Alexander Karpeyev in Conversation with Robert Beattie

ak 7

Alexander Karpeyev (c) Julian Dyson

Alexander Karpeyev has been a major prizewinner in a number of international piano competitions including first prize at the 2007 Dudley International Piano Competition.  He studied at the Moscow Conservatory and with Joan Havill at the Guildhall School of Music in London.  He is a noted exponent of Medtner’s music and recently defended his doctoral thesis on the performance practice of the music of Medtner at City University of London.  Last year he organised the first International Medtner Festival in the UK and he is the curator of the Pushkin House Music Salon in Bloomsbury Square which showcases Russian chamber music.  He recently gave a superb recital in Kings Place which focused on Russian music composed immediately prior to the Revolution of 1917 (review).

I asked him what specifically attracts him to Medtner’s music.  I also spoke to him about his recent concert at Kings Place, his work as the curator of the Pushkin House Music Salon and as Artistic Director of the International Medtner Festival, and his future plans.

Robert Beattie:  Many congratulations on your recent recital at Kings Place.  I particularly enjoyed your performance of Medtner’s Sonate-Ballade.  It is a great tragedy that Medtner’s music does not feature more often on concert programmes.  What draws you to this composer and who are your favourite interpreters of his music?

Alexander Karpeyev: Medtner was one of the last defenders of the Romantic musical language.  His music is special and it can be something of an acquired taste.  He was held in very high regard by his contemporaries.  Rachmaninov said to him, “You are, in my opinion, the greatest composer of our time” while Glazunov called him the, “firm defender of the sacred laws of eternal art”.  He was a brilliant pianist himself and knew how to exploit the capabilities of the piano. He was also half- German so in a sense he brings together the German and Russian musical traditions.  He only recorded two of his own piano sonatas – the Sonate-Ballade and the Sonata Tragica – so these were clearly important works for him and that is why I wanted the Sonate-Ballade to form part of my recital.

Rachmaninov was one of the earliest advocates of his music and the English pianist Edna Iles also championed his music throughout the 20th Century.  Iles had the advantage of having studied with the composer for twenty years and she specifically concentrated on how to play a number of the tales, sonatas and songs as well as the three concertos.  Gilels helped to revive Medtner’s music in the 1950’s and he recorded the G minor Sonata.  With regard to Medtner advocates nowadays, I have enjoyed listening to Berezovsky, Milne and Hamelin.

RB:  Who have been the major influences on you as a musician?

AK: All of my teachers, including Alexander Myndoyants and Vera Gornostayeva at the Moscow Conservatory and Joan Havill at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama have helped shape my musical personality.  Nikolai Lugansky has also been an extremely helpful informal tutor and I have learned a lot through talking to him about music.  I also listen to a vast amount of recorded music including opera, symphonic and chamber music and this helps to inform how I approach and play particular pieces.

RB:  Your recital at Kings Place focused on music written immediately prior to the Russian Revolution in 1917.  Why did you decide to focus on music written in this period?

 AK:  I always feel there is a sense of something beautiful dying in 1917 with the Romanov family.  All of the composers who featured in my recital left Russia after the Revolution.  Rachmaninov did not support Bolshevism and his family estate, Ivanovka, was seized by the Leninist authorities and his house was burned down.  He never forgave this and he and his family left Russia for Scandinavia at the end of 1917.  Prokofiev also left Russia in 1918 for the US and then Europe and he only returned to Russia in 1936.  I also wanted to include Grechaninov in my recital as he was an important composer of sacred music.  He and Medtner both left Russia a little bit later and both settled in Paris in 1925.  Stravinsky was travelling around quite a bit both before and after the Revolution but I felt it was important to include him in the recital.  The period from the middle of the 19th Century to 1917 represents a Golden Age in Russian music and literature and the compositions written in the years leading up to 1917 are a final blossoming of the music written during that very important period.

RB:  You are the curator of the Pushkin House Music Salon in Bloomsbury.  Can you tell us about the work of Pushkin House and which concerts will be featuring in the music salon?

