Practice pays for piano student

Elena Miraztchiyska starts breathing rapidly and raggedly as she recalls the moment, her chest heaving like she’s just seen a ghost.

“Oh my god, it was so, so stressful, and I was so scared,” the young University of Nevada, Las Vegas piano student says, reflecting on the kind of reputation-building performance that she’s spent upward of eight hours a day practicing toward.

For Miraztchiyska, her defining moment came two weeks ago, when she won the 2006-07 MTNA Young Artist Performance Competitions, one of the biggest events of its kind, where this year, more than 1,800 college students from across the country vied for top honors.

It’s among the most prestigious awards for collegiate musicians, with Miraztchiyska taking home a sizable cash prize and a $48,000 Steinway piano. Her victory marks the first time anyone from Nevada has won the competition, topping students from such big-name schools as Juilliard and the New England Conservatory of Music.

The event consisted of two rounds, with the finals taking place in Toronto, where Miraztchiyska performed for an hour straight, completing three separate pieces with only a five second break between each one.

“I felt like I was jogging all day, it was so tiring,” Miraztchiyska recalls, rubbing her wrists at the memory of the physically challenging routine.

A native of Bulgaria, Miraztchiyska moved to Las Vegas four years ago, drawn to UNLV by renowned Russian assistant piano professor Mykola Suk.

Sitting in his office on a recent Monday morning, surrounded by shelves of opera books and framed portraits of famous composers, Miraztchiyska comes across as a bundle of nervous energy. With long black hair and dark features, she looks kind of like an Eastern European Norah Jones.

Miraztchiyska began playing the piano at age 6, performed her first recital the following year and was playing with orchestras by the time she was 12.

Now, a year from graduation, the 25-year-old still is getting used to the cultural difference between her native country and the United States, chuckling at the little things that distinguish the two.

“It’s the complete opposite of my country,” Miraztchiyska says. “I remember what impressed me is that when you walk, they always hold the door for you here,” she laughs heartily. “In my country, they just shut it in front of you.”

Currently, Miraztchiyska spends most of her days practicing, attempting to master four to five pieces a semester, spending upward of a month learning a single composition.

And now, she’s facing perhaps her biggest challenge yet: where to put that new piano.

“I don’t think it is going to fit into my apartment,” she says with another full-bodied laugh. “I guess I’m going to have to buy a house.”

Jason Bracelin’s “Sounding Off” column appears on Tuesdays. Contact him at 383-0476 or e-mail him at jbracelin@

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