Photos by Nadia Meli
When 31-year-old Viktor Penner sat down at the piano in Brighton station last Friday night, he didn’t realise he’d be watched online by 12,000 people. His playing captivated an audience of commuters who have dubbed him a master pianist with a God-given talent – something which the people of Facebook have relished.
A week later, he’s been invited to play live on the BBC. We simply had to get in touch with him to chat for his first ever press interview. He shows up bright and early, beaming from ear to ear with an infectious positive energy. Born in Russia, raised in Germany, and having spent a long time in the US, Viktor calls himself one citizen with many homes. He’s been in Brighton and Hove since last October, which he enjoys because of his love for open spaces and the sea. He says: “I decided to just try living here, and see what happened – to figure out whether I’d like it or not.
“It’s definitely a lovely area. I love the open space when I look over the sea. And if you go a little bit north, you can see the green countryside. I thought the Seven Sisters was stunning! It’s a wonderful place.”
We ask him how he got into playing the piano. He tells us he started learning at the age of nine, mentored by his auntie. “I think my aunt and uncle approached me because they saw talent and heard something different,” explains Viktor, “so I just kind of went with it! You know, as a small kid you just roll with it. There was a time where I hated it and wanted to quit for sure, but playing piano became a huge part of my life.
“When I was taught, it was very classical because my aunt was from Russia. So she bought all her influence with her.”
Having grown up in a German Christian household without TV or pop music, Viktor’s first inspirations were American religious artists like Michael W. Smith, along with Russian classical artists. He now takes inspiration from quite the mixture of artists, including the Hillsong movement, Coldplay, William Joseph and David Foster. “I love to draw on classical music and modernise it,” says Vik, “I like to put a spin on it and go more cinematic.”
However, faith and spirituality are still a key part of Viktor’s music – and his identity. When he isn’t playing the piano, you can find him writing and singing tunes about life, love, and worship – including pieces for churches. He says: “I feel like playing is kind of a spiritual thing. I have to release this energy and play for me, play for God, play for the sake of getting it all out.
“I love Jesus, I love god – I believe he exists. He is definitely motivating me to keep going with my talent, so I write songs about him.
“I am not shying away about my faith. I was raised in a Christian home and I started asking what I was here for, why I was on this earth at this time. I tried so many different things, like asking if my calling was fame or money, and I would always fall short.”
We inevitably get around to talking about last Friday’s video. Viktor tells us something quite saddening – he doesn’t currently have a piano in his Hove flat, which is why he headed to Brighton station. He says: “I wanted to release my energy and passion, and asked myself where I could do that. I knew there was a piano at the station so I decided to go there – for the second time in two weeks.
“I just sat there and did my thing, I thought ‘I’m just going to do this for me, I’m just going to practice – I know people are going to watch but who cares!’”
Passerby Adam Leigh was astounded by what he heard, pulled out his camera, and asked Vik if he could share the video online. The two went for a drink that evening, and the rest is history. Viktor’s current day-job is working for American Express, but he would love to make music a full-time career. “I am on a journey to the direction of making music a living – it’s definitely more than a hobby,” he tells us. “I don’t know where this is going from here, but I am excited.”
Feeling overwhelmingly inspired and positive, we ask Viktor for some words to live by. He says: “Love God. If you don’t, find out who he is. Love people, because that goes hand-in-hand. And don’t be afraid to go after your dreams. It sounds so cliché but most people don’t even know what their dreams are or what they want to do.”