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  • Writer's pictureIlona Oltuski

Pegasus’ season finale features pianist/composer Nicolas Namoradze

"This concert presents a fascinating program that examines many facets of both composers' perspectives and personalities. It is not often that one finds a conductor and orchestra so invested in championing neglected works and presenting such a program—I'm genuinely excited to go on this adventure with Karen and Pegasus, and we hope to make a compelling case for this music for the listener," says soloist Nicolas Namoradze about the upcoming concert.

Merkin Hall - Friday | May 5, 2023, | 8 pm – Tickets

Withstanding the tough times, even for longtime established Performing Arts Institutions, Pegasus: The Orchestra has successfully resurfaced New York's post-pandemic metropolitan music stages with its full 5th season. (Photo Credit: Emma Kazaryan) Pegasus: The Orchestra

Since its inauguration in 2017, under the visionary leadership of its founder, artistic director, and principal conductor, the American-Armenian pianist and conductor/composer Karen Hakobyan, the ensemble prides itself on its national diversity and the inclusive spirit of its international members.

The ensemble kicked off the season with its longtime planned and then pandemic-postponed All-Rachmaninoff Concerto performance at Alice Tully Hall in October, with three out of five solo piano parts presented in one sitting, going to female soloists. (The five performing pianists were: Fei Fei, Nadejda Vlaeva, Inna Faliks, Konstantin Soukhovetski, and Dominic Cheli. The above link leads to the ensembles' Rachmaninoff - Tutti from Piano Concerto No. 1)

The season ends on a high note with a performance at Merkin Hall: "This program is deeply personal for me, as it embodies what Pegasus is about, namely seeking meaningful connections between the pieces and composers and presenting them in a new light for the audiences. Exploring the different editions and ideas of the rarely-heard Scriabin Concerto together with Nicolas has been an extraordinary musical journey," says Hakobyan, and he adds: "The format of this evening is also quite unique as we, Pegasus, will play an overture to our fantastic soloist, Mozart's The Marriage of Figaro, before delving together into Scriabin's Piano Concerto in F sharp minor, Op.20, while he reciprocates in the second half with his arrangement for solo piano of the Adagio from Rachmaninoff's Symphony No. 2, Op.27, as a prelude to the orchestra's Mendelssohn's Symphony No. 4, in A major, the Italian."

To celebrate Scriabin's and Rachmaninoff's 150th anniversaries, Pegasus has invited pianist/composer Nicolas Namoradze, the 2018 Honens International Piano Competition winner.

In the following interview, Namoradze offers some fascinating insights surrounding the original rendition of Scriabin's Piano Concerto in F sharp minor, Op.20, which listeners will witness during the performance, and some personal thoughts about his solo piano transcription of the Adagio of Rachmaninoff's Symphony No.2, Op.27.

(Photo Credit: Nathan Elson) Nicolas Namoradze

GetClassical: Although Rachmaninoff's and Scriabin's relationship has been described as an uneasy one, with very different styles, pianistic techniques, and philosophical outlooks on music and life – they must have still been significantly connected on a personal level. Born in the same year, both composers lived in Switzerland at the time of Scriabin's death, and Rachmaninoff was one of the pallbearers at his funeral in 1915. A sign of most tremendous respect, Rachmaninoff spent the following year performing only Scriabin's music, wanting to ensure it would not be forgotten. Do you experience this dedication in a musical context when comparing some elements in both composers' works?

Nicolas Namoradze: Yes, absolutely. They were good friends, as complex as their relationship might have been. Both composers were grounded in the same musical traditions. There are some key similarities in their musical idioms, such as their main models and influences (Chopin in particular) and their approach to sonority, polyphony, and texture on the keyboard. They also influenced each other's musical development. However, there are also significant differences in perspectives and temperaments, and Scriabin's musical language evolved more dramatically throughout his oeuvre than Rachmaninoff's. Indeed, the most important difference is likely the extent to which Scriabin embraced modernism, harmonically entering a very experimental realm by the time of his final works—something Rachmaninoff never quite followed.

GetClassical: What influenced the mutual choice of the composers' specific works?

