Upon mentioning my Moscow roots to
Simon Simon Trpˇceski, he surprised me by answering in almost perfect Russian. The 33-year-old Macedonian pianist, who has been startling audiences around the world since the age of 15, was discussing his special affinity for Russian music.
This interest was apparent from the start. Trpˇceski's first recital recording (on the EMI Classics Debut Series) consisted of pieces by Tchaikovsky, Scriabin, Stravinsky, and Prokofiev. That was followed by a Rachmaninoff album. In 2005 he performed Rachmaninoff's Third Piano Concerto in his New York Philharmonic debut and was invited back by Lorin Maazel to play Tchaikovsky's First Piano Concerto in the Tchaikovsky Experience: A Philharmonic Festival. Now Trpˇceski is scheduled to present Tchaikovsky's Second Concerto on July 6, 9, and 10 in "Tchaikovsky Festival," the second program in the New York Philharmonic's popular Summertime Classics series (which also includes the composer's Festival Coronation March, selections from Act IV of Swan Lake, and the 1812 Overture).
Trpˇceski learned Russian by himself. Although the Russian language is close to Macedonian and uses the same Cyrillic alphabet, he sees his fl uency as a byproduct of his music lessons. His teachers : husband and wife Boris and Ludmila Romanov : arrived at Skopje, the Macedonian capital, from Moscow during the 1980s, a difficult time for both countries. Trpˇceski says that these pianists dramatically transformed the music scene in Macedonia and in his own life. "We did not have much classical music training then," he recalls, "but I got lucky: I did not have to go abroad to become a concert pianist. Besides, I would not have money for that. I stayed at home, but got a world-class music education."
Simon grew up in a small apartment, the youngest of three children, surrounded by music, most of it traditional. His grandmother, who looked after him while his parents were at work, knew many folk songs. His first instrument was a "baby" accordion; he was only three and a half, but he immediately felt comfortable with its right-hand keyboard : similar to a piano.
The Romanovs were his only piano teachers. Ludmila, experienced in instructing children and teenagers, worked with him beginning when he was eight years old. When Trpˇceski entered Skopje University at 18, Boris took over. An accomplished pianist and organist, Mr. Romanov comes from a line of students of Konstantin Igumnov (which included such piano giants as Lev Oborin and Yakov Flier), and Trpˇceski quickly absorbed the best of this school: the utmost respect for composers' styles and intentions, a dislike for mannerisms and self-indulgence, and a singing sound that is beautiful, expressive, and rich in color.
As Trpˇceski puts it, both teachers instilled in him "a healthy Russian discipline. It complemented my Macedonian soul." Although his repertoire today is diverse : ranging from Bach through Liszt and Debussy to contemporary Macedonian composers : Russian music will always occupy a special place. "It is in my blood. It feels so natural to play it."
He is enthusiastic about Tchaikovsky's Second Concerto : which, by the way, had its world premiere in 1881 by the New York Philharmonic with Madeline Schiller as soloist. "What great music! It deserves to be more popular. And it fits my individuality," Trpˇceski says. "The music sounds so fresh and new! It is very Russian, and it seems to me that Tchaikovsky was happy while composing it. The opening is so triumphant! As if he is victorious and wants to share his victory with everyone. The second theme of the first movement reminds me of spring. Of course, there is melancholy and sadness : Tchaikovsky is unthinkable without both. The Andante is pure love and magic of nature. I love this atmosphere, this unbelievable poetry. And the finale's folkloric theme makes me want to dance.
"But this concerto is so-o-o-o diffi cult," he adds. True, and that is why not many pianists are eager to tackle this notoriously long and complicated work. But he fell in love with this concerto after hearing it for the first time, when he was 14. "I decided to learn it right away, looked at the score, but got a little scared." He returned to it in earnest in 2009 and has since performed the work with different orchestras, including the London Philharmonic Orchestra under the direction of his friend Vasily Petrenko.
Trpˇceski's exploration is far from over. The piano part is so rich, intense, and demanding, both physically and emotionally, that to have great technique (and Trpˇceski is renowned for his technique) is not enough. Take, for instance, Tchaikovsky's cadenza in the first movement: "You have to be smart," he explains. "You have to have a plan in order to be able to build up tension and to keep it growing towards the climax. It is necessary to save your energy in order to make the right effect at the right time." Although he is performing the concerto's second movement in the widely accepted shorter version prepared by Ukrainian pianist and conductor Alexander Siloti (which the composer himself endorsed), Trpˇceski will play the rest of the work as originally written by Tchaikovsky.
Composed in 1879 _80, the Second Piano Concerto was among Tchaikovsky's favorite "children"; he wrote to Siloti that he loved it more than the famous First. Perhaps Simon Trpˇceski will help usher it to a greater degree of fame.
Maya Pritsker, who lives in New York, writes and lectures about classical music and other arts.