Kirill Gerstein has been playing the piano with such fervor and talent that he received the Nobel prize equivalent for pianists, the Gilmore prize with a purse of $300,000. Unlike the Nobel prize, there are strings attached to the monies, though, he can only blow $50 grand of it on bling-bling, the rest has to go to "musical purpose." We'd hire a good lawyer. What's a rolex, if not a 60 bpm metronome? And there must be a musical purpose to a mood inducing bottle of Chateau Yquem before a performance.

A music with a purpose is what Gerstein seems on track to achieve. The 31yo Russian-born pianist (now a US citizen) came to America at the invite of the Berklee college which gave him a full scholarship at age fourteen. He completed his Masters from the Manhattan school of music by the time he was twenty. Along the way he collected prizes in piano competitions, critical accolades and performances with the like of Charles Dutoit. Or Semyon Bychkov, with whom he'll perform Rachmaninoff's Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini with the SF Symphony tonight at Flint and Friday and Saturday at Davies. Gerstein called his purchase of Rachmaninoff piano recordings - 10 CDs on RCA with the composer at the keys- the best $99 he spent on recordings. His interpretation will be informed by that of the composer, and such a savvy shopper will make that $300k go a long way. We called him in New-York to discuss his visit, the history of the instrument and his five pianos.