AK:  Pushkin House is a charity which supports and promotes Russian culture in London and beyond.  We have begun to run a series of monthly chamber music concerts in the music salon which are designed to showcase Russian chamber music.     Charles Owen and Katya Apekisheva will be playing piano duos by Stravinsky in April, Igor Golovatenko and I will be performing songs by Golovanov in June and the Navarra Quartet will be performing works by Beethoven and Shostakovich in July.  Dinara Klinton will also be giving a recital next month featuring Liszt’s Transcendental Studies and the International Medtner Society will be having its Inaugural concert at Pushkin House in May.

RB:  I saw Dinara Klinton performing the Liszt Transcendental Studies very recently and she was terrific and I also saw Golovatenko give a superb performance in Donizetti’s Poliuto at Glyndebourne.  You are also the Artistic Director of the Medtner Festival – can you tell us a little bit about that?

AK:  We set up the Medtner Festival in 2014 and it has now become a regular festival.  It features a series of talks and concerts all dedicated to the life and work of Medtner.  Dinara and Igor are both personal friends and I have known Igor for many years as we were both students at the Moscow Conservatory.  He is a very accomplished conductor and cellist as well as being a world class baritone.

RB:  Do you have any projects in the pipeline you would like to tell us about?

AK:  I will be performing in a series of recitals across Canada and France in the comings weeks and months.  Soprano, Sofia Fomina, and I are also planning to do a recording of Medtner songs for Hyperion.  I have my ongoing work organising concerts for the Pushkin House Music Salon and I am planning to organise another Medtner Festival next year.  I am also planning to turn my dissertation on Medtner into a book.

RB:  It sounds like you will have your hands full over the coming months.  Thank you very much for talking to us.              

NEW! Reviews of Opera in Mumbai: A Gala and La Bohème Revisited


Various composers: Maria José Siri (soprano), Simon O’Neill (tenor), Kai Rüütel (mezzo-soprano), Long Zhang (tenor), Andrea Vincenzo Bonsignore (baritone), Matteo Peirone (bass), Symphony Orchestra of India / Carlo Rizzi (conductor), Jamshed Bhabha Theatre, National Centre for the Performing Arts, Mumbai, 2.2.2017. (JSM)

Verdi – Overture to La forza del Destino; Otello (excerpts)
GiordanoAndrea Chénier (excerpts)
BizetCarmen Suites (excerpts)

Puccini, La Bohème Revisited: Soloists, Symphony Orchestra of India / Carlo Rizzi (conductor), Jamshed Bhabha Theatre, National Centre for the Performing Arts, Mumbai, 8.2.2017 (JSM)

Rodolfo – Giordano Lucà
Mimì – Olena Tokar
Marcello – Andrea Vincenzo Bonsignore
Musetta – Maria Mudryak
Colline – Andrea Concetti
Schaunard – Daniele Terenzi
Alcindoro/Benoit – Matteo Peirone
Narrator – Sax Nicosia

Director – Sax Nicosia
Lighting – Alberto Giolotti
Artwork – Francesco Calagnini
Projections – D-Wok

Mumbai’s National Centre for the Performing Arts has scheduled an opera-based season with three concerts and three performances of Puccini’s La bohème. This second concert in the series featured soprano Maria José Siri and tenor Simon O’Neill, accompanied by Carlo Rizzi and the Symphony Orchestra of India.

One wishes one could be more enthusiastic about what was publicized as a ‘Gala’ event, but the concert, despite flashes of musical distinction, was often uneven.

The first part of the evening was devoted to Verdi, and its beginning was perhaps indicative of what was to come. The opening bars of the overture to La forza del Destino were played with scarcely any sense of baleful foreboding, and the ensuing performance (which was on the brisk side) seemed perfunctory. The music of Alvaro’s plea and Leonora’s prayer lacked lyricism, and it all built to a raucous climax with shrieking strings and bellowing brass.

The Love Duet from Act 1 of Otello followed, with an opening that could hardly be termed atmospheric, despite some sensitive playing by Principal Cellist Boris Baraz. As the title character, Simon O’Neill sang with great musicality though he lacked the vocal heft of the true dramatic or heldentenor. He has a well-placed ‘high’ instrument with gleaming tone and total security on the top notes, which were utterly effortless and able to cut through orchestral fabric. However, his middle voice seemed somewhat pallid or grey in comparison, and his tone tended to spread on open vowels.

