Vyacheslav Gryaznov: Russian Transcriptions
by GRAMOPHONE UK, 2018
The art of the piano transcription is alive and kicking – or, more accurately, alive and singing in the hands Vyacheslav Gryaznov, whose solo CD debut for Steinway & Sons showcases the 36 year-old pianist-composer’s considerable abilities in this genre. The Notturno from Borodin’s Second String Quartet loses nothing in translation via Gryaznov’s acute ear for timbre and registration, and actually gains something once the piano’s full range opens up. Conversely, Gryaznov overloads Tchaikovsky’s Waltz of the Flowers with fussy caesuras, tenutos and ritardandos that defuse the music’s soaring momentum.
He paints Rachmaninov’s ‘How fair this spot’ with angular brushstrokes and dark oils that radically contrast with Earl Wild’s shimmering treble-orientated pastels. Likewise, his treatment of the ubiquitous ‘Vocalise’ stands its linear ground throughout, eschewing the bubbly arpeggiation that Zoltán Kocsis tacks on to the final section. At first I suspected an extra pair of hands had joined in to help keep the Italian Polka’s swirling figurations and leaping octave melodies in clean perspective. Wishful thinking!
On the Dnieper may be Prokofiev’s least performed ballet. The six movements that Gryaznov presents benefit from his creative liberties and fleshing-out of textures with convincing inner voices, fresh changes of register and stronger dynamic profile. As such, the concluding Variation, Finale and Coda emerges as more of a virtuoso tour de force and exciting stage presentation than what transpires in Prokofiev’s original text.
Lastly, Gryaznov transforms Glinka’s Valse-fantaisie from an elegant, unprepossessing and sometimes rambling salon piece into a cannily crafted concert-hall showpiece, where the melodies soar to orchestral effect, yet the pianist retains top billing. That’s the nature of the genre, and Gryaznov understands this. Moreover, Gryaznov’s transcriptions are tailored to yet not limited by his pianistic strengths. Recommended.
Superb Piano Recital – Best of the Season at Yale’s Sprague Hall
by Thomas Allen. March 2, 2017
Russian pianist Vyacheslav Gryaznov stole the season at Yale’s Sprague Hall with a phenomenal recital. While pursuing an Artist Diploma Degree at Yale School of Music, he also teaches as an assistant in the Piano Department of the Moscow Conservatory. Since this was technically a “student” Artist Diploma recital, tickets were (shockingly) free. But make no mistake, Gryaznov is a top-notch artist.
He began the evening with Beethoven’s less-popular 12 Variations on a Russian Dance, WoO 71, which, while it wasn’t the highlight of the program, was made interesting through his finesse. Although it took a couple variations for Gryaznov to get into it, several of the middle variations were heartfelt and tender enough to renew my interest in the piece as a whole. There is a good deal of filler and routine passagework, but he led us through it with a subtle sense of rubato and grace that kept me mostly engaged.
Next, Mr. Gryaznov treated us to his own solo piano transcription of Debussy’sPrélude à l’après-midi d’un faune, L. 86. What he has done as an arranger is an impressive feat, masterfully balancing and forging so many orchestral voices into a distilled, truly pianistic work; it’s no wonder that dozens of his arrangements are published by Schott Music in Germany. The most supreme moment of this transcription was his treatment of the woodwinds’ secondary theme (seen above). What a perfect moment! As a pianist he played sublimely, weaving a clear tapestry of voices together almost seamlessly. There were some pacing issues towards the end and it seemed like the audience wasn’t as engaged, but this could easily be remedied with a tempo that moves a little more (though the beginning was perfect).
The best piece of the evening was undoubtedly Ravel’s Gaspard de la nuit, M. 55. Here, Gryaznov’s dazzling technique allowed the music to shine uninhibited by the piece’s enormous technical difficulties; his phrasing was never dictated by anything other than musical ideas. The voicing in Ondine was crystalline, as were the tricky double-note passages. His hyper-sensitive mixture of colors produced an extraordinary rendition of this piece. Le Gibet was intoxicatingly hypnotic and creepy; the pacing of the continual, steady rhythm created a haunting atmosphere that never lost tension. Lastly, Scarbo was filled with phantasmagoric drama. I love the way Gryaznov makes the chord pop after the first three notes in the beginning (the quick timing of his arm thrust makes all the difference). The structure of this movement wasn’t quite as perfect, and it sometimes felt a little fragmented. Sometimes this was due to a dramatic pause on a chord that lingered too long; other times he took too much time on a rest. It didn’t detract too much from the performance, but the momentum did lag several times. Overall, Gryaznov’s interpretation of this piece was terrific, and this was my favorite part of the program.
Another of Mr. Gryaznov’s transcriptions, Prokofieff’s Suite from On the Dnieper, Op. 51, wasn’t as successful. While he probably did a wonderful job transcribing it and played it very well, it isn’t really great music by Prokofieff. It might be more effective in its intended role as ballet music, although that ballet was not particularly successful. The music meanders unmemorably and there are no interesting melodies; any interesting harmonic tricks aren’t enough to hold the piece together. Gryaznov’s playing in the Finale was exciting rhythmically and very clear, but it’s not a work for the concert stage. I was puzzled by the programming of this piece when the line-up is so amazing otherwise.
To conclude the evening, he ended with Rachmaninoff’s colossal Piano Sonata No. 2, Op. 36. First, a quick digression to provide some background information on this piece. For most pianists, after grappling with all of Rachmaninoff’s technical obstacles, the main problem is maintaining an overarching sense of structure. I can’t stand about 95% of performances and recordings of this sonata because the structure nearly always crumbles; the outer movements need an enormous amount of energy/drive and ample awareness of the larger structure to propel it forward with a sense of inevitability, like an iceberg on a collision course. It’s also common for pianists to make the middle movement and second theme of the last movement pathetically saccharine, which diminishes (even slanders) the sincerity and intimacy of the emotions. The first recording I heard that mostly addresses these issues is Matsuev’s (not a definitive recording – his live Medici concert is even better). For the second movement, Horowitz’s recording is untouchable. OK, back to Gryaznov. He chose the longer version without cuts, which is even more difficult to pull off. For the abovementioned reasons, I felt there were too many places where Gryaznov took too much time for a dramatic pause on a chord or a moment of silence, and the momentum and dramatic tension sometimes went slack. I think Rachmaninoff’s interpretation would be more rhythmically driven, with crisper pedaling and fewer sudden shifts to a dramatically slow tempo. Overall I enjoyed it a lot, certainly more than many performances of the work, and the second movement was sincere and direct.
One last note on the acoustics in Sprague Hall. The sound in the hall could be improved with some more curtains, but as it is, the sound is naturally sustained without much help from the sustain pedal. To get passagework from brilliant to electrifying (like Horowitz), it would be difficult to pedal too little in many quick sections. In a smaller hall or room, I’m sure the pedaling would have been perfect. The acoustics were ideal, however, for the Debussy and Ravel.
Mr. Gryaznov’s performance was truly inspiring and I eagerly await his next recital.
Volcanic and Intellectual: Recital by Vyacheslav Gryaznov
by Dr. Gary Lemco. November 13, 2016
In spite of his declaration that he would perform “just one more piece” in response to a wildly enthusiastic, standing ovation, Russian classical pianist and transcriber Vyacheslav Gryaznov added to the suavely virtuosic Polka Italien of Rachmaninoff yet a second encore, the same composer’s massive Etude-Tableau in E-flat Minor, Op. 39, No. 5. Gryaznov’s marathon recital at Le Petit Trianon Theatre, Saturday November 12 comprised the third recital of the current Steinway Society the Bay Area, here a brilliant display of intellect and digital prowess that embraced music by Beethoven, Debussy, Ravel, Prokofiev, and Rachmaninoff, including two transcriptions by Gryaznov of orchestral works that themselves rely on timbral and color nuances.
Gryaznov followed with two French pieces, the first of which came in the form of his own transcription of Claude Debussy’s epoch-making symphonic poem, Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun (1894), the composer’s musical response to the Symbolist, erotic poem by Stephane Mallarme. The poem salaciously describes the Faun’s priapic intentions, while the music blends orchestral colors and timbres by having instruments play out of their normal registers, often in modal, exotic harmonies and whole-tone scales. The keyboard transcription – a feat accomplished by peers like Mark Hambourg and George Copeland – relies on canny pedal control to soften the intricate colorations, the minute gradations of timbre and texture.
