Photo: SubCulture  Ryan Jensen

On January 9th, SubCulture kicked off the New Year with two New York premieres, performed by former prize winners of the New York International Piano Competition’s recital series, pianists Matthew Graybil and Igor Lovchinsky.  Both pianists delivered a well conceived concert, titled:”Reflections of Walter Piston,” celebrating the work of Harvard’s eminent composer and educator.
The competition founders, Melvin Stecher and Norman Horowitz, who performed as one of their own generation’s distinguished piano-duos, revealed their respect to the composer’s work with their 1967 commission of Piston’s Concerto for two Pianos Soli. It was this work that Graybil and Lovchinsky gave its compelling New York premiere.
Based on the original work that Piston had created for “Two Pianos and Orchestra,’ in 1964, the two-piano version with three movements (allegro non troppo, adagio and con spirito) demonstrated the composer’s ability to construct an abstract musical landscape with mesmerizing rhythmic and high-speed climaxes, and proved an ample showpiece for the performers’ superior pianistic abilities. Piston, a distinguished music theorist and professor of music, whose students included Leroy Anderson, Leonard Bernstein and Aaron Copland, once commented on the commission:”I did not wish to make an ‘arrangement,’ but rather a rethinking of the entire score in terms of the two solo instruments, so that the two versions stand as separate and individual works.”
The Stecher and Horowitz Foundation and its competition, started in 2002 as an outgrowth of the former Stecher and Horowitz School of the Arts, which was co-founded and co-directed by the two pianists and educators in 1960 in Cedarhurst, New York. The foundation and its competition continue to inspire and support young talent, resulting in concerts with an interesting angle, often paying tribute to infrequently heard works of the 20th and 21st century.

Photo: Igor Lovchinsky

Pianist Igor Lovchinsky admitted to being unfamiliar with Piston’s work prior to his participation at the competition and enjoyed the time spent in mutual preparation for the concert, with Matthew Graybil. Lovchinsky’s special affinity for another 20th century composer’s output, the work of Earl Wilde, had already afforded him his piano debut disc. Upon hearing Lovchinsky’s performance of Wilde’s Etudes on Themes of Gershwin, the composer, impressed with the young pianist, offered him a recording on his own Ivory Classics label.
Hailed by Gramophone Magazine as ‘a star of the future,’ Lovchinsky, who received his masters degree from the New England Conservatory in 2009, indeed showed effortless expressiveness even in some of the most complex passages, especially notable in his solo performance of Piston’s Sonata pour piano, an unpublished work dated 1926, which received its New York premiere that evening.
                                                                                                                     Photo: Matthew Graybil
Graybil ‘s debut album, featuring works by Brahms and Schubert, was released by the Victor Elmaleh Collection in 2012 and received reviews such as in Fanfare Magazine: “Matthew Graybil’s playing marks him…as one of the most sensitive, poetic young pianists to debut on record in recent memory.” A second recording of Chopin’s Etudes, Op 10, will be released this year as part of a ‘Chopin Project’ compilation.
During Graybil’s two Piston solo pieces Improvisation and Passacaglia, he impressed the audience with his sincere approach to the melodically simple, but increasingly challenging, counterpoint configurations and at times rhythmically stark motives. In balanced rhythmic response to his syncopated counterpart, Graybil often seemed to possess the voice of reason, as seen in Piston’s Concerto for Two Pianos Solis.  In Leonard Bernstein’s two-piano transcription of Aaron Copland’s El Salón México, it seemed that Graybil fully vanished into the imaginary scenery provided by the composer.
“Even though it has been years since Igor and I were contestants in the competition, the Stecher and Horowitz Foundation remains active in fostering our careers and presenting its winners in concerts,” says Graybil.
Photo: Matthew Graybil
Graybil and Lovchinsky are good friends, and were classmates and fellow students of Jerome Lowenthal at the Juilliard School. The concert was a welcome opportunity for the both of them to work together in the two-piano part of the program. “Although chamber music is a regular part of most pianists’ lives, playing two-piano music in concert has become less common,” says Graybil who is an avid chamber music performer. He shared his excitement about premiering a work of a major American composer:”It is almost unreal to be involved in the New York premiere of a work by a major American 20th century composer almost 50 years after it was written. That’s of course exciting for both of us and it is especially rewarding to play this concert with a close friend,“ said Graybil, a fact the audience was pleasantly aware of throughout the evening’s performance.
The final concert of this season’s NYIPC series at SubCulture, will feature pianist Kate Liu on March 6th at 7.30 pm.