7 years ago

Volume 21 Issue 7 - April 2016

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Beat by Beat | Classical

Beat by Beat | Classical & Beyond Debargue and Geniušas Cool Hand Lukes PAUL ENNIS Born at the height of the Cold War in 1958, the International Tchaikovsky competition (held every four years, most recently in 2015) has a checkered history, beginning with its first winner, the American Van Cliburn. Conceived by the Soviet regime to celebrate the preeminence of its own musicians in a contest that welcomed contenders from around the world, Cliburn’s first-place finish (the jury included Shostakovich, Richter and Gilels) was acclaimed by music lovers in Moscow and the West. Last year’s competition likely produced the biggest surprise since 1958, although it wasn’t the winner, Dmitry Masleev, a by-thebook Russian. Lucas Debargue: The surprise was an unheralded Frenchman, Lucas Debargue, who swept through the first two rounds captivating audiences and critics with his playing. Seymour Bernstein (Seymour: An Introduction) was so moved, he sent an email to his list of followers celebrating Debargue’s artistry: “First, the Medtner is unbelievable! But I doubt that anyone will ever hear Ravel’s Gaspard performed like this. The French pianist Lucas Debargue must be in another world. Simply the most miraculous playing. Perhaps because of this alone he may win the competition.” Reportedly, though, Debargue faltered in the final round concerto performances (he had limited experience in playing with an orchestra) and was awarded Fourth Prize. More importantly, the Moscow Music Critics Association bestowed their top honours on him, and SONY signed the 25-year-old pianist to a record contract. And now Show One impresario, Svetlana Dvoretsky, has had the acumen to bring him to Toronto! In what promises to be one of the most exciting events of the season, Debargue and fellow Tchaikovsky winner, Lukas Geniušas, will give a unique, joint recital at Koerner Hall, April 30. (Debargue’s first CD – which he chose to record live in Paris’ Salle Cortot to preserve a sense of risk and spontaneity – with works by Scarlatti, Chopin, Liszt, Ravel (Gaspard de la nuit), Grieg, Schubert and his own variation on a Scarlatti sonata has just been released. In a brief sampling, I was struck by the ethereal quality in his playing of Scarlatti’s K208/L238 Sonata and the breathtaking articulation of K24/L495. He made K132/L457 his own, ruminative, other-worldly. K141/L422 was Horowitz-like but with fresh emphases. He also found the melancholic quality of Grieg’s Melody from Lyric Pieces Book III and brought an exquisite elegance to Schubert’s familiar Moment Musical Op.94.) If Debargue’s backstory weren’t true, few would believe it as fiction. He heard the slow movement of Mozart’s Piano Concerto No.21 K467 when he was ten, fell under its spell and into the world of music. He played a friend’s upright piano by ear before beginning lessons at 11 with his first teacher, Madame Meunier, in the northern French town of Compiègne. He credits her with helping him to find his way as an artist, but when he moved to Paris to study literature at Diderot University – yes, he learned English by reading Joyce’s Ulysses – he stopped playing piano (“I had no great guide, no one to share great music with,” he told the BBC), using the bass guitar as a musical outlet. After being away from the piano for years, he accepted an invitation to a competition in his home province. He won and began an intense pupil-teacher relationship with Rena Sherevskaya in Paris at 21. In a recent interview Debargue gave the German magazine Crescendo right after he recorded his second solo album in Berlin, he was asked if he is living differently now, after the competition: “Externally everything’s changed but internally not. I’m looking for Lucas Debargue Lukas Geniušas the clarity in my interpretation and I always feel that I need to progress. I’ve always had it that way. It is far more difficult for me to put up with many people around me than to concentrate on the music. Music gives me a new strength.” Just a few days before his March 24 Paris recital, Debargue graciously took the time to answer a few of my questions via email. His answers were brief, to the point and illuminating: What is your goal as an interpreter of music? To find out and then keep as much as possible the spirit of the music I play. Let it live and reach the listener by being clear and expressive. Which pianists from the past or the present do you especially admire? And why? Horowitz: for his boldness and freedom. Sofronitsky: for his boldness and freedom. Gould: for his boldness and freedom. I strongly think that no other pianist reached the dimension of Rachmaninov’s playing though. Sokolov and Pletnev are my favorite living pianists. But how can one forget Art Tatum, Monk, Powell and Erroll Garner? Speaking strictly about piano playing they’re the best so far. [Debargue is also a jazzer who’s played clubs in Paris; his Ravinia Festival appearance in August will see him give one classical and one jazz recital on the same day.] (I asked about two pieces on his Toronto program.) What is your approach to playing Gaspard de la nuit? Live it from the inside after having found the right tempo and sound for each note. And Scriabin’s Sonata No.4? It’s music of fantasy and terror but one has to be very precise in choosing the right pictures and dynamics for each episode. Lukas Geniušas: Coming from a musical family, headed by his grandmother, Vera Gornostaeva, a well-known Russian pedagogue, Lukas Geniušas took a more conventional path to his second-place Tchaikovsky finish, which followed second place in the 2010 Chopin Competition. Geniušas, like Debargue, is just 25 years old and also took time to answer my email questions. He told me that his grandmother’s importance in his musical life “both early and current is impossible to overrate.” It went beyond the bounds of music in building a foundation for the overall comprehension of art. Geniušas told me that he has three goals as an interpreter of music: to create his own personal interpretations without harming EVGENY EVTYUKHOV 24 | April 1, 2016 - May 7, 2016

