FEW visitors can glance at the skyline and Victoria Harbour on a grey, overcast morning and judge the weather ''really nice''. But everything is relative. Two weeks ago, Dmitri Alexeev was freezing in the near-zero temperatures and howling winds of Chicago. A week or so earlier, the Russian pianist was at home in a snow-packed, bone-chilling Moscow. The first and last time he performed in Hongkong was 1988. It marked the first time a pianist from the then Soviet Union performed here in 25 years. He remembers the warm reception. He is back as guest soloist with the Hongkong Philharmonic for its current Russian Romantic Festival, featuring works by Stravinsky, Shostakovich and Rachmaninov. In talking about the political thaw that allows Russian artists, students, even tourists, greater freedom to travel and perform, he remains a bit guarded. Questions are answered in a well-modulated voice; his demeanour is soft-spoken and cordial. To people of his or older generations, the freedom young Russians have today is mind-boggling. Though the cultural exchange enriches life, some things in Russia remain unchanged, like the hassles in applying for a visa or getting repairs done to a crumbling apartment building. The uphill struggle continues but, as he points out, he is a patient man. He is married to concert pianist, Tatiana Sarkissova. Their daughter Anya, 20, a music student in London, happens to be a pianist. ''Too bad,'' he adds, with a half grin, a case of a family with too many identical careers under the same roof. The family has a flat in London and another in Moscow. But time is never neatly divided into six months at either place. When it happens, getting the family together is an enjoyable occasion. He is booked solid for the next two years. The rigours of travel don't get any easier with age, especially those 10-hour time changes between United States and Asia or Russia. He fights stress and jet lag by staying focused on music. ''Since I love what I do, it's really no problem.'' His current tour included concerts in London, Leningrad and Chicago, within a month of each other. Born in 1947, he was a child prodigy, who started performing in public at the age of 12, part of his training at the Moscow Conservatory. ''When I was a student the musical tradition in Russia used to be closed, like Soviet society. There was no new fresh blood coming in. That's changing. ''Today's students shouldn't forget the old traditions. Those need to be preserved. We have some very fine teachers and music schools in Russia.'' The first time he went abroad to compete in Paris at the age of 22, the culture change came as a complete shock. ''It was as if I was from a different planet. For many who have never been abroad today, it still is.'' Though schedule conflicts make travelling with his wife as a couple nearly impossible, this visit to Hongkong is an exception. Staying in one place for 10 days is a luxury. ''I want to see the art museum, look around the city, maybe go to an island. For the first time, I'm going to be a tourist.''