Maria José Siri as Desdemona was similarly musical, but she tended to become squally when singing loud above the stave, an area in which she also found it difficult to sustain soft phrases.

All of the above was evident in the duo’s performance of Act IV from the opera, done in its entirety with a supporting cast. Here, Desdemona’s repeated cries of ‘salce’ could have been more varied in tone and expression, though the last ‘prega’ from the ‘Ave Maria’ was ethereally beautiful. O’Neill’s Otello was curiously tame during the murder, nor was there much plangency in ‘Niun mi tema’, though Ms Siri was totally involved in the music and drama. Maestro Rizzi went beyond providing merely efficient accompaniment to whipping up the orchestra into a full-tilt climax during Desdemona’s strangulation.

The second half of the programme began with excerpts from Giordano’s Andrea Chénier. After another sensitive solo by cellist Boris Baraz, Ms Siri gave a superb rendering of ‘La Mamma Morta’, which was truly the high point of the evening. She seemed much more comfortable here, musically secure and dramatically convincing, with a thrilling top B and another (unwritten) high note at the end of the aria.

Mr O’Neill then gave a reading of Chénier’s ‘Come in bel dì di Maggio’ where his high notes were clarion-like and free. However, his prosaic phrasing short-changed the poetic expression in this aria’s words and music, which was not helped by the fast tempo.

Tenor and soprano came together in the opera’s final duet, in a performance that could best be described as workmanlike rather than transcendent. Both singers’ strengths and weaknesses were evident here; but despite the initially lukewarm temperature, they managed to drum up a fair amount of excitement, as did the orchestra, at the very end.

In what seemed to be a case of quirky programming, it was the orchestra that ended the evening, with excerpts from Bizet’s Carmen Suites. Maestro Rizzi began with a tepid reading of the ‘Fate’ motive and a sluggish ‘Aragonaise’, after which there was a lyrical Intermezzo and an orchestral version of the ‘Toreador’s Song’ played with bite and vim…and much crashing of cymbals. The last selection was the ‘Danse Bohème’, which began rather too fast (thus compromising the gradual accelerando required) but was controlled and precise even at its most frenetic.

The tendency of this orchestra to shout during fortissimi could perhaps be the effect of the reflectors above the stage which accentuate upper-middle and high frequencies, beaming the sound at the audience. It is revealing that visiting orchestras usually have these removed: why does the SOI continue to keep them for their own performances on their home turf?

Modern interpretations of opera have now become the norm, and they range from the truly inspired to the totally ridiculous. But even the worst excesses of self-styled auteurs stop short at tampering with the music, which remains, in all but the rarest cases, sacrosanct.

Sax Nicosia, who has conceptualized and directed La Bohème Revisited, apparently thinks otherwise. His version of Puccini’s La bohème dispenses entirely with the chorus, and thus with much of its music. Act II ends abruptly with the reprise of Musetta’s waltz; and it opens with only the orchestra, as does Act III. Further cuts were made in both acts.

One wonders at the reasoning behind taking such license with Puccini’s score, as the musical losses are obvious. If, in a dramaturgical sense, it was done to focus on the personal lives of the principal characters, they exist within a public, social framework; and doing away with the latter robs the opera of this juxtaposition that Puccini and his librettists intended. Furthermore, since Mr Nicosia has taken the novel on which the opera is based, Henri Murger’s Scènes de la vie de bohème, as the foundation of his interpretation, the hustle and bustle of Parisian café society is very much a part of that vie.

Be that as it may, this was essentially a semi-staged concert performance, billed as “an innovative new production” by the National Centre for the Performing Arts (NCPA). It took place within a gilt-edged, antique frame that became the proscenium, fronted by a scrim. Nicosia himself appeared before each act as Henri Murger, speaking the words from the novel that preface it, accompanied by projections of Impressionist paintings on the scrim. This in itself was not a bad idea, as it set the production in time and place, but it continued excessively throughout the opera. The scrim went up, only to come down periodically and be flashed with animated images of fanciful moons, flowers and snowflakes as big as tennis-balls, among other things. These were irritating and distracted one’s attention from the music and action onstage. Moreover, the images seemed completely gratuitous and redundant: they didn’t offer any real insight into what one was hearing in the words and music.