If refinement and subtlety marked the Gryaznov excursion into Debussy, flights of fire defined his next offering, Ravel’s 1908 suite Gaspard de la Nuit, based on poems of another exotic poet, Aloysius Bertrand, who claimed his inspiration from the Devil himself. In three sections – Ondine, Le Gibet, and Scarbo – Ravel wished to exceed the virtuosic demands of a piece he envied, Balakirev’s Islamey, which its own composer found unplayable. Ondine elicited from Gryaznov voluptuous arpeggios and eddying chords, meant to seduce mortals into the sea-nymph’s fatal kingdom. Le Gibet demanded from Gryaznov long, potent and static harmonies – depicting the rotting of a hanged corpse in the sun – with a manic B-flat chimed persistently as a merciless sunlight or tolling knell illumines the implacable presence of death. But in the final section, Scarbo – the evocation of a malicious dwarf – Gryaznov transcended technique and emerged a musician of impeccable taste. If Arturo Benedetti Michelangeli could perform this work with a diabolical, mechanical accuracy, Gryaznov “humanized” the experience, breathing lurid, impulsive life into the punishing, extended trills, tremolos, and hints of Spanish rhythm that infiltrate the demonic progressions. The rush and volume of notes, their combined gravitas and incandescence, led to a truly symphonic coda in which the imp triumphs and then disappears, leaving Gryaznov’s audience astonished and delighted at once by a vision both appalling and surreal.
The second half of Gryaznov’s impressive repertory arsenal devoted itself to two Russians, Prokofiev and Rachmaninoff. For the former, Gryaznov played his transcription of the relatively unfamiliar, fourth ballet of 1930, Sur la Borysthene (“On the Dneiper”), a moody love-story set after the First World War. In his prefatory remarks, Gryaznov called the music “dark, interesting, and strange,” admitting that he, too, originally had difficulty relating to this “failed”score. Here, the musical effects proved superior to the melodic tissue, and the six sections – despite the ardent and often volcanic application of huge chords and wicked glissandos – could drag, lending to an already demanding program a tedium of musical stasis. A few moments, such as the Groom’s Dance and one Dance Variation, compelled us by Gryaznov’s treating the material as an explosive etude or toccata. But the “love theme” as such pales beside such wonders from Romeo and Juliet and Cinderella, in which Prokofiev’s lyric gift matches his capacity for irony and icon-smashing.
The last work, Gryaznov’s personal piece de resistance, resides in his spectacular realization of Rachmaninoff’s Piano Sonata No. 2 in B-flat Major, Op. 36 (1913; rev. 1931), which exists in several incarnations, from which Horowitz and Gryaznov feel free to extrapolate, as required. Gryaznov commented that the original score came at the time of great personal crisis for the composer, when his daughters suffered from typhoid contracted in Italy. Simultaneously working on Balmont’s treatment of Poe’s “The Bells,” Rachmaninoff carried the “repercussions” and “shock-waves” of Poe’s meditation on mortality into his Sonata, already influenced by the Chopin Second Sonata in the tonic minor, noted for its ubiquitous funeral march. Colossal and rife with affectionate vitality, Gryaznov’s performance carried a grand line and effortless vocalism, particularly in the second movement’s Lento theme in E Minor. The voluptuous opening foray soon led to Rachmaninoff’s patented, manic wont for Russian bells, whether from the doxology of his religious convictions or his penchant for Poe’s intimations of mortality. The last pages culminated in an B-flat Major hymn of praise worthy of Russian compatriot and mystic Scriabin, a musical effect that bore an enthralled audience to revere composer and his musical acolyte, pianist Gryaznov, clearly a musician to the manner born.
The pianist Vyacheslav Gryaznov. Berlin Philharmonic
10/17/2016 By Igor Berov, Berlin
I am so glad to have met – quite unexpectedly – the wonderful pianist, Vyacheslav Gryaznov. I had heard about him beforehand. But at first, I had some hesitation about whether or not to attend his concert, because the program included Rachmaninoff’s Second Sonata and Ravel’s Gaspard de la Nuit, which are played by almost every other visiting barnstormer. Well, how often can we listen to the same pieces again and again?
But after looking at his YouTube videos and listening to him playing classics and especially his own genius transcriptions (during Tchaikovsky’s Overture Romeo and Juliet I started weeping very bitterly, just like Venia Erofeev from Moscow-Petushki), I realized I was dealing with an outstanding talent that could and should not be missed.
I am also grateful to my Facebook friends, two charming Katyas – Katya Dushek and Katya Mechetina — who strongly advised me to go to the concert. And all doubts disappeared completely when Alexander Rozenblat praised this pianist, saying that he liked his transcriptions very much; in other words, when one composer praises another, one MUST take notice. It just doesn’t happen! So, of course, I went to the concert.
Transcriptions bring a breath of fresh air to a concert; it infuses the performance with a certain zest and makes the pianist’s performance memorable and unique. I remember very well that in the1970-80s in the U.S.S.R., there was nothing like this on the concert stage: pianists mainly played a distinguished and well-known repertoire, western romantic and Russian classical mostly; programs repeated each other constantly.
Then the genius Pletnev came along and astonished everyone with his concert arrangements of pieces by Tchaikovsky. We also heard Horowitz’ recordings with renowned virtuoso paraphrases of Bizet, Liszt, Mendelssohn, and pianists began to play them with great pleasure. However, there was not published sheet music of those transcriptions, so a lot of musicians copied them just by ear. Later the brilliant Volodos appeared with his free arrangements, which he also did not write down, playing different versions at every concert; he told me this, personally. But, apparently, there were true fans of his talent, who transferred his transcriptions to scores and instantly spread them around the world.
And at last there is one more new and fresh appearance on our concert stage: it is Vyacheslav Gryaznov who makes absolutely unique, very bright and talented arrangements of pieces by Tchaikovsky, Glinka, Rachmaninoff, Prokofiev, Debussy, Gershwin, and Piazzolla. And he himself plays them.
Vyacheslav presented us with quite an interesting program. In addition to the works by Rachmaninov and Ravel mentioned above, he played – and with an excellent sense of style – the very rarely performed, lovely, and wonderful Beethoven12 Variations on the Russian Dance from the Ballet Das Waldmädchen (Forest Girl) by Paul Wranitzky op. 71. He also presented his own transcription of Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun by Debussy and his suite from Prokofev’s ballet On the Dnieper, which he also made for the piano – music, hitherto completely unknown to me.
Speaking about Vyacheslav Gryaznov as a pianist, first of all I would like to emphasize that he performs with the highest possible professionalism, a great sense of style, profound succinctness, and, what was particularly noticeable and immediately caught my eye — an amazing sense of form.
He has a very intelligent way of playing, calm and narrative, sitting austerely and expending no energy on unnecessary movement. There was no artifice in his performance, no insincere emotional outbursts. He does not tear his shirt and reveal a chest tattoo saying, “I will rock everyone!!!” Rather, he “tells a story” almost as an observer, but one who knows and sees the music from the inside, unhurriedly “explaining” all its beauty. His style of playing is very similar to that of Nikolai Lugansky – the same calm and austere manner of expression. His technical level is also very high – his finger articulation is tremendous, and he is wonderfully exact in his sound attack as well as in maintaining sound balance. Vyacheslav is profoundly musical and emotionally liberated.
By the way, something important and special I have noticed: when pianists who are also composers play their own music as well as that of other composers, their sense of form in the performance often approaches perfection, illuminating and clear, and as though they had written that music themselves. It must be a consequence of knowing so well how it is all done, what difficulties composers have to overcome when they are writing music. They can see the entire structure of a piece, all the “seams” and “building materials.”
So, turning back to Gryaznov – that very FORM, so clear and entirely visible at a glance was presented by him. By the way, I understand completely why he did not play the standard second edition of Rachmaninoff’s 2nd Sonata, which is performed by an overwhelming majority of pianists, and why he created a combined version of the two editions.
The first version of the Rachmaninoff Second Sonata is very long, its shape a bit loose and vague. The second edition is too short, especially the second movement. The composer’s “seams” are clearly visible in its structure: for example, in the texture between the short sections. Gryaznov chooses to blend the two editions, and thereby produces the most natural and integral form. Horowitz offered a similar approach. I have to say that for me personally, Grayznov’s is the best and the most direct path to understanding.
