‘Wonder pianist’ (The Times) who is ‘potentially one of the greatest pianists of the 21st century’ (The Telegraph), Yevgeny Sudbin shouldn’t need an introduction. He has performed recently at the Wigmore Hall and at the Royal Academy of Music, as well as being a regular visitor of the Verbier Festival. But his appearances in France are more rare. All the better, then, to surprise the audience, who hold their breath at the end of each piece, as if to prolong the moment of grace they have just experienced for a few seconds more. Watching him come to sit at the piano, one imagines a humble and discreet personality. It’s true, but in conversation he opens up about his career, his vision of a musician’s life, and interests in photography and travel. Qobuz was lucky enough to meet Yevgeny Sudbin at the Menton Festival following his sold-out recital on the 8th August at the modern Musée Cocteau.
P: Thank you for taking the time to answer my questions. With the fourteen CDs you’ve recorded, do you consider recording an essential part of your musician work?
YS: Is it already 14? Wow! Time flies very fast. Yeah I was with BIS for ten years, and recording has always been very important to me. I think it’s very different from playing concerts, because it gives me the chance to not be distracted by things when I record, it’s a very focussed atmosphere, and it gives me the chance to actually produce some qualities which may be not so easy in a concert. In a concert you have the adrenaline, you have the audience, and there’s a live atmosphere, it’s very exciting. But if you record a concert, it may not seem like that. I think in a studio environment I can achieve and go a step further, or maybe two steps further, to bring out more detail … It’s just a very different art form, so I think playing concerts and recording are two separate things that I like to do. And I can’t say one is better than the other, I think playing concerts pays the bills! And gives me a nice feeling afterwards.
P: Also for the public!
YS: But I’m very selfish! Of course concerts are something I’ve always done, but I think just thinking from an artistic point of view actually, I think there’s a lot of value in the recording, and it’s really not the same thing as playing a concert, there’s just so much more I can do in the recording. I feel that I’m not distracted by other things. And I think it really shows, because I’ve listened to live performance recordings and it’s not the same. I’m not saying I’m playing worse or better, it’s just you can really focus on what’s important in the recording, without being distracted. So I hope I can continue doing that for a long time, because it’s a very important part!
P: What is the next CD?
YS: There are two coming out soon. One is a concerto recording which is Medtner number 3, and Scriaban’s piano concerto. And the Mendtner will complete the cycle, so I’ve recorded all three concertos. And the conductor is Andrew Litton, with Bergen Philharmonic, a great orchestra and a great conductor. But we had a difficult time recording the Mendtner. It’s a really tough piece, one of the hardest concertos I’ve ever played. All three of them are actually equally hard. It’s a nightmare! But its beautiful music, and I love doing it; it’s just such a challenge. And Scriaban I love playing, he’s one of my favourite composers in general, playing it solo or recording it is just fantastic. The other recording is Rachmaninov and Mendtner’s solo music. It’s coming out in a few months as well, and I love Rachmaninov’s music of course. A lot. Who doesn’t?! I also love Mendtner, as I said it’s just very hard, he’s a very difficult composer. But he is wonderful, he’s underrated, and not played much actually, but he’s a real genius in my opinion. The way he writes for the piano nobody else writes. I think it’s just great. So those are the two CDs, and I’m completing the Beethoven cycle as well, maybe you heard that the Minnesota orchestra had difficulties. I recorded Beethoven concerto number 3,4,5 with them, but they had some problems so I had to complete the cycle with another orchestra, which is the Tapiola Sinfonietta, so number 1 and 2 will be with Tapiola Sinfonietta.
P: Have you already played with them?
YS: No, this autumn will be the first time. So, cheers.
P: But Mendtner, that was my next question in fact, big fans of Mendtner are really happy that you recorded so much of his work!
YS: Yeah I think once you understand Mendtner you become really obsessed and addicted, it’s quite incredible. But you have to listen to his music for a long time, you have to listen many times, repetitive listening. But there are some pieces which appeal to you straight away, like some fairy tales, which are recorded on the new CD.
