Showing posts with label Rustem Hayroudinoff. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Rustem Hayroudinoff. Show all posts

Saturday, February 09, 2019

Everything you wanted to know about the Russians, but were afraid to ask

Many years ago, in another century, in what feels like another lifetime (though was merely the 1990s) I used to edit a piano magazine. It was the UK's first independent piano magazine, named Classical Piano, and its creation, lifeblood and later eventual absorption into one of its fast-springing rivals is now ancient history. While there I published an article by a then-youthful Russian pianist, Rustem Hayroudinoff, about what the Russian School really means.

It was one of the most informative and interesting articles we ever ran, I think. So I was more than delighted to log on to Rustem's website and see that he has now revised the article and much expanded it, complete with all mod cons such as recordings from the likes of Rachmaninov, Chaliapin and Neuhaus, to name but three. Rustem is now a professor at the Royal Academy of Music and has made some stunning recordings himself, notably of Rachmaninov.

Here's a taster of the article: 

A great deal of confusion surrounds the term “The Russian Pianistic Tradition”. This phrase has been applied to any successful pianist coming out of Russia - often conjuring up images of fire-eating virtuosi scooping up competition prizes. And very often musicians with aesthetic principles as different as those of, for example, Sergei Rachmaninoff and Sviatoslav Richter are mentioned in the same breath as being representatives of the same “great Russian School”. To discover the true meaning of this term, I am going to look at some common features in the pianistic principles of several performers who belonged to this tradition.

Even the most superficial acquaintance with the recording legacy of pianists such as Sergei Rachmaninoff, Josef Lhevinne, Josef Hofmann, Vladimir Horowitz and Heinrich Neuhaus reveals that all of these pianists possessed an exquisitely beautiful tone. Their incredible achievements in this area were due to a very conscious cultivation of singing tone and colour on the piano, as the following quotations illustrate.

Josef Lhevinne dedicated a long chapter of his Basic Principles in Pianoforte Playing to “the secret of a beautiful tone”, in which he explains how a “ringing, singing” tone is to be achieved: “The main principle at first is to see that the key is touched with as resilient a portion of the finger as possible, if a lovely, ringing, singing tone is desired ... Just a little further back in the first joint of the finger, you will notice that the cushion of flesh is apparently more elastic, less resistant, more springy. Strike the key with this portion of the finger, not on the fingertips as some of the older European methods suggested ...” 

He also emphasises the role that the free wrist and arm play in the production of a good tone: “... the wrist [is] still held very flexible so that the weight of the descending hand and arm carries the key down to key bottom, quite without any sensation of a blow.” And “... when the hand descends, as large a surface of the fingertip as feasible engages the key; and the wrist is so loose that it normally sinks below the level of the keyboard.” 

This last passage holds particular interest because it testifies to the fact that Horowitz’s famous flat finger-low wrist technique was not a mere oddity but an integral part of this same tradition which he took to its extreme in the pursuit of his ideal of a singing tone...

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Support Rustem's new Rachmaninoff recording

Changes in the recording industry mean that now even some musicians whose CDs have been up for major industry awards have to crowdfund their new recordings. 

The London-based Russian pianist Rustem Hayroudinoff made an enormously successful series of Rachmaninoff recordings (please note the FF for both composer and pianist) for Chandos some years back - interpretations that received rave reviews and benchmark status. One of them was shortlisted for a BBC Music Magazine award. A couple of years ago I attended a recital he gave at St John's Smith Square which included a performance of the Sonata No.1 - a Faust Symphony for piano in all but name - that had the entire audience on its feet, yelling, straight after the final note.

You have got to record it, I said to him. Now he is planning to do just that - and the ever-popular Sonata No.2 as well - but we're in a different world today and he is crowdfunding the recording. He has until 21 December to raise around £9000.

He has some trenchant views on the situation facing artists in the recording industry, too, and explains these in the video on his Crowdfunder page.

Please help support him on his page, here.

Saturday, April 27, 2013

"Music has a very simple task - to move people"

This is the radio broadcast from Voice of Russia UK in which Rustem Hayroudinoff and I talk to Alice Lagnado for Curtain Up about reaping the rewards of Rachmaninov. Enjoy!

Sunday, April 21, 2013

A Sunday round-up

The trouble with burning the candle at both ends is that while you're out and about, you're not writing. Therefore JDCMB is a little bit late with what follows.

Leif Ove Andsnes gave the same programme twice at the Wigmore Hall last week; I attended on the second night (11 April). Not sure what's with Beethoven Op.101 this season, but this was the fourth time I've bumped into it since October; this time it joined a mixed programme including Beethoven's Op.54, Bartok's Suite Op 14, an all-too-rare rendition of Liszt's 'Pensées des morts' from the Harmonies poetiques et religieuses and Chopin's C minor Nocturne and Fourth Ballade.

