Seeking Perfect Balance

Alexander Tutunov strives for a piano program with the ideal blend of familiar and lesser-known gems

Posted: Friday, September 05, 2003

Belorussian pianist Alexander Tutunov's perfect program has a little bit of everything. He starts with Bach to set the mood. He moves through the romantic and contemporary period to challenge, but not demand too much.

The perfect plan is like art itself, which is how Tutunov arrived at his efficient 60-minute lineup for his solo show, 8 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 6, at the Juneau-Douglas High School auditorium. Tickets are available at Hearthside Books and at the door.

The first half of the performance leans heavily on Robert Schumann's "Carnaval, Op. 9," considered one of the major works of the romantic period. The second half emphasizes Sergei Prokofiev's "Sonata No. 7 in B-Flat, Op. 83," a contemporary Russian piece written during World War II.

"I try to find a perfect balance between the familiar things and the things I think should be more familiar," Tutunov said. "I promote some things that mean something to me, and some things that people expect to hear. In the classical concerts, every single piece has to be special."

Tutunov was in Juneau in April for the Symphony's 40th Anniversary concert. He played Sergei Rachmaninoff's "Concerto No. 2 for Piano and Orchestra in C minor, Opus 18."

"That's nearly a perfect piece of music," Tutunov said. "Every note is there for a reason, right where it should be. The orchestra was just phenomenal. They demonstrated the highest level of musicianship, and (conductor) Kyle (Wiley Pickett) was quite confident."

Tutunov was born in Belarus and entered the Central Music School at the Moscow Conservatory when he was 7. He graduated magna cum laude and was promptly drafted into the Soviet Army.

Tutunov has performed widely in the former Soviet Union, Poland, Bulgaria, the former Czechoslovakia and the United States. He holds degrees in concert performance from the Minsk Musical College, the University of Texas and the Belorussian National Academy of Music. He's now the director of keyboard studies at Southern Oregon University in Ashland, Ore.

"There are a lot of similarities between Ashland and Juneau," Tutunov said. "There is local pride in the town. There are wonderful people and a deep appreciation for the arts. Some towns you don't feel drawn to. With Juneau, that was not the case. I felt an urge to come back. It was just a fortunate coincidence that I could."

Tutunov first performed "Carnaval" in 1984. It's not often performed live, he said, because pianists prefer to record it in the studio and fix any missed notes.

"It basically embodies all the principles of that time," Tutunov said. "It's very fun, very flashy. And it's demanding on the performer."

Prokofiev's work is part of a three-sonata trilogy. The sixth sonata is said to describe pre-war Russia. The seventh is about war itself, and the eighth covers the post-war dissolution.

"It's safe to say that there are anti-war overtones," Tutunov said. "He describes the war machine as something ugly. The machine goes faster and faster and just crashes, like what happened with Nazi Germany. It expanded to the ugly, and caused a lot of irreparable damage, then it self-destructed."

"There is this absolutely brooding, flowing melody in the second movement, in the slow movement," he said. "I just love playing it: more dissonant harmonies, more spicy chords. You could even find jazz-like overtones in the last movement."

Prokofiev's seventh sonata ambles along in a complex, stutter-step 7/8 time, making it more difficult to play.

"You go and you always stumble, because there's that one missing note in each measure," Tutunov said. "That will keep the listener on the edge of their seat, if I don't collapse before that."

• Korry Keeker can be reached at korry.keeker@juneau-

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