Ep. 21: An American Pianist Successfully Invades Russia (and “The Life of Pi”), with Robert Thies

December 17, 2019

Robert Thies first captured worldwide attention in 1995 when he became the only American pianist to win first prize in a Russian piano competition since Van Cliburn won in Moscow in 1958. Robert’s playing is featured in The Life of Pi, Concussion, Fracture, Fifty Shades Freed, and many others. Hear from the man behind the music in this Artist Spotlight episode, including Robert’s source of inspiration, and latest creative outlets.


Today we’re featuring concert pianist and recording artist, Robert Thies. Robert first captured worldwide attention in 1995 when he became the only American pianist to win first prize in a Russian piano competition since Van Cliburn won in Moscow in 1958. His work is incredibly diverse and versatile, and includes classical and jazz performances and recordings; piano playing for film and television soundtracks; improvising and composing. Robert lives in LA, and has performed in countries around the world, including China, New Zealand, Mexico, Latvia, Bolivia, Germany, and Austria.


  • Robert says: “Nature has always been an inspiration for me. Though I’m not a religious person, I find spirituality in music and in nature. I can sit next to a stream for hours, just listening, watching the flowing water– the way it moves and the sound it makes.”
  • Robert’s deep love for improvisation led to a creative outlet and collaboration with his friend, Croatian flutist Damjan Krajacic, in the release of three albums under the title Blue Landscapes: collections of original compositions and improvisations.
  • Robert first recorded with Damjan in 2006 (an improvisational album, Difference), then Blue Landscapes I (2012) and II (2016). The latter CD won a Global Music Award. The Blue Landscapes albums proved to be the perfect vehicle to revisit his love and passion for musical conversation.
  • Robert’s hobbies include travel, hiking in nature, visiting art museums, composing, exploring international cuisines, jigsaw puzzles, and time spent with his dog, Simon.


Robert describes a short exercise on improvising and developing one’s ear for music. Anyone can do it with access to a piano.


Blue Landscapes Music

Additional Resources


Robert shares with us his song, “As the Earth Awakens” (with Damian Krajacic, from Blue Landscapes II: Discoveries).

Closing Words

Robert mentioned synesthesia at the end of our conversation – I had never heard of it. It is defined by LiveScience.com as: “a neurological condition that causes the brain to process data in the form of several senses at once. For example, a person with synesthesia may hear sounds while also seeing them as colorful swirls. Synesthesia is uncommon, occurring in only about 1 in 2,000 people, according to the American Psychological Association. The condition is more prevalent in artists, writers and musicians; about 20 to 25 percent of people of these professions have the condition, according to Psychology Today.” A piece of fun trivia: The pop singer Lorde has synesthesia. Congrats to the winner of $50 Schmitt Music gift card giveaway! Thank you to Schmitt for their support of this show by donating the gift card, just one example of the many ways that Schmitt supports musicians and music education. Thank you, Listeners, for joining us today. If you enjoy the show, please subscribe, rate, and review in whatever podcatcher you use – and tell a friend! Until next week, may your life be enhanced with music.

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