From Kyrgyzstan to Philadelphia

Passion at the piano with Kairy Koshoeva

3 minute read
Koshoeva poses sitting by a piano, in all black, looking towards the camera.
Kairy Koshoeva performs live this weekend at Jacobs Music Spirio Recital Hall. (Photo by E. G. Schempf.)

An Asian country the size of Nebraska, Kyrgyzstan may be known for its breathtaking mountain ranges, swooping eagles, and horse-borne archers. But there is another piece to the Kyrgyz identity: a passion for music. That passion has given rise to a rich musical tradition among the country’s 6.5 million inhabitants. One type of music includes the lively melodies and rhythms of the komuz (a three-stringed guitar made of apricot wood) and the kyl kyyak (a bowed instrument). Another is the classical tradition of European and Asian art music.

The music is alive

Now an acclaimed pianist living and teaching in Princeton, Kairy Koshoeva was born in Kyrgyzstan and grew up in a household abounding with music from both traditions. She will present a free recital, Appassionato, before a Philadelphia audience at Jacobs Music on Sunday, March 19. The program will be simulcasted at Jacobs Music’s Princeton location.

When Koshoeva was growing up, her household was a busy place, alive with sound. “My mother sang, my father played the komuz, my older sisters performed the classics they learned at music school,” she reflected during a recent interview. “And me? I discovered Mozart!” she effused, “Oh, it was so beautiful. I had heard nothing like it!” Later on, she encountered the music of Chopin, the great romantic “poet of the piano.”

“It awakened all these feelings and emotions,” she said. “When you’re a teenager, how can you even handle this music, it is so passionate.” Koshoeva reflected on how classical music has that power to allow the listener or performer to channel their own experiences and feelings through music composed by a single individual who often lived long ago. At the same time, she is excited by new music. In the concert, for example, she will perform works by Ukrainian and Kyrgyz composers, as well as Bach, Chopin, and Tchaikovsky.

Back in Kyrgyzstan, Koshoeva became a star pupil at the local music school, studying with remarkable teachers including Bella Zudok and Faina Kharmats. In her late teens, she was admitted to the prestigious Gnesin Academy of Music in Moscow, the great city presenting a bit of a culture shock, but a good one. Graduating with bachelor’s and master’s degrees, she moved on to the US where she has been thrilled to discover the increasing diversity of performers and audiences. “Philadelphia is one of the cities leading the nation in welcoming musicians and composers who have not had a voice, or much of a voice, in the past,” she said.

Koshoeva went on to earn a doctorate from the University of Missouri, Kansas City, win several international piano competitions, and play around the world with symphony orchestras, chamber ensembles, and in recitals. “Teaching is also a very important and rewarding part of my life,” she noted, acknowledging some of her own mentors, notably Ingrid Clarfield, head of piano at Westminster Choir College. The New School for Music Study in Princeton, where Koshoeva now teaches, provides opportunities for piano teachers to continue learning even as they teach young students and adults.

Does this youthful musician—wearing a baseball cap and hoodie during her interview—have time for anything but the piano? “We are all so busy,” she laughs. Yet she pursues vigorous challenges such as indoor rock climbing and hot yoga and enjoys cooking as time permits.

What, When, Where

Appassionato. Composed and conducted by Kairy Koshoeva, piano. Free. Sunday, March 19, 2023, at 2-4pm, at Jacobs Music Spirio Recital Hall, 1718 Chestnut Street, Philadelphia. (215) 568-7800 or

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