Maxim Rysanov & Alexander Kobrin

Viola & Piano

May 7, 2017, 4 PM

Music Room

Grammy-nominated Ukrainian-British violist and conductor Maxim Rysanov will make his Washington, DC debut with pianist and Van Cliburn alum, Alexander Kobrin. The concert will include works by Schubert, Desyatnikov, Akhunov, and Shostakovich.


Franz Schubert (1797-1828)
Arpeggione Sonata arranged for Viola and Piano, D. 821
     Allegro moderato

Leonid Desyatnikov (b. 1955)
Wie der alte Leiermann

Sergey Akhunov (b. 1967)
Erlkönig for Viola and Piano


Dmitri Shostakovich (1906-1975)
Sonata for Viola and Piano in C Major, Op. 147

A regularly invited soloist and conductor worldwide, Maxim Rysanov is recognized as one of the world’s best and most charismatic viola players. Among his many high-profile performances, he has appeared as a soloist at the renowned Last Night of the Proms, Great Mountains Music Festival, Trans-Siberian, Edinburgh Festival, and Salzburg Festival among others. He is a past recipient of both the Classic FM Gramophone Young Artist of the Year and the BBC New Generation Award.

His concerto highlights include the Mariinsky Orchestra, Russian National Orchestra, BBC Symphony Orchestra, Seattle Symphony, Deutsches Symphonie Orchester Berlin, Hungarian National Philharmonic, Moscow Philharmonic, Orquesta Sinfónica de Castilla y León, and the Boston Symphony Orchestra.

As a conductor Rysanov has been invited to perform at festivals in Dubrovnik (Roger Moore as narrator), Utrecht (Janine Jansen), Surrey Hills (Nicola Benedetti), Budapest Festival Orchestra (Kelemen Quartet), Detmold Chamber Orchestra (Alexander Sitkovetsky), and the finale of the Beijing Viola Festival as well as the Spanish Radio Orchestra, Sofia Philharmonic, Liepāja Symphony Orchestra, Basel Symphony Orchestra, Riga Sinfonietta, London Mozart Players, and Russian National Orchestra.

Rysanov’s interest in new music is apparent as he has premiered works and new commissions by many composers, including a new concerto by Pēteris Vasks. Recent recordings include a Martinů repertoire for viola on BIS Records and an award-winning recording of Mozart Sinfonia Concertante with Vilde Frang on the Parlophone label. Later this year Onyx will release a double album of music inspired by and devoted to Schubert. Originally from Ukraine, Rysanov is now based in London and Budapest. He plays a 1780 Giuseppe Guadagnini viola.

Called the “Van Cliburn of today” by the BBC, pianist Alexander Kobrin has placed himself at the forefront of today's performing musicians. His prize-winning performances have been praised for their brilliant technique, musicality, and emotional engagement with audiences. The New York Times has written that Kobrin was a “fastidious guide” to Schumann’s “otherworldly visions, pointing out hunters, flowers, haunted corners and friendly bowers, all captured in richly characterized vignettes.”

Kobrin has performed with many of the world’s great orchestras including the New York Philharmonic, Tokyo Philharmonic, Russian National Orchestra, Belgrade Philharmonic, English Chamber Orchestra, Orchestra Verdi, Orchestre de la Suisse Romande, Moscow Philharmonic, Royal Liverpool Philharmonic, Dallas Symphony, Berliner Philharmoniker, Chicago Sinfonietta, Swedish Radio Symphony, Birmingham Symphony, Warsaw Philharmonic, and the BBC Symphony Orchestra. He has collaborated with such conductors as Mikhail Pletnev, Michail Jurowski, Mark Elder, Vassily Sinaisky, James Conlon, Claus Peter Flor, Alexander Lazarev, Vasily Petrenko, and Yuri Bashmet.

He has appeared in recital at major halls worldwide, including the Avery Fisher Hall in New York, the Kennedy Center in Washington, DC, Albert Hall and Wigmore Hall in London, Auditorium du Louvre, Salle Gaveau and Salle Cortot in Paris, Munich Herkulessaal and Berliner Philharmonie Hall in Germany, the Great Hall of the Moscow Conservatory, Sheung Wan Civic Centre in Hong Kong, as well as La Sala Verdi in Milan and many others. Other past performances have included recitals at Bass Performance Hall for the Cliburn Series, the Washington Performing Arts Society, La Roque d'Anthéron, the Ravinia Festival, the Beethoven Easter Festival, Busoni Festival, the renowned Klavier-Festival Ruhr, the Festival Musique dans le Grésivaudan, the International Keyboard Institute & Festival, and annual concert tours in Japan, China, and Taiwan.

Kobrin was born in 1980 in Moscow. At the age of five, he was enrolled in the world-famous Gnessins Special School of Music after which he attended the prestigious Moscow Tchaikovsky Conservatory. His teachers have included renowned professors Tatiana Zelikman and Lev Naumov.

Franz Schubert, Arpeggione Sonata arranged for Viola and Piano, D. 821 (1824)
The arpeggione was an instrument invented in Vienna around 1823 by the guitar maker Johann Georg Stauffer. It was a kind of hybrid between a cello and a guitar, played with a bow, but with six strings and a fretted fingerboard. Very few original works were composed for the arpeggione and the only substantial piece to survive is Schubert’s Sonata D. 821. It was composed in November 1824 and first performed by Vincenz Schuster soon afterwards. In 1825, Schuster also published the only method for learning the arpeggione (or “Guitare-Violoncell” as he called it), including “an accurate illustration” of what this curiosity looked like. Sadly, the instrument aroused little interest, and within ten years it was forgotten. So, too, was Schubert’s masterpiece until its publication in 1871 as a “Sonata for Arpeggione or Violoncello,” giving cellists a substantial work to add to the repertoire. Viola players soon followed: in 1909, Theodor Müller-Reuter noted in his Lexikon der deutschen Konzertliteratur that “with only minimal alterations, it makes a rewarding piece for the viola.”

