Pianist Kirill Gerstein performs with the LSO in four concerts at the Barbican in the 2023/24 season as our Spotlight Artist. Here he introduces the music he’ll be playing, and the meaning each piece has for him.
The repertoire for my forthcoming concerts with the LSO was chosen together with the Orchestra and the conductors: Sir Antonio Pappano, Susanna Mälkki and Sir Simon Rattle. It really came together from our joint interests.
Serge Rachmaninoff Piano Concerto No 3
Susanna Mälkki is an old friend from many years ago, and we keep playing together. This year is, of course, the 150th anniversary of Rachmaninoff’s birth. We as pianists, and as listeners, would be different, and I think poorer, without Rachmaninoff in our lives. So I’m glad that together with the LSO and Susanna, we can pay homage to this great composer-pianist.
It’s an iconic Concerto in the piano repertoire. Notoriously difficult and always moving and exciting, both to play and to listen to. It’s brilliantly composed to take us on this very virtuosic journey. It is just a joy to listen to this piece, from the lyrical and tragic moments, to the triumphant ending that is the overcoming of many challenges – psychological, emotional, musical and technical. There is this burst of enthusiasm at the end. One hundred plus years since its premiere with Gustav Mahler conducting, it’s a piece that still doesn’t fail to affect us.
Maurice Ravel Piano Concerto for the Left Hand
I’m happy that we had the chance to programme Ravel’s Piano Concerto for the Left Hand, also with Susanna Mälkki. It’s obviously a rather unique piece, where the pianist heroically sounds the music with just the left hand. It was written for Paul Wittgenstein, who had lost his right arm during the horrors of World War I, and it is a piece that was written in some ways as a response to war. Sadly, of course, music against war and wartime is again present in our lives and present in Europe. And so it seems very apt to play this composition for social and historical reasons, aside from its incredible inventiveness and touching beauty.
It’s a piece that can be taken in many ways. You can enjoy the jazz influences, you can hear the anti-war message and echoes of war, you can hear echoes of Ravel’s Boléro, you can be taken by the fact that this is just one hand! Or you can forget all of that, and just hear this absolutely brilliant composition.
George Gershwin Piano Concerto in F
Sir Simon and I spoke a long time ago about the Gershwin Piano Concerto. In fact, it was something that was planned with the LSO and Sir Simon for the Aix-en-Provence Festival a couple of years ago, and then the pandemic interfered. So this has long been on our minds and in our hearts.
It’s classical music, jazz, the sound of Broadway, the sound of America, all fused together in a very organic way. And it’s also speaking to my roots, because in addition to starting classical music as a child in the final days of the Soviet Union, I always had an interest in jazz. In fact, I went to study in America, to a school that teaches primarily jazz, Berklee College of Music. So I’ve always been interested to explore this border between jazz and classical, and have always felt that the border is much more porous than strong and impenetrable. I think this piece proves that. It will be a lot of fun at the end of my residency to present this very unique piano concerto.’
Thomas Adès Concerto for Piano and Orchestra
‘Thomas Adès’ Concerto is a piece that I’ve already performed with Sir Antonio Pappano in Rome, for the Italian premiere. I think Tony fell in love with the piece; I love the piece! It was written for me by Tom Adès. In the pandemic we celebrated Tom’s 50th birthday with the musicians of the LSO at LSO St Luke’s, playing his In Seven Days. So, in that sense, this concert has a number of personal connections.
This Concerto is in this great lineage of concertos by Prokofiev, Rachmaninoff, Ravel … Certainly it is one of the most important concertos of the last 50 or 60 years written for a piano – it has become an instant modern classic. Despite the pandemic happening soon after its premiere in 2019, it’s a piece that I’ve played now, I think, over 50 times. As with much of Tom’s music, it has his very original and recognisable language. And at the same time, I think the listener is not disoriented, because Tom pays homage to the many traditions of the piano concerto.
It’s a piece that I’m very fond of, and very much look forward to playing together with the musicians of the LSO and Sir Antonio Pappano, and for the audience here in London.
Spotlight Artist Concerts
Sir Simon Rattle – Listening to America
Exuberant. Memorable. Irresistible.
Sunday 3 March 2024 • 7pm
A new work by John Adams is flanked by Gershwin’s most seductive tunes, in a concert starring Spotlight Artist Kirill Gerstein.