The projected surtitles were often barely legible; and Mr Nicosia’s direction was generally gauche. The singers performed at the front of the stage, which had a few pieces of furniture and props. Behind this were the orchestra and the conductor with his back to the singers. Thus, there were inevitable lapses in ensemble, which even a maestro like Carlo Rizzi was unable to avoid. However, he elicited playing of great beauty from the Symphony Orchestra of India (especially the string section), bringing out many felicitous details in the music, although the orchestra was sometimes too loud and drowned out the singing.

The cast was mostly young and more than competent, with well-placed voices. They seemed totally committed to their roles. Olena Tokar as Mimì really stood out: she was utterly musical, with some magical moments, like the phrase ‘addio senza rancor’ at the end of ‘Donde lieta uscì’; and the pianissimo reprise of ‘Mi chiamano Mimì’ in her death scene. However, her lower register did lack warmth, and her tone developed a hard edge above mezzo forte on high notes.

One wished the production had allowed the music itself and the musical talents of all concerned to shine, instead of compromising them with choices of questionable artistic merit.

It is perhaps easy to present such work in a milieu where a majority of the audience lacks a frame of reference in which to evaluate what they have seen. It becomes a case of the Emperor’s New Clothes. But any cultural institution that aspires to be internationally recognised could, and should, do better than showcase an ill-conceived travesty.

Jiten S. Merchant




rohThe Royal Opera is delighted to announce the five singers who will join the Jette Parker Young Artists Programme in September 2017.

American soprano Jacquelyn Stucker

Korean soprano Haegee Lee

Russian mezzo-soprano Aigul Akhmetshina

Korean tenor Kuno Kim

British baritone Dominic Sedgwick Read more



Fighting Back From What Life Throws At You And Inspiring Others: Jim Pritchard Interviews The Soprano Elisabeth Meister


Elisabeth Meister

One of the highlights of the recent concert performance of Die Walküre for the Saffron Opera Group was Elisabeth Meister’s wonderful Sieglinde. Peter Reed in Opera magazine described how ‘gathering depth and brilliance’ she ‘built towards an orchestra-surfing “O hehrstes Wunder!” of pulverizing grandeur’. On this site I said she just ‘got better and better’ and how ‘Meister is an intelligent singer who knows how to project her voice, and she achieved extraordinary heights of passion in Act III without pushing the voice beyond its limits.’ (For full review click here.) I also mentioned how Elisabeth was – with this performance – returning to singing after something of a hiatus to her singing career, which was set to have a meteoric rise after leaving the Royal Opera’s Jette Parker Young Artists Programme. Elisabeth has a remarkable – and inspirational – story to tell which involves losing and regaining her singing voice. Read more




NEW! The Mastersingers Celebrate Wagner Past and Present with the Rehearsal Orchestra


Wagner, Götterdämmerung Act II: Soloists; Mastersingers Chorale; Rehearsal Orchestra / David Syrus (conductor), Henry Wood Hall, London, 30.10.2016. (JPr) Read more



Martyn Brabbins to take up position as Music Director of English National Opera from 21 October 2016
Martyn Brabbins

Martyn Brabbins (c) Benjamin Ealovega

English National Opera (ENO) has today, 21 October 2016, announced that British conductor Martyn Brabbins will become Music Director of the Company with immediate effect.

Read more





Monica Huggett © Hiroshi Iwaya

If one wanted a broad picture of the evolution of historical performance, with intriguing little nuances revealed along the way, there would be few better musicians to talk to than Monica Huggett. She has been an unremitting force for four decades, well known from her early association with the Academy of Ancient Music and the Amsterdam Baroque Orchestra, and these days as Artistic Director of the Portland and Irish Baroque Orchestras, and Adviser to the Juilliard Historical Program. This interview traces the violinist’s experiences from the time when the authentic movement was just gathering momentum. Most important are her insights about how historical performance has developed out of a number of contrasting approaches that have cross-fertilized each other. Equally interesting are her ideas on where historical scholarship and performance practice still have room to grow, what she wants to achieve from an orchestra in interpretation, and how she has maintained an undiminished inspiration all this time. The interview took place in conjunction with the Vancouver Bach Festival in August 2016, where Monica Huggett directed the Pacific Baroque Orchestra in the Complete Bach Orchestral Suites (review).    Read more

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