Tick­ling the table­tops never sounded so nice

Ge­or­gian pi­anist Luka Okrostvoridze

National Post (Latest Edition) - - Arts & Life - BY JOHN KEIL­LOR

Ge­or­gian pi­anist Luka Okrostvoridze is a won­der­fully ar­tic­u­late teenager. English is his third lan­guage, and yet his defence of par­ty­ing is pos­i­tively in­spired.

“My pro­fes­sion re­quires me to be more ma­ture,” Luka says. “How­ever, it’s im­por­tant for me to go to par­ties and visit cafés with friends. Mu­si­cians can’t sit at the key­board all the time; it’s im­pos­si­ble to learn how to make mu­sic that way. The ge­nius artists lived full lives. Peo­ple who only prac­tise have lit­tle to of­fer. Life ex­pe­ri­ence is nec­es­sary.”

This is re­fresh­ing: a 17-year-old ex­plain­ing that step­ping out for a night on the town is a job re­quire­ment. He looks like a kid who knows how to po­litely refuse a joint at a Sonic Youth con­cert.

And con­sid­er­ing that he was plucked from im­pov­er­ished Ge­or­gia to per­form in Rus­sia at the age of six, it’s im­pos­si­ble to doubt his sin­cer­ity.

Vladimir Spi­vakov, mu­sic dir- ec­tor and prin­ci­pal con­duc­tor of the Rus­sian Na­tional Orches­tra, dis­cov­ered Luka in the Ge­or­gian cap­i­tal Tbilissi.

“Meet­ing Spi­vakov changed my life, though I al­ready had a mu­si­cal ca­reer. I was play­ing con­certs and many peo­ple in Ge­or­gia knew who I was.”

Spi­vakov ar­ranged to as­sist his fam­ily fi­nan­cially by as­sign­ing the pro­tege a pa­tron.

“The stipend I still re­ceive is a big help,” Luka says. “I’m very grate­ful to my pa­tron. There are lots of peo­ple with money who don’t want to share.”

The cash Luka re­ceives pays for his small flat in Suz­dal and cov­ers his costs at the Moscow Con­ser­va­tory. Suz­dal is a small mu­nic­i­pal­ity on the out­skirts of Moscow that hosts a ma­jor mu­sic fes­ti­val each year. The first time Luka went there, in 1996, he was the fes­ti­val high­light. Be­fore then, his fam­ily could barely af­ford to pay for ac­cess to a pi­ano, let alone lessons.

Life was tough in Ge­or­gia, but Luka has stud­ied at the Moscow Con­ser­va­tory full-time for the last three years. His mother and his brother now live nearby. How­ever, his fa­ther and his other brother still re­side where they work.

“It’s a ter­ri­ble thing to be sep­a­rated from your fa­ther,” Luka says darkly. This is in­dis­putably true. None­the­less, it would seem that his early years of hard­ship have only steeled his artis­tic re­solve.

There’s a lot of talk about peo­ple be­ing un­able to de­velop them­selves be­cause of money is­sues. Luka’s ex­am­ple flies in the face of this as­sump­tion.

“I’ve learned to prac­tise on ta­bles,” he ex­plains, “and some­times a table­top is bet­ter than a pi­ano. If the pi­ano is out of tune, it’s very frus­trat­ing. I can hear ev­ery­thing bet­ter in my mind, es­pe­cially in the last few years, now that I’ve got per­fect pitch.

“On a table­top,” he adds, “I can hear if I’ve hit a wrong note.”

If Luka doesn’t have ac­cess to a ta­ble, he can al­ways prac­tise with just a copy of the score. If he al­ready knows the piece, he doesn’t even need that. And he can com­pose men­tally, too.

Last year, Luka came up with a strange and in­ter­est­ing idea, blend­ing the pi­ano mu­sic of Shostakovich and Chopin into one com­po­si­tion.

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“It’s a very dif­fi­cult thing to put ro­man­tic and mod­ern mu­sic to­gether that way and make it sound nat­u­ral,” he says. “I had to think about it for months. It’s a Shostakovich/Chopin sand­wich.”

Hear­ing this work per­formed (it can be found on YouTube), Luka’s touch brings to mind the pi­anis­tic sen­si­tiv­ity of Pier­reLau­rent Ai­mard; the tex­tures are as im­por­tant as the phras­ing, and his in­ten­sity is pal­pa­ble with­out be­ing hammy.

Here in Toronto, Luka will be per­form­ing his solo recital de­but. The pro­gram in­cludes some pre­ludes by his favourite com­poser, Sergei Rach­mani­noff.

“For me, Rach­mani­noff ’s mu­sic is very deep,” he says. “Its soul is both Rus­sian and from the Cau­cuses. His lines are very long, but con­tain­ing a sin­gle, large thought.

“And once you’re inside them,” Luka adds, with a grin, “you can’t get out.”

Luka Okrostvoridze per­forms tonight at 8 p.m., in the Stu­dio Theatre, Toronto Cen­tre for the Arts, 5040 Yonge Street. Tick­ets are $15 to $20, avail­able from Tick­et­mas­ter, 416-870-8000.

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