Teo Gheorghiu


March 12, 2017, 4 PM

Music Room

A talented actor as well as a pianist, Teo Gheorghiu starred in the film Vitus in 2004 when he was 12 years old, the same age at which he made his concert debut. A pupil at the Purcell School in England, he continued his studies at the Curtis Institute with Gary Graffman. In addition to his concerto appearances and solo recitals all over the world, he also plays chamber music, particularly with the Carmina Quartet. Three great pillars of Russian virtuoso piano music make up this recital: the descriptive genius of Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition, Rachmaninoff’s stirring Études-tableaux Op. 33, and Balakirev’s dazzling “oriental fantasy” Islamey.


Pictures at an Exhibition (1874)
     Promenade [I]
     [Promenade II]. Moderato Commodo Assai e con Delicatezza
     Il Vecchio Castello
     [Promenade III]. Moderato Non Tanto, Pesamente
     Tuileries (Dispute D'enfants Apres Jeux)
     [Promenade IV]. Tranquillo
     Ballet of the Unhatched Chicks
     "Samuel" Goldenberg und "Schmuÿle"
     Promenade [V]
     Limoges, Le Marche (La Grande Nouvelle)
     Catacombæ (Sepulcrum Romanum)
     Cum Mortuis in Lingua Mortua
     The Hut on Fowl's Legs (Baba-Yagá)
     The Knight's Gate (In The Old Capital of Kiev) or The Great Gate of Kiev


Études-Tableaux Op.33 (1911)
     Allegro Non Troppo 
     Non Allegro—Presto 
     Allegro Con Fuoco 

MILY BALAKIREV (1837-1910)
Islamey, Op. 18 (1869)

Since making his concert debut in the Tonhalle Zurich in 2004, Teo Gheorghiu has performed concerts throughout the world including in London (Queen Elisabeth Hall, Royal Festival Hall, Barbican Centre, and Royal Albert Hall), New York, Paris, Tokyo, Zurich, St. Petersburg, Madrid, and Prague. He has performed with orchestras including the Danish National Symphony Orchestra, Royal Philharmonic Orchestra,Tokyo Symphony Orchestra, Tchaikovsky Symphony Orchestra, Zurich Chamber Orchestra, Bern Symphonie Orchester, Sinfonica de Bilbao, Orquestra Filamonica de Minas Gerais, Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra, and the Müncher Symphoniker. During his career thus far he has enjoyed collaborations with such esteemed conductors as Sir Neville Marriner, Vladimir Fedoseyev, Andrey Borenko, Mario Venzago, Douglas Boyd, Vladimir Ashkenazy, Muhai Tang, James Gaffigan, and Lan Shui.

Season highlights for 2016/2017 include debut performances with both the Tonhalle Orchestra under Lionel Bringuier and the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra under Vasily Petrenko, as well as a return to the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra and to the Zurich Chamber Orchestra for concerts in Zurich’s Tonhalle. His recital highlights include debut recitals at the Ravinia Festival, The Phillips Collection in Washintgon, DC., and Kings Place London, as well as a return to the Far East for concerts in Taipei and Seoul, Tonhalle Zurich, and Piano aux Jacobins Toulouse.

Gheorghiu’s first album release in April 2009 was a recording for Deustche Grammophon (Schumann Piano Concerto and Beethoven Piano Concerto No.3) with Musikkollegium Winterthur and Douglas Boyd. Since then he has recorded twice for Sony: First with the Carmina Quartet (Dvorak’s Piano Quintet) and a second CD Excursions (released in 2015) joining forces once again with the Musikkollegium Winterthur and Douglas Boyd and including a selection of Schubert Impromptus and the Liszt/Schubert Wanderfantasie.

Born in Zurich in 1992, Gheorghiu was a pupil at the Purcell School, London, from 2001, where he was taught by William Fong. He attended the Curtis Institute in Philadelphia in the class of Gary Graffman, followed by the Royal Academy of Music in 2011 under Hamish Milne. In 2004 he won first prize in the San Marino International Piano Competition and the following year he was awarded first prize in the Franz Liszt International Piano Competition in Weimar, Germany and was awarded the Beethovenring at the Beethovenfest Bonn in 2010.

