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Thursday, 20 May 2021, 6:00PM - 7:00PM
LSO St Luke's

Russian Piano Masterpieces: Shostakovich

Professor Marina Frolova-Walker FBA, Peter Donohoe CBE

At one point in his life, Shostakovich considered the career of a concert pianist. He was talented enough to become a Soviet competitor at the international Chopin Competition of 1927, but he was struck down with acute appendicitis, and he had to leave with only a diploma rather than a major prize. Whether his pain and disappointment soured his relations with the piano we cannot be sure, it is astonishing that his piano music studiously avoids the virtuosity he had assiduously cultivated as a young performer. Almost all his piano writing is in some way experimental, conceptual, challenging the pianist to make sense of piano writing that often seems ungrateful, not unlike Musorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition, which we heard in the first lecture of this series. 

Even so, Shostakovich’s monumental cycle of Preludes and Fugues stands at the very core of his output. Written “for the desk drawer” in his most difficult years, following a second round of official criticism, it often rejoices in the very “formalism” he was accused of. Following the example of J.S. Bach, Shostakovich offers us twenty-four strictly constructed fugues in all the keys, each preceded by a free-flowing prelude. The set takes us on a fascinating journey, beginning with near-pastiches of Bach, into a world where Russian folk song can meet Jewish cantillation, and where Baroque idioms meet modernism, with extremes of emotion that can rival any of Shostakovich’s symphonies.

Image © Deutsche Fotothek CC BY-SA


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Marina Frolova-Walker is Gresham Professor of Music. She is a Russian-born British musicologist and music historian. She is Professor of Music History and Director of Studies in Music at Clare College, Cambridge. 

Professor Marina Frolova-Walker is a specialist in the Russian music of the 19th and 20th centuries. She has published extensively on Russian music and is a well-known lecturer and broadcaster for BBC Radio 3. Among her many awards and appointments, she is a Fellow of the British Academy and was awarded the Edward Dent Medal in 2015 by the Royal Musical Association for her achievements in musicology. 

She was appointed as Visiting Gresham Professor of Russian Music in 2018-19. 

You can find more information on Marina and her research interests here: https://www.marinafrolova-walker.com/

Professor Frolova-Walker's lecture series are as follows:

2020/21 Russian Piano Masterpieces

2019/20 Diaghilev and the Ballets Russes

2018/19 Russian Opera and the State (as Visiting Gresham Professor of Russian Music)

All lectures by the Gresham Professors of Music can be accessed here.

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Peter Donohoe CBE is one of Britain’s foremost pianists, whose international career was launched by his success at the 1982 Tchaikovsky Competition in Moscow. Since then, he has performed at the world’s major venues, including the Hollywood Bowl, the Sydney Opera House and the Teatro Colón, collaborating with conductors such as Simon Rattle, Yevgeni Svetlanov and Gustavo Dudamel, and he has appeared at the BBC Proms a remarkable twenty-two times. 

In the course of his forty-year career, Russian music has always been at the core of his huge repertoire. His highly acclaimed recordings include all the Tchaikovsky concertos, all the Scriabin sonatas, all the Rachmaninov preludes, all the Prokofiev sonatas, Stravinsky’s music for piano solo and with orchestra, and all the Shostakovich sonatas, concertos and preludes and fugues.

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