The grand opening of the festival took place on November 12 at the National Opera of Ukraine. The organizers of the festival have entrusted the charming 10-year-old Shio Okui from Japan, winner of the International Competition for Pianists in Memory of Vladimir Horowitz, with an honorable mission. By the way, this new star, who impressed both the audience and professional musicians with her precocious virtuosity and the ability to get the feeling of a performed composition, lit up in Kyiv. Although this girl still can’t reach the pedals (a special stand for the piano had to be adjusted), the audience was extremely delighted with her performance (she played Concerto in D Major for Piano and Orchestra by Joseph Haydn).
The performance of Rachmaninoff’s Concerto for Piano and Orchestra No.3 in D minor, Op.30 by Denis Matsuev, People’s Artist of Russia, the artistic director and honorary chairman of the jury of the festival, accompanied by the Symphony Orchestra of the Ukraine’s National Philharmonic Society with the conductor Mykola Diadiura became a real master class for the contestants, who began their solo performances on November 11.
The competition brought together 15 young pianists (up to 13 years) from Australia, Canada, Georgia, Uzbekistan, Switzerland, Russia, and Ukraine. According to Matsuev, the selection was made after viewing video recordings. The jury made a list of candidates and then the organizing committee summarized the information and selected 15 contestants out of more than 100 applications. In the first round they will present solo programs in the Great Hall of the Opera Studio of the Pyotr Tchaikovsky National Music Academy and in the final they will perform with the accompaniment of the National Symphony Orchestra of Ukraine led by Volodymyr Sirenko. Upon the completion of three rounds, the jury will announce the top five pianists and laureates of 10 diplomas. Matsuev assured that no one will lose in their contest. He said: “All children are talented and our task is to give them a chance to open up their talent. We want to support the next wave of musicians who will come after us. Today’s contestants are members of our musical family. We will monitor their progress and will continue to support them in the future.”
By the way, the festival-contest SBERBANK DEBUT is different from all the other contests in that there are no fees for participating in it for the young pianists, all the expenses have been covered by the organizers. Online broadcast of the festival allows everyone to see the music event in real time, as well as the concerts of the forum.
The program of the festival includes not only the contest for young musicians, but also roundtables, workshops held by outstanding musicians and music teachers, meetings, and concerts. On November 14 the members of the jury will demonstrate their music skills: Vadym Rudenko will perform Beethoven’s Concerto No. 3 and Matsuev will perform Rachmaninoff’s Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini. The closing concert of the festival (on November 17) will feature the performances of the winners and the final accord of the music event will be the concert of Matsuev: he will perform Rhapsody in Blue for Piano and Orchestra by George Gershwin.
“I am sure that music fans will remember each of the contestants. Despite their young age, these are the pianists who are searching for their creative style. Together with their teachers they chose very serious compositions that require virtuosity for the contest audition. You know, if you just listen and do not look at the stage, it seems that it is not children playing out there, but professional musicians,” Denis MATSUEV told The Day.
Musicologists believe that only true virtuosos can perform works by Liszt and Rachmaninoff because these composers were great pianists themselves. But the manner of performing is not everything – it is important to reveal all the nuances of a composition. Perhaps, that is why Russian classical music is better performed by representatives of Slavic piano school…
“Today, there are practically no borders for art and musicians from different countries have the opportunity to learn from those teachers that they choose. Rachmaninoff was a bright representative of the Russian piano school. Now, musicians from Japan, Korea, and China perform in a very virtuosic manner at various competitions. Not to mention the great European traditions. I believe that art has no nationality. A musician comes out on a stage, sits down at the instrument and has to show all he is capable of and also convince the audience that he was able to unravel the secret that was hidden by the composer in this particular piece. I think that the foreign critics make a great mistake when they say that only the Russian musicians can brilliantly perform Russian music, Polish – music by Frederic Chopin, and German – music by Johannes Brahms. That’s not true! Music is international and it doesn’t need any translation.”
You come from a music family (mother was a piano teacher and father was a composer and a pianist). You were not faced with the problem of what profession to chose. So, was it only about continuing a dynasty, or did you want to do something else?
“Since my childhood I remember that there was always music in hour home. Parents tried to develop my musical skills teaching me to play the piano. We lived in Irkutsk. There I went to school No. 11 named after Vladimir Mayakovsky and the School of Arts. In 1990 our family moved to Moscow (I enrolled in the Central Music School attached to the Conservatory). You know, before the age of 15 I preferred not music, but soccer. But since my parents were musicians, I was destined to pursue a musical path. My mother saw music talent in me and was able to convince me that I had to play the piano. Gradually I grew fond of it and played scales and etudes with great pleasure. Today I am grateful to my parents for their wisdom and for that they sent me to study music professionally.”
