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An interview with Rodion Pogossov

Pogossov 2Thank you for taking time out of your busy schedule. Where are you today?

I’m in Hamburg right now, singing my first Verdi role in the opera “Don Carlos” at the Hamburgische Staatsoper.

When did you realize you wanted a career in music?

I was inspired at the age of 17 by my teacher and by classical music that I discovered. I always sang when I was a kid, but only in school and children’s productions, and I never thought at that time about becoming an opera singer. I guess it’s very rare to hear an 8 or 9 year old child say “I want to be an opera singer!”! I was lucky enough to study as an actor of musical theatre where I received voice, ballet, and acting coaching, and also some training in acrobatics. Honestly, at first I was disappointed because there was too much ballet, and we were dancing three times a week. I started thinking that I was maybe in the wrong place; not because I didn’t like ballet, but because ballet didn’t like me! One day I remember saying to my friend that I wish I could break a leg, and I ended up doing just that within two weeks (not on purpose of course) which enabled me to concentrate on my voice lessons. This gave me such joy and I discovered the depth and beauty of classical music.

Who are the great influences in your life and in your music?

My family, my friends. In music; composers, my colleagues…

How does your approach to singing and characterization differ when performing a recital versus performing in an opera?

When you sing a concert you are alone on the stage, you don’t have any costume for the character, no set design, no light design; basically you have to create an atmosphere for the piece on your own and make it believable and contagious. In an opera production it involves hundreds of people, everything works for the story, and everything helps you to create the right atmosphere. The Director helps to create the character of the role, the conductor – the musical character. Meanwhile in recital you have to do it by yourself. The singer is expected to sing with more colour, nuance and more detail in concert, especially when you sing with a piano. Sometimes the orchestra doesn’t give you this opportunity, and everything should be a little bigger. I think it helps your operatic roles a lot when you sing recitals, and visa versa for your recital experience after singing in opera productions. I like both disciplines!

What can you tell us about your Vancouver program?

It’s quite an eclectic program, combining different time periods from 17th-20th century, different languages and styles. It’s a pot-pourri: a little Russian music, of course, some ancient music, and it finishes with ‘Largo al factotum’, from Il barbieri di Siviglia. Figaro is one of my favourite roles, and it’s actually very hard to find a piece for lyric baritone that makes a good end to the programme. I’m also singing Poulenc’s comedic Chansons Gaillards, which is very rarely done, but it goes down well with the audience. It’s based on troubadours’ songs – young guys singing songs all about sex to the girls. The music is incredibly beautiful and serious, but the words are full of double entendres. I have to try to keep a straight face!

Many in your Vancouver audience likely will hear you for the first time. For those who are not familiar with your singing, how would you describe your performances and concert experiences? (or: for those who are not familiar with your singing, what is the one most important experience you wish to convey through your performance?)

I usually try not to think about the result, and just try to enjoy the process and share with the audience the beauty of this music of such great composers, and to tell the story. It’s my hope that someone will find something in common with the stories being told.

What is the concert experience like for you, as the performer?

As an opera singer it’s good to do recitals. It allows you to be flexible with your technique. And sometimes you get tired of opera and you want some more intimacy with the audience. There is no decoration, no movement, no costume, no orchestra – you have to create characters on stage all by yourself. For me as an artist it is always important to find a contact with audience. I like this phrase: “You don’t step on stage to eat, you go there to be eaten”. 

What influence does your Russian heritage and language have on your interpretations and choice of repertoire?

Of course it will be the primary influence in Tchaikovsky’s songs and in Onegin’s aria, with all the depth of Tchaikovsky’s music and Pushkin’s poem Eugene Onegin. And it gives me an in-depth understanding of the text.

You are much in demand, and no doubt you travel a lot and often alone. How do you manage to find a balance between the demands on your professional life and your personal life?

It’s not easy, but I try not to lose my personal life while pursuing my career. In the end the bigger the personal experiences in life, the more it influences you as an artist, so you have to grow in both directions, personally and professionally.

What are your concert highlights in 2012?

