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.
The two-piano version of Rhapsody In Black on themes from George Gershwin’s opera Porgy and Bess was written for the famous piano duo of Nikolai Petrov and Alexander Ghindin. Sadly, Petrov had a stroke several weeks before the premiere at Tchaikovsky Hall in Moscow and died two months later… He had taken a very active part in the process of creating the Rhapsody, calling me almost every week, wondering how it was going, asking about performance details, urging me on and encouraging me. His death was a real shock for me. The only thing that I could do was to dedicate the Rhapsody to his memory. I made an orchestration the following summer of 2011 and the Rhapsody now exists in two versions: for piano and orchestra, and for two pianos.
My idea for the Rhapsody was to create a coherent piece with its own story. It is about a man with a disabled body but a fervent soul; about his dreams, beliefs, and journey to his goal. It is also about a beautiful woman with a beautiful soul, but torn by passions and limited by her weakness. It is about the end of her inner turmoil, the end of his dreams.
There are three movements in the Rhapsody:
I. Day in New York. Porgy
II. Bess. Night
III. Bess and Porgy
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.
—Your Chance newspaper (№25, 19.06.2013) Yulia Lesina
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.
—Elena Prokhorova Musical Life #1 2012