You came to the United States at age 17. What was that like?
It was a bit rough to begin with, even though I had traveled to the West several times from the Soviet Union prior to coming as an exchange student to the U.S. as a high school senior. There was a certain cultural and language barrier, even though my English was quite good. The kids at the American high school didn’t know what to make of me. But there was music. I played guitar and sang some American rock and pop songs they all knew. It was an instant icebreaker. I made friends through music. And I think that was the first time in my life when I realized the power of music and how it connected people beyond language and culture.  
You’ve been mentored by quite a few acclaimed artists. Who in particular stands out as being especially influential for you?
Probably Michael Tilson Thomas (MTT). I had an opportunity to work with him for three consecutive seasons when I was performing as the principal cellist with the New World Symphony where he was music director. MTT inspired me in many ways: he taught me, through his own example, the importance of having a personal connection with the live audience. From him I also learned about “energy management”; as a performing artist, I needed to learn how to function at my best under all circumstances: tired, sick, upset, hungry—I owe my best performance to the public no matter what. And lastly he was the one who encouraged me to go out there and explore, take risks, find my own artistic vision, seek my own path, find my own personal voice. 
In addition to being highly regarded as a classical artist, you've performed and recorded with artists in a wide range of musical genres: Andrea Bocelli, P. Diddy, Snoop Dogg, Gloria Estefan and Barry Gibb—even opening performances for Sting. What have you enjoyed most about those opportunities? 
I grew up listening to and learning to enjoy all kinds of music: jazz, pop, world music. So to me these opportunities to take cello outside its conventional classical mode were very welcome. They inspired me to look for my own ways to bring cello music to audiences outside the classical realm.