The first movement is in sonata form, but the two main subjects are presented in a slightly surprising order: Schubert opens with a rather wistful melody in A minor, heard first on the piano, then played by the solo instrument. The second subject—centered around C Major—is more animated, including a leaping figure that sounds almost like a folk dance. The Adagio is in E Major, dominated by a gentle, arching theme. As this slow movement progresses, the colors become darker, the harmonies more chromatic and daring, until a rather inconclusive cadence and a short, unaccompanied passage which leads into the Allegretto finale. This is an unhurried Rondo in A Major, intercut with more animated episodes before moving towards a tranquil close.

Leonid Desyatnikov, Wie der alte Leiermann (1997)
Leonid Desyatnikov is a versatile composer whose works include film scores, and four operas, the most remarkable of which is The Children of Rosenthal (2005). Set during World War II in the Soviet Union, its plot concerns a scientist (Alex Rosenthal) who produces clones of five great composers—Wagner, Tchaikovksy, Verdi, Mussorgsky, and Mozart—each of whom is parodied in a mini–opera within the larger work. A similar process of pastiche and reinvention lies behind Wie der alte Leiermann (“Like the old Organ-Grinder”). Composed in 1997, it takes as its starting point Schubert’s “Der Leiermann”—the final song from the cycle Winterreise—to produce what Desyatnikov’s publisher describes as “a commentary, or a sort of critique (in a positive sense)” on Schubert’s work. At the same time, it is intended as a portrait of its dedicatee, the violinist Gidon Kremer, and throughout the work there are references to other works in his repertory. Originally written for violin and piano, this fascinating reinvention and exploration of one of Schubert’s most personal songs is performed this afternoon in a version for viola and piano.

Sergey Akhunov, Der Erlkönig (2014)
Sergey Akhunov’s Der Erlkönig came about as a result of a close collaboration with Maxim Rysanov. The composer himself described this in an interview at the time of the work’s first performance in 2015: “A few years ago I found on the Internet a ‘call for a score:’ Maxim Rysanov was in search of a new composition connected with Schubert, in some way or other. I wrote In Schubert’s Company and sent it to Maxim. He agreed to play my composition and performed it with Lithuanian Chamber Orchestra. A year passed, and then we met in Moscow. Maxim asked me to write something akin to Schubert’s Der Erlkönig. I liked the idea and did it very quickly, finishing it in a month. I was working under Maxim’s ‘supervision’ and it was professionally fascinating—to write exactly what a musician needs and wants. I can say that to an extent Maxim is the co-author of this composition, and we are friends now.” Akhunov’s score takes elements of Schubert’s famous song—not least its driving energy—to create a completely fresh and immensely exciting new piece in which remorseless momentum pushes the music towards a crushing conclusion.

Dmitri Shostakovich, Viola Sonata, Op. 147 (1975)
Shostakovich’s Viola Sonata was his last work, composed from June–July 1975, a few weeks before his death. As in the Eighth Quartet, there is a complex network of quotations, including from his own works, and from Beethoven’s “Moonlight” Sonata. Ivan Sokolov reports on Shostakovich’s phone calls from his hospital bed to the viola player Fyodor Druzhinin to whom he was to dedicate the work: “In one conversation, noted down immediately afterwards by Druzhinin, Shostakovich suggested titles for each of the three movements: Novella, Scherzo, and Adagio in memory of Beethoven, or Adagio in memory of a Great Composer.” Shostakovich’s description of the finale is typically enigmatic: if not Beethoven, then who was the “great composer?” The music itself—with its subtle and complicated network of self-quotations as well as explicit references to Beethoven—suggests that the movement was a double memorial: not only to Beethoven but also to Shostakovich himself. Some sketches for the Sonata are written in the bass clef, suggesting that Shostakovich may originally have intended it for cello, but by the time he got down to composing the work, it was the viola he had firmly in mind.

Druzhinin gave the first performance on September 25, 1975, on what would have been the composer’s 69th birthday, and the work was heard in public for the first time a few days later, in the small hall of the Leningrad Philharmonic on October 1, 1975. The loosely programmatic titles given by the composer to Druzhinin are helpful. The first movement, Novella, begins with the open strings of the viola and it is a free-flowing structure in which tension is created by the contrast between the austere open sound of fifths (later fourths) and the use of the twelve-note theme heard in the first entry by the piano. The Scherzo, marked Allegretto, takes as its starting point music from a much earlier operatic project based on Gogol’s The Gamblers that Shostakovich abandoned in 1942. The character is close to that of a march apart from the eerie and mysterious Trio section. After an introductory viola solo, the finale introduces a quotation from the first movement of Beethoven’s “Moonlight” Sonata, but this long movement also explores Shostakovich’s own works. David Fanning has pointed out that the later part of the movement includes “note for note quotations, mainly found in the piano left-hand part, from Shostakovich’s Second Violin Concerto and all 15 of his symphonies in sequence.” Fanning concludes from this that “there could scarcely be a clearer indication that [Shostakovich] knew—or at least suspected—that this would be his last work.” In this finale, Shostakovich told Druzhinin that “the music is clear and light”—a surprising description, perhaps, at least until the last few bars. These he described as “radiant,” when the music arrives, finally, on a resolution in C Major.

Nigel Simeone, 2017