In your opinion, why do the child prodigies, who “lit up” brightly in their young age, burn out like a comet and very rarely become highly professional musicians?
“The reasons for that are different. Prodigy is a very dangerous word… When you are 14 or 15 it is important to feed your star ego and continue to study. Teachers must rightly distribute the educational load and parents must be wise (teenagers shape their character and you should not put pressure on a child with any authority). Some musicians already have several victories in their asset, but this is only a small step to the Olympus, if you want to become a professional musician in the future. It is important not to break the fine line so that a child would not begin to hate music, practicing 10 hours a day without seeing the daylight. I am totally against the drilling! Children must be children. They must have time for playing sports, reading books, and watching films, playing games and pursuing their hobby. A person should get diverse development and not just play music. In order for a child to grow into a highly professional musician, in my opinion, he needs to participate in various competitions and festivals, so that he would get the feeling of performing on a stage and would see how others do it. For example, our contest reveals talents and later we will be able to help those children develop. We will maintain communication with the teachers and parents to know what is currently happening to this or that ‘little spark.’ And it has no difference for us what country a child came from!”
Of the 15 contestants 4 come from Ukraine, but there are no students from music schools in Kyiv or Lviv.
“Trust me, we did not look into the applications, but rather listened to how a child performed. Each of the jury members made their own choices and made a list. And the fact that 4 out of 15 participants came from Ukraine is an evidence of the high level of the participants from Donetsk, Sumy, Ilichevsk, and Kharkiv.”
You are an actively touring musician and spend a lot of time engaged in social activities: you organize contests and festivals, including “Stars on Baikal” and “Crescendo,” cooperate with the “New Names” Fund, manage various charitable programs. Two years ago you became an honorary professor at Moscow State University. Do you see your future as a pedagogue?
“My dream is to promote the philharmonic art, to get young people interested in music. Festivals and competitions give an opportunity to see who is coming after us, identify young talents and help them develop their skills fully. I can give a master class but currently I have no possibility to conduct regular classes. I just don’t have time at all. It is very hard to combine touring and teaching. So far I don’t feel a calling for teaching. Perhaps, this might come with time…”
Valery Gergiev says that you are his favorite soloist. What conductor, in your opinion, is the closest to you?
“I was fortunate to perform with great conductors. One of them is Gergiev. We found common language with him – both on the stage and in life. He is my great friend and comrade. I am grateful that I had a chance to work with Yuri Temirkanov, Vladimir Spivakov, Kurt Masur, Yuri Bashmet, and I can continue the list of maestros. It is a great joy to perform on one stage with such outstanding personalities. At every concert I learn something from them.”
Do you have rehearsals every day?
“Practically every day I perform on stage, giving concerts, these are my rehearsals. It allows me to be artistically fit and in good concert shape. Everything real is happening in improvisation and this is the magic of being a musician.”
You are the art director of Sergei Rachmaninoff Foundation. Please, tell us about the situation with the composer’s villa “Senar” in Switzerland, which can be sold at an auction for 17 million euros. Has there been a decision made that it would be purchased by someone from Russia?
“Everything at the villa ‘Senar’ (the name is an acronym for the names Sergei and Natalya Rachmaninoff) has been preserved the way it was during the life of the composer, including his favorite piano and personal belongings. The villa stands on a plot of land of ten hectares with the famous rose garden. Rachmaninoff adored roses and during his lifetime thousands of rose bushes were planted there. There are two excellent houses there – master’s house and guest house. There is also a small port for yachts. This is the last and the only place where everything has been preserved the way it was during Rachmaninoff’s lifetime. Washington library wants to buy the archive of the composer and sell the house at an auction. We can’t allow that villa is sold at an auction into the wrong hands. Many musicians are concerned about the issue, about what will happen to ‘Senar’ villa. The famous pianist Andrei Gavrilov sent a letter of the Russian President Vladimir Putin and suggested that the villa could become the center of the Rachmaninoff International Society. The negotiations are underway. I think that Russia will not lose ‘Senar.’ Now diplomats, politicians, musicians, and businessmen, all those who cherish the heritage of the Russian classic and are admirers of the maestro, are looking for the ways to resolve the issue. Let’s wait a little longer and will not discuss this issue for now. And when the Russian leadership will make a decision I will make a special statement to the media.”