Legendary musicians perform works by American-Maltese composer Alexey Shor in Dubai

On 31 March, two of classical music’s most accomplished artists, Maxim Vengerov and Evgeny Kissin, performed a duo recital programme of music by Brahms, Kreisler, Rachmaninoff, and Alexey Shor

On 31st March, two of classical music’s most accomplished and well-known artists, Maxim Vengerov and Evgeny Kissin, performed a duo recital programme at the Dubai Opera House as part of the CC Forum, marking their inaugural performance together since first meeting at the opening ceremony of the renowned Tchaikovsky Competition in 1986. The concert featured music by Brahms, Kreisler, Rachmaninoff and contemporary American - Maltese composer Alexey Shor, in an ambitious, albeit temporary, return to concert activities in the United Arab Emirates (UAE).

Grammy Award-winning Maxim Vengerov is widely regarded as one of the finest violinists in the world, a child prodigy who would win First Prize in the Junior Wieniawski Competition in Poland at the age of ten, before later going on to secure first place in the Carl Flesch International Violin Competition at the age of fifteen. He has toured extensively across the globe and recorded for numerous prestigious labels including Teldec and EMI, as well as following in the footsteps of his former mentor, Mstislav Rostropovich, embarking on a successful and in-demand career as a conductor in addition to his soloist activities. Maxim Vengerov is the recipient of numerous awards in recognition of his career, including a Classical Brit Award, two Gramophone awards, five Edison Classical Music Awards, two ECHO awards and a World Economic Forum Crystal award.

Evgeny Kissin enjoys a well-earned reputation as one of the classical world’s most authentic and interesting pianists, showing prodigious ability from a young age and gaining worldwide acclaim at the age of twelve performing Chopin’s first and second piano concertos in Moscow. An album recording followed soon afterwards, as well as numerous international tours including Japan, the USA and Europe. He is recipient of the 1991 Musician of the Year Prize from the Chigiana Academy of Music in Siena, as well as two of the Russian Federation’s highest cultural honours, the Triumph and Shostakovich awards.

The concert was no less than one would expect from these titans of classical music, their performance an engaging and powerful one that provided a perfect cadence to the day’s proceedings. Beginning with an offering from contemporary composer, Alexey Shor, the pair deftly gave life to the work’s subject, Vengerov’s shimmering vibrato soaring gracefully over Kissin’s soft enunciations and delicate pedalling, the ensemble timbre effectively and imaginatively evoking Shor’s Lonely Sail.

The unexpected diminished tonality shortly before the end of the work was handled masterfully, this perhaps otherwise small detail in the hands of other performers transformed into a startling and tender revelation that was breathtaking in its effectiveness. I later asked the performers about their experience performing this work by Mr Shor, someone who is a relatively new figure in the world of classical music and who, in a remarkably short space of time, has achieved considerable success, his works having been performed in such venues as Carnegie Hall, Wigmore Hall and the Mariinsky Theatre amongst many others, and by many noted performers including Salvatore Accardo, Ray Chen, Denis Kozukhin and Andreas Ottensamer.

Shor’s works have been performed numerous times in Malta, notably including Jester’s Wedding, an ice show based on his popular Crystal Palace ballet, as well as past appearances at the InClassica Malta International Music Festival.

In particular I was interested to learn of the duo’s approach to interpreting the work, noting the composer’s unabashed neo-romantic leanings — compared insightfully to film music by Evgeny Kissin — despite being a product of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. “Yes, he’s not one of those avant-garde composers, certainly.” Maxim Vengerov explains. “I guess he’s just writing music from the heart. He writes beautiful melodies and his work is full of imagination, it’s very picturesque. Almost all of his works, they have names, so when you play this piece — Lonely Sail — for example, it really feels like that, and so we tried to bring out these colours. He’s very talented, and it’s fascinating to know that he is someone who became a composer quite lately, and he’s doing quite well I think you’ll agree!”

“This piece, and I suppose much of Alexey’s work, could be likened to film music. The key thing there is that the music matches, or rather, reinforces, the themes and messages on the screen. Alexey’s music is much the same, the title of each piece setting the tone and giving the music something that is narratively very strong to work with....in this case, the piece is called Lonely Sail and I think the name speaks for itself really,” said Evgeny Kissin.

Speaking to members of the audience following the performance, it came as no surprise to this writer to hear descriptions such as “incredible” and “amazing” frequently voiced, with one audience member breathlessly exclaiming that, “it really felt historic.”

The professionalism and musical commitment of the pair was effortlessly maintained throughout the performance, the subsequent Sonata No. 2 in A Major by Brahms presenting bold yet navigable changes in mood and timbre, the pair’s playing easily moving between ethereal passages to sterner vertically dense motifs. Brahms’ Hungarian Dance No. 1 teemed with joyous and playful abandon, presenting a rugged charm that playfully teetered on the edge of stability without ever losing control.

Fritz Kreisler’s Chinese Tambourine aptly demonstrated the pair’s flawless joint musical identity, their combined sound moving beyond two people simply working together to becoming a truly ensemble voice, dynamics matched perfectly whilst still allowing for space for individual movement. Rachmaninoff’s Vocalise closed the concert on a peaceful and appropriately thoughtful note.

“Maxim Vengerov and Evgeny Kissin are two of the greatest artists of our generation, and it was a pleasure to work with them and help support their first performance together here in Dubai. I also wish to extend my sincere congratulations to American – Maltese composer Alexey Shor on his Middle East debut, an important moment which follows in the footsteps of other leading composers in promoting their culture overseas and introducing their music to new audiences,” said Jorge Iglesias, one of the concert’s organizers.

Content submitted by Samantha Pierrie, a freelance writer who has a passion for music. In her free time, she enjoys going to concerts and writing music reviews