The festival has succeeded in securing the participation of Yulianna Avdeeva, who first introduced herself to the Prague Spring public in 2011 immediately after her sensational triumph at the Chopin Competition in Warsaw. “This year, she was supposed to have returned to the Prague Spring Festival with the violinist Gidon Kremer, but ultimately the concert did not take place because of the pandemic,” says the festival programming director Josef Třeštík. “I am therefore very pleased that she is coming to Prague on 3 November, and we will be able to present on–line streaming of her performance. Ms Avdeeva will be performing her core repertoire, the music of Frédéric Chopin and Sergei Prokofiev.”
Yulianna Avdeeva (born 1985) took the international music scene by storm following her sensational victory at the Fryderyk Chopin International Piano Competition in Warsaw in 2010. She was just the fourth woman ever to win the contest (preceded by Halina Czerny-Stefańska and Bella Davidovich ex aequo in 1949 and Martha Argerich in 1965). This triumph was immediately cemented by her debut alongside the New York Philharmonic under the baton of Alan Gilbert in Warsaw and New York and with the NHK Symphony Orchestra conducted by Charles Dutoit in Tokyo; she appeared for the first time with solo recitals in London’s Queen Elizabeth Hall and at the Prague Spring 2011, among others.
However, audiences from various parts of the world have had the opportunity to hear this Moscow-born pianist in earlier years as well. She has performed at the Barbican Centre in London, Salle Cortot in Paris, Vienna’s Bösendorfer Hall, Zurich’s Tonhalle, and in other venues in the US, Israel, or Japan. These invitations stem from a plethora of previous international competition prizes, including Bremen (2003) or Geneva (2006), and it is not without interest that she won First Prize at the Carl Czerny International Competition for Young Pianists in Prague in 1997, at the age of 12. At the time, Yulianna was studying under Elena Ivanova at the Gnesins Special School of Music in Moscow. In 2003 she enrolled into Konstantin Sherbakov’s class at the University of Zurich in Switzerland while also continuing her studies at the Gnesins Russian Academy of Music under Vladimir Tropp; she graduated from both schools in 2008. She then furthered her education with renowned pianists at the prestigious Lake Como International Piano Academy.
Yulianna Avdeeva is now one of the world’s pre-eminent pianists with open invitations to the greatest music festivals and orchestras around the globe. The pianist, who is “able to let the music breathe” (Financial Times) and “who can truly make the piano sing” (Gramophone), was poised for a dynamic 2019/2020 concert season following her debut with Gustavo Dudamel and the Los Angeles Philharmonic in May 2019. In October 2019 she took to the stage with the BBC Scottish Symphony and the conductor Thomas Dausgaard at the opening concert of the BBC Proms Japan in Tokyo, and December saw her first appearance in Moscow’s famous Zaryadye Hall and a return to the St Petersburg Philharmonic. The plan for 2020 included myriad recitals, chamber concerts, and first guest performances with other superb orchestras, such as Orchestre Philharmonique de Radio France, Gürzenich Orchester Köln, Sinfonieorchester Basel, the Dresden Philharmonic, etc. Some of her engagements were postponed to later dates, others were successfully realised before the concert scene was hit by the coronavirus pandemic. Examples of the latter case include her American tour in February and March 2020, where she debuted with the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra conducted by Maria Alsop (Chopin’s Piano Concerto No. 2), followed by two recitals in Miami and a return to the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra in early March for a rendition of Grieg’s Piano Concerto in A minor under the baton of Mark Elder. In the current circumstances, Yulianna streams live concerts every Thursday via her Facebook. She is slated to perform at the Beethoven Marathon on 8 November during the Ars Longa Festival in Moscow.
A committed chamber musician, Yulianna Avdeeva collaborates with her equally renowned colleagues (Julia Fischer, Gidon Kremer, and others). Her most recent album from 2019 for Deutsche Grammophon, featuring chamber works by Mieczysłav Weinberg, was recorded together with Gidon Kremer and the cellist Giedrė Dirvanauskaité. This celebrated piano trio was to perform at the Prague Spring 2020. Yulianna has three solo albums released by Mirare (one of which with Johann Sebastian Bach), and a collection of her excellent Chopin recordings was published by the Fryderyk Chopin Institute in Warsaw.
