Solzhenitsyn's Son Ignat Starts His Own Career—as a Pianist

updated 07/20/1987 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 07/20/1987 AT 01:00 AM EDT

The Vermont youth seems almost typical. He shoots baskets with his brothers, grows poetic about Yankee hitter Don Mattingly ("definitely the best player in the game") and works part-time in a general store. Soon he will obtain that certified instrument of freedom, a learner's permit to drive. But when he mentions his name or takes the stage to play the piano, there is that occasional double take to remind Ignat Solzhenitsyn, 14, that he is no ordinary New England teenager.

Ignat is the son of Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, 68, the Nobel-prizewinning author who, with his powerful novels and bleak Gulag trilogy, documented the cruel repression of the Stalin era in the Soviet Union. Now Ignat is achieving some fame on his own as a budding concert pianist who already has performed some 15 well-received concerts. Exiled from the Soviet Union in 1974, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn and his wife, Natalya, have three sons—Stephan, 13, Ignat and Yermolay, 16—but Ignat, who will begin his senior year at Green Mountain Union High School this fall, is the only musical member of the family. "I've always been able to learn music very fast," he says at the family home in Cavendish. "I don't know why. You can ask the Guy Upstairs."

Under the tutelage of Luis Batlle, a professor of music at Marlboro College, Ignat practices four hours daily. He has been playing for 10 years, since the family moved into a furnished house and Ignat found a piano in the parlor. At first, he says, his parents "didn't think much of my playing. It was lousy." But he studied hard with his earlier teacher, Chonghyo Shin of the Brattleboro Music Center, and critics, while not overwhelmed, have been encouraging. "My father is very supportive now," says Ignat, "but because of his work, he can't come to many concerts."

Ignat's strongest mentor has been Lazar Gosman, 61, music director of the Soviet Emigré Orchestra. "I immediately realized he's very exceptional," said Gosman, a violinist who performed with the boy during a chamber music concert at Vermont's Norwich University earlier this month.

Ignat accepts the limitations of a reclusive father. "I realize what an incredible task he has as a writer." Still, there are advantages to being a Solzhenitsyn. "Audiences will come to a concert because of my name," he admits, adding, "Eventually, they'll come to hear me play. I have no problem with that. I'm very proud of the name."

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