Kholodenko brings piano talent to Hawaii

Feb. 14, 2014 | 0 Comments In the Star-Advertiser Friday Print Edition
(Courtesy photo)

Vadym Kholodenko. (Courtesy photo)

BY STEVEN MARK / smark@staradvertiser.com

Pianist Vadym Kholodenko was a veteran of international competition by the time he entered last year’s Van Cliburn International Piano Competition, so he knew to avoid the NFL Super Bowl-like hype that surrounds the prestigious event.

“I asked my host family to kind of separate me from any news from any critic whatever, good or bad or mediocre,” said Kholodenko, who had won competitions in Germany, Japan and Greece in previous years. “I know many competitors who would like to talk about what happened, like to listen to other competitors, like to say something about their performance. Sometimes that could not be so good for the consequences. It’s better to be behind the wall.”

VADYM KHOLODENKO

» Where: Orvis Auditorium, University of Hawaii at Manoa
» When: 7:30 p.m. Tuesday
» Cost: $10-$25
» Info: etickethawaii.com or (808) 944-2697
» Note: Kholodenko performs Wednesday at the Kahilu Theatre in Waimea, Hawaii island, kahilutheatre.org or (808) 885-6868; also Thursday at the University of Hawaii at Hilo Performing Arts Center, (808) 932-7490

He had nothing to worry about. Critics uniformly raved about the 27-year-old pianist, praising an extraordinarily subtle technique yet broad musicality, leaving little debate over the worthiness of the gold medal that judges conferred upon him.

“It wasn’t just nimble fingers that won him the undisputed gold,” wrote a veteran Texas critic. “It was his innate musicianship, bringing every note in every piece to vibrant life, that truly amazed. Indeed, he is able to play rapid passages so deftly and quietly that it almost seems to defy physical laws.”

Kholodenko appears thus poised to assume the mantle of the tradition of great Russian pianism. He was born in Ukraine and raised by scientist parents, but his mother played piano as an amateur and started him on private piano lessons at age 6. Within a year he was placed in a special performing arts academy, where he began rigorous music training.

“This is a bad term, I think, but it’s like a small factory, and they prepare students for conservatory,” he said. “You have common studies at public schools, but you have all free time devoted to practicing, to learning theory of music, history or music, harmony and so on. … Probably 90 percent of my class wound up going to conservatory.”

Kholodenko’s devotion to music and technique has remained steadfast throughout his budding career. He went on to study at the Moscow Tchaikovsky Conservatory, where he continues to study and teach, got married and had a young daughter, all the while pursuing a full concert schedule of solo, chamber music and concerto performances.

The prolific pianist is probably one of the youngest to have performed all 32 Beethoven piano sonatas.

“It seemed crazy at first,” he said. “But I would like to repeat this process in maybe five years, because I feel like I opened maybe 5 or 10 percent of what is hidden there.”

He also has a rather astounding number of concertos under his belt, a feat he somewhat whimsically attributes to “not having professional management.”

“I frequently played if somebody got sick,” he said. “For example, I learned Rachmaninoff’s Third Piano Concerto, some crazy stuff like that, so I now have close to 25 concertos. I think in the future I should narrow that, because now I’m searching for what suits me perfectly. Now I can say what I want to do in five years.”

For his concert in the isles, Kholodenko will perform an all-Chopin program consisting of the composer’s brief but colorful Preludes and his challenging but musical Etudes.

Although this is established repertoire for piano fans, he should bring some new and unique voices to these familiar works.

“Kholodenko had a little surprise for us at the end when in the blink of an eye, the texture turned suddenly pianissimo and a new melody emerged,” wrote a California critic describing a recent performance of Bach. “It was the kind of magical performance that made you hold your breath.”

Kholodenko said he chose the program in part because of the intimacy of Orvis Auditorium. “I should say that for me it’s easier to play in a big concert hall,” he said. “When the audience is so far from the pianist, I’m not nervous so much. But of course small halls are very precious, and to have this feeling of being connected to every member of the audience. I think that Chopin definitely fits in small halls, like these musical salons of Europe.”

Of the Preludes, which Chopin composed in part as an homage to Bach’s works of the same name but wound up taking in entirely different directions, Kholodenko said: “When I play these pieces, I feel every note is filled with Chopin’s intentions and feelings and ideas. It’s such an interesting work when with each note, everything changes. When you’re playing Rachmaninoff or Liszt, there are millions of notes, they don’t each have the same weight like in Chopin, particularly the Preludes.

“It’s like one big story, from the beginning to the end. It’s interesting with each prelude. Those that are written in the major keys, they become more dark, and those that are written in minor keys, they become even more harsh, even tragic. For me it’s like the life of some hero or probably even Chopin himself.”

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