Andsnes has one of the most sheerly beautiful sounds to be found on today's pianistic platforms; a super-cool customer, personable and unpretentious, he plays as if in a trance, cocooned at the piano in a world of his own. There's an almost scary perfection about him - a sole wrong note came almost as a relief, as if to say, "ah, this guy is human after all". Yet it can be flummoxing to hear the rugged Op.101 and the ferocious folksiness of the Bartok sounding as smooth as butter and the Chopin Ballade so precisely navigated that there seemed little time to "stop and smell the flowers". That exquisite moment when Chopin enters an hypnotic state of enchantment - spinning out a few bars of melody over four-against-three ripples in an aural-optical illusion - disappeared into its own notes with no time to catch the light and shine.

Nevertheless, the C minor Nocturne, its melody shaped with microscopically precise sensitivity and beauty, giving way to a mingling of chorale and octave storms that sends the cantilena into a fever of overturned emotion, was perhaps the high point of the concert. A treat and a half to hear such playing at close quarters rather than in the huge RFH.

Sunken Garden, ENO's world premiere from Grawemeyer Award-winning composer Michel van der Aa, took over the Barbican Theatre for a week.

Opera in 3D? Korngold once said, when he went to Hollywood, that some day whole operas might be written for the big screen; and here it was, with knobs on; one such knob being 3D specs that can be worn over your normal specs (v useful). As a 21st-century way of conceiving a musical stage work, mingling live performance with pre-recorded film including holograms of several singers who do not appear in the flesh, but with which the on-stage singers must interact, it's a presentation that needs - and received - the slickest and cleverest of integration in performance.

Responses have ranged from "this is the future", downwards. Several concerns. First of all, this opera has much in common with many "traditional" operas in that its story is so convoluted, and the enunciation of the (amplified) singers so unclear (except for the excellent Roderick Williams) that it was next to impossible to work out what was actually going on. Themes of conscience, cot death, euthanasia, afterlife, Dr Who-like self-projections, mystical oneness with the planet (think parachuting - but why?) - all mingle in David Mitchell's imaginative yet overstuffed libretto. We enter the Sunken Garden - actually the Eden Project - through a door under a motorway and find ourselves in limbo with some lost souls and an evil, or not, mastermind, or... hmm.

While the music undoubtedly has its moments - such as some memorable effects achieved by layering repetitive snatches of film and matching soundtracks - the number one requirement for a successful opera is that the music should be the best bit; the words should provide the runway from which it can take off and fly. Perhaps Sunken Garden's chief problem is that it is so busy dazzling us with its special visual effects that the aural element begins, inadvertently, to take second place. It is all hugely inventive and ground-breaking, significant indeed for the future of opera, yet not wholly successful in its own right.

The following night, Rustem Hayroudinoff played at St John's Smith Square, in an evening that had a fraction of the audience yet twice the impact (at least for us pianophiles). Rarely do you see the entire listening assemblage jump to its feet at the final note. This one did. The Rachmaninov Piano Sonata No.1 is rarely performed - probably because it is too difficult. It's a Faust Symphony for one instrument and ten fingers, and there is more extraordinary music in a single bar of it than in certain entire evenings of...well, you get the idea.

Rachmaninov weaves the work from a range of symbolic leitmotifs for different aspects of Faust, Gretchen and Mephistopheles (helpfully illustrated by Hayroudinoff in his spoken introduction). These pianistic textures would sound as complex on a 100-piece orchestra. As a feat of out-and-out virtuosity it is unremitting, indeed mind-boggling; but to deliver the wild flights of Rachmaninov's imagination with such colour, fidelity, rigour, fire and serious bedazzlement is a phenomenal achievement. Hayroudinoff's performance brought back to life the grand Chaliapin-inflected Russian style, with a depth of perspective in the voicing that was more convincingly 3D than anything we saw in that physically 3D opera.

If someone doesn't frogmarch him into a recording studio and insist that he records this gargantuan piece to add to his impressive roster of benchmark, award-shortlisted Rachmaninov discs, then those of us who were there last Saturday will simply have to throw tantrums until they do. Oh, and he also played some extremely fine Bach and Liszt - the small matter of the Second Partita and the Mephisto Waltz No.1 and more.

What price trouser-pressed perfection? What price technological novelty? All you need is one person, one instrument, music of genius and a performance infused with the fire of absolute inspiration, awareness and understanding. That is worth ten, probably a hundred, of anything else. That's what the musical experience is all about.

And with that little piece of profundity for a Sunday afternoon, I'm off to hear Jonas Kaufmann at the RFH.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

"If they start shooting, whatever you do, don't leave the synthesizer behind"

Fasten your seatbelts: in Gramophone, the Russian pianist Rustem Hayroudinoff has spilled the beans about his studies at the Moscow Conservatoire in the last days of the USSR.

It's a hair-raising read: from what eight-year-olds had to do in rhythm classes - it could make the UK's Grade VIII examiners blanch - to queuing for practice rooms at 5am in -30 degrees, plus the restaurant band job that Rustem turned down after learning the vocation of the clientele (the quote in our heading gives you a clue). Immense demands, yet equally gargantuan rewards: for all its challenges, this was the best musical training on earth.

