Practicing in a run-down hostel in a small Ukranian village, 8-year-old Dasha Bukhartseva had no other dream for her future besides playing piano.
Now, as an up-and-coming pianist, Bukhartseva, 22, a second-year master’s student at the Frost School of Music, will be featured on NPR’s “From the Top with Host Christopher O’Riley,” a program dedicated to showcasing the stories of classically trained, young musicians.
“I’m so excited, I can’t breathe,” Bukhartseva said. “They’re doing such a great thing of spreading this love for music in all generations.”
NPR will host a private recording on April 29 at the Gusman Concert Hall and will include performances and stories from young, classical musicians.
Bukhartseva will appear as an alumna of the show, having previously been profiled in 2008 after participating in the Aspen Music Festival in Colorado. She was also featured on the show in 2009 as part of the “Shapka Trio,” alongside Christopher Pell and Madeline Fayette to represent the Juilliard Pre-College Division.
She has performed in prestigious venues such as Merkin Hall, Paul Hall, Millenium Hotel Hall in New York City, National Opera Theatre, the Odessa Philharmonic in Ukraine and the Kremlin in Moscow.
Bukhartseva has competed in more than 40 national and international competitions. Among them, she has placed in 35 and won 30.
“When you’re on stage, you finish playing, and people are applauding and seeing that,” she said. “I mean, it’s really difficult to talk about these things, especially about response. … It’s all about doubt. Am I doing something right? Are they going to like it?”
Bukhartseva’s journey began when she enrolled in her first piano class at 8 years old. She instantly fell in love with piano and knew this was what she wanted to do with the rest of her life. Later, she began to compete and gain national and international recognition.
She has been referred to as a prodigy, but she does not like this label.
“When someone says prodigy, it doesn’t mean hard work, it’s just like it came upon you, and it really doesn’t,” she said. “It really takes a long time to make it work, musically and technically, and you sit and you have ideas and you try to make this world a better place with your music.”
While Bukhartseva faced her challenges practicing her music, she and her mother also had a difficult situation, at one point living in a music school because they were homeless.
During a performance in Odessa, she caught the eye of an American couple, Dan and Lynne Levinson, who were so impressed with her performance and skill they helped her come to the U.S.
They were later joined by Mieke and Hendrik Smit, and together they refer to themselves as “Team Dasha.”
“We invited the head of the Aspen Music School to watch a DVD of her playing piano, and she was offered a full scholarship for the summer,” Dan Levinson said in an interview with NPR.
That moment was life changing, according to Bukhartseva, who had never dreamed such a trip would be possible. She then performed at the Apsen Music Festival and later attended the Juilliard Pre-College Division at 16. She attended the Peabody Institute, a conservatory in Baltimore, for her undergraduate degree.
“I am probably the luckiest person in the world, and they’ve been always helping me and I get so much, I mean, it’s something so many people believe in you,” she said.
She is pursuing a degree in piano performance and pedagogy at UM under the direction of Associate Professor Tian Ying. She will attend Stony Brook University in the fall to pursue her doctorate of musical arts.
“She is incredibly talented,” Ying said. “She worked very hard. You can have the talent, but if you don’t have the discipline, nothing’s going to work your way. So she really has both, extremely diligent and determined.”