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Kirill Gerstein plays Rachmaninoff with Semyon Bychkov

It’s no secret that 2010 Gilmore Artist Kirill Gerstein has a way with the music of Rachmaninoff, consistently drawing raves for his “rhapsodic intensity and big-hearted Russian lyricism” (Chicago Tribune).  In conductor Semyon Bychkov it seems Gerstein has found a kindred spirit; like the pianist, Bychkov is an “eloquent champion” (Sunday Times) of Rachmaninoff’s work, and when the two performed the composer’s Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini in Cologne, Gerstein “made the piano sing” (Kölner Rundschau).  Now pianist and conductor reunite to take their rendition of the Rhapsody to two of America’s top orchestras, making multiple appearances with both the Cleveland Orchestra (Oct 7-10) and the San Francisco Symphony (Oct 14-17).  This fall also sees the release on Myrios Classics of Gerstein’s new solo recital disc, which presents the premiere recording of Ophelia’s Last Dance by Oliver Knussen.

Gerstein has cemented his reputation as a Rachmaninoff interpreter with a number of key works for piano and orchestra.  His recent account of the composer’s Second Piano Concerto with the Chicago Symphony prompted Chicago Tribune critic John von Rhein to write:

“One could tell just from the finely graded series of chords with which the work begins why the young Russian virtuoso won the prestigious Gilmore Artist Award for 2010.  Gerstein handled them like a master, and they launched a reading of rhapsodic intensity and big-hearted Russian lyricism.  He wowed the audience not by indulging in cheap tricks or self-regarding sensationalism but by treating this music seriously, like the splendid Romantic masterpiece it is.”

Likewise, in Rachmaninoff’s Third Piano Concerto with the Cleveland Orchestra, Gerstein “proved to be a bold, sensitive soloist, with an ability to send piano sound vibrantly into the summer night. … [He] made the lyrical material sing, and his fingers appeared to be unstoppable amid Rachmaninoff’s torrent of notes” (Plain Dealer).  As for the Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini itself, the Houston Chronicle reports: “His approach was fast, virtuosic, and intellectually strong. …The last [variation] was particularly exciting as pianist and orchestra slowly ratcheted up the energy and intensity.”

The first big break for fellow Russian-American Semyon Bychkov came when he won the 1973 Rachmaninov Conducting Competition.  Like Gerstein, Bychkov is known for the high esteem in which he holds the Russian composer, making what the Financial Times describes as “the strongest possible case” for his music on “a knock-out disc” with Cologne’s WDR Symphony Orchestra, which Bychkov formerly served as chief conductor.

For Gerstein’s appearances with Bychkov at the Cleveland Orchestra, the Rhapsody forms the centerpiece of a program titled “Rhapsodic Rachmaninoff” in Severance Hall (Oct 7-10).  Gerstein and the conductor reprise the work with the San Francisco Symphony for the opening of the South Bay season at Cupertino’s Flint Center (Oct 14), before taking it to the orchestra’s home in Davies Symphony Hall (Oct 15-17).  Patrons will also have the opportunity to meet the pianist at CD signings after most of the performances. 

The fall sees the release of a new addition to Gerstein’s discography, on the Myrios Classics label.  Due to hit stores in November, this is a solo recital disc of Liszt, Schumann, and Oliver Knussen, whose Ophelia’s Last Dance was written for Gerstein’s world premiere performance at the Gilmore Festival this past May.  Musical America styled it an “alluring piece, which offers immediate melodic gratification along with a more serious musical undercurrent,” and Gerstein tackled it with “illuminating clarity and an unassailable technique” (Allan Kozinn, New York Times).  This premiere recording of Ophelia’s Last Dance is coupled with Schumann’s Humoreske and Liszt’s B-minor Sonata, repertoire in which, once again, Gerstein consistently proves his mettle.  After a recent New York recital, the New York Times described how “in Schumann’s Humoreske (Op. 20), Mr. Gerstein kept the singing top line soaring over the accompaniment, even in the work’s more intensely driven sections,” before giving “a spellbinding” account of the Liszt. 

Details of Kirill Gerstein’s fall engagements follow below, and further information is available at his web site:


Kirill Gerstein: engagements, fall 2010
October 7 – 10; Cleveland, OH
Severance Hall, Cleveland Orchestra / Semyon Bychkov
Rachmaninoff: Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini
October 14; Cupertino, CA
San Francisco Symphony / Semyon Bychkov
Flint Center
Rachmaninoff: Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini
October 15 – 17; San Francisco, CA
San Francisco Symphony / Semyon Bychkov
Rachmaninoff: Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini
October 24; Nuremberg, Germany
Nürnberger Symphoniker / Christoph Campestrini
Strauss: Burlesque
October 28 & 29; Stavanger, Norway
Stavanger Symfoniorkester / Steven Sloane
Stavanger Konserthus
Rachmaninoff: Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini
November 4 & 5; Stockholm, Sweden
Royal Stockholm Philharmonic Orchestra / Mark Wigglesworth
Stockholm Concert Hall
Bartok: Piano Concerto No. 3
November 17; Portland, ME
Solo recital
November 19 – 21; Fort Worth, TX
Fort Worth Symphony / Miguel Harth-Bedoya
Bass Performance Hall
Rachmaninoff: Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini

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© 21C Media Group, September 2010

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