Lauded as the “gem of the 16th International Tchaikovsky Competition in 2019,” third-prize laureate Konstantin Emelyanov received the title “Artist of Radio Russia” and the Audience Award of Time-Life Magazine, which applauded his “remarkably clever program, unconventional choice of works, and harmonious interpretations, where technical stability is no obstacle to unconcealed emotions, temperament is curbed by thought, and the intuitive sense of style maintains a perfect balance between the performer’s vision and the author’s will in every piece.”
Photo Credit: Olympia Orlova
First held more than 50 years ago and made famous by Van Cliburn's iconic victory during the Cold War, the competition serves as a seal of approval within Russian classical music culture and is recognized as one of the most critical events in the international music community.
Despite the Russian-Ukrainian war and the politically problematic situation for Russian artists in the Western world, an invitation followed to participate in the - pandemically postponed - 2022 International German Piano Prize. Open to professional artists of all nationalities, the International German Piano Award (IGPA) is held annually in Kronberg. It was established in 2011 by the International Piano Forum, whose president, Maryam Maleki, is also the competition's artistic director. It offers its winners a wide range of performance and recording opportunities. Past winners also serve on the jury for the following year's competition. Emelyanov won first prize and received the F.A.Z. audience award.
The prize also added a recording with works by Rameau, Rachmaninoff, and Bach, which will be released on the OutHere label this fall. This adds a third recording to his 2020 release of music by Tchaikovsky on the Russian Melodya label and the 2023 release of music by Debussy, Prokofiev, and Barber on the Fuga Libera label by OutHere Music.
In his previous album, released on the OutHere label, which featured works by Debussy, Prokofiev, and Barber, Emelyanov explores the increasing complexity of musical language in the 20th century, seeded between the preservation of the ideas of previous centuries and its expansion of tonality, rhythmic and acoustic new solutions. The new album will draw on the baroque traditions of the piano to explore the question of time itself, how it affects artists and listeners, and its perception in general. By contrasting the flexible time frames of the free-breathing music of Rameau with the late opus of Rachmaninoff's Corelli Variations on a Baroque theme and then returning to the serenity of Bach, Emelyanov aims to highlight the transformation of this theme, extremely accelerating time and sometimes stopping it completely.
Photo Credit: Olympia Orlova
It is always fascinating to profile performers from the international competition stage whose brilliance and musicality impress audiences and juries alike. It is especially gratifying to know of their mentors to gain some insights into this important connection between artistic creativity and the remnant of the long heritage of the art of the piano.
For Konstantin Emelyanov, among his many wonderful mentors at the Moscow Conservatory, which included the iconic artist and pedagogue and, until recently, the head of its piano faculty, Sergei Dorensky himself, perhaps the one who stood out the most was the pianist and pedagogue Pavel Nersessian.
When Emelyanov worked twelve-hour days to prepare for the Tchaikovsky Competition, Nersessian set him straight: "His attitude changed everything for me," Emelyanov says. "His reaction was almost shocking. I took it to heart. Ultimately, it became a game changer when I internalized it."
Performers routinely play for other masters in their field to get feedback and advice on passages, tone quality, or general interpretation of new repertoire they've added to find out what works and what doesn't. It's like trying out the performance for a second set of ears. As a member of the Moscow Conservatory faculty, Nersessian often played for Dorensky. He also teaches at the New England Conservatory and is a highly sensitive, expressive performer with an exquisite stylistic palette and a sought-after Lieder accompanist.
Photo: Pavel Nersessain
At the time, Emelyanov was not quite prepared for Nersessian's reaction: "I played a Haydn sonata for him, which I had prepared like crazy, working out all the finesses, balance, articulation, perfecting all the details; he was very brief about all this, complimented me on the articulation and said: "You've done all the little details very well, but tell me, Konstantin. What do you want to say? He has this special way of getting into my head; being the great artist and teacher that he is, he gave me the vector I needed to stop obsessing over the notes and to dig deeper, to go behind the score and identify my own philosophy - which became part of my process".
He says about the high technical level of international competitions:" It is impossible to achieve anything without technical excellence. But that also makes it much easier to see if the performance is about the real thing on an emotional level. More importantly, he adds, they become mentors, guiding the new generation in what it is all about and inspiring you with their passion and deep understanding of music. "It has become increasingly rare to find pedagogues that are so passionate about music. Dorensky was like that too," he says, and he found such a mentor in Professor Boris Petrushansky at the International Piano Academy in Imola, Italy, where he is attending the senior course now.
Italy is where he decided to make his new base after the pandemic to explore broader artistic connections and performance opportunities. "I've performed a lot in Russia and Asia, but I haven't explored Europe that much, and I haven't explored the United States at all," he says. "Last year, I finally decided to make the move to Italy.
He just returned to his new home base - as a former first prize winner of the 2017 Viotti Competition - from performing at the Muse Salentine Festival in Puglia with a solo recital in the beautiful 15th-century Palazzo. He is currently arranging a number of performance dates, which will also promote his new recording, before returning to Kronberg as a member of the jury.
Read more about him here.