Now Playing: Denis Matsuev

A few weeks back, Jenny at The Teaching Studio kicked off an occasional series on Famous Pianists. I look forward to learning more about the great names of our profession through her future posts. She also inspired me to try my own version: Currently Performing Pianists Whose Concerts I Happened to Have Attended. Catchy, no?

Last Sunday evening I heard Russian virtuoso pianist, Denis Matsuev give a most glorious concert! Judging by the nearly 100% Russian make-up of the audience at Davies Symphony Hall, it seems as though much of the world is missing out. Really, it felt a little bit like being in an alternate dimension. Same city, same symphony hall—but an audience straight out of my childhood! On the first half of the program, Mr. Matsuev played the Schubert Piano Sonata No. 14 in a minor and the Beethoven Appassionata. Having thus warmed up his powerful hands and the piano (which got a tuning adjustment at intermission) he continued the second half with Lizst’s Mephisto Waltz and the Rachmaninoff Sonata No. 2 in B flat Major. Oh and then he played six encores.  As the program suggests, Matsuev’s technique is enough to frighten mere mortals and he can create a torrent of powerful sound. As a person who has been known to turn her nose up at “mere virtuosity,” I have to say that he really blew me away. Matsuev’s playing is emotional, intelligent and communicative. Even his most dramatic moments were musically convincing and did not come across as artifice or gesture for gesture’s sake. Then again, he was not above indulging in a bit of showing off on the encores. Played with an air of slightly comedic brinksmanship, this was encore number six!


Some facts on Matsuev (gleaned from his program bio and several charming interviews on Russian talk shows– YouTube never ceases to amaze):

  • born in 1975 in Irkutsk, Russia (Siberia- he takes great pride in being Siberian!)
  • a die-hard soccer fan (apparently his parents convinced him to move to Moscow at age 15 to pursue his musical studies by pointing out that he would be able to watch his favorite team play live!)
  • studied with Sergei Dorensky, whose students have won over 100 prizes at the major international competitions (including first prizes at the Chopin, Van Cliburn and Tchaikovsky competitions)
  • won the International Tchaikovsky Competition in 1998
  • chosen by Alexander Rachmaninoff (grandson of the composer) to record some previously never-performed works, on Rachmaninoff’s own piano
  • in additional to classical music, Matsuev loves jazz and apparently is quite the improviser!

If you get the chance, go hear him! (and start practicing your Russian now so that you can chat pleasantly with the person next to you at intermission…)

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