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It’s all about Beauty

By Wenneke Savenije, Amsterdam June 2nd, 2009

Pianist Alexander Gavrylyuk makes his debut with two Dutch orchestras. The Ukrainian Alexander Gavrylyuk (24) is one of the most sensational young pianists. This week he will be playing with the Netherlands Philharmonic Orchestra.

His mother considered him too lazy to become a pianist.

But by now the Ukrainian Alexander Gavrylyuk (24), who will be playing the First Piano Concerto by Liszt with the Netherlands Philharmonic Orchestra this week and who will make his debut with the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra in 2010 playing Prokofiev’s Piano Concerto No.2, is recognized as one of the most sensational young pianists. “From childhood I have been surrounded by music”, Gavrylyuk explains. “My parents play Russian folk music and I was taught to sing in a choir. But after hearing Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition on piano, I knew I wanted to be a pianist. Music is the greatest creation of mankind. No other art form can move the human heart so profoundly. When I am playing the piano, or listening to a Maazel recording of Rachmaninoff’s Second Suite, my eyes often fill with tears.”


He won the Horowitz Piano Competition in Kiev in 1999 and was proclaimed ‘best sixteen year old pianist of the end of the 20th century’ after winning the Hamamatsu International Piano competition in Japan in 2000 – the result of three hard years of study.


“In Sydney I was the youngest of a group of Russian piano students. I felt lonely and was missing my parents a lot. When I had to practice technical exercises, I secretly put a book of Tolstoy on my desk. The Australian way of life was so different from everything I was used to. Ukrainian children do what they are told by their parents and teachers. But in Australia it’s all about freedom, nature and sports. There aren’t many great musicians from Australia. But my personal development benefitted a lot from the Australian mentality.”


After winning the international piano competition in Japan, he won the Gold Medal at the Arthur Rubinstein Competition in Tel Aviv. That made his international breakthrough a fact. But Gavrylyuk was more concerned with the spiritual meaning of music than the possibility of winning more prizes. “Competitions are a necessary evil. A lot of good things happened to me because of them, but for many young musicians the psychological pressure is often very difficult to deal with. There is a risk that for some contestants music becomes like sports. This produces unhealthy ego’s, who forget that ultimately it’s all about the beauty of music.”


The depth of Gavrylyuk’s conviction became clear during his debut recital in the Master Pianist series in February. He played as if he had already lived three piano lives: extremely inspired and with utmost concentration, with almost unlimited technical abilities and averse to musical vanity. He played with a bruised finger that had been jammed by a car door. Even more spectacular he proved his strength and courage five years ago, when given up by the doctors he fully recovered from a car accident in which part of his scull had been fractured. Gavrylyuk came out of his coma and within three months he was back on the stage. He played even more beautiful and profound than ever.


Gavrylyuk believes his search for truth and sincerity in music to be his success formula. “Every individual needs to find his way”. I am a great admirer of Horowitz and Richter, musicians from which I’ve learned the most, but musicians who try to imitate others won’t get very far. On the other hand, I never deliberately tried to distinguish myself from others.” Pianist and colleague Murray Perahia introduced Gavrylyuk to the musical analysis of Schenker. “That has helped me analyzing the scores. Schenker, who was a friend of Brahms’, was able to reduce difficult scores to just a few ‘keynotes’. Thus reducing music to near mathematical structures. This really helps  define phrasing, structure and movement. When a few years ago I accidentally got hold of the autobiography of Stanislavski, I realized that you could apply Method Acting to music as well. One should not only play the notes, but try to become them. The trick is understanding the essence of a score so thoroughly, you will emotionally become one with the music you play.”

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