Just in the nick of time, the Music Academy of the West’s Academy Chamber Orchestra has found a pianist for its July 20 Lobero Theatre concert. Russian piano player Kirill Gerstein has joined the artist roster for the academy’s Summer Festival, after a family emergency forced originally scheduled pianist Pierre-Laurent Aimard to cancel his performance. Mr. Gerstein will perform Ravel’s Piano Concerto in G Major with the orchestra conducted by British composer Thomas Ades, the latest of many collaborations between the pianist and conductor.
Earlier this year, Mr. Gerstein debuted Mr. Ades’ new piano concerto with the Boston Symphony Orchestra, with the latter conducting. Speaking to the News-Press, Mr. Gerstein said he and Mr. Ades are good friends and are both admirers of Ravel’s Piano Concerto. Together they have discussed various aspects of the piece at length, so Mr. Gerstein expects it will be “very nice” to finally perform it with his colleague.
His collaborator concurred and told the News-Press that he is looking forward to performing with a musician so experienced at playing Ravel’s composition.
“The Ravel concerto is a piece I adore but have never performed, but Kirill has done it many times; we are so in tune musically that I know I will learn a great deal and it will be brilliant,” Mr. Ades said.
For Mr. Ades, it was a stroke of “almost incredible good luck” that Mr. Gerstein was available when Mr. Aimard had to back out of the performance. When the original pianist cancelled, Mr. Ades was performing his piece “In Seven Days” with Mr. Gerstein and the Los Angeles Philharmonic. With only a few days’ notice, Mr. Gerstein filled the opening.
“These things can take years to set up but in this case a perfect storm of events made it possible,” Mr. Ades said.
Although he finds music impossible to fully describe with mere words, Mr. Gerstein called Ravel’s Piano Concerto it “a perfectly balanced composition to entertain the listener” and “one of the best concertos written in the 20th century.”
The day before he and Mr. Ades perform Ravel’s Concerto, Mr. Gerstein will conduct a solo piano masterclass with three academy students at the Music Academy’s Hahn Hall. No stranger to teaching, Mr. Gerstein has spent much time as a music instructor in Germany, currently teaching at Kronberg Academy and previously at Stuttgart Musik Hochschule from 2007 to 2017. Recalling how many of his mentors handed a wealth of information down to him, Mr. Gerstein feels compelled to do the same.
He finds teaching not only helps those he teaches, but also enables him to grow as a musician. The pianist likened musical skill to Eastern martial arts, the latter of which has an adage that a student cannot progress beyond a certain level of talent without teaching it to someone else.
“It’s a cliché, but it’s true that teaching is a bi-directional exchange,” he said.
While he’s wary that conducting a masterclass in front of an audience doesn’t descend into a public spectacle, he finds it a valuable opportunity for all of the participating students to learn even when they’re not performing or getting critiqued.
“The kind of advice that I’m giving to the student who’s playing is applicable to the student who’s listening,” he said.
He added that teaching offers him “another way of understanding and interacting with the musical substance, which is at the center of my professional life.” When asked what has kept him playing the piano for so many years, Mr. Gerstein said he enjoys the great library of work written for the instrument as well as its ability to handle orchestral textures all on its own. As for his interest in music in general, it’s sustained by that which he learns more about by teaching.
“What keeps me interested is the musical substance,” he said.Mr. Gerstein and Mr. Ades’ July 20 concert begins at 7:30 p.m. at the Lobero Theater, located at 33 E Canon Perdido St. Tickets for the performance are available online at www.lobero.org.