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A. G.: "Special ability to hear. Special ability to see”

Three concerts of pianist A. G. at Concertgebouw concert hall in Amsterdam became a big event

Virtuoso pianist A. G. tells about how quickly his childhood had ended. How he learned from Horowitz and conquered the world stage. And that a special vision and a special hearing are distinctive features of a real artist.

Kharkov – Sydney – Moscow. That’s exactly how A. G.’s long way to the capital of Russia looks like. The pianist is only 24 years old and his concert activity has just started to gain momentum.

This year’s concert schedule is very tight – the pianist has been invited to Australia, Canada, Italy, Mexico, Israel, Portugal, Russia, and the USA.

The recording of all Prokofiev’s piano concertos performed by A. G. with Vladimir Ashkenazy, the principal conductor of the Sydney Symphony, has been planned for November.

This speaks volumes, including his ability to distribute his efforts. Yes, three concerts in a row at Concertgebouw, at one of which I heard A. G. play, bore the impress of a real event.

I do not remember the spectators of this super prestigious concert hall standing up to greet any other musician after the final cord, not letting him leave the stage and demanding to play again and again.

Eight years ago, after the victory at the Hamamatsu International Piano Competition the Japanese press had unanimously named him "the most promising young pianist of the end of the 20th century”.

The gold medal and the first prize at the 3rd Horowitz International Competition for Young Pianists in 1999. And the biggest victory at the 2005 Arthur Rubinstein International Competition in Israel.

The members of the jury were astounded by Gavrylyuk’s phenomenal technique and bright artistry. Two years ago at the international piano festival in Miami VAI company made a recording of his solo concert and the disc went to the top chart positions.

It was a dashing turn of events; one would not believe it was true. As if another version of a completely hopeless situation becoming a reason for the powerful burst to the top. The sceptics would know for sure: such things only happen in the movies. "Life was full of the ‘iron fist’ circumstances. But the harder the trial, the more significant is the result", says A. G.. He, too, knows for sure. As a boy, he ended up in the far away country, Australia. Absolutely alone.

– Alexander, why Australia?
— By mere chance. Not the best place for a musician. A beautiful and unusual country but I felt myself at the edge of the earth and away from the musical world.

But I could not pick and choose – the general situation in Kharkov where I lived and studied was getting worse and more complicated. I left with Professor Victor Makarov – it is a long story to tell why and how, it was ages ago.
The main thing is that I found myself away from my parents and had to fight for myself on my own. And this is not easy. It is a constant battle with circumstances. Alone since 13 years of age, and after I turned 18 even the lessons are without a teacher. I listen to Horowitz recordings; I can listen to him endlessly. I ponder over and compare performances of various musicians.

– Is it possible to say that you are a self-taught person?
— My idols were my teachers. I learned to play Chopin from Arthur Rubinstein – his performance of Chopin works is a fountain of poetry! And only three lessons – but what lessons! – were given to me by Nikolai Petrov, a musician and a master whom I admire.

Nikolai Arnoldovich does not speak much. But what is left unsaid is even more important than what has been uttered. He teaches to think.

Petrov remembered me and invited me to Moscow – I felt like a dream was coming true. I am not trying to sound pompous or embellish the truth. Do not forget that in Sydney, with all the attractiveness of its climate, it is very hard to believe in your high purpose.

The heat provokes laziness and a measured way of life. It was as if I was left face to face with my dream but believed that I would succeed in attracting the attention of the world of music. To some extent, Nikolai Petrov was a personification of this world for me.

I debuted in Moscow in 2007 – I had a solo concert at the Grand Hall of Moscow Conservatoire and a concert in the Kremlin afterwards. Petrov is now helping me with organisation of concerts in Russia.

Nikolai Arnoldovich is a model of sincereness and truthfulness for me. I am proud he is helping me. And the main thing is that we communicate in the process of our cooperation.

Even if he did not help me at all and just talk to me once in a while – that alone would be the greatest happiness. Nikolai Petrov supports those who he thinks need help and not those who are more attractive as objects of help.

He has his own criteria. He is one of the few musicians who did not leave Russia and is fulfilling himself in his home country no matter what the situation is. Now I live mainly in Moscow, too. It is much harder to travel between European cities when you live in Sydney.

– Do you find the concert life exhausting?
— It is much less exhausting when I perform systematically. It becomes a norm. I sleep on a plane. I try not to even concentrate on the thought that it is difficult.

It has become a habit to have my sleep out during the day-time before the concert. After performances I often stay up late studying the new programs and I also need to keep the old ones "in my fingers”.

Yes, it is not easy: I have neither day-offs nor holidays. I live a joint life with a piano. The spectators anticipate a celebration and I do not just play – I give the audience the sensation of joy and enjoyment of harmony which fills me.

The language of music is clean and perfect, for me it is higher than anything else, even than the language of poetry. My mission is to deliver music in the way I hear it myself.

- Your playing is masterly but this is not just the ability to play quickly. The passages are played out scrupulously and every note has been listened to. A very complicated Liszt piano concerto sounds like a revelation making you forget about technical difficulties. Your music creates a festive mood; a wave of happiness engulfs the audience which is why they jump up in excitement and scream "Bravo!”
– This is not very good that they jump up. It has a relaxing action. It even makes me feel awkward. I understand how insignificant my efforts are comparing to master performances.

