Performing Prokofiev at the Proms

Anika VavicWed 31st July 2013

The composer’s Third Piano Concerto was composed during his happy summer of 1921

I haven’t been to the Proms myself but have listened to concerts in the Royal Albert Hall, so when I think of it I imagine a wonderfully intense atmosphere in the hall. Performing Prokofiev´s Third Piano Concerto (Prom 64, August 30), which is a kind of compact ‘anti-material cell’ of joy and energy, I hope to reach everyone in the audience and take them to Prokofiev’s happy summer of 1921. He spent it with his friends in a great mood enjoying the small rituals of everyday life on holidays – his hot chocolate in the morning, the morning swims and walks, playing badminton and chess, but also the growing romance with the woman who would become his first wife. After Prokofiev performed this freshly finished score to his Russian neighbour, the poet Konstantin Balmont, this famous symbolist wrote:

‘Prokofiev! Music and youth in bloom,
In you, the orchestra yearns for forgotten summer sounds,
And the invincible Scythian beats on the tambourine of the sun.’

 Prokofiev dedicated this piece to Balmont.

I am honoured and glad to work with the wonderful London Philharmonic Orchestra and with a conductor as sophisticated as Vladimir Jurowski. Knowing him in person and having similar taste in music, literature and paintings, I am looking forward to sharing with him the pleasure Prokofiev´s music gives to the performers. Prokofiev once said that there are no dirty tricks in the score for the conductor, but that it´s a difficult piece for the soloist and the orchestra. Consequently, the role of the conductor is really crucial as we can only paint the picture together. I am curious about the result and am also looking forward to performing it again with the LPO and Vladimir shortly after the Proms at the George Enescu Festival in Bucharest. Having an opportunity to play the same piece with the same ensemble and conductor more than once is the beautiful thing about this job – the ‘painting’ we create is different every time and the surprises it brings with it make us learn more.

Prokofiev´s music is my great love - it's as simple as that. A love I've had since I performed some pieces from Romeo and Juliet, aged 13. Every note ‘feeds’ my imagination and gives me enormous pleasure. I had the great luck of learning about Prokofiev's (and Shostakovich´s) piano music from Slava Rostropovich over several years, which made me feel familiar with his language and become ‘friends’ with Prokofiev the person, not only the composer and pianist. I have read a lot about him - his diaries, biographies, short stories - I have visited places he went to, read books he was reading. And listening to the stories Slava used to tell about him, I sometimes felt like I have been there myself.

Back in 1916 Prokofiev decided to start collecting the autographs of important and interesting people and create a remarkable album. The idea was to find a question everybody was supposed to answer. Searching for that one particular subject to ask about turned out to be difficult, but eventually the question Prokofiev chose was: what are your thoughts about the sun? His ‘Wooden Book’ - made out of two plain pieces of wood edged with black leather and fixed with ordinary nails and a metal clasp, the size of a ruble banknote - became a remarkable collection of legendary insights.

Balmont wrote in it:

‘Your harmonies in chorus
In hurried conversation rush to take in
The indistinct aroma of dreaming flowers...
...You played question and answer with a blade of grass,
And having dropped singing signs into your sound,
At night you play ball with the silver Moon.’

Performing together with the LPO and Vladimir Jurowski will hopefully be a musical play with question and answer, a playful joy for the artists as well as the Proms audience!

Anika Vavic's picture

Anika Vavic

'Extraordinarily gifted' pianist Anika Vavic made her performance debut at Vienna's Konzerthaus in 2003 where she continues to perform frequently. She works regularly with orchestras such as the Mariinsky Orchestra, the Munich Philharmonic and the MDR Orchestra Leipzig, and performs at festivals, including the White Nights festival in St Petersburg, the Istanbul Music Festival and Valery Gergiev's Mikkelli Festival in Finland. Her latest recital disc featuring works by Beethoven, Schumann, Chopin and Prokofiev has been released to great acclaim. Her upcoming performance highlights include concerts with the Mariinsky Orchestra in July 2013, her debut performances with the London Philharmonic Orchestra at the BBC Proms and at the George Enescu Festival in August 2013, and her return to the Munich Philharmonic Orchestra in March 2014.

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