Gryaznov played the Sonata gorgeously, in the best traditions of the Russian piano school. Despite having listened to this music a million times, the music could never be boring, and his performance gave it new life. I could listen to the second theme of the Sonata’s finale endlessly.
I would particularly like to emphasize Gryaznov’s wonderful transcription of the orchestral prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun by Debussy. The orchestral version of the piece is a little static, and emotional contrasts are lacking. The orchestral fabric often seems to be in a “suspended” state, in some condition of passivity. The music is written in a free improvisational manner with a wide variety of orchestral colors. This music presents the continuous languor of midday haze, as it were.
The composer compensates for this “languid stasis” with an astonishing abundance of orchestral timbres, unexpected combinations and stunning colors. For example, there are some places where the horn plays a long note, so-called orchestral pedal, and in the background, a harp is playing a long, arpeggiated glissando. It is beautiful as it is, and you can enjoy listening to the colorful sounds indefinitely. But how can it be done on the piano, which, although is rich in its sound, still cannot bear comparison to an orchestra?
For example, try to transcribe the “Bolero” by Ravel for piano solo, in order to make it sound rich and different. I suggest it would not work. It would sound boring and monotonous.
But Gryaznov managed to make the transcription of this music unbelievably interesting. In terms of dynamics, he built the musical form in the shape of a huge ball, starting from the very beginning with a flute tune at pianissimo. Then, in the middle, through developing the texture more and more in a single crescendo, he came to the climactic theme and illuminated it as though with sunlight, almost as in the Island of Pleasure. And further on, moving to the very end, calming down quietly, he returned to the original flute tune again.
How did he find that paint, how did he manage to catch that exact texture for Piano? It remains a mystery to me. The music lasts for almost 12 minutes, and, as played by him, was absorbed all in one breath. Just amazing!
After the Debussy the pianist performed the famous triad of Ravel’s Gaspard de la nuit, Ondine and Le Gibet, which were all delightful. But in the Scarbo I would have liked more diabolism, infernality, and explosiveness in the final climax. Again, the music was “told” quite calmly, in a narrative style, as if from the outside.
It was with tremendous interest that I listened to the suite from Prokofiev’s ballet “On the Dnieper” (also Gryaznov’s own arrangement) in the second part of the concert. Truthfully, I had never heard the music before, nor even known of its existence. In my opinion, it is really quite wonderful. It might not have the same thematic clarity and brightness of Romeo and Juliet or Cinderella, but Prokofiev’s language — his light lyrics and melodic turns — are instantly recognizable. It is impossible to confuse the genius of Prokofiev with anything else.
Let me tell you, ladies and gentlemen, that after listening to V. Gryaznov perform the program, interspersed with his own marvelous arrangements, I could not help but think that this is very likely the real future of the piano performing arts.
What do I mean?
The crisis in piano performance took place long ago and was caused by the terrible overplaying of the classics. Basically, it is the same standard repertoire, the romantics of the 19th century for the most part. The fact is, with few exceptions, all artists play the same things with minor variations. This becomes boring, naturally. In the past two years, the programs I heard consisted mainly of Schubert, Brahms, and Beethoven, occasionally interspersed with Rachmaninov and Schumann. That’s it! A nightmare.
So what should they play that would infuse the program with something fresh and interesting?
Pianists are terribly conservative people. They do not want to play new music, and by and large prefer the old, familiar, and reliable repertoire to guarantee their success with the public. After all, they conditioned their audiences to this music, and now it is expected.
Really good new music, preferably tonal to be interesting to listeners, is very rare.
To be fair, I have to admit that many pianists have begun, little by little, to play the wonderful music of Nikolai Kapustin. And I have listened recently to recordings of the incredibly beautiful music of Alexander Rozenblat from the Central Music School’s splendid concert. But this is not enough; it is just a drop in the ocean.
So what is left to play? How to break this vicious cycle?
Perhaps programs that include not only original music, but also arrangements of “recognizable” classics, and music of different genres: symphonic, chamber, ballet: this is exactly what Vyacheslav Gryaznov does so convincingly. He and his programming are stunningly cool. This approach could go a long way toward solving the problem of updating and refreshing piano repertoire.
Then everyone will be truly satisfied and happy!
Igor Berov, Berlin, Germany, November 6, 2016
Five days with Mozart
Close-up: “Mozart Marathon”
Alexander Tsereteli (Musical Life #2, 2014)
In the five days of the marathon, coinciding, of course, with Mozart’s date of birth (January 27), a truly miraculous memorial was enacted: all his concertos for all instruments were performed.
Piano Concerto No. 14 in E-flat major, performed by Vyacheslav Gryaznov, was a revelation. We already knew a lot about this musician. He is a brilliant pianist and composer. The virtuosity and inventiveness of his transcriptions fascinate and enthrall. His piano performance during this marathon was bound to amaze. Anna Akhmatova wrote a wonderful poem: “Finally, you have said a word.” What happens in the world around us when loving words are spoken? It can only be revealed by a poetic word: “And suddenly the silence sang to you / and the twilight lit up by the radiant sun / and the world for that moment was transformed / and the taste of the wine changed in a strange way…” Let me assure the reader: the silence sang its song in the most natural of ways. The concerto that has been played and played again sounded completely new and fresh: slowly and eloquently, unhurried and with soulful tone. Composers’ readings are often characterized by generality, but in this case it was the beauty of detail that prevailed. An exceptional, almost forgotten [pianistic] culture in which all the rich textures are played out, and the hidden details are revealed in the succession of fingers and chords. And the focus is on all the tempi, whether slow or rapid.
The cadenza specifically written for this performance dazzled with its organic interweaving of the main themes of the piece, leaving you eager to hear it again and again. And once it had imparted all that was important, it somehow faded away, dissolving naturally and imperceptibly, without the pathos and agitation that tends to typify the transition to the orchestral coda. There can be no doubt that Vyacheslav Gryaznov is one of the great wonders of modern pianism.
The creative works of Gryaznov – yet more dazzling pieces of music (Ukraine)
Yulia Lesina, Your Chance newspaper (2013)
On June 11 the Two Pianos piano duo (Elena Antonets and Lyudmila Skrynnik) was joined by musicologist Vitalina Gukova to perform a program entitled Jazz. Classic. Piano. on the stage of the regional philharmonic. They played to a full house. On the program was Dave Brubeck’s suite Points on Jazz, and, for the first time in Ukraine, Vyacheslav Gryaznov’s Rhapsody In Black on themes from George Gershwin’s opera Porgy and Bess.
And if Brubeck’s composition, with its recognizable rhythmic and melodic balm, penetrated the souls of the listeners, hearing the Rhapsody and Gryaznov’s creativity for the first time left the audience stunned. It was a huge event in the cultural life of the city. 31-year-old Vyacheslav Gryaznov is an exceptional artist from the Moscow Philharmonic, one of the brightest and most sought-after Russian pianists of his generation, and a composer of brilliant transcriptions of classical works that have gained popularity the world over. Gryaznov wrote Rhapsody In Black just over a year ago. It is dedicated to the memory of the famous Russian pianist Nikolai Petrov, who prophesied the young musician a bright future. Shortly before his death Petrov said this about the Rhapsody: “I believe that it is no exaggeration to say that this is an absolutely magnificent piece of work. It quite simply does not get any better than this – a composition brimming with virtuosity and explosive creativity.” Rhapsody In Black for two pianos was performed by Vyacheslav Gryaznov and the renowned pianist Alexander Gindin in Moscow. The recording and score were discovered by chance on the internet by pianist Elena Antonets. She notes that for them, as academic pianists, it was a piece of music of which they could only have dreamed.
At one in the morning the phone rang, and it was Lyudmila Skrynnik’s turn to study the score and admire the creativity of the virtuoso musician from Moscow. The Sumy-based pianists decided to write to the composer to express their admiration and their desire to perform the composition on stage in Sumy. Contrary to expectations, as musicians at this level have a very tight schedule, they received an answer from Gryaznov in which he thanked them for their courage and dedication and wished them good luck and enjoyment for the concert. As regards courage, he was right. This was the most difficult work performed by the Two Pianos duo (in spite of a repertoire including works by Sergei Rachmaninov and Alfred Schnittke): a piece characterized by profound complexity, virtuoso passages, intricate cadenzas, and an abundance of metrical changes at a rapid tempo.
