsen. She also played for various members of the royal and aristocratic families of Germany and Denmark.
In the summer of 2002, Irina Kulikova performed for the Danish princess Benedikt and her guests, in Bad Berleburg. After her recital, a man from the audience came to her, deeply moved by her playing. He asked if there was anything he could do to help a young musician in her development. Nobody could have known at that moment, that five years later, this stranger was to become Irina’s father in law. She made her home in The Netherlands and continued her studies with Carlo Marchione in Maastricht. Life had found a most wonderful flow.
In 2008, every note was magic. Irina graduated with distinction at the Mozarteum University in Salzburg. She was awarded 1st prizes at all five competitions she participated in: the highly prestigious competitions of Michele Pittaluga in Alessandria, Italy, Guitarra Alhambra in Valencia, Spain, Forum Gitarre Wien in Austria and the international Guitar Competition of Iserlohn in Germany and the Scharpach Guitar Competition in The Netherlands. Also – still in the same year – she was awarded the Youth, Culture and Podia prize in the Amsterdam Concertgebouw.
The big competition wins brought what long had been anticipated. In the years that followed, Irina travelled to over 25 countries, including her first concert tours in China and Japan. She became a welcome guest at renowned festivals. And she developed into a much appreciated professor in master classes brimming with imagery and humour. Most memorable was her return to West Dean in England in 2011, for the festival’s 20th
anniversary, meeting many of those old friends that had known her since she was that twinkling little star.
In March 2013, Irina Kulikova celebrated her 25th anniversary as a guitarist with three performances in the Tchaikovsky Hall in Moscow, at the ‘Guitar Virtuosos Festival’. Back in the arms of Mother Russia at the beginning of a whole new phase of life. In 25 years, people that were most dear to her had taken special care of her, had shown their love and attention in those little details that make a difference. It had brought her where she was today. She took a long and overwhelming ovation from the audience, holding her baby daughter in her arms.