In the early 1840s FRYDERYK CHOPIN (1810–1849) enjoyed great renown in Paris both as a pianist and, especially in aristocratic circles, as a piano teacher. The number of people who were or considered themselves to be his pupils exceeded the hundred mark. This ties in to his considerable output of piano compositions, which he wrote at the time both as a means of self-presentation in the salons of wealthy families and as music for his pupils to play. Prelude in C sharp minor Op. 45 was written in 1841 and dedicated to the 15-year-old Yelizaveta Chernyshova, the daughter of the Russian general and diplomat Alexander Chernyshov. In the years from 1834 to 1842, Chopin composed four separate compositions titled “scherzo”, which means “joke” or “jest”. In Chopin’s case, however, these are demanding virtuosic works brimming with energy and drama. Scherzo No. 3 in C sharp minor Op. 39 was sketched in 1838 in Mallorca, which the composer visited with his inamorata George Sand. However, the local climate aggravated Chopin’s troubled health, and he was forced to finish the composition in Marseille the following spring. Violent explosions alternate with passages of sparkling or suddenly quiet music, the flow of which is interwoven with a choral melody that appears repeatedly and ushers the work into its final apotheosis.
Concurrently with Scherzo in C sharp minor, Chopin also completed the cycle of four Mazurkas Op. 41. Chopin’s mazurkas amount to 15 opera, and along with his waltzes and polonaises they have come to be seen as eminent examples of dance stylisation in concert works for piano. The composer imbued them with distinctive motives from the music of his homeland. Mazurka in E minor quotes a Polish song that originated from the Polish uprising of 1830. The central section of Mazurka in B major echoes Polish folk rhythms from the Mazovian Voivodeship. Mazurka in A flat major has been identified as containing strains of folk music from Kuyavia. Mazurka in C sharp minor is the most intimate piece in the cycle, emerging as if from a void and only gradually unfolding into lyrical expression before slowly returning to silence.
Another essential type of Chopin’s dance stylisations is the polonaise. In 1830 he composed Grande polonaise brillantefor piano and orchestra, later expanding it with an introductory Andante spianato for piano to create his Op. 22. Chopin’s works for piano and orchestra are clearly dominated by the piano, while the rest of the ensemble serves an accompanying function and is easily disposable. Andante spianato et grande polonaise brillante in E flat major is thus generally performed in the version for piano solo.
While working on the music to the film Alexander Nevsky and the opera Semyon Kotko, SERGEI PROKOFIEV (1891–1953) created a series of three piano sonatas. His wife’s memoirs claim that he inspired by reading Romain Rolland’s monograph on the life and works of Ludwig van Beethoven. Prokofiev conceived of all three sonatas at once and then gradually worked them out in 1939–1944. Sonata No. 8 in B flat major Op. 84 was completed in June 1944 and then premiered on 30 December later that year in the Great Hall of the Moscow Conservatoire by Emil Gilels, who declared that the work “requires a great emotional commitment. The breadth, tension, and elegance of the lyrical episodes have an almost symphonic conception.” The following year the sonatas was performed for the first time by Sviatoslav Richter during the Tchaikovsky Competition, in which he shared First Prize. Richter wrote of Sonata No. 8: “Of all of Prokofiev’s sonatas, this is the most expansive; it has a highly complex, profound, and contrasting inner life. At times it appears to weaken, as if left to the relentless march of time. In many places it is difficult to approach, but its versatility is like a tree bending under the burden of fruit.”
Both of the themes of the first movement appear as fragile and mild in character, but this changes in the development. The mood of the second movement is indicated by its title, “sognando” (dreamily); some opinions set it out as a reminiscence of the Schubertesque ländler. Prokofiev endowed it with the theme from the incidental music to the cancelled staging of Pushkin’s Eugene Onegin, which was planned for the 100th anniversary of the poet’s birth. The final rondo contains an allusion to the thematic material of the previous movements, and the final chords conjure up the image of bells.
English translation by Adam Prentis