The Macedonian pianist Simon Trpceski will make his debut with the Boston Symphony Orchestra in the Liszt Piano Concerto No. 2 in a concert conducted by Rafael Frühbeck de Burgos on April 28, 29, and 30. This interview was conducted by telephone from Boston to Macedonia on Wednesday morning, April 13. Besides his obvious enthusiasm for music, Trpceski’s gratitude for being part of the relatively new Republic comes out in his responses. (Asked for the right pronunciation of his name, he responded” SEE-mon Trrrrp’CHESky.”)
BAN: First, congratulations on the Diapason D’Or — for your Rachmaninoff?
ST: Yes. I was a little bit surprised; I didn’t expect it. But when I heard, while in New York for my Carnegie Hall debut with the Baltimore Orchestra, I flew back to Paris for two days to receive it, then went on with my tour schedule, to Chicago and Estonia.
BAN: And in 2009, when you were 31, you received the Presidential Order of Merit for Macedonia, one of the country’s highest honors.
BAN: What part of Macedonia do you come from? Vardar? Pirin? Aegean?
ST: That’s a difficult question. I was born in Skopje, Vardar Macedonia. But still I consider myself ethnically Macedonian. My grandparents came from the Greece part [Aegean], and the Asian part [Pirin].
BAN: So your name is …
ST: Completely unique Macedonian. Lots of people mix it with Polish. but it’s not. I have never met anyone in Poland with the same name.
BAN: The Seattle Times said you are “the best thing to come out of Macedonia since Alexander the Great.” He is probably the ONLY person the interviewer know who came out of Macedonia. But it is a great line… So — how many world-traveling musicians have come out of Macedonia?
ST: “We have a couple of singers. Tenor Blagoj Nacoski [who has sung throughout Europe and Asia but evidently not in the US], and two others who sing primarily in Austria and Germany. And we have pop singers very popular in the Yugoslavia area.
BAN: You have performed with major symphonies in the UK, Germany, Russia, Denmark, Holland, Japan, Seoul, Hong Kong, New Zealand… And in the US, you have performed with the New York and Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestras, the Philadelphia and Cleveland Orchestras, the Pittsburgh, Atlanta, San Francisco, Chicago, and Baltimore Symphony Orchestras, et cetera. So what took so long for you to perform with the BSO?
ST: [laughter]. This is not a question for me! But — I am so glad I got an invitation now. I will try my best, presenting myself before the very sophisticated Boston audience. I am glad it is the Liszt because one can show both virtuosity and lyricism.
BAN: On that note, The New York Times‘s Anthony Tommasini praises your dazzling musicianship, saying “He tore through the double-octave outbursts with arm-blurring speed and no sense of strain. Yet in tenderly lyrical moments he caressed the phrases, playing with naturalness, never milking anything.” You seem very lyrical, very romantic, a big proponent of Rachmaninoff, and I gather Prokofiev and Scriabin… others? Mostly the romantics?
ST: I would say I am a romantic person. But I have to say I was really taught to find myself in any piece I play, starting from Bach onwards, to try to feel the music, between my soul. There is really a lot of romantic stuff in Bach, and really before Bach. From my teachers I had well-built [instruction]. The Russian influence was natural, but on the other hand they were really open to build my repertory in different directions, my education. For the last several years, now working by myself, I really try to broaden my repertory. It’s very healthy.
BAN: You will be playing the Lizst Piano Concerto No. 2. How often do you perform the Liszt?
ST: Since this is the Liszt year, the invitation for the BSO was a reason to go back to him more seriously.
BAN: You’ve never done the First?
ST: No. I have always loved him as a composer especially because of his free spirit. I have always loved his concertos, planned to play them at some time… The BSO suggested the first, but I suggested the second, and they agreed…. I have been adding repertory apart from the Russian, — the Brahms horn trio, with Philip Myers and Glenn Dickterow of the NY Philharmonic, and the Hindemith Quartet with Julian Bliss, Dmitry Sitkovetsky, and Sol Gabetta,… I went back to Beethoven and Mozart lately. And Grieg, …
BAN: When I was 14, I thought he was the greatest composer..
ST: [laughter], Very understandable. Lots of people think his concerto is more or less easy, but it is not easy at all, to put together with an orchestra.
BAN: Your handlers suggested to ask you about Macedonian folk songs. There’s a great debate on YouTube on a Macedonian folk song: “it’s really stolen from Albania,” “it’s Turkish,” “For God sake stop claiming exclusivity on something if you use it. You also use doorknobs, it doesn’t mean it is Turkish….”
ST: [laughter] Two things about it: its unique melody and its rhythm from the language itself. I am happy to come from here, because the folk music is in our blood and helps me a lot in my profession. My grandmother, my father’s mother, knew a lot of songs, folk song and dance. The fact that I had a chance to sing a lot, the way I grew up, all the other difficult rhythms, definitely sophisticated rhythm, that helped my technique. The singing helped in developing a natural feeling, lyrical… I sometimes do an encore that uses Macedonian songs.
BAN: and it is?
ST: In Struga. The name means “town of poetry” — it’s in the southwest of Macedonia,
BAN: Is this the one I heard you do on YouTube, that you played for KDFC in San Francisco?
ST: Yes! It is part of a suite Bsni I Shepoti — “Songs and Whispers” — by Pande Shahov, in honor of Chopin. He has two quotes from Chopin, the other four are transcriptions of folk songs. It received its premier in London at the opening of the International piano season, at Queen Elizabeth Hall, in October of 2009. I have performed it several times in Canada, DC, LA, Seattle, Brazil, Europe, …
BAN: Do you have another piece you like to use as an encore?
ST: Yes! Dance from Skopje, Skopsko Oro, arranged by Damir Imeri.
BAN: Encores are, if not nonexistent at the BSO, exceedingly rare. Programs have to end at a set time. Union rules,…
ST: Ah well, yes. Music is a live thing, though. You cannot frame it, make limits. Sometimes it is hard to shut it off.