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Cliburn medalist Anna Geniushene shines in Fredericksburg

Anna Geniushene at the piano in Fredericksburg, Texas on September 17, 2023.
Nathan Cone
Anna Geniushene at the piano in Fredericksburg, Texas on September 17, 2023.

On September 17, 2023, the Hill Country was treated to an amazing performance by Anna Geniushene, the 2022 Van Cliburn International Piano Competition Silver Medalist. Presented by the Fredericksburg Music Club, Geniushene's recital featured music by Sergei Prokofiev, and early works by Muzio Clementi and Pyotr Tchaikovsky.

You can hear music from the concert using the audio button above the photo; following her performance, Geniushene spoke to us for a few minutes about her current projects, and what it was like to compete in the Cliburn Competition. An edited transcript is below.


Nathan Cone: I was struck by how many Opus ones were on the program, a lot of early pieces...

Anna Geniushene: You know, this is this is my first encounter with this program [in concert] because I'm going to record a CD, which would be dedicated to all Opus One, different pieces by different composers, quite famous ones, and it will be recorded in January. It will be released in the next October, 2024. And apart from the pieces that I already played during today's recital, there will be Berg Sonata and the fantastic, majestic Brahms Sonata, Opus One, Number one. So, it's my bright idea. I created this. [laughs]

Nathan Cone What is it that you like about that idea?

I like to go through the very first steps of significant composers. How did they start? We know a lot of fantastic pieces written by Chopin. Everyone knows his concertos, and of course, everyone knows the fantastic ballets or operas written by Tchaikovsky. But not many people know the very first opus, the very first attempts. And what I like particularly is that each composer started from a different point, let's say. Muzio Clementi, for example, was already a well-educated composer. But Tchaikovsky started, you know, just out of blue. And that really, really strikes me. And I think it makes this particular program very exciting for the audience. So that was my main goal.

Watching you in performance, I'm really struck by the physicality of yourself while you're playing. I saw you smile a lot during some of the pieces too, which I don't sometimes see when pianists are playing... an actual, genuine smile. So do you notice that, when it's coming out, when you're actually performing?

Well, I think it comes very natural, because every time I'm on stage, I'm trying to transmit my own ideas and my love towards the music that I'm playing now. And sometimes when I'm playing, I just realize, okay, so this particular moment of music really makes me smile! When I'm on stage, I'm really full of passion towards music I'm playing. So that's why, you know, it's it's very natural for me to smile... or sometimes... I think it's once happened to me, I almost started crying because I was so deeply moved and touched by some music that I was playing.

A moment ago you mentioned that you were going to be doing another recording project, but you have a CD that's out right now of lullabies called "Berceuse." Tell me about that.

Yes, it was a very, very special and dear project to my heart. I recorded it in January 2023 and that was my idea that I was keeping for quite a long time. And I was so, so glad that I found a recording label which agreed to record these hidden jewels of piano music heritage. This CD is mostly dedicated to cradle songs. Lullabies, berceuses, written by different composers coming from different parts of the world. People who have kids, of course they know how hard is it to go through this anxiety before getting them into bed and... how difficult it is to soothe or comfort a baby. And also the idea behind this project is that probably I could use this particular CD for comforting and soothing my own kids! I have two boys, and... funnily enough, they have never gotten to sleep [to this album!] They really like this music. When I was recording this CD, they sat in the hall and kept smiling. But, you know, of course they were not aware that it's [music] all about tranquility, soft moments.

And finally, it's been a little over a year now since the big, you know, silver medal at the Cliburn. What has this experience been like for you?

For me, it was one of the hardest competitions. And not [just] because I was seven months pregnant at the time! But because of different circumstances, [when] I had to travel to Texas for the first audition preliminary round, the war had started. The war between Russia and Ukraine had been announced. And it made my travels impossible because the sky was closed and the all the flights were canceled. I could not travel, but, you know, with the very, very generous support of the CEO of the Cliburn Competition, Jacques Marquis, I was able finally to travel, and they found a solution and they actually postponed my audition to the very last day. And actually with this generous support, I'm here having an interview with you, finally! Of course, it was very, very hard but very rewarding, I think, because we all competitors had to play six different rounds in less than three weeks. I think what really was meaningful is that we didn't feel that we are kind of competitors, we are rivals. There wasn't any rivalry between us. We stayed as… I don't know, dear family members, and we stayed as friends. And I actually, you know, found friendship with a lot of pianists that I have never encountered before. I think it was one of the brilliant ideas of the Cliburn Competition that they decided to give a chance for each finalist to play two concertos, because sometimes, you know, when you're appearing on stage and in a final round, you're more than exhausted! You really don't have enough stamina to go through this and to overcome your exhaustion. But when we all realize that's okay, so we have two attempts. And no matter what happens during the first attempt, you will have another chance to show your abilities. And I was really, really honored to actually close the competition with the Tchaikovsky First Piano Concerto that was performed by Van Cliburn himself during his final rounds in the Tchaikovsky competition back in 1953, if I'm not mistaken. So that was, you know, a particularly meaningful feeling to me. And I still recall these sweet memories in my mind. And it's been a really rewarding time that we spent in Texas.

Well, thank you so much for your time and sharing your artistry today...

Thank you very much. It's been a real pleasure to play my music, and to share my ideas with your attentive audience.