Houston Symphony

Video: In The Studio With Pianist Denis Kozhukhin

Get to know the Russian piano virtuoso, who returns to solo with the Houston Symphony.

His playing has been described by some as a balance of technical mastery, sharp intelligence, calm maturity and emotional presence.

Russian pianist Denis Kozhukhin brought all of those qualities to Houston Public Media’s Geary Studio when he stopped by this week for a special performance. He also chatted about his life and concerts this weekend with the Houston Symphony, in which he’ll perform Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No. 3.

Check out highlights from our conversation below, and listen to the complete interview – and watch a video of his studio performance – above.

On his hometown of Nizhny Novgorod, Russia:

“It is definitely one of the most beautiful places I know in this world. It’s an old city with a great history and wonderful music history. Today things are different, but a few decades back this was one of the stages and one of the places where all the major musicians came … like GilelsSokoloff … great cultural life, fantastic conservatory that is still wonderful! And it’s just an amazingly beautiful city built on the cross-point of two rivers, so it’s really spectacular.”

On the piece he performed in our Geary Studio (see video):

“This is a piece that I very much like to play as an encore after these bombarding piano concertos or huge recitals. It’s a Prelude by Johann Sebastian Bach from The Well-Tempered Clavier, arranged by Alexander Siloti. [Siloti] was a wonderful pianist and music critic, and he was Rachmaninoff’s cousin and very close friend … It’s interesting to see what people think it is after the concert! … There are all kinds of guesses because you can hear it’s Bach, but he changes it in such a way that it’s actually not any more Bach. There’s a memory of Bach, but it’s very romantic. I like the piece very much.”

On Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No. 3:

“It’s not ‘Rach 3,’ it’s ‘ROCK 3’! It’s “Mountain 3”! It is for a good reason known as one of the most challenging pieces for piano playing. To me it’s a very precious piece and very dear piece because probably that was the first piece I ever heard on a recording when I was a kid. My father loves Rachmaninoff, and when I was a kid, he always said, I’m sure going to cry the first time I hear you play this piece, and I wish this moment will happen. And I’m really happy to say that the first time I performed it, my father was there … It’s a wonderful piece of music, and it’s technically difficult not only in the sense that it has many notes – it’s true! – but it’s also difficult because of its contrasts, it’s difficult because of its emotional deepness.”

On working with Houston Symphony Music Director, Andrés Orozco-Estrada, with whom he performed just last week in Germany with the HR-Sinfonieorchester Frankfurt:

“It’s kind of unusual that you have two weeks with the same conductor, but it happened [that way] in the schedule. [Last week] we rehearsed in Frankfurt, but the concerts took place in in Salzburg, and that was my first experience with Andrés, whom I absolutely adore … Usually the first time you meet the conductor, it’s not even at the rehearsal, it’s [beforehand] in the room when he comes with the score, and you share your ideas, concerns, discussions … and it rarely happens that you have this kind of immediate connection with a conductor. But with Andrés, it was definitely the case … We actually had three concerts, and for two concerts we did Rach 3 and the last concert we did Rach 4 … so there were a lot of ‘Rachs’ and a lot of jokes during the rehearsal, like – What are we rehearsing now? Don’t get confused what score to put! – So it was a wonderful experience.”

The Houston Symphony presents the program, Gershwin and Rachmaninoff, featuring guest pianist Denis Kozhukhin, on Friday, January 27, 8pm; Saturday, January 28, 8pm; and Sunday, January 29, 2:30pm at Jones Hall.

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Catherine Lu

Content Producer & Announcer

While growing up in Chicago and Houston, Catherine’s love for art, music and creative writing was influenced by her teachers and parents. She was once concertmaster of the Clear Lake High School Orchestra and a four-time violinist of the Texas All-State Symphony. A graduate of the University of Chicago, Catherine...

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