Nevertheless, in the words of Elena and Lyudmila, working on the Rhapsody was fun. They had no desire to give up, as they wanted to share their discovery with their listeners. It must be noted that Rhapsody In Black is not a paraphrase on the themes of Gershwin’s legendary opera. It is an independent 42-minute work (of course, Gershwin’s red thread is woven into the musical fabric and is easily recognizable) in which the composer presents the listener with a continuation of the dramatic stories of life and love involving the disabled, legless Porgy and the beautiful Bess, which unfold on the streets of New York. A narrative of passion and fearlessness, cocaine, the lust for life, love and weakness, suffering and dreams, the eternal wrangle between body and soul, conversations between the two protagonists or with themselves and the listeners about eternal truths. Screams and whispers, the universal breath of the enamored, and tears of regret from the eyes of the weak-willed woman – all of this is encompassed in the jazz and classical rhythms.
In terms of contrast, depth of meaning, dramatic power, and range of expression, Gryaznov has gone beyond Gershwin, creating a work of art that, while influenced by Gershwin, is his very own. The drama of human existence [is more than a story of] poor black neighborhoods in the state of Carolina or New York. Everyone will understand that. I think Rhapsody in Black is set to enter the musical canon. Sumy residents now have yet more dazzling musical performances to look back on thanks to the Two Pianos piano duo and, personally, to the composer.
24 Etudes by Chopin at the Kostroma Philharmonic Hall
Kostroma Philharmonic, Feb 2012
Epithets such as young, ambitious, uncompromising, and sometimes even stubborn are often used to describe the musicians of the modern age. However, the young and talented musicians of today have many other qualities. The audience at the Kostroma Philharmonic Hall on February 2 could discover this for themselves. They came to see the winner of some of the most prestigious international competitions and awards, an unparalleled musician from the Moscow State Philharmonic Society and professorial assistant at the Moscow State Conservatory named after Peter Tchaikovsky: the pianist Vyacheslav Gryaznov.
The concert in Kostroma saw the performance of all 24 Etudes by the great Polish composer Fr?d?ric Chopin. Professional musicians and music lovers alike are well aware of the level of excellence a pianist must reach to perform the cycle in its entirety. Gryaznov left the audience spellbound, not only because of a performance of outstanding virtuosity, but also thanks to a distinct creative style and desire to produce his own interpretation of the Etudes, without imitation or reference to the musicians who preceded him. Gryaznov has a unique, fresh and sharp perception of these popular classical pieces. With intense thought and the finest of craftsmanship, the pianist infused the Chopin pieces with the widest range of emotions.
Vyacheslav Gryaznov’s concert in Kostroma was part of the Evenings at Steinway season. Kostroma became acquainted with the work of this promising pianist almost a year ago, when his own transcriptions of various pieces of classical music were performed in concert. Combining his concertizing with the writing of piano arrangements, Gryaznov has already gained a reputation as one of the most popular young composers in his field.
His performances are unhurried and harmonious, with no pathos or superficial gloss. And a particular deliberation, splendor, and elegance is instilled into the meaning of each sound. His performances seem to contain nothing that is peripheral or transient. Every sound, every meaning, every nuance is of the utmost importance. That is probably why his interpretations seem so heartfelt. I can say with complete confidence that, now that they are familiar with the work of Vyacheslav Gryaznov, concertgoers are sure to hurry back to his concerts in Kostroma again and again in future seasons.
Rhapsody In Style
Elena Prokhorova, Musical Life #1 2012
The well-known Russian pianist and arranger Vyacheslav Gryaznov presented his new composition to the public this season – Rhapsody In Black for piano and orchestra, on themes from George Gershwin’s opera Porgy and Bess. It was performed at Moscow’s Orchestrion Concert Hall by the composer and Pavel Kogan’s Moscow State Symphony Orchestra conducted by Alexey Shatsky. The Rhapsody was also performed by the composer and Alexander Ghindin in its two-piano version at a concert at the Tchaikovsky Hall. Gryaznov wrote this composition especially for the piano duo of Alexander Ghindin and Nikolai Arnoldovich Petrov. The premiere was scheduled for May 2011, but was unable to take place as planned because Petrov fell seriously ill. Following Petrov’s subsequent death, the composer dedicated the composition to him, as it was largely thanks to Petrov’s support that the Rhapsody was written. Vyacheslav Gryaznov talks about composing the Rhapsody: “I had an intense desire to express my feelings about Gershwin’s great opera via piano and orchestra. But after writing a couple of pages and realizing that I was getting nowhere, I put it off for about a year.” Somehow, Nikolai Petrov found out about ??Gryaznov’s idea and asked him to write a two-piano version for his duo with Alexander Ghindin as they were about to play a Gershwin program. Highly impressed by Gryaznov’s previous arrangements and transcriptions, Petrov, with the composer’s consent, unhesitatingly put the composition that had yet to be written on the next season’s program! There was no turning back. Gryaznov could not let him down – he had to write it. The Rhapsody developed gradually and was sent to Petrov in chunks, each of which he welcomed with great enthusiasm and immediately began to learn. “He called almost every week,” says Gryaznov. “He asked how things were going, wanted more specific details about the performance, and was always very supportive. Without that personal contact, I could never have imagined how sincere and passionate this man was, how much respect he could give a musician much younger and less experienced than he was, and how much genuine and even youthful enthusiasm there was in his soul! It is difficult to say when and how this Rhapsody would have been written (and whether it would have been written at all) without Nikolai Petrov’s wholehearted participation.”
The finished composition was magnificent, stylish, and substantial (it lasts about 42 minutes). In my opinion, it is absolutely perfect with respect to the original. It was not intended as a paraphrase of hit tunes. The composer’s conspicuous originality is revealed here at its fullest. He has created a great dramaturgic composition with a very interesting, very personal and fresh idea. It is better if he tells you about it himself: “Gershwin’s opera is open-ended. So, the conclusion is in question. Porgy discovers that Bess, tempted by Sporting Life and drugs, has gone to New York. He harnesses his goat to a cart and, not knowing anything about New York except that it is very far away, sets off to rescue his beloved. Will he be able to get there at all – that is the big question. But let us suppose that he does! What would happen then? That is what the Rhapsody ln Black makes us think about.”
It is rare for variations on popular opera themes not to remind us of an alternate version of a familiar subject. But this is no such case. From the very first note, you start to listen to the “story,” and the more you listen, the more it intrigues you. The composer is a master of building up a narrative, and he does not let you get distracted from it for even a second, whether the composition is fast-paced or contemplative. He is also absolutely perfect in “juggling” stylistic contrasts; he draws everything he can out of the piano – by far not every pianist will be ready to take on this musical score, which is daring not only in terms of technical difficulty, but also of ensemble and style. And what brilliant use of the orchestra! It is colorful, richly arranged and brilliantly combined with the piano. This composition has a very bright future, and it would be a wonderful thing to hear it in concert again and again. I sincerely hope that the composer will not only play the Rhapsody himself in concert halls around the world, but that other pianists will also include this composition in their repertoire.
From Bryansk to the Kremlin. The Nikolai Petrov festival in the Armory Chamber draws to a close
Eugene Krivitskaya, Culture newspaper
The Musical Kremlin festival, which was held in the Kremlin Armory Museum for the twelfth time, was, as in the past, dedicated primarily to modern pianists. The artistic director of the festival, People’s Artist of the USSR Nikolai Petrov, [regularly] brings together the most talented young pianists from literally all over the world and introduces them to Russian listeners. Thanks to the Culture TV channel, the festival has a large viewership; and this time Musical Kremlin (supported by Gazprombank) also took place in parallel in Bryansk. A formidable group of musicians took over the ancient city for an entire week. Pianists from Russia, Germany, Japan, Israel, and the UK played there. Out of the many events two piano evenings were particularly popular. The festival moderator, Peter Tataritsky, who was unchanged from last year, triumphantly announced that a Steinway will always be a Steinway, and the audience was able to hear this for themselves at the concert of Vyacheslav Gryaznov. The very first notes played on the piano made by this company, a partner of Musical Kremlin, demonstrated that in front of our eyes was not only a virtuoso performer, but also an outstanding musician who truly feels the instrument and can draw the most delicate of subtleties out of it. It’s hard to say whether the Russian piano school is “to blame” for this, or Gryaznov’s personal qualities. Probably both factors played a role in turning the piano into a real orchestra that evening. And the program likewise contributed to this metamorphosis as Gryaznov, who is also an alternative pianist, presented his own transcriptions of symphonic scores such as Debussy’s Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun, the Adagietto from Mahler’s Fifth Symphony, and Romeo and Juliet by Tchaikovsky.