Musically, I’m most looking forward to singing the Antique arias, Barber, Poulenc, Tchaikovsky, Mozart, Rossini, Korngold and some Zarzuelas; which makes up the body of the majority of my recital work.

Thank you for participating in our interview. We are very much looking forward to hearing you in Vancouver on February 26, 2012.

Rodion Pogossov will perform with pianist Mikhail Senovalov at the Kay Meek Centre on Sunday, February 26, 2012.

An Interview with Florian Boesch

Florian BoeschThank you for taking time out of your busy schedule. How did the New Year start for you?

The New Year started with a Messiah concert in Zurich and then 5 days skiing with the kids and friends in Vorarlberg. That‘s a very good start! 

Who are the great influences in your life and in your music?

In my life the influences are too many and too complex to mention. However, in music the dominant influences would be (conductor) Nikolaus Harnoncourt and (Dutch bass-baritone) Robert Holl. They are the ones I consider to be masters.

You are well known for your performances of music by Schubert and Schumann. What does this music mean to you as an artist?

In Schubert and Schumann I find the union of poetry and music very strongly to be a language I understand and speak.

Your Vancouver program is built around the poetry of Heinrich Heine, as set to music by Schubert and Schumann. For you, are music and poetry equal partners, or do you consider poetry first when putting together a program, as seems to be the case for your Vancouver recital?

When I put programs together, most of the time I read the poetry first.

Many in your Vancouver audience likely will hear you for the first time. For those who do not familiar with your singing, how would you describe your performances and concert experiences? (or: for those who are not familiar with your singing, what is the one most important experience you wish to convey through your performance?)

I do not know exactly what I am going to do in my recitals. The interesting thing for me is to be open and sensitive enough to take the inspiration of the moment, and tell a story or a feeling as if it was for the first time. So it sometimes ends up being pretty much freestyle in proportion to the discipline.  

For you, what is the role of the piano and the pianist in German art song? Does working with different pianists influence your interpretations and performances?

I see the singer and accompanist as equal partners. I even consider myself the accompanist to the pianist. Each and every pianist brings their own individual influence to the recital. Also, the same pianist will bring new or different ideas on different days. It is like playing ping pong – one serves and, if lucky, someone plays back!

What can you tell us about your collaboration with Roger Vignoles, your pianist for the Vancouver recital?

Roger is one of the greatest accompanists in the world, and he’s also my friend. He is a fantastic pianist and musician with enormous experience and flexibility, and he is always open for something new. It doesn‘t get much better really.  

What is the concert experience like for you, as the performer?

Having the freedom to express myself to an audience, and to be myself in the context of a recital performance. I consider it to be a great privilege. I always discover some place I have not been before.

You are much in demand, and no doubt you travel a lot and often alone. How do you manage to find a balance between the demands on your professional life and your personal life?

One tries! I have a smart wife and a smart manager, that helps a lot.

What are your concert highlights in 2012?

Ask me that in 2013… it could be vancouver!

Thank you for participating in our interview. We are very much looking forward to hearing you in Vancouver on February 19, 2012.

Florian Boesch will perform with pianist Roger Vignoles at The Chan Centre for the Performing Arts on Sunday, February 19 at 3pm.

What to Expect: Tine Thing Helseth

Tine ThingWe are looking forward to presenting Tine Thing Helseth in her Vancouver debut this coming Sunday. Tine (pronounced Tin-eh) will be accompanied by pianist Håvard Gimse, and together they will perform the Canadian premiere of a new work for solo trumpet by Norwegian composer Rolf Wallin. Also featured in the recital program: Bohuslav Martinů’s Sonatina for Trumpet and Piano; George Enescu’s Légende; Paul Hindemith’s Sonata for Trumpet and Piano; Manuel de Falla’s Siete canciones populares españolas; and a selection of works by Edvard Grieg.

24-year-old Tine is already one of the leading trumpet soloists of her generation. 2011 was a big year for her – she made her New York recital debut at Carnegie Hall in February and followed this with her first ever appearance at London’s Royal Albert Hall in March. She also signed an exclusive recording agreement with EMI Classics – her new CD, Storyteller, a collection of songs for soprano and orchestra transcribed for trumpet, has just been released.

