Evgeny Kissin seems to have had a very sympathetic and much attuned listener on the night of his performance at the Barbican Hall. Read the review of our correspondent Yulia Savikovskaya and re-live the whole experience of hearing Evgeny play.
On Thursday night at the Barbican there was a special kind of silent commotion – the queue for returns for a sold out recital by Russian pianist Evgeny Kissin was curving near the box office. Every year London awaits for the return of this musician, whose special, rare kind of connection to music shines through everything he does, including his manner of speech and address. Russian audiences adore him, and quite expensive tickets for his concerts in Moscow Tchaikovsky Conservatory and St Petersburg Philharmonia in autumn and winter 2017 were highly sought for. Almost everybody watched in person or listened on a recorded LP to Kissin’s performances of Chopin’s Concertos at Moscow Conservatory in 1984 and has harboured special tenderness to this musician since. Evgeny is special and unique, and his audiences know it: he has his own following in every city, while people who have heard him before always rush to attend his new programmes. London, for example, always has a group of Japanese women in kimonos attending Kissin’s recital and sitting peacefully in the front row of the hall – Kissin is especially revered in Japan. The last time Evgeny visited London was to present his book Memoirs and Reflections in June 2017 in Conway Hall, so he has not performed in the city for more than a year, and that added to general excitement of hearing him play.
I was also contemplating his uniqueness as an individual, remembering the three or four times I heard him perform in London (in solo recital and with orchestras) and the moments when I spoke to Kissin in person. Although, as every musician, Evgeny has a tight schedule and is curated by his agents, there was something in him that made me take up the courage many years ago and ask him to give me an interview for my PhD project about his experiences as a highly-skilled Russian living abroad. A couple of email exchanges and a few years later we were sitting in a lobby of a hotel in Paris that was located near Arc de Triomphe and discussing his move to Britain, his further relocation to France and the influences of his life in the Soviet Union on his further experiences abroad. The possibility of doing so, Evgeny’s sincerity, openness and kindness was a revelation to me, and I will never forget it as long as I live. Since then we’ve been exchanging occasional emails, and I always felt that this musician will always respond and keep in touch, as he understands and respects the value and importance of each sign of gratitude and thought about him. Seeing Evgeny again and hearing his new programme already presented in other cities of the world, now when his family status has changed and he seems to be experiencing the epitome of human happiness, was a pleasure and delight to look forward to.
Kissin started the evening with the recital of Beethoven’s Sonata in B flat major, known as Hammerklavier. Its composition took Beethoven almost a year (1817-1818), and is considered one of the most challenging works for a pianist. It is more than a sonata (and contains four rather than three parts), it is a musical manifesto, an exploration of a fugue form and modal harmony, and exploration of some most important themes for Beethoven: pain, woe, meditation, dramatic power of sorrow, tempestous, yet reserved path of a monologue with the world. The sonata starts with ‘Allegro’ and ‘Scherzo’ movements, but then becomes especially introvert and daring in its pauses and longevities is the third part – ‘Adagio sostenuto’ that develops into ‘Appasionato e con molto sentimento’. During the first two movements, Evgeny gradually let our ears get used to his special sound – always colourful, with additional force and attack, with his temperament openly brimming through the quicker parts of the sonata, and his usual excessive attention to every phrase. But it is in the third and fourth (‘Largo – Allegro risoluto’) movements that the power of musical thought, the level of philosophizing in music and the brave decision to be very self-demandingly, reflectively slow in the third part that brought the prepared listeners in connection with the spheres of mind that stand beyond the actual physical sounds. This feeling of innate, primary and yet very elevated and sophisticated connection to music was shaping itself during these long pauses and meditative, painful, trembling sounds of the third part of ‘Hammerklavier’ performed by Kissin. He was in no rush, the time has stopped with his music, and suddenly around him and behind him some a space formed itself where one could replenish one’s knowledge of the world and the self through music. The feeling was not lifted, but even more enhanced during the fourth movement. It was a transcending, spiritual experience that was shared by several members of the audience, who I then approached at the break – we were all led into a kind of trance, but it was purifying, self-revelatory and opened the means of communication with the energetic fields of the world around us. Everything became closer, everything was possible, music became a channel of life and human identity under the hands of this performer.
Evgeny Kissin decided to make a second half of the concert quite different – perhaps, more intimate, less intense and contemplative. It consisted solely of Sergey Rachmaninov’s Preludes (Op.23 and Op.32) and many of the pieces were easily recognized by the audiences, as they are among the favourites of many Russian musicians, including Nikolai Lugansky who will also soon perform at the Barbican Hall. Many of them are playful, jubilantly quick and still creating walls of sound so characteristic for Rachmaninov. Kissin played them quite differently from the style of other performers – he again used his deep, thoughtful approach to every note and phrase, however short it was, but was inserting all his temperament and energy into Rachmaninov’s passages that allowed him to demonstrate his virtuosity with a sort of boyish bravura. At some points one could think that Evgeny was a bit too serious for these pieces, but then one was persuaded by his earnest approach and forgot about these doubts. Kissin received about 20 minutes of continuous applause at the close of the performance – which was very consistent with the whole atmosphere of the evening that created some sort of fraternity and connection between the listeners among whom there were many Russian speakers. People stood, people sat back in their seats, people made photos, shouted ‘bravo’, looked at each other smiling and expecting more from a musician who raised the deepest, the best emotions from within our hearts that night. Evgeny played a famous Skriabin’s ‘Etude in C Sharp Minor’, then his own piece, a jazzy ‘Toccata’, then did an encore of one of the preludes and finished with Tchaikovsky’s ‘Meditation’. He seemed genuinely happy with the reception,and produced an overall impression of a wholesome man and a musician who is at the top of his career and looks forward to new discoveries. That was an evening where one was able to truly reach the depths of one’s humanity – thanks to genius and masterful, sincere musicianship of our beloved wunderkind Evgeny Kissin.