20 (PLUS) QUESTIONS WITH: Pianist Kirill Gerstein

Classic Arts Features   20 (PLUS) QUESTIONS WITH: Pianist Kirill Gerstein
Kirill Gerstein, recently named the sixth recipient of the Gilmore Artist Award, took time to lend his thoughts to our question and answer series. The young dynamo will made his Boston Symphony debut on July 30 at the Tanglewood Festival.


One of today's most intriguing young musicians, Kirill Gerstein was named the sixth recipient of the Gilmore Artist Award in January 2010. This prestigious award _ described by the New York Times as "music's answer to the MacArthur Foundation 'genius' grants' _ is given every four years to a pianist of exceptional ability and profound musicianship who is deemed capable of sustaining a prominent international career. As the Boston Globe affirms, the Russian-born pianist is "on the fast track to a major career, and he deserves to be."

Born in 1979 in Voronezh, Russia, Gerstein attended one of the country's special music schools for gifted children and taught himself to play jazz by listening to his parents' extensive record collection. He came to the U.S. at 14 to continue his jazz piano studies as the youngest student ever to attend Boston's Berklee College of Music, before turning his focus to classical music, first at the Manhattan School of Music with Solomon Mikowsky, and then with Dmitri Bashkirov in Madrid and Ferenc Rados in Budapest. Besides the 2010 Gilmore Artist Award, Gerstein was awarded First Prize at the 2001 Arthur Rubinstein Piano Competition in Tel Aviv, received a 2002 Gilmore Young Artist Award, and was chosen as Carnegie Hall's "Rising Star" for the 2005-06 season. Most recently, he was a recipient of the Avery Fisher Career Grant. He became an American citizen in 2003 and is currently a professor of piano at the Musikhochschule in Stuttgart.

Following a season that included his debuts with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, Atlanta Symphony and Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra, Gerstein will make his debut with the Boston Symphony on July 30 at the Tanglewood Festival.

1. A few works of classical music that you adore:

Rachmaninoff Vespers; Schubert Octet; Bach Orchestral Suites (well most Bach actually)

2. Classical music recordings that you treasure:

Busoni's acoustic recordings; Beethoven's Kreutzer sonata with Bart‹k and Szigeti; Rachmaninoff's piano recordings _ 10 CDs on RCA _ the best $99 I spent on recordings.

3. Favorite non-classical musicians and/or recordings:

Brad Mehldau Places; Sting's Dowland recording is fantastic; Keith Jarrett; Chick Corea; Oscar Peterson; Ella Fitzgerald; Prince; Miles Davis

4. Music that makes you cry _ any genre:

Music triggers many deep emotions in me _ crying as a response to these emotions usually is not the outlet my body chooses.

5. Definitely underrated work(s) or composer (s):

Busoni, Haydn and Schubert. Yes, Haydn and Schubert I think are even MORE astounding than often thought. Liszt is not taken as seriously as he ought to be. And many more... I'd need to have more space to defend my favorites. But then comes my question: "underrated by WHOM??"

6. Possibly overrated work(s) or composer (s):

I think each piece has a certain number of hearings in it (ok, for some pieces if it lies in single-digit numbers). So, I'd equate overrated with overplayed.

7. Live music performance (s) you attended _ any genre _ that you'll never forget:

Radu Lupu playing Brahms 1 at opening of Carnegie's season with CSO and Barenboim five or six years ago; Grigory Sokolov's recital with Baroque keyboard music; Steven Isserlis' Schubert Arpeggione in Verbier; Andras Schiff's Bach Chromatic Fantasy and Fugue in Salzburg. Also, live bands playing Gypsy music in Budapest and a glass harmonica virtuoso on a street in Vienna.

8. A few relatively recent films you love:

I watch most of my movies on the airplane. A bit like fast food for the mind, paired to airplane food for the body. Inglorious Bastards is bold and provocative; I had fun watching the new Sherlock Holmes movie. And I can't wait to see Pianomania _ a new German documentary film about a piano tuner.

9. A few films you consider classics:

I am not a film aficionado _ I usually watch to be entertained. Provocation that "classics" provide, I get elsewhere...

10. A few books that are important to you (and why):

Miguel de Unamuno: The Tragic Sense of Life _ I think it's such an honest and yet believing look at life and religion and the necessity of belief. I love E.T.A. Hoffmann's fantastical world and find his moods very musical. Rilke's poetry always moves me.

11. Thing(s) about yourself that you're most proud of:

Of being able to learn and develop.

12. Thing(s) about yourself that you're embarrassed by:

That I can't dance (unless I drink enough and then either I am not embarrassed or I can dance...)

13. Three things you can't live without:

Music, food and beverages, blackberry

14. "When I want to get away from it all I..."

Play the piano

15. "People are surprised to find out that I..."

Studied Jazz

16. "My favorite cities are..."

New York, Vienna, Budapest, Sydney, Tel Aviv

17. "I have a secret crush on..."

I don't have one.

18. "My most obvious guilty pleasure is..."

I don't feel guilty for my pleasures, but I do feel guilty for not getting up as early as I planned to every morning.

19. "I'd really love to meet..."

Brad Mehldau, John Stewart and Sarah Silverman

20. "I never understood why..."

Piano benches don't have an indication of the direction you are adjusting them in _ up or down is always the question...


21. Question you wish someone would ask you (and the answer to that question):

Q: Shall I turn you in to a hazelnut?

A: No, thanks

Visit www.kirillgerstein.com

Past installments of 20 (PLUS) QUESTIONS:

Organist Cameron Carpenter

Choreographer Peter Martins

Soprano Diana Damrau

Pianist Simone Dinnerstein

Pianist David Fray

Violinist Sarah Chang

Pianist Ingrid Fliter

Mezzo-Soprano Joyce DiDonato

Pianist Yefim "Fima" Bronfman

Soprano Sandrine Piau

Soprano Natalie Dessay

Harpsichordist and Conductor Christophe Rousset

Guitarist Xuefei Yang

Tenor Giuseppe Filianoti

Soprano Nicole Cabell

Pianist Jonathan Biss

Tenor Ian Bostridge

Soprano Danielle de Niese

New-Music Sextet eighth blackbird 

Composer and Violinist Mark O'Connor 

Composer Jake Heggie

Composer Ricky Ian Gordon

Pianist David Greilsammer


Albert Imperato, a music promoter who co-founded 21C Media Group in January 2000, writes frequently about the arts for various publications and blogs. 

His new series, 20 (PLUS) QUESTIONS, is his take on (and nod to) Vanity Fair's "Proust Questionnaire."

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