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Monday, June 20, 2016 12:10pm

The elemental force of Shamray

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Performing one of Prokofiev’s most successful and popular concert works, award-winning Russian-born, Adelaide-based pianist Konstantin Shamray returns to the ASO in June for Dazzling Prokofiev.

Konstantin Shamray tells us why he loves playing Prokofiev’s Third Piano Concerto and why this special work resonates with his heart.


Can you tell us a little more about the piece you’ll be performing?
Prokofiev's Third Piano concerto was written after the Russian revolution of 1917 and it has a completely different style than the Second concerto. In the Third, Prokofiev goes for more clarity, simplicity, precision, and more laconism. The Third is smaller: it only has three movements, not four, and probably can be seen as the beginning of Prokofiev's neo-classical period.

Below is a brief breakdown of the movements (excerpt from the ASO’s Dazzling Prokofiev program, David Garrett © 2003):

Andante – Allegro
The opening Andante melody for clarinet is lyrical, almost wistful, and Russian-sounding. But immediately the piano comes in, the music becomes very busy, incisive, almost icy. The lyricism of the opening will return in place of a ‘development’ section in the middle of the first movement. 

Andantino (with variations)
The second movement is a set of five variations on a theme Prokofiev had composed in 1913, intending it even then for variation treatment. This theme has an old-world, rather gavotte-like character, which in the first variation is treated solo by the piano in what Prokofiev describes as ‘quasi-sentimental fashion’. Then the tempo changes to a furious allegro, one of the abrupt contrasts in which the concerto abounds. After a quiet, meditative fourth variation, and an energetic fifth one, the theme returns on flutes and clarinets in its original form and at its old speed, while the piano continues at top speed but more quietly. This has been compared to a sprinter viewed from the window of a train.

Allegro non troppo
Eventually the piano takes up the first theme and develops it to a climax. With a reduction of tone and slackening of tempo, an alternative theme is introduced in the woodwinds. The piano replies with a theme that is more in keeping with the caustic humour of the work. The unabashedly Romantic ‘alternative theme’ is worked up to an emotional pitch that shows Prokofiev as having more in common with Rachmaninov than is usually suspected, and both as owing much to Tchaikovsky. Then the opening returns in a brilliant coda.

 

What has your relationship been with this work, and why do you love it?
This work resonates with my heart for it was the first piano concerto I had ever heard when I was just 5 or 6 years old, together with Prokofiev's First – and it is with these two concertos that my great love for Prokofiev's music began.

What is most difficult about performing this piece? And what’s most enjoyable?
It is quite difficult not to turn a performance of this piece into a clichéd-type performance: thoughtless, fast, "chopsticks" sort of playing. There’s a lot of lyricism and poetry in this concerto, and I love the feeling of that incredible freshness and creativity of Prokofiev. You can hear his personality in this piece.

Who was your musical idol growing up?
Sviatoslav Richter and Emil Gilels (not an unusual choice for someone who grew up in Russia).

How do you prepare for a big performance?
It is most important to prepare yourself mentally and open yourself up to the music – and the audience. People come to listen to the music and they don't want to know about the artist's problems. We often forget that.


What are three recordings everyone should own?
Sviatoslav Richter: Sofia recital (1958)
Wilhelm Furtwängler: Beethoven 9th Symphony (1942)
Vladimir Sofronitsky playing Scriabin (c. 1960)

Where do you go to feel inspired?
I always go to nature to feel inspired – and in Australia there are so many breathtaking places that are so interesting to explore!

Any other fun facts you can tell us about yourself?
I am a huge fan of passenger airplanes. I have several pilot friends and I like to memorise flight timetables. Sometime I go to Adelaide Airport just to watch planes. All my friends laugh at me. I was excited to see the newest Airbus A350 coming to Adelaide recently. I also love to swim…in any water – no matter how cold it is – even when there’s snow!


Konstantin Shamray was born in Novosibirsk and began piano studies at the age of six in the Kemerovo Music School with Natalia Knobloch. From 1996 he continued his studies in Moscow at the Gnessin Special Music School, in 2003 at the Russian Gnessin Academy of Music with Tatiana Zelikman and more recently with Vladimir Tropp. Since winning the Concertino-Prague international competition in 2000, Konstantin Shamray has appeared throughout Russia, Europe and the United States, and in China, in recitals and as a soloist with leading orchestras. Overwhelming triumph in 2008 in the Sydney International Piano Competition, with six special prizes, brought three successful tours in all states of Australia, in New Zealand and Singapore. In 2009 he appeared at the Ruhr and Bochum Piano Festivals in Germany. In October 2011 he won first prize in the German Bad Kissingen Klavier Olympiade.


The Adelaide Symphony Orchestra first performed Prokofiev’s Piano Concerto No 3 on 17-19 September 1953 with conductor Joseph Post and soloist William Kapell, and most recently on 7-8 June 2013 with Arvo Volmer and Denis Kozhukhin.


This article was posted by Michelle Robins, Publications & Communications Coordinator, Adelaide Symphony Orchestra.


Dazzling Prokofiev
Fri 24 & 8pm Sat 25 Jun 6.30pm
Adelaide Town Hall

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