Some scores, like the Debussy and the Nocturne from the Borodin Quartet, sounded very natural. Others, like the Tchaikovsky overture, seemed less successful. But as a whole the artist made an overwhelming impression on his audience with his mastery of the instrument and his ability to turn his phenomenal technical skills into ideas and form. Particularly striking was Gryaznov’s almost soundless piano: extraordinarily quiet, though every note was played. The recital program included Gaspard de la Nuit by Ravel, played at the same level of inspiration and with an equally interesting interpretation as the pianist’s own transcriptions. I think that transcriptions have helped Gryaznov in many ways to find his own performing style and progress from the category of “young winner” to the mature master of his art that we saw at the concert of Musical Kremlin.
The Moscow Philharmonic gives the stage to youth
Angelina Komarova, Novye Izvestia. February 16, 2011
Not long ago we were talking about the sadness of a lost generation of Russian musicians, but not much time has passed and interesting and brilliant young musicians trained in Russia are reappearing on our stages. Various foundations monitor these artists, and from early childhood they receive scholarships and prizes. But the child prodigies grow up, and almost all of them have to face the issue of demand in their profession.
The Moscow Philharmonic is one of the organizations that helps young musicians to feel confident on the professional stage. Many of them get this chance when they are selected for the Philharmonic Debut program, which allows the best of them to perform in the Young Talents subscription series, the most gifted of them then being admitted to the Stars of the XXI Century series.
At this season’s final “Stars” concert in February, two young soloists from the Philharmonic performed – violinist Ivan Pochekin and pianist Vyacheslav Gryaznov. By tradition they were given the stage of the Tchaikovsky Concert Hall and accompanied by a no less high-profile partner, the Moscow Philharmonic Orchestra led by its artistic director and principal conductor Maestro Yuri Simonov.
… Gryaznov performed Ravel’s Piano Concerto, written by the composer for his contemporary Paul Wittgenstein, who had lost his right arm during the First World War. The audience is raving about Gryaznov’s distinctive style: he thinks like a composer. He reads the score of someone else’s music as if it were his own. It must be said that Vyacheslav Gryaznov has long been known for his brilliant and inventive piano transcriptions of a variety of pieces of music, and that this talent is no less amazing than his talent as a pianist. One of these transcriptions will soon be performed by the piano duo of Nikolai Petrov and Alexander Ghindin.
Sakhalin’s big dream (an interview)
Elena Stepanskaya, Sakhalin-info
If you ask a resident of Sakhalin which famous countryman he knows, he will confidently say, “Igor Nikolaev!” But who else? He will shrug his shoulders and say: “But there is no one else!”
Believe it or not, now there is. And he is called Vyacheslav Gryaznov.
Just imagine a boy who lived in Lugovoye, went to the Cheburashka kindergarten, studied at Music School No.1, and who is now on tour in Japan, Italy, Denmark, Great Britain, Croatia, Sweden, Norway, Holland, Kuwait, Africa, the Baltic countries, and many Russian cities, performing both solo recitals and with symphony orchestras. Japanese television regularly broadcasts performances by Gryaznov recorded ??in the NHK television studio.
And what do we know about this?
You have to agree, the process of how an ordinary, fun-loving boy turns into a musician is interesting. What does it require? Is it in the genes? The persistence and perseverance of the parents in their desire to get the child to sit at the piano? Sakhalin’s mysterious biofield? The teacher who spots the boy’s talent and has the wherewithal to hand him over to be nurtured by other teachers in Moscow? How can being brought up to be a performer be reconciled with the child’s natural desire to run and jump around? A performer who is a master of his instrument and who finds such a range of emotion in the music of Rachmaninov, Chopin, and Liszt that well-known pieces sound as if they have never been performed before and are, in fact, only just being composed.
Question to Vyacheslav.
– What are your most vivid memories of your childhood in Sakhalin?
-The day my parents bought a piano (I was five). An amazing historical role-play and show at a summer camp (the Storming of the Bastille, the execution of Louis XVI) by a history teacher. The village, the tractor I drove (even with passengers). My parents were trying to be farmers and sold potatoes at a cheap price, giving them to pensioners for free. Edvard Grieg’s Piano Concerto performed by my teacher Irina Korzinina. I was greatly impressed! When I was seven, I wrote a patriotic song – it was successfully performed by the choir at the children’s music school, with the composer at the piano. It was even filmed by a TV channel.
– They say that the preschool years set the stage for creativity. Do you remember this period?
– I went to nursery school when I was one year and eight months old. I had a wonderful teacher, with whom my mother had a close relationship. And I was close to her, too! After lessons on rhythmic patterns, I played “music” on the table at lunchtime, for which I was often punished. I also remember Valentina Lobanova, my secondary-school teacher.
– There is a widespread view that Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart would not have cemented his place in history as a musical genius if it hadn’t been for his father Leopold Mozart, who forced his little Wolfgang to practice round the clock to improve his mastery of the harpsichord and to study the fundamentals of composition. What do your parents, your mother, mean to you?
– She was certainly not like Leopold Mozart. Mostly she just supported me, in the sense that she sacrificed a lot for her ideals to achieve a dream. It was largely her idea to go to Moscow (inspired by the performances of the young pianist Evgeny Kissin, who had gained worldwide fame) so that I could study music more seriously. And, well, my mother is my mother. When we were left alone (my father was killed a year after my admission to the Central Music School of the Moscow Conservatory), my mother, having no Moscow registration, worked at the Central Music School as a janitor and cleaning lady (she was a German teacher) for a ridiculously small amount of money. But as a result we could sleep in the back of the school premises, on the mats in the gym. Renting a room was difficult at first, and we had no relatives in Moscow.
– In October, you returned to Sakhalin for the first time since you left. What had changed?
– Sakhalin had seen improvements, it was better looked after, it had developed and in general was a more attractive place. It was really nice to go back after almost twenty years. I wanted to return. Why? Because I had begun to care about my hometown and the state of affairs there as regards culture and music in particular, and Music School No.1, which I attended as a child (now the Central Music School). I felt I was being drawn back to my roots, with the burning desire to do something for my fellow countrymen.
– And as a musician and resident of Sakhalin, what can you do?
– The most important thing that I can do is promote quality music on Sakhalin, to foster high-level performance. In the future, I may set up professional development courses for teachers.
– Let’s dream a little and imagine that the Sakhalin region is an icon of culture…
– It’s difficult to talk about icons and ideals. For a start, it would be not only nice but necessary to build a proper concert hall with a decent piano and acoustics suitable for staging symphonic programs and instrumental recitals. We need to purchase a decent piano for the Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk Central Music School. As of now there are almost no venues in Sakhalin where proper classical music concerts can be put on. Of course, such projects (training courses, concert halls) require initiative and the help of the municipal administration and the region. I don’t think we would have to wait long to see appreciative Sakhalin residents.
They say that musicians are divided into those who can astound the concert hall and those who can astound the soul. In January 2010, when Vyacheslav Gryaznov comes home to perform two concerts in Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk and Kholmsk, we will find out if this saying is right.
Review by Norihiko Wada (Japan)
Norihiko Wada: composer, pianist
First of all, I was amazed by his incredible abilities and the natural flow of the music. At the same time it is impossible not to appreciate his wide repertoire, which does not focus on a certain time period, his fine taste in his choice of program, and his outstanding ability to organize it.
He doesn’t bluff, nor is there any unnecessary expression or over-action, which young pianists who dream of being a virtuoso can be guilty of. His genuinely meaningful relationship with music is impressive. He adapted well to the piano and perfectly controlled the pedal and sound in view of the acoustic conditions.