Tine gets rave reviews wherever she performs. She was chosen as one of BBC Music Magazine’s Superstars of Tomorrow in the March, 2011 issue of BBC Music Magazine. Here’s what critics have to say about this exciting young artist: 

“The scales flow like double cream and in the slow movements Tine’s trumpet has sublime delicacy.” – Classic FM magazine

“The rising talent Tine Thing-Helseth performed with elegance and precision. She was able to display her sweet tone and brilliant technique in their encore, Two Folk Songs by Manuel de Falla.”

“Norwegian trumpeter Tine Thing Helseth in turn lent her gorgeous bugle-like tone to evoke, in the slow movement, a bleak, muted, bluesy, pathos.” The Independent

“Helseth took every opportunity to show what a fine instrumentalist she is.” The Guardian

“Helseth’s musicality is a joy.” – The Arts Desk

“A new star on the classical music sky…she plays with radiance strong enough to light up the entire hall – her embouchure is light and her technique impressive. Each note is marvellous and her dynamics are based on natural and deeply felt musicality.” – Zürcher Landzeitung

And here’s what her compatriot Leif Ove Andsnes has to say: “She is not to be missed. She is unique!”

We have put together a collection of great Tine videos on our YouTube channel. Enjoy!

The most remarkable career of George Li (黎卓宇)

GeorgeLiAnd what a career it has been for this 15 year old pianist!

George Li began winning competitions at age 6 and he made is first public performance at Boston Steinway Hall at the age of nine.

One of his biggest achievements came in 2010 when he performed Chopin’s Piano Concerto no. 1 with the Cleveland Orchestra, which garnered him the first prize in the Cooper International Piano Competition. The package included an astonishing full scholarship for four years to attend the Oberlin Convervatory of Music, as well as concerto performances in Beijing and Shanghai, China.

In addition to performing with the Cleveland Orchestra and conductor Jahja Ling, George Li has performed with orchestras from around the world: Xiamen Philharmonic (China; Tao Lin conductor), Symphony Pro Musica (Mark Churchill conductor), Simon Bolivar Youth Symphony Orchestra of Venezuela (Venezuela; Sarah Ioannides conductor), Boston Philharmonic Orchestra (Benjamin Zander, conductor), Brooklyn Philharmonic Orchestra (Arkady Leytush conductor), Miami Symphony Orchestra (Eduardo Marturet conductor), Princeton Symphony Orchestra (Benjamin Zander, conductor), Albany Symphony Orchestra (David Alan Miller conductor), Lexington Symphony Orchestra (Jonathan McPhee), and Orchestra “I Solisti di Perugia” (Spoleto, Italy).

Another interesting achievement was an appearance on television with Martha Stewart… at the age of 11!. You can watch the segment here.

Every great pianist performs at Carnegie Hall and George is no exception. Here is a clip from Live at Carnegie Hall of George performing Liszt’s Hungarian Rhapsody no. 11.

Visit George Li’s website and Vancouver Recital Society for more information. To reserve your tickets to George Li’s December 4 performance please call the VRS box office at 604-602-0363. Tickets also available through (service fees apply).

Getting to Know: Juho Pohjonen

“I receive something valuable through music – and I hope that each listener will feel that they have too.”

On his music education:Pohjonen email
“I started to play violin in a children’s music school at the age of two-and-a-half. My brother – now also a professional pianist and a composer – was already studying piano at the Sibelius Academy, so it was a natural decision for me to play an instrument as well. When I was four, I began to study piano at the suggestion of the piano teacher in the music school.”

“I played violin for several years before I realized I would never become a violinist, the physics of it. I don’t have the flexibility for it. But piano — I have never had any trouble acquiring the techniques.”

On his major professional debut at Carnegie Hall in 2004:
“There was a cancellation at Carnegie Hall. Another Finnish pianist was going to play there, but he had to cancel because he got another concert. So I went there and got a very good tribute from the New York Times.”

