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Grammy-nominated Pianist, HSE Intern Michelle Daniel Performed With Russian Musicians

On a Monday evening at a stylish jazz club in Moscow, there was a Russian-American music collaboration, a rare scene amid tensions between the two countries. The sole U.S. performer at this July 8 jazz concert was Michelle Daniel, an intern at the International Office, the HSE Faculty of Economic Sciences. She is staying in Moscow for almost three months, with the ambitious goal of helping to improve Russian-American relations.

Grammy-nominated Pianist, HSE Intern Michelle Daniel Performed With Russian Musicians

Born in Texas, Daniel started learning playing classical songs at the age of 7 and later switched to jazz. Over the years, she has achieved success in the music scene, highlighted by two Grammy nominations.

However, playing a gig with Russian artists was still a whole new experience for the American artist, who only speaks basic Russian. “The first few minutes when we met, I was like, ‘I can’t speak your language, you can’t speak mine,’” Daniel said. “I have never had that opportunity to play with musicians who couldn’t speak my language.”

“But then we started playing, we realized it all fits. It felt very good.” Daniel thought it showed that music is “the universal language.” All compositions performed at the concert, titled “Michelle Daniel and friends,” were staged by local musician Andrei Solovyov, who played trumpet on stage alongside Daniel. Four other Russian talents also took part in the ensemble.

Even though it was Daniel’s first time in Moscow, she described her voyage as “coming home.” Since childhood, the American musician has loved all things Russian – culture, history and music, but surprisingly, she prefers Moscow over St. Petersburg, the cultural capital of Russia. “The pace of life in Moscow matches my own rhythm. It’s more fast-paced than St. Petersburg, and I feel like Moscow is actually, physically cleaner,” she said with a laugh. “Culturally, I really love Moscow.” 

During her short stint in Moscow, Daniel wears many hats – not only she is an intern, but also she takes classes of Russian language at HSE. Despite her busy schedule, she is actively contributing to the international recruitment effort at the Faculty of Economic Sciences by designing information materials aimed at overseas universities, “giving the Western perspective to make it sound good and to look professional.”

Daniel hoped she could help smooth Russian-American relations and believed there are huge misunderstandings among Americans about Russia. “People in America have a perception that Russians are very sour, unhappy people. But I actually find that they are a bit more open and more straightforward than Americans,” she said. “Maybe they don’t smile to you at first, but if you do talk to them, they open up really quickly. I prefer that, because I like straightforward people.”


Prepared by Nicole Leung, Prep Year alumna and IO summer intern

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Michelle is one of eighteen Center for Russian, East European and Eurasian Studies at the University of Texas at Austin students who have undertook internship in Moscow as part of their Russian studies, international experience or internships experience abroad since 2013. Ten of them were female and seven of them took their postgraduate education in US or Europe after completion their internship in Moscow.