I have been the music director of the Kyoto International Music Students Festival, which is held annually in May, for a long time. At this festival talented students from Moscow of Slava’s age always perform. He is not inferior to them, and in fact stands out for his impeccable, calm demeanor on stage, which is replete with objectivity. Any music lover who listens to his performance can tell that he is experienced in the international arena and wants to listen to him again…
Most amazing of all were the Musical Moments by Sergei Rachmaninov. Two years ago I published the edited and proofread version of these scores in Japan. It seems that the works of Rachmaninov are particularly close to Slava. It is well known that for foreigners, including the Japanese, it is very difficult to perform his works. This is in part due to technical difficulties. Rachmaninov, who is called the “Giant of the Piano”, had big hands. And Slava, who fully retains the inherent lyricism of Rachmaninov, performed the music easily and naturally, leaving the audience unaware of its difficulty.
In conclusion, I would like to draw attention to the “Italian Polka” that he performed as an encore. For me this was a pleasant and unexpected find. I really liked his arrangement. And with such a talent I’m sure he will be successful.
It will be interesting to listen to and see him in a few years.
‘Conquest’ without the help of nuclear warheads (Georgian press)
Ph.D., Art Critic, Docent of the Tbilisi State Conservatory
While the Second International Piano Competition was being held in Tbilisi in the autumn of 2001, one of the Russian television channels hosted a discussion entitled ”Our Version/Classified Information.” The program was broadcast live. One of the main participants in the discussion was State Duma deputy Aleksei Valentinovich Mitrofanov, who was responsible for issues relating to the mutual relations between member countries of the CIS. The program was so disturbing and, I would say, unprecedented in its openly chauvinistic tendency that it left a deep impression in my memory. […] The strength of a bare fist, the strength of nuclear warheads: that’s what Mitrofanov believes in. That’s what this politician professes! The intent of my remark is not to show the true face of various politicians in Russia but to try to demonstrate that Russia, that Russians are able to speak using an entirely different vocabulary, namely using language that is no less effective…and, most importantly, was first tried out long ago.
What do I have in mind? On the last day of January this year, there was a symphony concert held in the Grand Hall of the V. Saradjishvili Tbilisi State Conservatory featuring the young Russian piano soloist Vyacheslav Gryaznov. The orchestra was directed by the outstanding Georgian conductor Jansug Kakhidze. Russian music was performed. Brilliant compositions of the great Russian composers Tchaikovsky, Rachmaninov, and Mussorgsky stirred Georgian music lovers for the nth time.
The concert program was highly artistic. But the hero of the evening was the nineteen-year-old Moscow pianist Vyacheslav Gryaznov. His name became known to Tbilisi audiences in the autumn of 2001, during the auditions of the Second International Piano Competition. From his very first appearance, Gryaznov attracted everyone’s attention with his heartfelt lyricism, extraordinary technical presence, professional maturity, and, above all, passion for the music. During the first three rounds, Gryaznov was one of the favorites of the competition. However, competitions are always fraught with the unexpected. Gryaznov did not make it to the fourth and final round! The public rose up against the decision of the jury, especially young people, even those participants who themselves had been disqualified along the way. And then the jury took the right decision: they gave Vyacheslav Gryaznov the Audience Favorite award.
The fact that this prize was truly earned, that Gryaznov was remembered by Tbilisi listeners for good reason, was once again confirmed on the evening mentioned above. The concert hall was filled to capacity. The musician received stormy applause. Flowers were brought up on stage. For a young performer, it is very important at the start of his creative career to conquer the hearts of those to whom he addresses his art. I think that Tbilisi will have acquired special significance for Gryaznov as well. Such events are not forgotten!
It is no easy task to perform Rachmaninov’s brilliant Second Piano Concerto. The Tbilisi audience has criteria for evaluation that have developed over time, with a multitude of high-quality examples for comparison rendered by both foreign and Georgian pianists. Gryaznov passed this very complex test with flying colors. His moving performance demonstrated yet again that he is a rising musician who possesses great artistic temperament and refined taste. He is outwardly restrained while imparting a profound emotional experience. His future holds the promise of major achievements!
It was as if the audience were holding its breath out of admiration during the concert. An invisible thread of spirituality and the high aesthetic feelings that give rise to art passed between the stage and the hall. However, there was one moment to which I would like to draw special attention. In response to the unanimous applause, the young musician returned to the piano and his elegant fingers produced a melody at whose first notes the audience literally erupted into applause. He played his own improvisation on a popular song by the well-known Georgian composer Bidzina Kvernadze, ‘”Autumn Flowers.” The hall was captivated! Yes, Georgia and Georgians can be ”conquered” by a Russian. However, it is not by warheads, not by fists, but by spirituality, art and the divine sounds of music.
Passage from Russia to America – Pianist, composer and transcriber Vyacheslav Gryaznov delights in musical storytelling
A version of this article was published on BlogCritics (Nov.31,2017)
Currently enrolled in the Artist Diploma program at Yale University, Slava, as he is called by his friends, speaks freely about the experiences that brought him to America from his native Russia.
Dissatisfied with the trend in Russian politics toward entangling career with ideology, Slava was keen to follow his fascination with the “land of the free,” and search for new opportunities. Many of his friends and former colleagues from the music world had made the move from Moscow to the US, but leaving one’s home is always a very personal passage. For Slava, it may not have been quite as dramatic a journey as the one of his compatriot and musical hero Sergei Rachmaninoff, who, fleeing political turmoil in his homeland was never to return, but one requires great personal impulse and initiative to make such a significant change nevertheless.
This personal commitment – going beyond the text and beyond the duration of a lesson – is something he holds up to a very high standard from a pedagogical standpoint. “Coming to Yale, I was taken with the high level of musicianship and creativity, while coming from the so-called ‘Russian School,’ which is in such high regard in the West. I find that there is tremendously prolific talent around here. What strikes me as odd – at least in my short time here – is the seeming lack of interest in furthering this talent pool beyond their absolved programs. A good student in Russia will be welcomed into the next level of studies, while for example at Yale, it is really difficult for students to advance, let’s say into a doctoral program.” This lack of accessibility to opportunities for growth and recognition seems foreign in concept to the Russian-trained musician, who himself had advanced through each stage of musical training at the Moscow Conservatory.
Perhaps the interest in this general outreach effort, rather than continuing their efforts on behalf of their original set of students, stems from a different prevailing attitude about what it means to teach a musician. Of course one should not generalize too much, yet it is interesting to share some of the impressions that seem to be bound by specific cultures.
Becoming a student in the US again, studying with Boris Berman, also a graduate of the Moscow Conservatory, Slava has some interesting notions when comparing the customary approaches to pedagogy in both cultures, at least at first glance: “In Russia, students are often discouraged from going to extremes: in sound level, in ideas, in everything actually…this is typical training for competitions, which is ‘polite,’ and polished, suitable for a jury and to satisfy everybody. It has nothing to do with artistic bravery, taking risks and never compromising,” he states.
“This goes against all traditions! But that goes for competition training everywhere, these days. Here, [in the US] there seems to be more freedom. Kind of a ‘do what you want,’ approach, ‘I don’t really care how you get there…’ yet, students don’t seem to offer extremes. They often stay ‘polite,’ one could call it boring, to begin with. No exceptional bravery here, with exceptions of course. Students are working very hard, but lessons here are more general, and not too concentrated on technical solutions being offered from the teacher’s side.”
In terms of differences in approach, Slava tells that in Russia, a lot of “the work” is done by the teacher:”Even if a lazy student comes like a blank sheet of paper, with perhaps some musical ideas but no means of expressing them, the teacher’s job is to achieve a “nice” performance. To the contrary, in American pedagogical situations, most of the work has to be done by the student with a minimal amount of influence from the teacher.” If a performance is already satisfactory, making it truly great could require a lot of work by the teacher, and while Slava’s impression is by no means comprehensive due to the short time he had spent here, the notion that the Russian pedagogical culture could be producing lazy students while the United States’ could be producing lazy teachers, may not be so far fetched.
Again, generalizations are never completely accurate, but it is certainly an interesting notion of a cultural approach to “teaching genius.” Could it have to do with the calling to the profession, which may be a much more individually-driven effort in the US than in Russia? Is it the highly seeded-out talent pool that arrives at US conservatories, whose faculties only expect the next wunderkind to show up and impress?
“I don’t think the so-called ‘Russian school’ of training exists anymore,” Slava says. “Everything depends on the person who teaches. Maybe in US it’s more general; in Russia it’s still a little more concrete. I think [in Russia] we are training our pianists in a more competitive way, like in sports. China is out of everyone’s league here. In the US it’s more relaxed. But being trained to win [piano competitions] does not speak to the nurture it takes to make a musician.”