“Andràs Schiff has always been one of my favourite pianists, so I was delighted to become acquainted with him at a masterclass he gave at the Sibelius Academy in Helsinki in 2003. Since then he has invited me to his courses elsewhere in Europe, such as in Lucerne and Schwarzenberg, and I’ve also had some private lessons with him. Salonen’s music became familiar to me when I was 16 years old; I selected his piece Yta II for a national piano competition in Finland, where I was awarded a special prize for the best performance of a contemporary Finnish work. However, I didn’t get to know Salonen personally until 2004 – and it was Mr. Schiff who introduced me to him. Schiff found out that I was about to perform all Salonen’s piano works at my debut recital in New York, and he thought I should first play them to the composer. Naturally, I was excited to have a chance to meet the composer of music I had studied for nearly 10 years. Eventually, I played the pieces to him, and he liked the performance — so much so that he later brought his manager to my recital in Helsinki, and that is how I came to be with the Van Walsum agency.”

“Praise is always nice, but usually I listen to other musicians instead of critics — I can get much better feedback.”

On performing:
“Of course, every public performance has the potential to be a key moment – at least that’s how I treat it – but many key moments happen off-stage, such as inner discoveries related to piano playing: my ambitions relate above all to my development as a musician and as an individual. I receive something valuable through music – and I hope that each listener will feel that they have too.”

On Finland:
“I really like the nature in Finland and the landscape, and I guess that reflects in my playing. I think that we have a very unique culture, which is not really European and it’s not Russian or anything else. It’s very unique.”
“Geographic isolation has preserved many unique features of our culture, and this enables us to look at Western art from an original viewpoint and create something new from it.”

(Sources: Kalamazoo Gazette,

Getting to Know: Simon Keenlyside

“I am a story teller, I am a narrator.”

“I spend my entire working life dealing only with beauty; I rarely sing with a piece of music in front of me, so all of these beautiful songs are committed to memory.”

Performing opera does not come without its risks: injuring his back in one performance, Keenlyside was prevented from appearing in Chicago and San Francisco opera productions of Iphigénie en Tauride. An earlier injury was sustained when, as a young singer in Turandot, he fell of a ramp into a pit with a mask on, “smashing myself to pieces.” Keenlyside’s debut in Eugene Onegin was delayed after mangling his hand due to a fall through a trap door.

Keenlyside explains, “All singers get hurt. The backstage area is deadly, full of cables and sharp things. I’ve never hurt myself doing stunts. As you come out of the light into the wings, there’s the danger. But also, if you’re any sort of a stage animal, this is a contact sport. It happens to everyone. It’s a bit of a circus job.”

Some interesting Keenlyside clips:
Renee Fleming interviews Simon Keenlyside backstage at the Met.

Bill Richardson interviews Keenlyside for Saturday Afternoon at the Opera.

Critical praise: The BBC Music Magazine has described Keenlyside as “the greatest lyric baritone of our time, indeed one of the greatest of any time. He submerges his personality in the roles he portrays, and does it with virtually unique insight and completeness. Everything is built, however, on superb breath control and a remarkable capacity for colouring the voice, combined with flawless legato, the principles underlying all great singing.”


Getting to Know: Maxim Rysanov

“If they say the violin is a human voice, I would say the viola is the voice of the soul.”

Discovery: “I studied at the boarding school, and there was a viola player in the next room. Its vibrations touched me deeply when I played it. That was how I realized that I can play this instrument.”

Repertoire: “[There is] a huge gap in the Romantic period. Since I’m a romantic character, I would miss this repertoire, and so I make all sorts of arrangements – for example, Tchaikovsky’s Rococo variations, which I arranged for viola and performed at the Proms in London; and there is an arrangement by Sitkovskaya of the Cello Concerto by Saint-Saëns, or [Cesar] Franck’s sonata, to name a few.”

On the highly competitive world of music: “Once you lose your quality, there are many young boys and girls who would gladly take your place. At the same time, I believe there is a place for everybody. If the player is good enough for an international scene, we don’t need to push each other in and out. A top-class, world maestro like Rostropovitch felt to his last day that he had to prove to everybody that he was No. 1. I think a musician cannot survive without an ego – yet, that said, I’m concerned that my ego should not become larger than the world itself.”

