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Piano Classics interviews Alexander Gavrylyuk

PC: Are you familiar with Chopin's early works, his polonaise in G minor for example, composed at age seven? Do you think it's possible for the seven year old Chopin to contain such developed emotions or was he more likely to have followed traditional musical structures that he was influenced by, picking up the "feeling" of the music along the way?

AG: It has been acknowledged that during his early childhood Chopin already demonstrated an intelligence which assisted him in achieving outstanding musical development so early. I think that there were numerous factors that contributed to the impressive early compositions we know of, like Polonaises in g minor and in B flat, both of which he remarkably composed at the age of seven. In my view most importantly there was God's gift- Chopin's natural talent and musical intuition that played the main role. Then of course there was his special ability to observe and even recreate some of his surroundings. Chopin also had, even from an early age, a wonderful sense of humour which we often hear in his compositions and which is so important in music in general.

PC: You have said in the past that Mozart has a directness and honesty in his music, but you said this directness was most difficult to achieve. Is this something you feel in your own compositions? (indeed, if you compose your own music!)When playing Mozart, does the clarity of his vision makes your own freedom of interpretation more limited, therefore finding less of a connection with yourself when playing? Which do you find more challenging - a) Being true to the vision of a composer, or b) Being true to your own interpretations?

AG: The planet called Mozart is a place difficult to reach for many, but if we get close enough we get the sense of an absolute truth and innocent unconditional love which penetrates the protective masks of the conscious mind through to the very essence of our inner worlds. For me as a performer the task is to stay on a very thin imaginable line. On one side of this line are the composer's ideas and intentions, on the other side is my own self and my own lens through which I allow the music to pass. The goal for me is not to swing too much towards any of the two sides and to try to make my lens as clarified as possible. One can recall the great artistic path of a Russian actor Constantin Stanislavski who during all his life searched for the very truth of expression on the stage and looked for the means to achieve an unpretentious and complete conversion of the actor into the character being played. The actor simply had to forget and leave any trace of him/her self behind the stage curtains and completely dissolve into the specific world created on the stage. Therefore the traditional meaning of 'acting' could not really apply there anymore. I believe similar approach can be applied to music making. Keeping the balance of an imaginable line as described above, but also dissolving one's self completely and unconditionally into the spiritual and intellectual spheres of a given piece of music and thus achieving that sense of artistic truth and nirvana.

PC: I read in one of your past interviews that you said Prokoviev might not have been brave enough to express everything directly. Do you think he realised this - i.e. do you think his boundary-breaking modernism was a way to cover up his real emotions or do you think he was being totally natural? What is it about Prokoviev's compositions that you like playing?

AG: To be more precise, to me it seems that the incredible thrust of emotions we hear and feel in Prokofiev's music at times is extremely powerful, shameless and raw and thus is often cushioned by a thick layer of virtuosity. For example in the cadenza of the 1st movement in 2nd Piano Concerto, when uncovering its the melodic and harmonic core, it might seem that the electricity created by it is simply too much to exist on it's own. So in order to support the "high electrical charge" of its essence there appear many notes in between and around the musical backbone and create the needed balance and support. In other cases we hear the Prokofiev's sharp and mordant depictions of his surroundings, of course there was no lack of inspiration for that during the time of Prokofiev's (and Stalin's) life in Soviet Union. Nevertheless often there is also a very sharp edged, sarcastic sense of humour in his music with a shadow of mockery of the authorities in the Soviet system. In my view the 5th Piano Concerto is a good example of that. There I hear reflections of a poor quality circus which represents the grotesque absurdity of many who played an enthusiastic role in that system.

PC: Which composer do you feel you play most naturally? Do you ever have trouble understanding the psychology behind a piece of music, and if so, is this a challenge that motivates you?

AG: I do not have a single composer with whose music I feel more natural. Every composer and every piece of music for me is a separate challenge, so to speak. Trying to send myself back into the time when the given piece of music was composed, trying to understand the environment in which the composer composed it, the possible influences from other forms of art, folk music and language and of course the immediate emotional content of the music. These processes are a good way to "clean" my lens through which I will eventually let the piece of music pass through to the audience. It is always a fascinating and captivating process.

PC: As an artist, do you feel directly influenced or affected by your surroundings? Where has been your favourite place to live and why?Do you consider that great inspiration comes in cycles, and that you must simply accept the peaks and troughs of such cycles without forcing too much out of yourself? Or is that impossible if, for example, you are touring and are expected to play at your highest level every time?

AG: At the moment my wife and I live in Berlin, Germany. I believe that my personal development as a human being and my musical development as a pianist go hand in hand. So of course my surroundings play a very important role and reflect directly on my artistic state of mind. Although I am 27 years of age, during my life I have experienced extremely different surroundings and have lived in different countries which in a way helps to widen my musical horizons. At certain stages of my life these surroundings were the source of suffering and devastation. At other stages- full of hope, faith and personal realisations. At the current stage of my life my surroundings are very peaceful, highly inspiring and colourful. Perhaps my inner state of mind is now in the best place it has ever been and I feel I am surrounded by peace, love and personal passion for music and it's magic. 
Unfortunately or fortunately there is no time to wait for the right time of inspiration. As Peter Tchaikovsky once said- "The inspiration comes during work after one starts working". Furthermore I feel I have a duty before the audience and every time I come out on the stage, I try and disregard myself and all my personal thoughts in order to give in to the music and to reaching the highest possible level of spiritual and intellectual content in every piece I perform. Many factors play important roles in creating good grounds for achieving such goals. Of course the piano and it's regulation are very important as well as the acoustic of the concert hall. One of my goals is to establish a good "understanding" between the piano and myself so that there is no struggle with it during the concert. In a way, the best circumstances is when the music making is possible without even noticing there is a piano involved.

PC: Do you prefer the challenge of playing in front of a large audience or do you prefer to play alone?When do you play piano the best?

AG: The biggest reward I get from performing is achieving the special connection between myself and the audience. This is a connection which eventually results in a complete unity between everyone in the audience, myself and the music. That is the ultimate goal behind all other work that has been put into it. I think it is a true miracle that when we think of the concert audience, it doesn't matter where a given person is from, which language or culture, upbringing or believes he or she has- music is able to connect anyone and everyone in a similar impulse and state of mind. Without a need for words or an argument it is able to unite everyone in the same emotion and penetrate through to our inner worlds where, it seems, we are all very similar.

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