“Yet competitions are important,” Slava says, and perhaps not winning the New York Concert Artist (NYCA) competition in 2015, the first competition he entered in the US, was an important lesson: “I am learning what to do, and what not to do. That is part of the experience,” he says. “I made the mistake of playing my own Romeo and Juliet transcription,” he mentions, “but in an eight-minute excerpt, within a round of only fifteen minutes, I did not come across properly….but perhaps it had just not been the right moment in time for me… and I decided to try once more, the following year,” he says.
Of course, as we know, some of the musicians who did not win competitions are some of the most extraordinary ones, as time has proven. Some careers have been forged on failed competition results, yet for most of the young artists, who are not yet renowned to a wider audience, they are still a means to achieve performance opportunities and international recognition. They still represent a significant mechanism by which young artists are introduced to new audiences and brought managerial attention.
On a personal note, Slava presents himself as an artist, who, beneath his modesty shows a nonchalant and humorous side, especially when talking about his own beginnings as a nurtured talent, not self-aware of any special skills. About his first meeting with the dean of the famed Moskow Central Music School, he laughingly remarks: “He suggested I should pick up percussion instead of piano, which I loved, and truth be told, my level of piano was not that strong since I did not play any serious repertoire, so to make me a drummer sounded quite reasonable.” After Slava was paired with Manana Kandelaki, a new graduate of the school, as a piano teacher, Slava’s mother, convinced of her son’s talent, took on a janitorial position at the school to allow for her son’s attendance. They came a great distance from Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk to Moscow with 9-year-old Slava, in order for him to attend the specialized school. Slava credits Manana’s attention and unique perspective on questioning musical interpretation, the most important tool to craft a successful performance, with his success in the field; only knowing why one chooses a certain way gives rise to true independence as a musician.
Determined to broaden his horizons, Slava, who won the first Russian Presidential Award and numerous international competitions, returned in the 2015/16 season to play auditions for several American universities. He gave several performances for the New York-based Impromptu! Classical Music Recital Series produced by the Drozdoff Society, devoted to the dissemination of music by its namesake composer, whose work Slava admires. He also gave NYCA another try. This time he offered shorter pieces, among them one of his favorites, Rachmaninoff’s Etude Tableau No.5, Op. 59.
“I feel very confident with this piece,” he says, and it appears – among other virtuoso Rachmaninoff works, including the exciting Sonata No2, op. 36, beautifully rendered on a CD, live recorded at an educational and charitable concert in Ivanovka, Rachmaninoff’s estate museum in 2007. Throughout the recording, the artist proves his virtuosic chops while exercising extraordinary control over the melodic storyline of these most challenging pieces, which are all about achieving a perfect pianistic balance between the strong emotional tension and intellectual coherent interpretation of the text.
NYCA’s first prize offering made his Carnegie Hall Weill Recital Hall concert in 2016 (photo) happen and also brought about a performance at the Berlin Philharmonic, as well as a recital in Paris with Sirena Huang, another recent winner of NYCA. Klara Min, founder of NYCA, is thrilled that Slava won the competition; she describes him showing: “a true artist’s spirit combined with warm humanity, in all his multi-faceted musical activities, not only in his performances.”
Other recitals in New York City followed inevitably. This October, Slava performed in the Eurasia Festival, founded by Aza Sydykov and his wife Nikoleta – both also alumni of the Moscow Conservatory.
Here I was finally able to hear Slava perform live for the first time in the concert hall of Opera America; his performance left a lasting impression on me, confirming whispers about his reputation I had heard beforehand. His performance of Liszt’s Études d’éxecution transcendante, S.139 was masterful, convincing and stimulating, and the second half of the recital’s introduction to his own arrangements of works by Borodin, Tchaikovsky, Rachmaninoff and Glinka was a prolific proof of his individual talent and prowess. This spring, as part of the NYCA award, a Steinway recording will be released under the title: “The Century of Russian Music,” showcasing a whole set of Slava’s transcriptions of works by Glinka and Prokofiev.
Russian music, especially the glorious romantic compositions has swamped the US since the Cold War, and we have been inundated with performances of this virtuosic palette of repertoire, featured in recitals by almost every graduate of Juilliard, and any other American conservatory.
While the generation of pianists before Slava’s – let’s say Kissin’s age, especially in Russia – mainly concentrated on the study of the German classical canon of composers, the sweeping virtuosity and the emotion-stirring beauty of the Russian Romantics has reached an all-time high in popularity with the younger generation of performers who immigrated to the West. What better way, especially for young Russians, to identify with their cultural heritage – music full of temperament and emotion, filled with testimonials to their enormous technical dexterity at the instrument?
Yet, the art of refinement in performance, especially in music that innately “colors with a big brush,” requires an even deeper, complete intellectual capacity to find the music’s convincing plot without falling under the spell of its storm. It seems to me that the younger generation has grappled with this concept, and as a result, exhibits a style that is both freely expressive and not an exposition of virtuosic skill for the sake of virtuosity. Slava’s approach is a remarkable illustration of this trend.
Minute variations, which arrive from intimate anticipation, humorous details and fiendishly hidden elements exposed only through an utmost fine-tuned understanding of the composer’s score are also characteristics present in his own arrangements, several of which are already published by Schott, one of the oldest established German music publishers. Arranging and composing are very important components of Slava’s art. The time necessary to devote to these aspects would not allow for an all-encompassing concert performance career, he thinks. Ideally, he would like to devote an equal amount of time to performing, arranging and composing, for which he has not enough time at the moment.
His first original work was his Rhapsody in Black, written for Nikolai Petrov for piano duo. Based on the some of the famed works by Gershwin, (not his Rhapsody in Blue), especially Porgy and Bess, Slava describes the three-month composing process as one the most exciting periods of his life. “I had this idea for the style, with different medleys for piano and violin, and orchestral suites. But my goal was to create something of my own, a complex composition with its own story line.” He had brooded with an idea for two years without finding the right starting point, but when the actual deadline arrived, it catapulted the creative process. “My storyline was about starting where Gershwin had left of, with Porgy travelling to New York, and motives of the legendary ‘Summertime’ representing Bess.” While there were no plans of coming to the US in 2011, when the idea for his rhapsody evolved, in hindsight, perhaps the spark of inspiration represented a preview of things to come for the artist. Earlier on he performed Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue in Moscow, at the conservatory’s Tschaikovsky Hall. He was enthused with his own music, and did not stop exploring different performances and scores. When Petrov called, things got intense: “Petrov called me almost every day, it was a big rush. I sent some material to him and he right away began learning it. Some fragments got changed a few times; they threw the old parts away and learned a new. When the piece was finished, Petrov laughingly remarked: ‘You deserve a state premium now, as did Rachmaninoff!’”
“I am proud of my piece, as a composer but also as a performer. My next plan is to give it its American premiere here, performing it myself,” he adds. “It’s not a-tonal music, it’s easy to listen to and that’s what music is to me: I need to have an underlying story line, a process in time, call it story or an emotional line that connects the episodes. My goal and obligation is to create it, an adventure where my audience can follow. Creating that story makes the music play, technical problems disappear when you concentrate on the center of our craft, propelling music.”
Interview with Mr. Vyacheslav GRYAZNOV, 6st Prizewinner of the Piano Section at the 3rd SIMC
Interviewed and written by: MASAKI Hiromi (Music Journalist)
At the 3rd Sendai International Music Competition, Mr. Vyacheslav GRYAZNOV won the sixth prize in the Piano Section. During his stay in Japan to give piano lessons at KURASHIKI SAKUYO University, in July 2014 he visited Sendai, where he gave a concert and held an open class for local students learning music as well as participated in a study workshop for volunteer staff of the Sendai International Music Competition. Among the pieces he played in the workshop were Rachmaninov’s Morceaux de fantaisie Op. 3 and Italian Polka arranged by himself. Currently he is teaching at Moscow P.I. Tchaikovsky Conservatory and the other school, while giving various performances. He has a diverse approach to music, both as a player and as a teacher. We asked him about his current activities and competitions.
—People in Japan might remember you from the NHK BS program “Hi-Vision Classic Club” in 2004 where you played the piano, which was repeatedly broadcast. About seven years have passed since you participated in the Sendai International Music Competition. Please tell us about your current musical activities.
