There’s a first for everything and for visiting Russian pianist Denis Kozhukhin there will be a whole bunch when he tours the country with the NZSO over the coming weeks.
The 32-year-old is performing Schumann’s piano concerto with an orchestra for the very first time, and it’s his first visit to our shores; taking in five centres around the North Island.
“Schumann’s music [is] totally unpredictable,” he says. “The moods are changing the whole time. [it goes] from calmness to extremely excited quickly.”
He first stumbled across the piece as a student but the opportunity to perform it hadn’t presented itself, until now. He says this is the right time, because with time comes wisdom. “[It’s] one of those pieces you have to have some maturity to understand it. I think this is the right moment to learn it,” he says. “It’s so beautiful and natural.”
He will visit Wellington, Tauranga, Auckland, New Plymouth and Hamilton over the coming weeks, and is looking forward to seeing New Zealand’s landscapes. “In this case, it’s a privilege. Usually you go to a part of world you don’t know, and you don’t get to see anything: Hotel. Concert hall. Airport,” he says. “[I] hope to get a sense of the country.”
Denis’ music education started very young. His mother was a pianist and piano teacher. His father was a composer and choir leader and it was participating in choirs that helped his early music career. “I recommend to people [regarding early] music education [that they] take children to a choir. It’s very important,” he says. “You learn a lot. It’s good for the memory, the collaboration, the connection. It’s important for pianists. We are lone wolves.”
Denis is releasing a new album at the end of the month featuring works by Grieg and Mendelssohn. Performing Grieg takes him back to his childhood. “Many [Grieg works] are rarely performed today. They are considered “easy” pieces. I think they are extremely difficult,” he says. “You have nothing to hide behind. The material is very thin, delicate and very simple in a way. This music doesn’t allow anything artificial.”
Denis Kozhukhin performs Schumann’s piano concerto with the NZSO in performances that also include Beethoven, Sibelius and Mozart in Wellington on Saturday 18 May, Tauranga on May 22, Hamilton on May 23, Auckland on May 24 and New Plymouth on May 25.