At the Level of Genius

  • Sep 14, 2016
  • Yulia Shigareva

Mikhail Pletnev's two solo concerts that kicked off the 2016 RNO Festival have caused a stir almost as great as the tour of the famous La Scala theater. This article translated from Argumenti i Fakti summarizes the reaction.

It is entirely possible that the festival purposely decided to begin with Pletnev's concerts – in order that the audiences would be able to evaluate the full subtlety and lyricism resonating from his performances of Bach, Grieg and Mozart. Because after that a powerful torrent will engulf festival guests: Rossini's Ermione opera and Haydn's oratorio, Die Schöpfung... But, in the meantime, the full house at Philharmonia-2 Concert Hall cried “Bravo!” and demanded encores from the musician.

“I am firmly convinced that Mikhail Pletnev stands truly apart in today’s music world,” says television host Yulian Makarov. “I was able to speak with Mikhail Vasilyevich [Pletnev] in Kazan, at Alexander Sladkovsky’s White Siren Festival, at which Pletnev performed a completely fantastic Rachmaninov’s Second Piano Concerto with the Tatarstan State Orchestra. Pletnev is distinguished by a soulful concentration that is unusual for our times. It appears, outside concerts, as if he is here, with us, standing beside us, answering questions… But in reality he is neither here, nor with us. It is as if at this moment he is conversing with the Titans of past eras – with Plato, Leonardo, Bach. Yet in concert, on stage, Pletnev is always here and now. Those who love and understand music sense it perfectly: each of his concerts is a new statement, based on a phenomenal feeling for the music. A feeling at the level of genius.”

“I was very upset when I did not find Mikhail Pletnev’s name in the top ten rating of the world’s best pianists,” says music critic Natalia Zimyanina. “For he is an entirely special artist. He cannot be included on that performing conveyor belt, onto which so many famous performers so easily step. Pletnev is not the conveyor type! Each of his concerts is of a piece. And not just something where he came, sat down, played, flew off to some other city, performed there twice…”

It is unquestionable that Pletnev has a composer’s mindset. In his performances, the great music that he plays sounds so assured that you believe it is the author sitting at the piano. In the spring, he played the same Mozart sonatas that he is performing at the festival. Among them was one that struck me as almost surrealistic. When I got home, I took up the score and began to work through the sonata measure by measure. And I immediately understood that Pletnev had dug deeply into each measure and extracted from it things that other musicians had missed, not even noticed. Grieg… There is no one who plays Grieg better, in my opinion. Chopin is played everywhere now, and excellently. But no one plays him better than Pletnev. The bitterness and sadness that Chopin sought to convey through his music for some reason is not captured by other musicians. Scriabin… A few years ago, one evening he played Scriabin’s Preludes, warning, “This is long. Anyone who finds it boring can leave.” Yet he opened up such worlds for us through his unbelievable powers of performance.

Mikhail Vasilyevich does not play for the hall and not even for himself, but for the composer. He plays with such a reverence for the creators. This quality – reverence for the composer – is absolutely lost on our other performers.

Pletnev is undoubtedly a person of very strong character. And a very mysterious personality. But of course there is no art without mystery. And without mystery you have simply fabrication.

– Yulia Shigareva

Appeared in Argumenti i Fakty, 14 September 2016

What They’re Saying

"Like everything else about how Pletnev runs this orchestra, he takes nothing for granted... And also like everything else about this remarkable organization, he makes it seem not just new but newly worthwhile."

Los Angeles Times