A Conversation with Émile Naoumoff

Nadia Boulanger's final student opens up about the legendary teacher

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Émile Naoumoff — Pianist

Nathalie Guilbaud — Interviewer

Program notes

The pianist Émile Naoumoff, born in Bulgaria in 1962, began studying the piano at age five. When it became apparent how much talent he possessed, his mother took him through the Iron Curtain to Paris, where he became, at eight years old, the final student of perhaps the most famous piano teacher of the last century: Nadia Boulanger, 75 years his senior, in many ways a 19th-century holdover in a 20th-century world.

Naoumoff, who spent ten impressionable years studying with Mademoiselle Boulanger (as he still calls her), recounts his formation under Nadia’s tutelage and the impact she had on his life as a musician, a teacher, and a human being. Although she could be, according to Naoumoff, almost “Stalinian” in her obsessive attention to detail, she also possessed a combination of “enthusiasm and rigor” that Naoumoff never found in another teacher after Boulanger’s death. “She never shaped my mind to match her thoughts,” he remembers; “instead, she stimulated me to become myself.”

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