Concert Over Controversy

June 12 2014

To get the geopolitical controversy out of the way first: Acclaimed Russian pianist Denis Matsuev says he does not regret signing a document that voiced support for President Vladimir Putin’s position on Russia’s annexation of Crimea. The document, which was published in mid-March on the Web site of Russia’s Ministry of Culture, and which also endorsed Putin’s stance on Ukraine in general, attracted signatures from world-famous conductor Valery Gergiev, Bolshoi Theatre general director Vladimir Urin and other members of Russia’s artistic elite, prompting some dismay within and outside the country.

However, Matsuev — e-mailing from Kazan, Russia, in advance of his June 17 performance at Strathmore — said he wants “music to be heard in Ukraine, not gunshots” and maintained that his signing of the document reflected this peaceable attitude. The “clear essence” of the text was the assertion of “friendship between our Brotherly Nations,” which have “common historical and cultural roots and destiny,” he argues, pointing out that his own mother hails from Kiev. “I can imagine neither my life nor my creative work without Ukraine, without my Ukrainian audiences,” says Matsuev, who was recently named a UNESCO Goodwill Ambassador.

Those who know the 39-year-old Matsuev better for his tickling of the ivories than for his connection to an international border conflict will be aware that he’s a virtuoso who has ascended to the classical music stratosphere since winning the International Tchaikovsky Competition in Moscow in 1998. In 2006, the Post’s Tim Page called him “an absolute powerhouse of a pianist, capable of vanquishing the most technically demanding music in the repertory.”

A native of the Siberian city of Irkutsk, Matsuev has developed an affinity for the oeuvre of Rachmaninoff. He was tapped by a foundation established by the composer’s grandson to record Rachmaninoff’s unpublished works, using the composer’s own piano. Playing the instrument was “an absolutely incredible feeling,” he recalls.

He will play Rachmaninoff’s Piano Sonata No. 2 in B-flat Minor at Strathmore: It’s a piece he feels is “epochal.”

His Strathmore program will also include Haydn’s Piano Sonata in E-flat, Schumann’s “Carnaval,” and more. Perusers of the lineup should not be deceived into thinking that Matsuev’s musical interests stop at gilt-edged classical scores: He’s also a serious jazz enthusiast and says the trust in spontaneity that jazz inculcates has enriched his interpretation of classical music.

“Jazz is more than just playing music,” he says. “It is a way of life” that is inspirational “in ordinary life and on the stage.”

Washington Post

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