On November 24, 2015, I will premiere my new concerto for piano and orchestra with the Stuttgart Philharmonic and Dan Ettinger conducting.
Each work is a being with its own life, surprises, mysteries and destiny. This piano concerto has one of the most unusual histories of my catalog. It has haunted me for over twenty years – half of my life.
The opening of the concerto, as well as its entire second movement, is based on a dream I had when I was fourteen years old while living in the city of Chelyabinsk in the Ural Mountains of Russia. One night I dreamt a strange hypnotic music, unlike anything I had ever heard. It was also very different from my own compositional efforts of that time. I was so shaken and moved by that musical dream that I forced myself to wake up and write down its main material. This experience was profoundly powerful and in some ways it defined my life. I have been composing music since the age of four and it was the most natural way for me to express myself. But it was this strange dream in which I felt that this music had chosen me rather than the other way around, which predetermined much of what developed later in my life.
For a long time I tried to find the proper vessel for this dream-music. First, I set it in the form of a Flute sonata (I studied and played flute through conservatory,) but the result did not satisfy me. A few years later, at the age of seventeen, I traveled from the Soviet Union to the United States for a concert tour and spontaneously decided to remain in New York. I entered the Juilliard School for composition and piano studies. Several times throughout my student years I returned to the musical idea that had haunted me since that memorable night. That material became the second movement of my Symphonie-Konzert. It was one of my very first large orchestral compositions. I struggled with its form and content. Its title kept on changing from "Symphony" to "Piano Concerto" to "Symphonie-Konzert" to the youthfully pretentious "Requiem for the Millennium." Its form varied from one movement to three, encompassing anywhere from 12 to 45 minutes in length. I performed it with different orchestras in the US, Russia and Germany. The last performance was my Konzertexam at the Hannover Musikhochschule where this was the very first time in the history of this university that a performer was allowed to graduate performing his original concerto.
In spite of its relative success, in spite of making endless revisions between these performances – I remained unsatisfied. I felt that I was not able to give full justice to this musical material. Perhaps I lacked experience of writing for the orchestra; perhaps I lacked experience in life. The abstract idea of this piece kept on shimmering in the distance, unattainable. I decided then that I needed to put this work aside and wait until I was better able to realize it.
Now, more than twenty-five years since my first dream-sketch related to this work, I had the chance to return to this music. I thought it would be a simple and straightforward revision. With the experience and perspective of the last twenty years - how difficult could that be? I was wrong. Terribly wrong.
Facing this music again was facing my own demons, facing my old fears, memories, facing myself. It was much more difficult than writing a completely new work. I was no longer that teenager who dreamt the second movement, nor was I the ambitious 28-year-old graduating with this work in Hannover. I'm a different person now, in a different stage of life. At the same time, something very essential in me remains as a defining leitmotif.
This work deals with Time and its transformations, one of the most important themes throughout my entire creative output. It deals with our age of decay, post-apocalyptic ruins of human vocabulary; it continues to challenge my personal dialogue with Time. It continues to question, doubt and haunt me, now much older, more experienced, but perhaps, in some ways, also more limited, more inclined to shy away from the essential questions it forced me to face.
I realized that I needed to approach this concerto anew, rewrite it freely. I needed to dangerously balance on a double edge sword: to be true to the person I am now, and at the same time not betray the person I was 20 years ago. Perhaps, it meant I needed to build a bridge between myself then and now, acknowledge and reconcile our differences. I needed to find that hidden leitmotiv that connects me to my past like a mythological Ariadna’s thread, leading me through a labyrinth of memories into the present moment in time. I wanted to preserve that larger-than-life, impractical, idealistic, dreamy approach of the younger me, yet guide it by the knowledge and experience of numerous orchestral compositions (requiems, symphonies, concerti, operas, ballets) that I have written in between these two chapters of my life.
Writing for orchestra can be a magical, wondrous and limitless experience. It can be also infuriating, hurtful and soul-breaking. Many composers never survive the baptism of orchestral writing – not because they lack talent, but because of the harsh, un-fulfilling realities of under-rehearsed performances, combined with the jaded, skeptical or even hostile attitudes of some conductors, musicians, audiences and presenters towards anything new, and general lack of support or even basic understanding of what it means to bring a new creation to the world. I am more fortunate than most. I survived. I flourished. I wrote dozens of orchestral works. The piano concerto kept on haunting me until I knew I had to face it once again. So here we are.