[Scene Magazine] Scandinavian Orchestral Cuisine, with a Twist
By Josef Woodard, News-Press Correspondent
This weekend's Santa Barbara Sympohny program features the Scandinavian fare of Norwegian composer Grieg's Piano Concerto, played by Russian-born pianist Lilya Zilberstein
Estonia, once a northwesterly corner of the Soviet Union, is just a short boat trip across the Baltic Sea from Finland, which is two geographical Scandinavian "fingers" of land from Norway. This northern corridor, and its classical music riches, defines the agenda for the mostly Nordic program for this weekend's Santa Barbara Symphony concert, a mostly Scandinavian musical menu equipped with some intriguing points of reference and commonality--musically, geographically and otherwise.
It's a tale of three composers, disparate in many ways, touched by a nothern sensibility in others. In some circles, Estonia is best known as the native land of one of the most important composers of the past quarter century, Arvo Pärt (although he has lived in Europe for many years now). Jean Sibelius, meanwhile, is an acknowledged "national hero" of Finland--gaining its independence only in 1917--and is roughly a contemporary of Norway's best-loved and most oft-performed composer, Edvard Grieg.
Grieg's beloved Piano Concerto in A Minor, performed by guest soloist Lilya Zilberstein, meets Sibelius' grand yet ethereal Symphony No. 5, meets Pärt's 1988-vintage "Festina Lente"-- rhythmically experimental and hypnotic work, the title of which translates to "more haste, less speed." The concert, to be led by guest conductor Christian Arming, promises to satisfy both a general and a discerning audience ear, and connect some surprising stylistic dots.
It was back in 2008 that Ms. Zilberstein, winner of the prestigious Busoni Competition in 1987, last performed in Santa Barbara, on the Russian turf of Rachmaninoff's Paganini Variations. The Moscow-born and now Vienna-based musician (she is the first woman appointed chair of the University of Music and Performing Arts in Vienna) recently connected with the News-Press for a pithy review, amidst a busy schedule and dizzily itinerant spring calendar.
News-Press: You, like many concert performers, oscillate from orchestral work to chamber music and other turfs within the music-making life. Do you find that this variety of contexts enriches your link to music--through the power of variety?
Lilya Zilberstein: Yes, I do. Exactly in these next two weeks, I start rehearsals of Dvorak Piano Quintet in Salzburg. Then I play in Santa Barbara the Grieg Piano Concerto. Directly after that, I play in Naples, Fla.--the Schumann Piano Quintet and Prokofiev's Concerto No. 3. In May, I will play four recitals in China and Taiwan. I am very rich.
NP: You will be performing Grieg's Piano Concerto here. Is this a piece you have a particular appreciation for? And is it a piece which reveals itself in new ways each time you approach it?
LZ: I hope that I find new colors. I have played it since 1993. This was asked by orchestra.
NP: This is a very interesting concert program with the Santa Barbara Symphony, mostly Scandinavian in nature, with Grieg and Sibelius, but also with music of the great Arvo Pärt from Estonia--just across the Baltic from Finland. Given his connection to Russian/Soviet culture, I wonder if you have a special feeling for Pärt's music, which has become among the best-loved of any living composer in the past 25 years?
LZ: I have yet to hear his music. It was not known at all in the Soviet Union duirng my time there.
NP: When did music enter your life, to the degree that you knew this would be your life and livelihood?
LZ: I think when I was a teenager.
NP: Have you bene attracted to other genres of music over the years, or was it really classical music which grabbed your ear and passions from the beginning?
LZ: No, I was attracted and still am by classical music.
NP: You have lived in Germany and now Vienna for many years. Do you find the Germanic disposition in classical music as much a part of your musical voice as any identifiable Russian personality, or do you find those cultural distinctions over-played by people?
LZ: I feel Russian myself. But I think it is really overplayed. I will never say that I play Russian music better than somebody born somewhere else. I feel it different but it doesn't matter.
NP: You have had a strong working relationship with the great pianist Martha Argerich. Do you gain certain insights or face certain challenges in performing with her, unlike other collaborations?
LZ: To play with Martha is always very exciting. I haven't played with many other colleagues/pianists, so I cannot really compare.
NP: Are you happy with the way things have unfolded in your musical life, to this point?
LZ: I am satisfied with that which I do, and will do.