I am a soloist of Moscow Philharmonic Society and play recitals and performances with orchestras all over Russia and in other countries. I am also teaching at the Moscow P.I. Tchaikovsky Conservatory in Russia and KURASHIKI SAKUYO University in Japan. There are also quite unique and original projects, for example, I recently took part in a piano quartet concert with four pianos at Tchaikovsky Concert Hall, which was organized by a well-known Russian pianist Alexander GHINDIN. The music was arranged by my friends Alexey KURBATOV, Nikita MNDOYANTS (he is one of the finalists in the previous Van Cliburn International Piano Competition) and me. For this event I prepared and arranged the Suite from the opera The Legend of the Invisible City of Kitezh and the Maiden Fevroniya by Rimsky-Korsakov. I am giving much weight to the arrangement. My piano transcriptions are now being published by German publisher Schott-music. Two new CDs with my transcriptions including Tchaikovsky’s Romeo & Juliet and Debussy’s Pr?lude ? l’apr?s-midi d’un faune are scheduled to be released in Russia.
— What do you think of competitions in general both as a player and as an instructor?
Ideally speaking, competitions should be a place where contestants can demonstrate their ability and quality of their performance to become professional. Successfully attracting the attention of a manager and producer at a competition can pave the way to becoming a high-demanded musician. In fact, there are some young pianists who participate in competitions to earn prize money, but perhaps it is because they have fewer opportunities to give concerts as a soloist. Continuing to play in a competition and playing in a concert as a soloist are two different things.
—In what way?
In a competition, contestants are required to show jury members that they can advance to the next stage by playing in a standard way in a short, limited time, so their individuality and originality might not be appreciated. By contrast, the audience at a concert may want to appreciate a player’s attractive aspects, unique viewpoint and interpretation of music.
—Why did you participate in the Competition in Sendai?
Because I liked piano concertos as assigned repertoires. In the Competition, Contestants are required to play various concertos including those by composers of the classic and romantic schools. In particular, I wanted to take the opportunity to play concertos with a full orchestra or a quartet. At that time I had not so many opportunities to play with an orchestra as I wanted. Even students of Moscow P.I. Tchaikovsky Conservatory rarely play with an orchestra, except when their instructors invite them to play. Before the Competition I tried to create an opportunity to play Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 4 with an orchestra in preparation for playing it in the Final Round. I also asked my friends to organize a quartet to practice playing Mozart’s Piano Concerto K449 with me, which I played in the Elimination Round. Competitions require such preparatory work. Thanks to winning the 6th prize in the Competition, I was invited by Sendai City to play Rachmaninov’s Piano Concerto No. 3 with the Sendai Philharmonic Orchestra.
— You mean that you can benefit from the result of a competition and also the process of preparing for it?
Yes, that’s right. Participating in a competition brings many benefits to contestants. Any competition will bring benefits, but especially those that involve many selection procedures increase the contestants’ power of concentration, which, of course, should be improved by preparing before the competition, not during the competition. Another benefit is changing how you perceive music through communication with the conductor.
— I heard that you have kept in touch with volunteers you met during the Sendai International Music Competition.
In Sendai I interacted with other contestants, and I still keep in touch with my host family. The Competition enables contestants who fail to advance to the next round to stay with a local family if they wish, while those who make it to the final stay at a hotel until the end of the Competition. Nevertheless, the host family members came to the venue and encouraged the contestants every time the result of each round was announced. The volunteers’ support was amazing.
Mr. GRYAZNOV continues to stay in touch with the many people he met in the Competition, and often visits Sendai. After the interview, he said, “I would really like to play in Sendai again.” With such commitment, he will no doubt bring Russian pianism to Japan by giving performances and teaching.
Sakhalin’s big dream
Elena Stepanskaya, Sakhalin-info If you ask a resident of Sakhalin which famous countryman he knows, he will confidently say, “Igor Nikolaev!” But who else? He will shrug his shoulders and say: “But there is no one else!” Believe it or not, now there is. And he is called Vyacheslav Gryaznov. Just imagine a boy who lived in Lugovoye, went to the Cheburashka kindergarten, studied at Music School No.1, and who is now on tour in Japan, Italy, Denmark, Great Britain, Croatia, Sweden, Norway, Holland, Kuwait, Africa, the Baltic countries, and many Russian cities, performing both solo recitals and with symphony orchestras. Japanese television regularly broadcasts performances by Gryaznov recorded ??in the NHK television studio. And what do we know about this? You have to agree, the process of how an ordinary, fun-loving boy turns into a musician is interesting. What does it require?
Is it in the genes? The persistence and perseverance of the parents in their desire to get the child to sit at the piano? Sakhalin’s mysterious biofield? The teacher who spots the boy’s talent and has the wherewithal to hand him over to be nurtured by other teachers in Moscow? How can being brought up to be a performer be reconciled with the child’s natural desire to run and jump around? A performer who is a master of his instrument and who finds such a range of emotion in the music of Rachmaninov, Chopin, and Liszt that well-known pieces sound as if they have never been performed before and are, in fact, only just being composed. Question to Vyacheslav. – What are your most vivid memories of your childhood in Sakhalin? -The day my parents bought a piano (I was five). An amazing historical role-play and show at a summer camp (the Storming of the Bastille, the execution of Louis XVI) by a history teacher. The village, the tractor I drove (even with passengers). My parents were trying to be farmers and sold potatoes at a cheap price, giving them to pensioners for free. Edvard Grieg’s Piano Concerto performed by my teacher Irina Korzinina. I was greatly impressed! When I was seven, I wrote a patriotic song – it was successfully performed by the choir at the children’s music school, with the composer at the piano. It was even filmed by a TV channel. – They say that the preschool years set the stage for creativity. Do you remember this period? – I went to nursery school when I was one year and eight months old. I had a wonderful teacher, with whom my mother had a close relationship. And I was close to her, too! After lessons on rhythmic patterns, I played “music” on the table at lunchtime, for which I was often punished. I also remember Valentina Lobanova, my secondary-school teacher. – There is a widespread view that Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart would not have cemented his place in history as a musical genius if it hadn’t been for his father Leopold Mozart, who forced his little Wolfgang to practice round the clock to improve his mastery of the harpsichord and to study the fundamentals of composition. What do your parents, your mother, mean to you? – She was certainly not like Leopold Mozart. Mostly she just supported me, in the sense that she sacrificed a lot for her ideals to achieve a dream. It was largely her idea to go to Moscow (inspired by the performances of the young pianist Evgeny Kissin, who had gained worldwide fame) so that I could study music more seriously. And, well, my mother is my mother. When we were left alone (my father was killed a year after my admission to the Central Music School of the Moscow Conservatory), my mother, having no Moscow registration, worked at the Central Music School as a janitor and cleaning lady (she was a German teacher) for a ridiculously small amount of money. But as a result we could sleep in the back of the school premises, on the mats in the gym. Renting a room was difficult at first, and we had no relatives in Moscow. – In October, you returned to Sakhalin for the first time since you left. What had changed? – Sakhalin had seen improvements, it was better looked after, it had developed and in general was a more attractive place. It was really nice to go back after almost twenty years. I wanted to return. Why? Because I had begun to care about my hometown and the state of affairs there as regards culture and music in particular, and Music School No.1, which I attended as a child (now the Central Music School). I felt I was being drawn back to my roots, with the burning desire to do something for my fellow countrymen. – And as a musician and resident of Sakhalin, what can you do? – The most important thing that I can do is promote quality music on Sakhalin, to foster high-level performance. In the future, I may set up professional development courses for teachers. – Let’s dream a little and imagine that the Sakhalin region is an icon of culture… – It’s difficult to talk about icons and ideals. For a start, it would be not only nice but necessary to build a proper concert hall with a decent piano and acoustics suitable for staging symphonic programs and instrumental recitals. We need to purchase a decent piano for the Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk Central Music School. As of now there are almost no venues in Sakhalin where proper classical music concerts can be put on. Of course, such projects (training courses, concert halls) require initiative and the help of the municipal administration and the region. I don’t think we would have to wait long to see appreciative Sakhalin residents.
They say that musicians are divided into those who can astound the concert hall and those who can astound the soul. In January 2010, when Vyacheslav Gryaznov comes home to perform two concerts in Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk and Kholmsk, we will find out if this saying is right.