01 December 2016, 20:00
The House of the Unions, Pillar Hall. Address: Bolshaya Dmitrovka str, 1
German pianist and composer Volker Bertelmann is one of new music’s most prominent figures, working at the junction of academic tradition and popular culture. Few people would believe that the composer, whose works are performed at the festivals alongside compositions of 20th century classics such as Erik Satie, John Cage, and Steve Reich, began his career in a hip hop band that was very popular in 1990s Germany.
Today, Bertelmann, who took up a pseudonym in honour of a rather unknown 19th century Austrian composer, is best known for his music for the “prepared piano”, which is a classical grand piano, the strings of which hold various items, from pieces of paper and foil to cutlery. This new instrument, a modernized version of the old one, was invented in the second half of the 20th century by the great visionary and innovator of academic music John Cage. Hauschka, who recorded about ten albums of intriguing pieces for Cage’s invention, is one of this century’s best known popularisers of prepared piano.
John Cage is also known for the fact that he turned the grand piano — the holy cow of the Romantic composers who wrote profound melodies — into percussion instrument. And here Volker, with his hip hop background, is also following in Cage’s footsteps — under his fingers the piano is turned into a whole orchestra of percussion instruments, capable of producing both a luscious groove, and an intricate polyrhythmy.
Hauschka is the author of 13 albums of inventive music (not just for the prepared piano, but for all kinds of instrumental groups, including a full-scale orchestra), and composer of numerous movie and exhibition soundtracks, and scores for theatrical and choreographic performances. He has done a number of collaborative projects with well-known electronic and classical musicians, and even did a remix of a fragment from Wagner’s Parsifal opera. This well-regarded German pianist and composer continues to experiment with new approaches to music and surprise his audiences.
Performance at the Pillar Hall of the House of Unions holds a special meaning for Kirill Richter. “It’s a significant place for me. I heard my first orchestra here, when my mother brought me to listen to Rachmaninov’s Symphonic Dances,” the young pianist and composer explains. “The music thrilled me. Funnily enough, at that moment, I thought to myself: ‘I wonder, will I ever be able to perform here?’” The twists of fate are often unpredictable, but even the most devious scriptwriter couldn’t come up with a better life story: the 25-year-old musician, who was actually planning to become a designer, and who is still in the process of composing his debut album, will perform at Moscow’s famous concert hall, a stone’s throw from Bolshoi Theater.
At first, Kirill Richter tried to escape his destiny. His piano studies began late, and although he considered music a precious hobby, he tried to remain rational and have a fulfilling career in some other area. The young man studied quantum physics and drafting graphics at MEPhI National Research Nuclear University, and than earned a bachelor’s degree in Fashion Design from the British School of Design. But his musical talents were hard to hide, and the the young pianist and composer, who took giant strides to make up for the missed opportunities of his childhood, was invited to audition at Moscow Conservatory. In 2010, Kirill Richter decided to make music his life’s work.
Richter’s portfolio as a composer begins with a sequence of piano waltzes entitled “On the Way to Beloved City.” The simple, moving, and emotional pieces always leave a strong impression on the audience. The composer, who values sincerity and energy in music, believes that his pieces are popular with listeners because of the special feelings they evoke when he performs his works. “My music is a soundtrack for life, it relfects things that happened to me,” Richter explains. “The stories that I tell, somehow resonate in other lives. This gives birth to the feeling that we all speak the same language.”
After uploading several recordings of his waltzes to SoundCloud, the young composer received an offer to produce a debut album on the Swedish record label 1631 Recordings. The album is currently being recorded in a Moscow studio. But for Richter, that music is already a thing of the past. Today, he is engrossed in collaboration with the celloist August Krepak and violin player Alena Zinovieva. These experienced musicians, who had already performed everything — from Baroque music to Shnitke — became genuinely fascinated by the young composer’s music. Together with Krepak and Zinovieva, Kirill Richter experiments with sound articulation of classical instruments in expressive minimalist trios. “Right now, I’m making a consious decision to move away from the electronic instruments. I am interested in the limits of timbral abilities of the acoustic instruments. What should we do to make the violin sound like an electric guitar? How can we produce a sound that resembles the breaking glass? How to achieve the vibrating click produced by the hour hand of the plastic Chinese clock of my childhood?” While there’s still a lot of life’s sincerity in them, the new pieces by Kirill Richter that will be performed at the House of Unions as part of the SOUND UP festival and will come out on his next album, CHRONOS, seem to bridge together metaphysics and dialectics. “Can you conquer the time, can you make peace with it, as if it were a living creature? Is it possible to pinpoint the constantly moving and changing course of history? How to express the rigidity of the world and its subordination to physical laws?” the composer recites the plots of his new pieces and finishes the list off with a a charming smile. “I have to admit, my first education had a strong influence on me.”