Russian star Yevgeny Sudbin keys in on Mozart
Six years ago, a young, up-and-coming Russian-born pianist was embarking on his first North American tour and found himself stranded for three days on Salt Spring Island during a snowstorm. The incident almost forced him to miss his prestigious New York City debut at the Frick Collection—but it certainly didn’t derail his career.
These days, pianist Yevgeny Sudbin, 32, plays significantly bigger town centres than those in the Gulf Islands. Now based in London, he has earned fawning reviews from critics who have compared him to the likes of Vladimir Horowitz and Mikhail Pletnev—the Daily Telegraph even went so far as to call him “potentially one of the greatest pianists of the 21st century”.
When the Straight reaches him by phone, he’s in Minneapolis, Minnesota, fresh from his debut performance of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 24 in C minor, K. 491—which he’ll be bringing to the Orpheum stage with the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra this weekend.
“I didn’t have such adventures this time,” he says, in gently Russian-inflected English, after recounting his Salt Spring drama. Nonetheless, he has had his fair share of excitement, having wrapped up the successful Mozart concerto debut. “It’s a funny feeling,” he admits, of presenting a work for the first time. “It gives you a lot of adrenaline rush.”
While Sudbin, who is in the midst of a 14-album collaboration with BIS Records, has received praise for his performances and recordings of music by Alexander Scriabin, Sergei Rachmaninoff, and Frédéric Chopin, Mozart is perhaps dearest to his heart.
“Strange as it sounds, I’m quite close to Mozart,” he says. “His music is really purifying to the ears, and I also love its simplicity. There are, of course, deep complexities, but I just love performing Mozart. It’s something I’ve done since I was a young child.
“In a way,” he adds thoughtfully, “it’s harder to play Mozart as an adult, because you think more.”
For the Concerto No. 24, Sudbin is being called on not only to interpret the notes on the page but also those that aren’t written down. “It’s one of the few concertos where Mozart didn’t write his own cadenza,” he explains. “I guess he must have always improvised, and I think the pianist is left to make up his own cadenza, which is kind of challenging.”
While composers including Johannes Brahms have penned cadenzas for the work, Sudbin didn’t find them suitable, so he’s created his own.
“I find it interesting, because you can take quite a few liberties to see how far you can push to get away from Mozart’s style,” he notes. “It’s quite a challenge, because it has to fit within the concerto, yet at the same time, I’m just not good enough to write in the Mozart style. So it’s important to find a balanced way to make something up in your own style that fits within the concerto.”
As soon as he completes his three performances in Vancouver, it will be back to Minneapolis to record the work with the Minnesota Orchestra. It’s a tight schedule, but one the now veteran musician shrugs off. “Ideally, I would like to live with the piece,” he says. “Sometimes I have to record pieces which I haven’t played in public, and that’s much more difficult. It’s not always how I wish, but you have to be adaptable to the circumstances.”
The residents of Salt Spring Island, who now will have to travel to the mainland to hear him perform, might well agree.
Yevgeny Sudbin performs with the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra from Saturday to Monday (May 26 to 28) at the Orpheum Theatre.