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Going Under The Hood At The Gurwitz Competition

Nathan Cone
Artem Kuznetsov speaks to Randy Anderson after his First Round performance at The Gurwitz 2020.

On the second morning of competition at The Gurwitz International Piano Competition, judges and spectators were treated to the artistry of three talented musicians, two of whom brought the audience to their feet.

The morning opened with Anna Gershtein, who brought the various melodies of Robert Schumann’s “Davidsbündler” Dances into a unified whole. She was followed by South Korean pianist Yedan Kim. Her hands rose from the keyboard as if conjuring the notes to come forth, and Kim’s gentle caressing of Mozart and Debussy left the audience spellbound. She followed it up with the mammoth “Pictures at an Exhibition.” Forearms blurred, and the audience rose in appreciation.

Russian pianist Artem Kuznetsov has been studying in Texas for many years now, most recently with Dr. Jon Kimura Parker at Rice University. Following his standing ovation, TPR’s Randy Anderson caught up with Kuznetsov backstage for some insight into his performance and the competition. You can read an edited transcript of their talk below, and hear Kuznetsov’s First Round performance in the audio player.

Randy Anderson: I noticed that you played a Steinway that the other artists haven't used yet*. Why did you choose that particular instrument?

Artem Kuznetsov: Well, I had a chance to kind of touch all three, and all those pianos are terrific. I like all of them. Recently, I've been practicing on a lot of New York Steinways, and I got used to how they respond. And I can just predict how it behaves, and I don't have to adjust that much. So that [piano I played on today] was very close to what I'm used to, currently.

Now, traditionally, they say the New York Steinways are brighter. And the Hamburg European Steinways are not as bright and as "in your face" as the American ones. And yet when I heard your first piece, the "Apassionata," you're very quiet at the keyboard. You're not waving your arms around. And you have such a beautiful touch. It was like chocolate, it was so rich. And that's you doing it and not the piano, because certainly it was bright when you needed it.

Well, thank you so much. Well, I can notice that this New York is not as bright as in general. And I just I love the warm sound. And it's kind of a rounded sound. The other two pianos are brighter. And so I thought, I have... my whole program is kind of on the bright side. So I thought maybe it's nice to kind of smooth it a little bit. This piano helps. 

Oh yes. And you touched all the bases. You gave us the Beethoven, and the accelerondo at the end... incredible. It was so exciting. And I can't jump up and applaud [during a performance]. It was frustrating at the end for me because I wanted to express how you beautifully built up the tension and ended it! So I can tell you that now, without having to jump up and applaud. The Pletnev arrangement of "The Nutcracker," that is so beautiful. And of course, you got so many chances to try different touches there.

That's right. This is one of the best transcriptions I've ever played and saw. And I mean, one of the greatest music, too, so well Pletnev himself is a fantastic pianist, so no wonder the transcription is great. Yes, there is plenty of variety of touch and moods and characters. So that's why it was in my hands, because Christmas was just passed. [laughs].

You've been playing it a lot!


And then you finish with the ["Danse Macabre"]. Saint-Saens wrote it, Liszt arranged it, and then Horowitz "Horoized" it! He turned it into something else, and I never thought I would ever hear that live. It was it was great to see you play it, and what a powerful piece.

That's right. Horowitz thought that [the original] version wasn't hard enough! [laughs] And so he Horoized, as you noticed, yes. Well, it's another fantastic transcription. And I enjoy playing them. I can try to bring out orchestral colors, which is always great to do on the piano. So that's why I enjoy transcriptions.

And there's there's humor to it, which you don't get as often in most classical music.

It's a little bit spooky, and there is a lot of humor. The ending is just very funny. But at the same time, you have to have this wildness there as well, and kind of scariness, too. So this mix, it works.

Now looking at what you've been doing, you do spend a certain amount of time in Texas, because I see you've won competitions in Dallas and in San Antonio as a "young person concert" sort of thing. So you're studying now in Houston?

That's right. It's my fourth year at Rice University. I finished my master's there and completing [an] artist diploma now. And so I feel that Texas is home. I've been to San Antonio several times. It's one of my favorite places. Believe me, I enjoy every everything about it.

Well, once you get used to tacos, it's kind of hard finding them other places that are as good.

That's right. That's right! Every Tuesday I have "Taco Tuesday." It's kind of a holy thing! You know, it's a ritual. I don't skip that.

Well, terrific. And best of luck. We hope to see you in the second round and see the great things that you're offering in that.

Thank you so much. Thank you.

The Gurwitz International Piano Competition continues with its Second Round at Ruth Taylor Concert Hall on the Trinity University campus on Wednesday, January 29 from 10 a.m.-1 p.m. and 4 p.m.-7 p.m. It is free and open to the public.

*There are three pianos on stage at all times. Competitors may choose any of the three instruments on which to perform.

Nathan has been with TPR since 1995, when he began working on classical music station KPAC 88.3 FM, as host of “Tuesday Night at the Opera.” He soon learned the ropes on KSTX 89.1 FM, and volunteered to work practically any shift that came his way, on either station. He worked in nearly every capacity on the radio before moving into Community Engagement, Marketing, and Digital Media. His reporting and criticism has been honored by the Houston Press Club and Texas Associated Press.
Randy was Texas Public Radio's Classical Music Director until 2013 and the longest-serving employee in Texas Public Radio's history. He hosted the very first airshift on KPAC when the station went on the air at 90.9 FM in San Antonio back in November, 1982.