IN: Reviews

Russian Pianist Supports Ukraine


Evgeny Kissin (file photo)

To support Ukraine in the midst of its defensive war with Russia, Yevgeny Kissin headlined a a sold-out benefit at Jordan Hall last Wednesday. The afternoon did not follow the usual concert format, rather, it presented the artist as a deeply committed humanist as well as a composer and pianist.

Essentially, it was a discussion about democracy and freedom, the role of the artist in society (apolitical) and finally, about the piano. The pianist recalled growing up Jewish in Russia, as a member ‘of its most hated minority.’ He then expressed outrage with Putin’s abhorrent tyranny and his maniacal, criminal war in the Ukraine. The discussion ended with Kissin’s praising the US as ‘a beacon of freedom in the world’.

When the talk finally turned to music, Kissin rejected the idea that there is a Russian School of Piano Playing. He emphasized that his musical insight is derived from the written page. ‘If I want to know how to play Mozart, I go to Mozart.’ (Meaning he consults respected editions)

In opening the musical portion, the Borromeo String Quartet gave the Boston debut of Kissin’s String Quartet , Op 3 in four distinct sections; Adagio liberamente, Allegro inquieto, Largo dramatico and Pensierosamento, mantanendo strettamente il ritmo puntato (Trans.: Thoughtfully, but in strict tempo). Stylistically it suggests a musician who grew up in Russia, hearing the modernisim of Shostakovich and Gubaidulina. Though dissonance and rhythmic drive are abundant, the work also reveals the composer’s wonderful lyricism, beautifully enriched by the elegant strings of the Borromeo.

Finally, the artist presented a brief all-Chopin program consisting of the Scherzo in B-flat minor, Op. 31, the Polonaise in A-flat Major, Op. 53 Heroic. The consummate master of keyboard lyricism, dynamic sound and extraordinary technique brought freshness, surprise and beauty to this music. Watching and listening to Kissin was a piano lesson for all the Conservatory students in the audience.

He achieved a big sound, an orchestral sonority, using the physical power of torso and arm weight. Softer dynamics were executed with delicacy and grace, as in the opening triplets of the Scherzo, by maintaining a relaxed, supple hand. And the gorgeous A-major melody, using a pure singing tone, sounded sublime.

The ‘Heroic’ A-flat Major Polonaise, which the pianist performs at all benefits for the brave Ukrainians, again blended power with ease. Like the Scherzo, this technically challenging work came across with tonal and technical perfection.

For an encore, ‘something quiet’, the intimate Op. Posth. waltz in A Minor ended the inspiring afternoon.

Parisian-born pianist Lucienne Davidson entered the Juilliard school when she was nine. Since making her debut at Weill Recital Hall, she has performed as soloist, chamber musician, and with orchestra.


2 Comments [leave a civil comment (others will be removed) and please disclose relevant affiliations]

  1. All these quite fascinating remarks by Kissin were in response to the probing and even brilliant questions of Bruce Brubaker as part of an onstage interview with Kissin that followed the string quartet performance. The questions and Kissin’s answers seemed to enhance and intensify the powerful emotion of the piano playing that followed.

    Comment by Sarah D. — May 17, 2022 at 11:01 am

  2. Polyakov was born in Kyiv, Ukraine, and studied piano performance and orchestral conducting at the Tchaikovsky National Music Academy of Ukraine. He earned his A.D. at Boston Conservatory at Berklee under the instruction of Michael Lewin .

    Comment by Chroniques du vaste Monde — May 19, 2022 at 9:04 am

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