In addition to his skills as a pianist, Gheorghiu is also a talented actor. In 2006, he starred in the title role of Fredi Murer’s Vitus opposite Bruno Ganz. Telling the story of a young piano prodigy, the film has received numerous awards and as a result Gheorghiu has performed at the Istanbul, Tribeca, and Locarno Film Festivals.

Modest Mussorgsky, Pictures at an Exhibition (1874)
The artist Viktor Hartmann died in 1873 at the age of 39, and a posthumous exhibition of his works was held at the Architectural Association in St Petersburg in Spring 1874. Mussorgsky had known Hartmann for several years, and the two men had become friends. He was devastated by the sudden early death of Hartmann, but inspired by the paintings in the 1874 exhibition, Mussorgsky quickly finished Pictures at an Exhibition in June 1874 (completing it in three weeks) as a unique and eloquent memorial to the artist. The title page of the manuscript has a dedication to Vladimir Stasov (who had introduced Hartmann and Mussorgsky and who also arranged the memorial exhibition), followed by “Pictures at an Exhibition, recollections of Victor Hartmann” and, just legible, an erased title suggesting that Mussorgsky originally intended to call the work simply “Hartmann.” Though the composer made some revisions a month after finishing the work and fully intended it to be published, this did not happen during the composer’s lifetime. It only appeared in print in 1886, in an edition that has numerous well-intentioned but interventionist revisions by Rimsky-Korsakov (the unavailability of Mussorgsky’s own version troubled Ravel when he orchestrated Pictures in 1922). Later editors restored the bold originality of Mussorgsky’s work, something that was further revealed by the publication a facsimile of the autograph manuscript. In 1939, Alfred Frankenstein wrote an article for Musical Quarterly in which he illustrated several of the pictures–or sketches for them–that had inspired Mussorgsky (before Frankenstein’s article, all there was to go on were Stasov’s descriptions of the pictures in the preface to Rimsky-Korsakov’s edition). The “Promenade” movements do not represent pictures but instead they depict Mussorgsky himself walking around the exhibition. Frankenstein’s research (still enormously helpful 80 years later) links specific pieces to paintings listed in the exhibition catalog, and, where no artwork appears to match the title (including “Il vecchio castello”, “Bydlo” and “Samuel Goldenberg”), he explains which pictures might have been the inspiration. With movements like “Tuileries,” the “Ballet of the unhatched chicks,” “Baba-Yaga,” and “The Great Gate of Kiev,” the pictures are reproduced, though according to Frankenstein the original catalog listed no fewer than six exhibits depicting the “Great Gate of Kiev,” and in the case of “Limoges,” it’s anyone’s guess which of the 70 or more pictures of the city served as Mussorgsky’s starting point. Fascinating as all this is, what matters more is the combination of illustrative and musical power in Mussorgsky’s score: the emotional range of the pieces, from the delicacy of “Tuileries” and the “Ballet of the unhatched chicks,” via the stark solemnity of “Catacombs” and the quietly atmospheric “Old Castle,” to the blazing majesty of the “Great Gate of Kiev” makes Pictures, in Mussorgsky’s solo piano version, one of the monuments of Russian music.

Sergei Rachmaninoff, ​Études-tableaux Op.33 (1911)
Rachmaninov composed the first set of Études-tableaux in 1911 at his summer retreat, the estate called Ivanovka that belonged to aristocratic relatives, the Satin family. Situated 300 miles south of Moscow (near the city of Tambov), this was an idyllic place, a handsome house set in a wooded park with a pond (it is now the Rachmaninov Memorial Residence Musuem). In these surroundings, Rachmaninov often came to find the peace and quiet he needed to compose. Among his largest works, the orchestration of the Second Symphony, the Third Piano Concerto, and his choral-orchestral masterpiece, The Bells were orchestrated in Ivanovka. The Op. 33 Études-tableaux were composed in August and September 1911, just after he had finished the Preludes Op. 32. He originally composed nine Études-tableaux for the Op. 33 series, but chose just six of these for publication in 1914. One was later revised, while the others were published posthumously.