Maxim Rysanov performs at West Vancouver’s Kay Meek Centre on Sunday, October 16 at 3:00pm. His repertoire includes Bach’s Suite no. 2 in D minor, Schubert’s Arpeggione Sonata, and Franck’s Sonata in A major.

Call Cory at the Vancouver Recital Socity to book tickets: 604-602-0363.


A Passing Thought

GiltburgOur 32nd season opened this past Sunday with the Russian-born, Israeli-based pianist Boris Giltburg. He may be young (27 years), and he may not be a household name, but he left no doubt he is an artist to watch.

The buzz in the lobby at intermission was great: one woman described to me his ‘magic fingers’ and the beauty of the tone Boris summoned from the piano. No bashing here.

Boris’s program avoided the crowd-pleasing, bravura works that are often the mainstay of the recital stage, but his repertoire of Prokofiev, Bartok, Franck and Liszt still would have tested the mettle of any pianist. For me, what really set his playing apart were the breathtaking, gossamer pianissimos (if you attended the performance, think of the slow movement of the Prokofiev Sonata). Anyone who has played an instrument knows, it is one thing to make a loud sound, it is entirely different to produce the quietest tones and still have your instrument ‘speak’ with clarion tones.

Boris was charming and gracious in the question-and-answer session that followed his performance. It made the afternoon all that more special to have a glimpse into Boris’s life as a touring musician and his insight into his artistic choices.

Thank you Boris – it was a great way to begin the season!

We would love to hear what you have to say about our opening recital. You can leave your comments here.

Paul Gravett
Executive Director

PS  Boris graced us with two encores: the Rachmaninoff arrangement of Kreisler’s Liebesleid, and the Prelude in C sharp minor, again by Rachmaninoff.

Getting to know: JSQ

jerusalemstring-quartethome_photoIn the beginning… first violinist and founding member Alexander Pavlovsky explains: “We have started to play together at 1994, and our average age then, was 16. That is a very unusual age to start playing in a string quartet. We grew up together, spending about six months together since the very beginning.

I believe all this gave us a big advantage in a very special sound blend. Musically, we can do many interesting and spontaneous things without really spending a lot of time and discussing them. When I listen to our recordings, many times I feel that we are very close to the golden balance between an ensemble unity and the very personal playing of each member.”

Controversy: the JSQ has been the focus on protests and political attacks for its alleged connection to the government of Jerusalem. “The protests that happened were based on a wrong assumption,” says Pavlovsky, “that we are presented, employed or supported by the Israeli government. That is categorically untrue.”

He continues, “As musicians, our commitment is to performing the music at the highest level possible, not to make political statements. We don’t see ourselves as qualified to do that. The protests have not changed that and have not pushed us into getting involved as a group.”

Introducing: a few words from the JSQ press release (February, 2011) announcing the appointment of violist Ori Kam: The Jerusalem String Quartet is delighted to announce, that after period of searching for Amihai Grosz’s successor we have now arrived at the decision to appoint Ori Kam as the new violist of the ensemble.The JSQ had a long personal and professional relationship with Ori Kam dating to the early days of its career. Having performed concerts with him both in the US and Europe last autumn, we are happy to welcome him as permanent member of the quartet.


Lasting Impressions: Jerusalem String Quartet

JerusalemStringLeila’s great story about the Jerusalem String Quartet’s first visit to Vancouver inspired to ask you for your stories.

Since their memorable debut, they have returned to Vancouver several times, most notably for a week in 2006 when they performed the complete string quartets of Dmitri Shostakovich, and more recently with clarinetist Martin Fröst in the 2008/09 season. The Quartet returns to the Chan Centre (with a new member!) on Sunday, October 2.

We would like to know what is your lasting memory of the Jerusalem String Quartet? Perhaps it comes from one of the VRS presentations, or from a performance in another city, or perhaps you are especially found of one of their recordings.

Tell us about your lasting memory of the Jerusalem String Quartet.