To Ukrainian-born pianist Alexander Gavrylyuk, there’s nothing more romantic than the music of Brahms or Beethoven. Give him the chance to curate his own concert, and this award-winning virtuoso will throw in some Schumann and Liszt, Chopin and Saint-Saëns — all composers he believes are “relevant to the human experience today”.
This is how Alexander constructed the program for his solo recital taking place in May — a key event in this year’s Canberra International Music Festival. Before he stops in Canberra (between a packed schedule of international tours), the pianist tells CutCommon about the personal messages he is preparing to share through music.
Alexander, it’s time to get Romantic. For anyone madly in love with this era, your program hits all the right notes. How did you curate it?
In curating my program, I created an arch-like structure. Factoring in balance plays an important role in all my programs. Each work has a symbolic or personal meaning to me.
Beethoven Moonlight’s tragic, resilient, and spirited work is inevitably linked to the war in Ukraine in my mind — the desperation of loss combined with the strength of spirit and thirst for survival despite the odds. Schumann’s Scenes from Childhood are connected to my experience as a father of two, and the fairytale perspective of the world around through the eyes of a child.
Liszt’s Tarantella is an unstoppable dance full of Italian love flair and passion. I chose it to counterbalance the program, adding a virtuosic element. Chopin’s music is noble, deeply sensitive, and I choose it because it’s a crucial part of the Romantic repertoire, which he shaped greatly.
I added Brahms because it’s deeply philosophical and a wise reflection on life. Having spent eight years in Berlin, I feel connected to the German culture. The arrangement by Vladimir Horowitz on Dance Macabre — the dance of death — I chose because I have admired Horowitz as an artist my entire life.
The messages in all of these works remain very relevant to the human experience today.
When you play a solo concert in a major festival, audiences are going to expect a combination of passion and expertise. Tell us why Romantic music brings out the best in you as a player.
Music from this era, relative to others epochs, comes closest to a direct reflection of human emotion.
I am trying to allow for the music to lead. There is a natural flow that takes shape, and my role is to carry the audience and myself to a place all of us can relate to deep within ourselves.
The composers on this program are reliable; you’ve got your Chopin and Schumann, Brahms and Beethoven. Why do audiences keep circling back to these works?
Through the centuries, they only grow more popular — especially now with young people increasingly tuning in to classical music. I think that these composers always remain relevant. They all reflect upon universal values, emotions, struggles, and the search for answers.
A solo event gives you the chance to be intimate with your audience. How do you like to build that relationship when you play on your own — or to create a professional boundary between audience and performer?
My approach is to only allow for music to speak on the stage. I think this gives the audience greater freedom to develop their own personal relationship to each piece.
How have you been preparing for an event like this?
The majority of preparation happens when I am learning the pieces. Naturally, many hours of work go into this. Once I have learned it, then it becomes important not to over-practice it so that it remains spontaneous and fresh.
Practice hasn’t always been easy for you; you were once involved in a serious car accident and told you’d never be able to play again! How does such an experience in your past fuel the way you approach music today?
Hardships in life create opportunities to reflect on your role in life.
Events of this nature, create boosts of inspiration.
Parting words for music-loving readers?
I am very optimistic about classical music today. There is a sense of renewed passion, especially amongst young audiences. I look forward to sharing the moments that music has to offer us.
Watch Alexander Gavrylyuk in recital at 7.30pm May 3 in the Fitters’ Workshop as part of the Canberra International Music Festival.
The festival takes place from April 28 – May 3 and features 150 musicians from around the world. Explore the full program on the Canberra International Music Festival website.
Alexander is also ambassador of not-for-profit organisation Theme & Variations Foundation dedicated to assisting talented young Australian pianists. Since 2016, CIMF has featured a young pianist courtesy of the foundation. This year’s pianist is Tony Lee (pictured below) — the first foundation laureate who will give a free solo performance at 12.30pm April 27 in the Drill Hall Gallery.