Alexander Karpeyev in Conversation with Robert Beattie
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.