Rachmaninov’s choice of title for these pieces is unusual and it suggests that they are both studies and “pictures.” The composer admitted that some of them had been inspired by visual images, but he declined to offer any further explanation, preferring to leave the pieces to speak for themselves: “I do not believe in the artist disclosing too much of his images. Let them paint for themselves what they most suggest.” Later in life he was willing to say a little more about the pictorial element of the Études-tableaux. In 1930, the Italian composer Ottorino Respighi started to orchestrate five of them for Serge Koussevitzky and the Boston Symphony Orchestra. In a rare moment of self-revelation, Rachmaninov sent him “secret explanations…to help make the character of these pieces more comprehensible.” Among those Respighi chose was the E-flat Major étude which Rachmaninov described as “a scene at a Fair.” For the other Études-tableaux in the Op. 33 set, the composer left audiences to decide for themselves what they evoked. What is certain is that in these works, Rachmaninov fashioned a musical form that looked both to the tradition of concert studies (by the likes of Chopin and Liszt) on the one hand, and to an enigmatic pictorial element that is left unexplained. These pieces are of such character that they are entirely convincing as musical entities, without the need of any program.

Rachmaninoff left Russia in December 1917, eventually settling in the United States and building a summer home for himself on the shore of Lake Lucerne in Switzerland. His concert and recording activity after his emigration left little time for composing, and he completed just six major works between 1918 and his death in 1943. In December 1941, The Étude published an interview with David Ewen in which Rachmaninoff talked about his approach to composition:

“A composer’s music should express the country of his birth, his love affairs, his religion, the books which have influenced him, the pictures he loves. It should be the product of the sum total of a composer’s experience. […] In my own compositions, no conscious effort has been made to be original, a Romantic, or Nationalistic, or anything else. I write down on paper the music I hear within me, as naturally as possible. I am a Russian composer, and the land of my birth has influenced my temperament and outlook. My music is the product of my temperament, and so it is Russian music; I have never consciously attempted to write Russian music, or any other kind of music. I have been strongly influenced by Tchaikovsky and Rimsky-Korsakov; but I have never, to the best of my knowledge, imitated anyone. What I try to do, when writing down my music, is to make it say simply and directly that which is in my heart when I am composing.”

Mily Balakirev, Islamey: An Oriental Fantasy, Op. 18 (1869)
Many years after composing Islamey, Balakirev wrote to a friend that it “was conceived…in the Caucasus. The grandiose beauty of the natural surroundings and the commensurate beauty of its inhabitants: all of this left a deep impression on me.” On a visit to the region in 1863, he heard a folk dance (performed by a Circassian prince, no less) called “Islamey” that he was later to use as the first theme of his mighty “Oriental Fantasy” of the same name. The work’s second theme is some distance away geographically: originating from the Tatars in Crimea, Balakirev first heard this folksong in Moscow, performed by a member of the Boshoi Theatre. Balakirev wrote Islamey in September 1869, almost certainly as a new work for Nikolai Rubinstein (to whom it is dedicated) to include in a concert he gave in St. Petersburg on December 12, 1869 (Julian calendar: 30 November). Despite its evocative subtitle, Balakirev did not conceive Islamey as a programmatic piece. As he wrote later in life, “I merely wanted to develop the two themes in an interesting manner and, as far as possible, both symphonically and pianistically. It must have been the originality of the first theme, and my deep impressions of the Caucasus reflected in it, that lent my composition its distinctive flavor and drew upon it the attention of the great Liszt.”  Liszt’s admiration is well-merited: the combination of folk-inspired colors, dazzling piano writing and the thrilling trajectory of Islamey combine to produce a dizzying experience–a musical roller-coaster ride of astonishing brilliance, but also a superbly constructed composition. 

Nigel Simeone, 2017