When Kirill Gerstein takes to the keyboard, even the most powerful passages seem transparent and almost weightless. His playing has a naturalness and ease, but at the same time, each note appears well placed, and every bar perfectly thought through. There are – as the artist said in an interview – no “trivialities” in the works of great composers. The listener is aware of this approach immediately; it characterises his music making. After his concert debut with the Zurich Tonhalle-Orchestra in 2000, the international concert career of the young Russian progressed at a dizzying pace: In 2001, Kirill Gerstein won the International Arthur Rubinstein Competition in Tel-Aviv, and the year after, he received the Gilmore Young Artist Award. This was followed by acclaimed debuts, including with the Staatskapelle Dresden, the Munich and Vienna Philharmonics, the Cleveland Orchestra, the Los Angeles and New York Philharmonics, also at the Salzburg Festival and the Lucerne Festival. In 2010, he received the Gilmore Artist Award and used the prize money of 300 000 dollars to commission compositions from Timothey Andres, Chick Corea, Alexander Goehr, Oliver Knussen and Brad Mehldau. Today, the musician is one of the most exciting pianists of his generation.
Jazz or classical?
Born in Voronezh in 1979, the son of a mathematics teacher and a music teacher, Gerstein, who began playing the piano at the age of two, grew up in the two musical worlds of classical and jazz. Initially, it seemed jazz would be the direction he would follow. At 14, he became the youngest scholarship student to go to the Berklee College of Music in Boston to train as a jazz pianist. Two years later, he decided to follow the classical route after all. First, he studied under Solomon Mikowsky at the Manhattan School of Music, and later under Dmitri Bashkirov at the Escuela Superior de Música Reina Sofía. Since 2007, Kirill Gerstein has himself been teaching – as a professor at the State University of Music and Performing Arts Stuttgart, an activity which he admits is is not entirely selfless. Nowhere else can he learn so much as as when teaching, as it provides him with the opportunity to look at compositions in a completely different way. The pianist has already appeared as a chamber musician in a Berliner Philharmoniker Foundation concert: Together with his partners, violinist Kolja Blacher and cellist Clemens Hagen, he presented piano trios by Haydn, Beethoven and Schubert in May 2013. The critic of rbb’s Kulturradio described this appearance as a defining moment in chamber music.
Questioning of performance traditions
In April 2016, he now makes his debut in orchestral concerts of the Berliner Philharmoniker under the direction of Semyon Bychkov – with Sergei Rachmaninov’s Second Piano Concerto. “It’s one of those much-played pieces, where the requirement and the salvation is in the return to the score and a re-examination of the performance habits,” says the pianist. “Influenced by Tchaikovsky, the concerto is filled with youthful, and in comparison to his later concertos, innocent lyricism. The sense of rubato and dynamic balance allows for a chamber music-like collaboration between conductor, orchestra and soloist. I can’t imagine better partners than Semyon Bychkov and the Berliner Philharmoniker to jointly explore and interpret this wonderful concerto.” The questioning of performance traditions is another hallmark of Kirill Gerstein. Based on a new scholarly edition, he recently presented the original version of Tchaikovsky’s First Piano Concerto which appears much more transparent and lyrical than the standard version used until now.