Ilya Itin

Summer music festivals are the ideal frame in which to bring classical music performances to an audience that might not otherwise venture out to the famed concert hall stages the big cities have to offer. Often located in serene settings, the informal character lures families and interested spectators to a performance experience which can be rewarding on so many levels.

While relatively low production budgets and minimal publicity lend themselves toward a casual atmosphere, audiences are sometimes treated to extraordinary performances of artistically high caliber. Such was the case at the 2009 Golandsky Institute Summer Symposium at Princeton University’s “Prokofiev Evening,” held on July 17 in Princeton’s Richardson Auditorium.

Russian pianist and Leeds Gold Medalist Ilya Itin began the performance with the world premiere of Sergei Prokofiev’s “Music for Athletes,” followed by “Peter and the Wolf” and “Piano Sonata No. 7,” and the audience, enchanted by Itin’s talent and charm, was as elevating to observe as was the stage. The historic impact of being witness to the presentation of a previously unknown work by a great composer of a bygone era was felt in the excitement that filled the magnificent auditorium.

“The piece was originally commissioned for the ‘All Union Spectacle’ of 1929 in the U.S.S.R. and was – due to the dramatic political history surrounding its composition – never performed,” explained the program pamphlet, which was based on Simon Morrison’s book, The People’s Artist: Prokofiev’s Soviet Years, (Oxford, 2009).

The concert’s producer, Adrienne Serkin, first thought to bring “Music for Athletes” to the public after attending a lecture given by Princeton University professor and Prokofiev scholar Simon Morrison. Morrison had discovered the lost piece while conducting research for his recently published book about Prokofiev’s life in the U.S.S.R, and Serkin, a long-time participant in the Golandsky Institute’s Summer Symposium, decided to get involved.

For Serkin, the internationally renowned Itin was the natural choice to perform the premiere of Prokofiev’s recovered piece. A master of the Russian 20th century piano repertoire, Itin is on the faculty of the Golandsky Institute and teaches private and master classes at its Summer Symposium.

Since Morrison was unable to attend and introduce the program as planned, Serkin drew the audience into the historical context in which the work was conceived and the more recent process by which it was prepared for its premiere. The latter was a collaboration between Itin’s conceptual mastery of the piano part and Princeton choreographer Jenny Scholick’s assembling of six dancers, Serkin explained, all within an extremely short rehearsal period.