9.Alexei Volodin Plays Sleeping Beauty
This program brings together three uniquely evocative Russian piano pieces. Nikolai Medtner’s Skazki (folk tales) have been described by Robert Rimm as “an entirely new genre that fuses literary and folk sources with equal parts dark fantasy and theatre.” From 1905 to 1929, Medtner wrote three dozen of these narrative miniatures, among them the sweeping, irrepressible op. 20, no. 1.
Balakirev, active several decades earlier, was a major force for Russian national music and resisted passive imitation of the European masterpieces. To this end, he collected, notated, and harmonized many traditional Russian songs. In the years leading up to the composition of Islamey, Balakirev made numerous trips to the Caucasus in search of new material and became fascinated by the melodies and rhythms of this region at the border between Europe and Asia. Thus, in 1869, he wrote Islamey – Oriental Fantasy, destined to become a classic of the virtuoso repertoire.
Unlike Balakirev, Tchaikovsky never cultivated musical nationalism, although his music remains profoundly Russian. His style is nostalgic, sentimental at times, and his melodies continue to stand the test of time. In 1888, director of Imperial Theatres Ivan Vsevolozhsky wrote to him, “I am planning to write a libretto on La Belle au bois dormant after Perrault’s fairy tale… If this idea appeals to you, then why not undertake to write the music? In the last act there would have to be quadrilles for all Perrault’s fairy-tale characters.” Tchaikovsky agreed, and his second ballet The Sleeping Beauty premiered in 1890. Sure enough, in the final act, familiar figures such as Puss in Boots and Red Riding Hood are guests at the wedding of Aurore (Sleeping Beauty) and Prince Désiré. Noted Russian pianist, conductor, and Tchaikovsky lover Mikhail Pletnev (b. 1957) has transcribed eleven excepts from the ballet for piano. The resulting suite begins with the prologue (in which the evil fairy Carabosse curses the newborn princess), dwells on the wedding festivities, and of course, ends happily ever after.
© Ariadne Lih, 2018
Acclaimed for his highly sensitive touch and technical brilliance, Alexei Volodin is in constant demand by several world-class orchestras. For the 2018–2019 season, Volodin is scheduled to perform once again with the OSM, NCPA Orchestra in Beijing, and BBC and Bournemouth symphony orchestras, and will be giving debut performances with the Gulbenkian Orchestra, Japan Century Symphony Orchestra, St. Petersburg Philharmonic, and the New Japan Philharmonic Orchestra. An active chamber musician, he enjoys a long-standing collaboration with the Borodin Quartet, with which he performs regularly. Volodin’s latest recording of Prokofiev’s Piano Concerto No. 4, conducted by Valery Gergiev, was released on the Mariinsky label. Born in 1977 in Leningrad, Alexei Volodin studied at Moscow’s Gnessin Academy and later with Eliso Virsaladze at the Moscow Conservatory. In 2001, he continued his studies at the International Piano Academy Lake Como and went on to garner international recognition following his first place standing at the International Géza Anda Competition in Zürich in 2003. Alexei Volodin is a Distinguished Steinway Artist.
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