In regards to my move, I had studied for five years at the conservatory by that time, and I hadn't put much effort into the move myself; I was just testing the ground. Gifted and talented students were recommended for admission to an assistant internship, which is an analogue of graduate school. The head of the department proposed that rector Rubin Abdullin be my creative director. I was delighted of course. He's an organist and had been a great pianist. I studied with him for six months, and a rather serious competition was coming up in Bremen. There were four rounds. I went to participate. While at the competition in Bremen, I met a professor from the Lübeck Academy of Music who was very nice and said that they could give me opportunities to grow further, so I applied there, although I hadn't planned on it.
There's a very big difference in the assessment systems in Russia and Germany.
Grades and exams in Russia are like forced labor; you don't feel like a creative person: you give your report, and three or four professors evaluate you. In Germany, the exam takes place in the form of concerts and the audience is free to come. And you perform not like for an exam, but for a concert; it's two completely different experiences. And this is also very important for creative professions. You share your feelings and vision of music, and they will listen to you not judgingly, but inspired. In Russia, exams in the form of concerts exist only in an assistant internship.
Here, you announce what you're going to play, perform the whole program, and the commission evaluates it. There, you go on stage and have a conversation. At that time, I knew only guten Tag in German. They begin to pick something from your program and ask you to play it: "Let's hear the fourth movement of Chopin's sonata." You play that piece for about two minutes, then another, then the next, jumping around abruptly. For me, that was a shock.
In addition to my major, I had to pass German, and they only had you take that exam if they liked the way you played the piano. I was very happy when they told me to wait for the German exam. Of course, I had prepared for like two weeks, but it didn't really help, because I needed to be at level B2. I had the Internet, so I entered the beginning of the test under the table and copied the words, and I think now that this played a biggest role; everything else was definitely wrong. I mean, it was kind of luck. I returned to Russia and a month later I received a letter: "You got in."
It was hard for me to go to the rector and tell him that I got in. It may seem silly, but it's a matter of respect. He took me under his wing for two years, and then I had to go and say: "Excuse me, Mr. Abdullin, but I'm leaving." It was the worst part about moving to Germany. But he had also left at one point to study in Moscow for graduate school, so maybe that's why it didn't seem to bother him.