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Feel the love: Pianist Vassily Primakov joins the Maryland Symphony Orchestra in concert

February 13, 2013|By KATE COLEMAN | katec@herald-mail.com
  • Pianist Vassily Primakov joins the Maryland Symphony Orchestra in a concert of Mozart and the music of romance.
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Today is Valentine's Day. Love will be celebrated far and wide. And the Maryland Symphony Orchestra invites you to feel the love this weekend at The Maryland Theatre.

The MSO will pay homage to Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart during its 31st season's third masterworks concert, "For the Love of Mozart." The program includes Frank Martin's Ouverture en hommage à Mozart, Robert Schumann's "Carnaval," Op. 9 and Symphony No. 4 in D minor and Mozart's Concerto for Piano No. 27 in B-flat Major.

The concert sets up a conversation among composers speaking to and interpreting each other from one century to another, Music Director Elizabeth Schulze wrote in an email.

Mozart and Schumann are among the top five of her favorite composers — or "desert island companions," she wrote. Both will be highlighted in the form they innovated: Mozart and the piano concerto, Schumann and the symphony. She has coupled each major work with a work of musical commentary by 20th-century composers: Martin with Mozart and Maurice Ravel with his orchestral arrangement of some of Schumann's solo piano pieces.

Concert pianist Vassily Primakov will join the orchestra to perform the Mozart concerto.

It will be his second appearance with MSO. In October 2004 he was in town to play Sergei Rachmaninoff's Second Piano Concerto. He will perform that work in April again under the baton of Schulze with the Flagstaff (Ariz.) Symphony Orchestra. Schulze is that orchestra's artistic director and conductor.

Schulze said she is "so happy" to reunite with Primakov. She called him "an artist of extraordinary ability and depth" and wrote, "I'm excited for our audiences to experience the new insights in his playing that maturity brings."

Primakov, 33, also is excited. He called his first experience working with Schulze "just incredible."

"She's a great musician and just fantastic to work with. So this is thrilling. Not only am I working with her once, but twice this season," he said during a recent phone interview from New York.

He's lived there for 15 years, arriving in 1997, a 17-year-old who spoke no English. He came to study at The Juilliard School. He received a bachelor's degree in 2001 and completed a master's in 2004.

Primakov had begun piano studies with his mother when he was 8 years old. Because she was a musician, he was surrounded by music rehearsals and all sorts of concerts, he said. He knew pretty much right away that he wanted to be a professional musician. He wasn't forced into it. The decision was his.

"I really was kind of serious about it. As long as I remember myself, I never took it as a hobby. I right away plunged myself into very serious work," he said.

"I have nobody to blame but myself," he added with a chuckle. "No matter how hard it is sometimes — I don't regret it."

Primakov hasn't outgrown serious work. Although he didn't come up with an exact number, it's safe to say there are 30 concertos in his repertoire. "Maybe I should sit down and count," he said with a laugh.

He has recorded 12 of Mozart's 27 piano concertos. Three compact discs have been released, and the fourth volume will come out sometime this year. The recordings are a nice mix, Primakov said. The 27th, Mozart's final piano concerto and the one on this weekend's program, is included. The work was premiered in Vienna in January 1791 at Mozart's final public performance, according to program notes on the MSO website at www.mary landsymphony.org.

Musically, Primakov said, some of Mozart's last concertos are some of the best concertos. "From a musician's perspective — to me, this concerto feels a little more ethereal and in some ways calmer. Not necessarily — sad or depressing. It's a very moving piece," he explained.

Primakov said his touring schedule is chaotic. There are times when he's home and pretty much nothing is happening, then things get crazy, he said. The next two months are fairly quiet. He has concerts, but they are not back to back. Things start to heat up in April. Performances include an all-Chopin program at Carnegie Hall in New York, and, in June, he heads to South Africa for the third time. He immediately fell in love with the country because of its beauty and culture. He'll be playing 15 concerts in less than a month, and said it's pretty intense. "But I can't complain, because I get to see the entire country."

During this relative lull, Primakov is enjoying his time at home. For most of his 15 years in New York, he's lived in Manhattan. He recently moved to Brooklyn, to a "kind of trendy area called Williamsburg, which I am absolutely in love with." He really likes the change. "It's a little different, so whenever I can, I've been exploring — little shops and wonderful restaurants here."

Primakov described himself as a very hard-core soloist mainly playing solo recitals and with orchestras. But that is changing, too.

"I've kind of branched out," he said.

He's doing more chamber music, and three years ago he and a friend, Natalia Lavrova, started a piano duo, playing many concerts together — either on two pianos or on one piano four hands.

They discovered some repertoire by Anton Arensky, a teacher of Rachmaninoff, who was not known as a composer. They started playing his music, fell in love with it and decided to record it. They thought they'd pitch it to a record company, but after drinks and dinner they looked at each other and asked, "Why don't we do it ourselves?" So, Lavrova and Primakov opened up L.P. Classics Inc., a small record label.

They started out very carefully the first year, releasing five recordings — three of which were historical recordings. They are working closely with an archive in Moscow, preserving recordings that never have been heard. Those include materials of Vera Gornostaeva, Primakov's teacher at Moscow's Central Special Music School.

"She played a lot. She played amazingly," Primakov said. But because of the Soviet regime in Russia, she was blacklisted for more than 20 years and never was given permission to leave the country.

Primakov returned to Moscow a few months ago — his first visit in five or six years. The business trip included spending time with Gornostaeva, now 83. Although she no longer performs, she's still very active as a teacher. Primakov is working very closely with her on the recordings of her music. She hadn't known they existed. She sat and listened to the recordings Primakov brought. "She was in disbelief," he said.

That student-teacher connection represents a kind of musical respect and affection. The weekend concerts will present another.





If you go ...       

WHAT: Maryland Symphony Orchestra Masterworks 3 concert, "For the Love of Mozart"

WHEN: 8 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 16, and 3 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 17

WHERE: The Maryland Theatre, 21 S. Potomac St., downtown Hagerstown

COST: Adult tickets cost $15 to $49. Students in grades first through 12 are admitted free to all Masterworks concerts. Rush tickets, if available, for college students (no reservations accepted) may be picked up at The Maryland Theatre box office before each performance for $5. Seat selection is at the discretion of box office personnel.

CONTACT: Go to www.marylandsymphony.org, call 301-797-4000, or go to the MSO office at 30 W. Washington St., downtown Hagerstown.

MORE: Program notes and audio clips of the musical selections are available at www.marylandsymphony.org.

AND MORE: Music Director Elizabeth Schulze and guest artists will talk about the program and composers one hour before Saturday and Sunday's performances during "Prelude." The half-hour presentation is free for ticket holders.

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