After an invigorating summer, filled with concerts at the Verbier Music Festival , some preparations for his London apartment’s renovation, and of course some intense practicing in his flat in Paris and on his stopover in Los Angeles, Kissin expands his musical reach to Australia.
Rather distraught by constant schedule changes due to hurricane Irene and extracurricular distractions, he was getting antsy to return to the piano and prepare for this undertaking. Only once was he willing to converse light heartedly with me about his upcoming trip, and only after he had practiced a good, uninterrupted seven hours at the Los Angeles Disney Hall, located in immediate proximity to his hotel.
Kissin was looking forward to this trip, but not everything was advancing as planned. And nothing is left to chance with this artist. A lot of considerations, like the weather conditions – Kissin does not like extreme heat – practice possibilities, distance to travel without breaks, etc., enter the planning stages of a concert tour around two years before the actual tour begins. A lot of things can change between the planning and the outcome, and his former manager at IMG Artists, Edna Landau, who still keeps in touch with Kissin, always understood the importance of his particularities. She expressed her excitement about the news of his Australia tour to me:”I am quite fascinated to know that Zhenya is going to Australia. When I worked with him he refused to even contemplate such a tour… I wonder what the deciding factor was.”
Whatever the reasons for his initial hesitations, they seem all but forgotten. Most of all, this speaks of a more open and easy going disposition, a change within Kissin himself. It’s a sure sign of his developing some elasticity, an eagerness to stretch and expand the cocoon that has so tightly enveloped this performer, since his early prodigal years.
“I like expanding the geography of my tours in all possible directions – except for non-democratic states. That was the decisive reason for Australia; to play in a country where I have never played before,” said Kissin. When I asked, if he would sightsee while there he said that while nothing concrete has been planned at this time, “I hope that someone will show us around. I always love that, and there will be time for it.”
The tour is a combination of Kissin’s partaking in the Brisbane Festival at the Queensland Performing Arts Centre along with three performances at the Sydney Opera House Concert Hall, following an invitation of Sydney’s Symphony‘s Vladimir Ashkenazy. Ashkenazy just prolonged his post to 2013 as the orchestra’s Principal Conductor and Artistic Advisor. He has been there since 2009.
In a Limelight interview with the maestro in April, Ashkenazy explained: ” how his performance history with the orchestra goes back more than 40 years, to 1969, when he first toured Australia, performing Rachmaninov’s Piano Concerto No. 3 with the Sydney, Melbourne, Adelaide and Tasmanian Symphony Orchestras…Now, in 2011, as the Sydney Symphony approaches its 80thbirthday and Ashkenazy his 75th, there is a real feeling of an orchestra that has come of age.”
Ashkenazy and Kissin also go way back and have performed a lot of different repertoire together, such as Beethovens’ Third, Fourth and Fifth Piano Concertos, Brahm’s First and Second Concertos, Rachmaninov’s Second Concerto as well as Prokofiev’s Second and Third Piano Concerto. Kissin remembers clearly when he first got to know this six-time Grammy winner. “We met for the first time in Moscow in November of 1989 when Ashkenazy came to the Soviet Union for the first time after his emigration. A few weeks later, we both went to Japan and connected over dinner– Chinese. “
In 2010 their Prokofiev’s Second and Third Piano Concerto recording also received the coveted Grammy Award. Kissin admires his Russian landsman as the extremely fine musician he is:”Being a great pianist himself, he is a superb accompanist.” Kissin’s senior by twenty four years, Ashkenazy took on citizenship of Iceland in 1972 and is currently a resident of Switzerland.
Ashkenazy describes Kissin as a fantastically gifted musician with a distinctly personal voice at the keyboard:”He possesses an enormous natural gift that’s beyond description. There ‘s more to his astonishing mastery of the instrument than a powerful technique and generous tone- when Kissin plays, the piano is his voice, drawing you into the music.” And Peter Czornyi, Sydney Symphony Director of Artistic Planning adds:”For Kissin, music is language, and performance is about communicating meaning. He can conjure a world of imagination – reflective and insightful – even as he dazzles with his astonishing mastery of the instrument.”
On September 11, Kissin will perform at the Queensland Performing Arts Center in Brisbane, among a variety of premiered events, including a nightly laser show shining over Brisbane’s South Bank arts precinct. Kissin will perform his much admired Liszt program, including highly demanding works such as Ricordanza , from Transcendental Etudes and Liszt’s monumental Sonata in B minor, which made Chicago Tribune’s critic John Rhein swoon over Kissin’s “soaring magnificence and superb fusion of virtuosity and poetry” when Kissin was touring his all-Liszt program during the 2010/11 concert season.
The booking of Kissin is described by the Festival’s Artistic Director Noel Staunton, via Katherine Feeney at the Brisbane Times, as a “real coup” for the city. Other “firsts” include more contemporary fare, like the premiere of Elena Kats-Chernin’s Symphonia Eluvim (Symphony of the Floods) influenced by the great floods that weighed down on Brisbane eight months ago, Israeli composer Avner Dorman’s Variations without a Theme and Pulitzer Prize winning American composer John Adam’s Grand Pianola Music, which will all be performed by the Queensland Symphony Orchestra under the baton of American conductor Asher Fish.
“Kissin coming to Australia for the first time is a long-anticipated and very exciting event for the local pianist population,” says pianist Therese Milanovic from Brisbane. When at first only the Sydney performances were announced, she had considered making the long trip there to hear him play. One can imagine how thrilled she was to find out that he would be doing a Solo recital in Brisbane as part of the Brisbane Festival. “Every serious pianist, piano teacher , and lover of piano music will be there, and she also reports that Kissin has generously offered to informally meet with students of the Brisbane Conservatory.”
Audiences in Sydney will get their chance to witness Kissin’s All-Liszt Solo -program on September 15 at the Sydney Opera House’s Concert Hall, followed by Kissin’s performances of Grieg’s high spirited concerto in A-minor under Vladimir Ashkenazy with the Sydney Symphony Orchestra on September 22 and then on the 24th., the two maestros will continue their collaboration with the Sydney Symphony Orchestra, performing Chopin’s First Concerto.
This Chopin concerto became one of Kissin’s trademarks, when Kissin performed both Chopin piano concertos at age twelve, in the Great Hall of the Moscow Conservatory with the Moscow State Philharmonic under Dimitri Kitaenko. The live recording of this performance in 1984 by Melodia and the LP-release a year later is what helped launch Kissin’s reputation in the West as an astounding pianist.
Not only is Kissin expanding his performances geographically but he is also venturing into more contemporary repertoire which will include for example the Barber sonata, in future performances. With his embracing ever new adventures, in a field Kissin has only just attempted in a somewhat cautious manner — Kissin enters a new invigorating and vitalizing stage in his career.
The journey goes on. Following their Australia performance, Ashkenazy is taking the Sydney Symphony Orchestra on an eleven-day tour to Japan and Korea, joined by Kissin. They will also be joined by the Russian cellist Misha Maisky, who just performed with Kissin in Verbier and the young Japanese violinist Sayaka Shoji, performing the Beethoven Violin Concerto, and together will be celebrating his 40th birthday in Japan.