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A Russian debut, Chez Scriabin!

Updated: Feb 21, 2020

Today marked my Moscow debut.

A long time ago I made a promise to myself that I would treat every concert appearance with the same degree of preparation, reverence and energy. I wouldn't say that I have broken my promise, but I must admit that once in a while a concert comes along that is simply has a special quality about it that makes me know it will stay vividly in my soul. Today was one of those magical recitals.

My Moscow solo debut was also the first Russian performance in my project as part of the official Year of Music UK-Russia programme, supported by the British Council and British Embassy in Moscow.

A brisk walk is always good to shake off nerves. As I promenaded down Moscow's historic Arbat I was excited to come face to face with countless places and institutions from Imperial and Soviet Russian cultural history that I had studied and written about.

I knew, however, that when I turned off into an unassuming side-street, rather grandly named Bolshoi Nikolopeskovsky Pereulok, that that would all pale in comparison to what I would feel then.

Bolshoi Nikolopeskovsky Pereulok was the home of the visionary pianist-composer Alexander Scriabin (1872-1915). In his time he was seen as something of a Messiah, not just in musical circles - but of the entire fractured society of pre-Revolutionary Russia. Since then his apartment has been a museum. It houses two concert halls. The salon as Scriabin left it with his cosy arrangement of furniture and his original piano (which is played gingerly on his anniversary to this day); and the grand concert hall.

Alexander Scriabin's cosy music salon, frozen in time.

That concert hall is something of hallowed ground for Russian pianism, having hosted piano recitals by Vladimir Sofronitsky, Alexander Goldenweiser, Heinrich Neuhaus, Stanislav Neuhaus, Maria Yudina, Emil Gilels, Sviatoslav Richter, and Vladimir Horowitz. It was a venue where they felt free to experiment, and said it revealed that elusive spontaneous quality in their playing that is sometimes choked by larger halls such as the Grand Hall of the Philharmonia.

A glimpse of the artist's 'Green Room': there is absolutely no way to ignore the history captured within the walls of No. 11 Bolshoi Nikolopeskovsky Pereulok!

Those who know me will know that I can speak for hours about my fascination with these giants of the piano. Those who have read my writing know just how much I have poured over their thoughts and actions. Standing on the wings ready to warm up my fingers from the icy chill of Moscow's February evening I was going follow in some very sacred footsteps to the piano...

At 7pm (Moscow time) that trepidation somehow melted away. The live concert-broadcast commenced. To an audience of colleagues, expert cultural and musical historians, music lovers and honoured dignitaries - despite being a fleeting guest in this vibrant city - I somehow felt very much 'at home' as soon as I took to the stage. My delight to be there performing was indescribable. But to hear from an audience, steeped in this musical culture and much-loved Russian repertoire, that I had unearthed something that they had not felt or thought about before was the greatest joy.

For all my friends who couldn't come I will bring back a recorded moment of this magical evening to share with them. But, for the meantime, as I board the bullet-train to Saint Petersburg for the next part of this musical adventure, here is a little teaser...

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