Liszt is much deeper, more versatile and philosophical than it is currently assumed. This is kind of music which goes straight to the heart, the main theme is the battle between the dark and the light in its extreme form – it is either dark with dark or light with light. Not the shades of different states but a permanent choice – you can’t have it both ways. You cannot stay in the middle.

Virtuosity for Liszt is just his way of writing, the way he chose. This is a special piano aesthetics, not a pile-up of notes. Those who think that Liszt is just technical difficulties should not play his music. Everything is simple.

Melody and melody once again, a singing piano – this is an invariable principle. Virtuosity is animated for me, I am trying to think about it from the musical point of view. Technique is not is not an end in itself, it is just a means.

I chose the music for encores for its humour and sharpness; this is a sparkling joke of a genius. I am delighted with Horowitz and happy when the audience feels it.

– Vladimir Horowitz is unique, it’s indisputable. But everything is individual. What is the value of his method for you?
– First of all it is his inimitable touch and a sense of time. Technical perfection, and the secret is that the distance between the notes does not disappear anywhere, he plays passages as a melody having time to hear the intonation links in the most cheerful rises.

Imagine a person who sees how champagne is frothing. And then there’s another person who is able to see every little detail as if in slow motion.

This is a special sense of vision which is a distinctive feature of an artist. This is a special sense of hearing which distinguishes a great musician. While I was listening to Horowitz I discovered a formula "Distance between the notes”. It is simple and brilliant, and it is a boundless field of work.

The flash of inspiration became an impetus and incitement for development. If I can hear that distance, the music is alive. If not – any piece of music becomes lifeless. This is an endless theme.

– But I am sure that your potential as a virtuoso is a nature’s gift. Do you concur?
– It is hard to say for sure. I often repeat that there was a lot of "iron fist” in my life. Let me interpret this.

My parents trained me to working since I was a child. No, they did not beat me with an iron fist, but they found the way to convince me of the necessity to work hard. They are musicians and I am very grateful to them now though I took much offence as a child.

And later I had to gather my will together. It was in Sydney, simply to survive and not to break down. I worked hard though there was nobody to force me.

I cannot tell now where the gift of nature ends and the result of my efforts of many years begins. Virtuosity is cultivated. Filigree playing can not always be trained, that is true.

But if it comes to personal likings, yes, I have always been attracted by virtuosic playing. But I understood later that emotionality and spiritual foundation is more important for music.

There should be a balance and I do not want to sacrifice anything. For example, musicality for technical brilliance. And I don’t like when someone plays with passion but sloppily.

The balance is essential. I am in the state of constant comparison aligning myself with Horowitz in my inner hearing and I cannot help it. That is why I am rarely satisfied with my performance.

There is always something that can be done differently, better, and felt deeper.

– You had a car accident when you were 17 which left you with a severe head injury. Newspapers wrote that you would hardly be able to play again...
– The injury was serious, that is true. But I recall that moment simply as a point between two different periods in my life. I made great efforts to come back to normal. And when I recovered I became mature and grown-up. My childhood ended very abruptly.

– Did you have it at all? You have been on your own since 13, haven’t you?
– I do not think much about it but I don’t really remember my childhood. I remember stubbornness, even bitterness – I was moving on asserting myself. I worked hard. It’s a fact that I find it easier to talk to people who are 10 or 20 years older than me rather than my peers.

– All this can be called a strong will for victory. Such confident firmness of purpose is rarely found. But you must be relaxing from time to time – does it ever happen?
– Perhaps this will sound unexpectedly but my main achievement in life is that I am happy. Zorica was my student in Sydney. I helped her as an accompanist at the exam.

We both were 17 at the time and we have been together ever since. It is a great luck – to find a person who is now sharing all the hardships of an artist’s life with me. My wife helps me with organisation of concerts and conducts negotiations; therefore I do not have to do it. She is even studying at a special academy and will soon become a professional impresario.

- This is rare when a concert pianist who tours extensively marries young rather than complaining about the lack of time for even thinking about personal life.
– My colleagues are often surprised saying it is unusual. Zorica sacrificed a lot though I do not like the word ‘sacrificed’. To put it more exactly, she accepted my life – not as a millstone round her neck and heavy duty but as joy.

We are on the same wave. It is not easy to be a wife of a concert pianist. I am grateful to her for responsiveness and tenderness and we take care of each other as much as possible. We do not upset or hurt each other over trifles.

I do not know how to call it but I cannot find any other word but ‘happiness’. Zorica was born in Yugoslavia and had also ended up in Sydney by chance. Flights timetables are now as important for us as the concert schedules.

I am flying to Japan, followed by programs in Europe and America. Now that I have left Australia and live mostly in Moscow, I began to receive invitations from Sydney. This means exhausting flights, up to 30 hours in a row!

On the other hand, I have recently played with a fantastic musician Mikhail Pletnev who is a thoughtful and sensitive conductor. I played with Vladimir Spivakov and Vladimir Fedoseev – new spaces are opening up for me. I feel strong and inspired.

– What if concerts stopped suddenly, what would you do?
– It is hard to imagine now, I do not even think about it. It is all about expansion now with many offers coming in. I am preparing for performances and my wife is answering the calls from concert organisations. The process is under control. Maturity comes when I feel that I am ready to play a lot leaving all doubts and uncertainty behind. Everything is just beginning for me.

Interviewed by Svetlana Khramova
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