If you've been through typical British school and college musical studies, you might be pretty sobered to consider the level of expertise that Moscow expected of its students. No wonder they tended to wipe the floor with everyone else at competitions...

Not to put too fine a point on it, it makes most of us look like complete amateurs (nothing wrong with being an amateur, of course - unless you want to be a professional.)

Rustem's CDs have often grabbed five star reviews and some of his Rachmaninov recordings have become "benchmarks" for BBC Music Magazine, which shortlisted him for its Instrumental award a couple of years back. But he doesn't give that many recitals, so a chance to hear him isn't to be sniffed at. This Saturday Rustem plays at St John's Smith Square.

He introduces the programme himself from the microphone. It's focused on contrasts between JS and CPE Bach, Liszt's devilish and saintly modes, and Rachmaninov's extraordinary Sonata No.1, which is based on the 'Faust' legend but is rarely performed, compared to the Sonata No.2 (possibly because it's too difficult!). Do come and hear him.

More about Rustem from the Cross-Eyed Pianist blog here: a frank, ferocious chat in which he doesn't mince his words about the music business in general...

Here's an interview, an extract of the Rachmaninov Sonata No.1 and an Etude-Tableau, from Canadian radio:

Tuesday, April 09, 2013

Where were you yesterday?

Maggie, Maggie, Maggie. Gone, gone, gone. Where were you when you heard the news? Ironically enough, I was in the reception area of Voice of Russia UK Radio, ready to take part in their culture show 'Curtain Up' with one of the first - possibly the very first - Russian pianist who sloped away from the USSR to study in London. The lovely Rustem Hayroudinoff is playing at St John's Smith Square on Saturday 13 April and is now a professor at the Royal Academy of Music.

To play devil's advocate for a moment, this couldn't have happened without Thatcher. The persuasive diplomatic relationship she built with Gorbachev helped to lead to perestroika, the fall of the Iron Curtain and a new freedom of movement. Rustem came to London in 1992; a decade or two earlier, he'd have had to 'defect' instead. Some other Russian musician friends who moved to London around the same time got married in the late 1990s and celebrated by lunching with their parents at the Ritz. And there at the next table was Thatcher. That made their day: they adored her for what she'd done for their country. (Yesterday, Thatcher died at the Ritz, after suffering a stroke. Or, as one major news website succinctly misprinted, a 'strike'.)

Many of us Brits felt she did more for Russia than the UK. Newspaper reports this morning expose the lingering and indeed widening divisions she left behind. I was 13 when she came to power and the impact of watching the changes that took place under her rule ran deep. Everything my parents believed in and that had brought them to London rather than the US (escaping apartheid South Africa in the 1950s) was brought into question in her era. The value of collective rights and the dignity of human beings per se was under fire: from then on, all that mattered was the price of something, not its worth. The central bricks that held together the moral fibre of Britain were kicked out of its wall. The mess the UK is in now can be traced back to a fundamental change of philosophical attitude that took place here in the 1980s: it became morally legitimate to put the grubbing of money ahead of any vision of what to do with it to make a better, more beautiful world.I don't doubt that Thatcher sincerely believed in "the trickle-down" effect - but after 30 years, the limitations of the notion are all too clear.

The NHS, the Arts Council, school buildings, public transport, which crumbled to shreds through lack of investment during the Thatcher years and reached rockbottom under John Major - everything that required an input of public money was slashed to pieces. In the arts, many of our finest institutions, including all the London orchestras, were sliced to the breadline. Doesn't anyone remember the later sticking-plaster of "stabilisation funding"? Has everyone forgotten the Hoffmann Report? As for London itself, the GLC was abolished wholesale; the capital city became just a conglomeration of boroughs with a broken heart instead of a full-scale identity, greyness instead of pride, infrastructure crumbling and homelessness rife. Doesn't anyone remember the South Bank's Cardboard City in the middle of the roundabout where the IMAX is now? Has everyone forgotten the Poll Tax Riots? And the Miners' Strike?

What miserable, shattering, hideous, divisive years those were. How tenderly the British right-wing still clings to them today.

It's been left to the country's fine playwrights to preserve the subtleties of Thatcher: the essence of the character, the paradoxes, the personality and the shadings of good intention that illuminate the person behind the nation's favourite punchbag ("I blame Thatcher"), though she is probably so with good reason.

As Michael Billington writes in today's Guardian, part of her legacy is that "we are still having to argue that subsidy of the arts is a fruitful investment rather than a frivolous expenditure".

We're all human. That's the only lesson, in the end.  But we should be making the best of that, and helping others to make the best of it, too. That should mean expanding minds, not shrinking them; broadening lives, not narrowing them; bringing people together, not dividing them; opening us up, not closing us down; singing, not silencing.

Now I'm off to the BBC Music Magazine Awards and am happy to leave anyone who doesn't already know with the happy news that Natalia Osipova is joining the Royal Ballet right here in good old London. We must be doing something right.

(UPDATE, Thursday 11 April: listen to this speech about Thatcher by Glenda Jackson, MP and former great actress, in Parliament. She tells it exactly as I remember it.)