P: They’re my favourites!
YS: Great! I mean, he’s a fantastic composer. And I think once you listen, more and more you get into it, and you want to hear more. Out of the concertos, I think number 1 is the most accessible, but number 2 is also great, it has more variety. Number 3 is very difficult, both for listening and also for playing, it’s a tough piece, but it’s a wonderful piece, I think. It takes time once it gets going, but by the second or third movement there’s a lot of drive. It’s a fantastic concerto.
P: You had a Russian, German and English musical education. Do you think there is still a national piano school in the classical music area?
YS: I don’t think so actually. People ask me what schooling I have, but I don’t know. Even today I can’t say, because it’s so dispersed now, so international, it’s really hard to say that this is Russian, this is German, this is English. Of course all pianists, maybe you can tell they’re Russian, but I can’t say I play in a Russian way, as I don’t know what the Russian way is. Just a lot of preparation is maybe Russian, I don’t know! Or maybe very little preparation, I don’t know.
P: Now it’s more multicultural.
YS: Very international. All the Russians teachers of course, are all over the world teaching international students, so you might find a Canadian pianist playing more Russian than the Russian pianist in Russia.
P: That’s totally true. If you had to be a musician but not a pianist, which instrument would you have chosen?
YS: That’s a good question. Um I guess I think, I can’t see myself as a violinist, I would be terrible.
YS: I don’t know, I just can’t see myself playing the violin. A cellist, same kind of thing. Gosh, this is hard. I probably wouldn’t be a musician. I mean, both my parents were pianists, so it was inevitable that I would be a pianist. I would probably be something completely different if I wasn’t a pianist, I don’t know what. But probably not a musician.
P: Like a professional photographer?
YS: Yeah maybe I guess! I love taking photos, but I mean it’s just a hobby. I think because it’s a good balance for me because playing concerts, I was going to say this about the recordings, what I miss about concerts is that it’s very momentary, it just happens in one moment and then it’s over, and it’s not something that stays. A recording kind of stays forever, hopefully it stays forever. It’s like a print that’s left for eternity. That’s why I love doing it, and also why I love taking photographs, because it captures a moment. That’s something I miss in playing concerts actually, because it’s done. You have a painting, it’s also forever, but concerts are not. They’re very momentary. I guess it could be a good thing, but I always feel sorry that once a concert’s finished, I sort of think, well it was a nice moment but it’s already over. That’s why I like photography and recordings, it’s kind of a balance for that. So I don’t feel too depressed!
P: So you need different arts to complete your inspiration maybe?
YS: Just that I feel a little less depressed about what I’m doing.
P: Less depressed?!
YS: Yeah, just you know, as when I look back at photos I sometimes think there are so many things I’ve missed, that I didn’t take in properly, that I didn’t consider at the time, or spend enough time reflecting on, as I’m sort of rushing from one place to another and don’t have any moments to actually sit down and digest. So I guess I see myself at the end of my life, sitting down and looking through my photos, and then maybe have time to digest it, but things happen quickly, and it’s a shame, as you don’t have time to reflect. Well I don’t have time to reflect on them. But when there’s a picture, you remember later, that’s maybe what the emotion was, or how I was and how I felt. It’s a selfish thing, but it gives me pleasure, so.
P: That’s the most important thing. You have a little break before your next concert in the South of France in Orange on the 24th August.
YS: Yes. Actually I need a break because I’ve been playing and recording quite a lot recently, and I’ve got a few new concertos that I have to learn, and it’s really tough to find a few weeks to actually sit down and learn things, because it’s not possible.
P: So you won’t be enjoying the sun and sea?
YS: No. That doesn’t happen so much. I mean maybe for a few minutes here and there. Or maybe I’ll take a picture and remember it that way!
P: Thank you for your time.
YS: No problem!
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