Léonie Sonning Talent Prize 2019

Ramez Mhaanna

From Nørrebro ghetto to piano talent in Moscow

Growing up in a Nørrebro ghetto area as an immigrant child of a Russian mother and a Lebanese father while also playing classical piano was never easy for Ramez. His friends did not understand why he always had to play that instrument. It was nerdy and weird.

Actually, the young Ramez also preferred playing computer games with his friends, but his mother wanted to bring culture into her children's upbringing, and the many hours of practice was part of that plan. That's the way it was in Moscow, so it was a cultural expectation for her that her boys were also to choose that path.

Culture meant not only playing the piano, but also being introduced to art, film and international high-quality literature so this also became part of Ramez’ childhood. Today, he thanks his mother for this cultural insight which made his own talent rise to the surface.

Found his mission in life and went to Moscow

As a teenager, Ramez wanted to be a film director, and it was not until he was 16 that he realised that music was going to be his profession. He realised this when a primary school teacher had the young talent join a performance of Grieg’s piano concerto as a soloist with the amateur orchestra Københavns Sinfonia. Being the central figure with the amazing sound of a symphony orchestra around him made Ramez delve into classical music.

After upper secondary school at Frederiksberg, Ramez decided to follow his new mission and move to Moscow to study the piano. His advantage was that he had family in Moscow and spoke Russian fluently. The challenge was that his Russian co-students had already studied music at a high level their entire school life so he always felt he was lagging behind his friends.

Ramez now experienced the Russian culture that his mother had taken with her to Denmark at close hand. In Russia, children are admitted to music school from first grade with annual exams and high demands to an extent he had never experienced at Nørrebro.

Back to a new life in Denmark

But with the help of a good teacher and good friends, Ramez obtained a bachelor’s degree in Russia and returned to Denmark where a new reality was awaiting him. His former network was gone, and he had to start all over.

The first year, he took on small jobs as an accompanist at ballets and gymnastics, music teacher and interpreter before joining the Royal Danish Academy of Music and later on the soloist class.

Ramez is now at a place in life where he can do what he is passionate about. He plays concerts with good colleagues and does not have to accompany gymnastics to make a living. And he is also able to work on a project which he feels strongly about. He wants to increase young people’s knowledge of classical music across religion, culture and borders.

Ramez Mhaanna in brief

Born in 1992. Oldest son of four brothers. Russian mother and Lebanese father.
Raised at Nørrebro, Copenhagen, and graduated from Frederiksberg Gymnasium.
Received private piano lessons as a child and was noticed already then at music competitions and piano festivals. At the age of 16, he performed Grieg’s Piano Concerto with Københavns Sinfonia in 2008.

2011-2015: Bachelor as a pianist from Gnesins Academy of Music in Moscow.
Master's degree from the Royal Danish Academy of Music in 2018.
Admitted to the soloist class at the Royal Danish Academy of Music in 2018.

He has played concerts in many countries, for instance in China with Mhaanna-Zhang Duo.

Speaks Danish, Russian, Arabic and English fluently and basic German and Chinese.

The scholarship from the Léonie Sonning Music Foundation

Ramez will spend the scholarship from the Léonie Sonning Music Foundation on master classes and studies abroad.