Tuesday, April 03, 2018 9:17am
Konstantin Shamray joins the ASO and conductor Eivind Aadland for Tchaikovsky's Piano Concerto No.1 on 19 & 20 April in the second concert in our Master Series: Konstantin Plays Tchaikovsky. He shares his thoughts on the work and composer.
Tchaikovsky’s First Piano Concerto is often referred to as a ‘warhorse’ - it’s one of the most popular works in the repertoire and very much in the public’s consciousness, indisputably great and reliable. In your opinion, what is it about Tchaikovsky’s composing style that draws people in? And as a soloist, how do you keep a masterpiece like this fresh and exciting?
I have heard that terrible word, a 'warhorse', it makes me very upset and furious, too. Imagine if someone takes a precious vase with dirty hands and breaks it into pieces. This great piano concerto is so vulnerable and beautiful and we should be very careful and caring. The music speaks for itself, speaks to everyone, and we, musicians, must try and not turn it into something tasteless and crude. It is a crime in my opinion, but unfortunately it happens a lot. If you love this work you will do everything you can for it to shine and spark, it is hard work but it is the only way to make it sound "fresh and exciting" every time.
One of the concerto’s formidable technical feats for the pianist is the very beginning of the concerto. What is it like to start a performance with those famous chiming chords, leaping up and down the instrument?
What can I say. It is a great moment of happiness, a moment when you understand that nothing else matters but music...
As opposed to his Russian compatriot Rachmaninov, one of the greatest pianists of all time, Tchaikovsky was perhaps one of the first composers to write a piano concerto, which he could not play himself. Is this at all reflected in Tchaikovsky’s writing for your instrument?
First of all the work we all know as The Tchaikovsky Concerto is in fact much altered version of the original concerto (but that is another topic). And of course Tchaikovsky's writing is different to Rachmaninov's let's say, it is more "simple" and "clear", but I wouldn't say that it looks like a piece written by someone who was not a great pianist himself, quite the opposite. I can also mention that Tchaikovsky has a less known work for piano and orchestra - Concert Fantasia, where his piano writing is very close to Liszt's, it is an incredibly virtuosic piece. Tchaikovsky did know how to write for piano well!
There is a huge number of recordings of this work – which ones are your personal Top 3 and how have they inspired you?
I think it is almost impossible to choose! For instance, if I say Gilels (no doubt he was one of the greatest performers of this concerto) - but he has numerous recordings of this work and one is better than the other! Which one to choose of his? Of course Cliburn and Horowitz (but same thing - they all have numerous recordings).
Watch a couple of minutes of historic media coverage of Van Cliburn winning the first Tchaikovsky Competition in 1958:
Here is Emil Gilels with the New York Philharmonic conducted by Zubin Metha in 1974:
Apart from being a soloist with orchestras around the world, you are also busy performing solo recitals and chamber music. For this concerto, you will have 60 musicians on stage behind you. What do you enjoy about performing with a big group and what are the biggest challenges?
Performing with 60 people gives you such an inspiration and joy of making music all together. Challenges also happen because of the large number. It has to sound as a large ensemble, one organism, and piano often is a part of that organism. It is the biggest challenge—making everyone connected.
It’s six minutes before your performance. How do you spend these last minutes before you go on stage?
It's different every time. But I guess in the majority of cases I feel so nervous (that good nerve) that it becomes physically impossible to wait any longer. You never know what will happen on stage, you "jump" into it. And most important is not to burn out before the performance, to preserve your strengths for the important moment.
A short excerpt of Konstantin performing the conclusion of Prokofiev's Piano Concerto No.2:
There are more than three million videos of Tchaikovsky's First Piano Concerto on YouTube. Why should people still come out to see and hear it at a concert hall? And what for you constitutes a great live performance?
You can stop any video at any time. You can't stop a real-time performance nor you can predict what will happen the next second. What is happening in front of us at this particular moment is the main strength of performing arts, it is what makes a live music experience unique and incredibly exciting.
A great movie I watched recently: There was a number of movies. I liked Loving Vincent very much.
I would never leave the house without: My helmet!!! :)
If I could board a plane this afternoon, I would go to: South America (my dream, I've never been there)
The different career path I could have gone on: A train driver (my childhood dream) or a pilot.
My breakfast of choice: Usually it is buckwheat, I love it. But anything tasty is always welcome!
The thing that makes me happiest: Hugging my darling pets and seeing them happy, and of course gardening.
You can see Konstantin Shamray perform Tchaikovsky's Piano Concerto No.1 with the ASO on 19 & 20 April. For more information and tickets (limited numbers remain) visit Konstantin Plays Tchaikovsky (Master Series 2).