Nicolas Namoradze: It seemed very appropriate for Karen and me to celebrate both anniversaries and the friendship of both composers with a work like Scriabin's Piano Concerto, which both composers championed. Scriabin performed the work many times—as did Rachmaninoff, especially in the year after Scriabin's death. Though the concerto is a relatively early work of Scriabin's, the piece reflects many stylistic characteristics that we associate with the composer's mature style.

In the decades after Scriabin's death, the work has faded into relative obscurity, and it's interesting to investigate why, especially as nearly all his performances of the work during his lifetime were very successful. An essential part of the puzzle here is that the concerto's premiere had a rather negative critical reception; however, his performances that came shortly after this did not.

For several reasons, it is almost certain that Scriabin significantly altered the piano part in response to the initial criticism. First, we know he was in the habit of doing this with virtually all his music in performance: his recordings prove that he did not follow his original score in many instances, changing not only expression markings but also the notes and textures, sometimes even cutting entire sections. There are many reports of those who heard Scriabin live—they note that the composer was almost always departing from his written scores. While Scriabin, unlike Rachmaninoff, never revised or edited his scores, we can infer that the dramatic improvement in the critical reception of the concerto must have been a result of these kinds of changes. Unfortunately, all we have from Scriabin today is the original version of the concerto, with no concrete indication of what exactly he must have tweaked.

GetClassical: With this fascinating music history of a somewhat obscure score in mind, perhaps comparable to Mozart's omitted writing of the cadenzas for his concertos, how does this relate to the performer's commitment to conveying Scriabin's true intentions?

Nicolas Namoradze: To be faithful to the composer's intentions in this case, one must be able to imagine what Scriabin would have changed in his concerto performances based on the evidence from other sources. His recordings and how they depart from the written page are good examples and templates; I use these to understand how he would have changed the tweaked score.

Thus, we do some detective work, resolving several questions in the score from perspectives he'd have had in mind. Doing this is essential because the piece has incredibly inspired musical material; it is a pity for the concerto to be neglected based on a couple of issues in the original score. Based on my research and understanding of his style as a pianist and composer, I try to make the most informed decisions possible. It is a fascinating process, almost like conversing with Scriabin and trying to get into his head.

Of course, I am not alone in this and am not breaking new territory. Vladimir Sofronitzky's early edition of the piece made many changes to the score, which he considered necessary improvements. More recently, Mikhail Pletnev has rewritten much of the concerto. I try to follow in these footsteps, and though I keep certain traditions in mind, it goes without saying that my solutions will offer, to some extent, a different perspective from those of others.

This brings me to another pianist-composer, Rachmaninoff—who, unlike Scriabin, often revised his scores. He has, of course, gifted the piano with much of its core repertoire. Still, interestingly, my favorite work of his is a piece that does not involve the piano: the Second Symphony, a work that, to me, embodies a remarkably synergetic synthesis of so many iconic aspects of his musical style. To engage with this piece as a pianist, I made a solo piano arrangement of the symphony's third movement, the Adagio. Instead of aiming for a reduction of the orchestral score, my process sought to re-imagine how Rachmaninoff might have composed this piece as an original piano work. To bring this material to the instrument, I had to consider what kinds of pianistic textures he would have used for this material while maintaining the richness and multilayered nature of the orchestral writing.

This concert presents a fascinating program that examines many facets of both composers' perspectives and personalities. It is not often that one finds a conductor and orchestra so invested in championing neglected works and presenting such a program—I'm genuinely excited to go on this adventure with Karen and Pegasus, and we hope to make a compelling case for this music for the listener.

Photo Credit: Emma Kazaryan

GetClassical: Thanks so much, Nico, for this preview of a fascinating program, which promises to take an in-depth look at the delicate relationship between the two monumental composers, composer, and performer, as well as further corresponding pianistic and orchestral sound exploration.

For a rare opportunity to see the ensemble at work behind the scenes and to attend a private champagne and hors d'oeuvres reception in the historic "Ghostbusters" Building following the concert, join Pegasus's Sponsor and Patron circle by CLICKING HERE. All donations are tax-deductible and will directly support Pegasus's 2023-2024 Season.

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