TM the composer’s intentions; to seek moments of spiritual presence in a concert; and to pass on traditions that were passed on to him by his teachers. He told me that he grew up admiring Richter and Michelangeli. “Somehow, intuitively, I have chosen them to be my favourites among many others whom I listened to on CD and DVD (yes, before YouTube!),” he said. “Their playing still appears to me the most complex, multi-layered and profound. Out of contemporary pianists, I would point to Radu Lupu, Zoltan Kocsis and Boris Berezovsky, who mostly capture my attention.” When I asked him about his approach to Prokofiev’s Sonata No.7 and the seven Chopin mazurkas he will play in Toronto he told me that he first played Chopin mazurkas under his grandmother’s supervision when he was 11 or 12. He spoke of them as “little jewels” that were like a diary, about how a traditional Polish dance reveals “some of the most intimate shades of feelings” as embodied by Chopin, and how this music was a “particular side” of the teaching experience of his grandmother’s teacher, Henry [Heinrich] Neuhaus, who taught Richter, Gilels and Lupu, among many others from 1922 to 1964. He called the Prokofiev Sonata No.7 one of the central pieces of 20th-century piano music: flawless in form, matchless in its violent brutality inspired by the outrage of WWII. Instead of taking a stormy virtuosic approach that may mislead the listener with flashy tricks, Geniušas prefers an articulated rendering that conveys its depth of meaning. With eight CDs to his credit already, Geniušas’ path to an international career is well on its way. The Guardian wrote of his recent Southbank recital that he “plays with a prizewinner’s brilliance, yet with a mature ability to recreate a work’s architecture, and an expressiveness that doesn’t overtly draw attention to itself.” I can’t wait to hear him play the two-piano version of Ravel’s La valse with Debargue, the final piece of their Koerner Hall concert. Geniušas has been in Toronto before: he came last December (and will return in April) to play for Dmitry Kanovich’s Looking at the Stars project that brings professional musicians to unusual venues. “This experience sweeps beyond words,” he said. “I never expected that performing in hospitals, shelters and jails could be so emotional and inspiring.” Leonid Nediak: A student of Michael Berkovsky, Leonid Nediak (b. 2003) already has extensive concert experience. (He made his debut with the Montreal Symphony Orchestra under Kent Nagano in February 2014.) The grand prize winner of the 2013 and 2014 Canadian Music Competition, both times receiving the highest marks ever awarded in this event, Nediak makes his TSO debut next January playing Mozart’s Piano Concerto No.27 K595 under the baton of Peter Oundjian. At the recent announcement of the TSO’s 2016/17 season, Nediak played Rachmaninov’s Prelude in G Minor, a performance that touched all who were there. If you want to get a sense of this wunderkind before next January, there are two contrasting opportunities in the next few weeks. On Apr 16, Nediak joins with Norman Reintamm and the Cathedral Bluffs Symphony in Beethoven’s kinetic Piano Concerto No.3 Op.37. On May 7, he is the soloist in Rachmaninov’s romantic masterpiece, his Piano Concerto No.2 Op.18, with the Kindred Spirits Orchestra, conducted by Kristian Alexander, the second time Nediak has appeared with this Markham-based ensemble. (In 2014, they performed Chopin’s Piano Concerto No.1 Op.11 together.) In an email exchange, Alexander told me that Nediak played the first movement of the Rachmaninov concerto at a Kindred Spirits audition in 2014. “Leonid played very well, with the right balance of musicality, expression and technique. His performance was convincing and offered qualities that resonated with my interpretational concept about the piece,” he said, explaining the origin of the May 7 concert. Their Chopin collaboration came about just after that audition – Nediak already had it in his repertoire -- and “Leonid’s approach to Chopin’s melodic line was free-spirited and fresh and required a much higher level of elasticity and flexibility from the orchestra than usual.” HANNAFORD STREET SILVER BAND PRESENTS Sunday April 17th, 2016, 3:00 PM. Jane Mallett Theatre Alain Trudel, Conductor Canadian Trumpet sensation Stéphane Beaulac takes leave from the Los Angeles Philharmonic to perform Johnny Cowell’s showpiece trumpet concerto in the finale concert of the 3 day Festival of Brass under the baton of another Canadian legend, Alain Trudel. Stéphane Beaulac, Trumpet ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS: Book Tickets online For a special group rate (10 or more tickets) Call 416.366.7723 OR 1.800.708.6754 April 1, 2016 - May 7, 2016 | 25

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