Macedonia is among the smaller nations of Europe, so it’s not surprising that few of its musicians have reached the highest ranks in the classical music firmament. Described by The Guardian as “wondrously talented,” pianist Simon Trpčeski is the most notable exception.
Chicago audiences have been fortunate to hear his consummate artistry many times over the past decade. In 2008, he made his made his Chicago Symphony Orchestra debut at Symphony Center under conductor Ludovic Morlot in Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto No. 1, an event he recalls with great fondness. “The CSO is one of the top orchestras in the world, and its clear, transparent, and powerful sound is a motivation for every artist.”
Trpčeski’s acclaimed debut recording on EMI Classics also featured works of Tchaikovsky, as well as fellow Russians Scriabin, Stravinsky and Prokofiev. The pianist credits his principal teacher in Macedonia, the Russian émigré Boris Romanov, for instilling a deep appreciation for the idiom. “He helped me to develop a taste for Russian music, how to understand it, shape it and direct the musical flow in the most natural way.”
The pianist has further honed his instincts through collaborations with Russian conductor Vasily Petrenko and the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, with whom he recorded the Russian concertos, including most of the works of Rachmaninov, Prokofiev and Tchaikovsky. Trpčeski speaks in glowing terms of their partnership. “I met Vasily in 2007 during his first season at the RPO, and we played Rachmaninov’s First Concerto and the Rhapsody at the same concert. From our first contact, we really clicked, since we have a similar understanding of the music. I always feel an extra sense of responsibility when I play Russian music with Russian musicians. Of course, they differ from each other, but I was really glad to see that our understanding was basically the same, since we try to follow the nature and logic of the musical thought.”
Ravinia audiences will get to experience their camaraderie Aug. 4 when they appear together for the first time in the Chicago area. They may be taking a turn to the west from the Russian works for which they are so renowned, but it’s no less powerful a warhorse that they will be performing, Grieg’s Concerto in A Minor. In comparison to other works he has performed with Petrenko, Trpčeski sees a similar latitude in the music. “It certainly has some connection to Tchaikovsky deep beneath the surface. Grieg’s concerto is a perfect combination of the broad expression of Romanticism with the sheer beauty of Norway, combining the grandeur of the piano with the colorful and tasteful use of the orchestra.
“As in every piece of music, and particularly one so popular, one should go deep into the composer’s details in the score, to make it interesting, fresh, and alive. Knowing Petrenko, I’m sure that this will be the case in the orchestral part of the performance.”
This is an excerpt of an article published in the Ravinia magazine; to read the complete version, click here.
Michael Cameron is a double bassist and professor of music at the University of Illinois. His writings have appeared in the Chicago Tribune, Chicago Classical Review and Fanfare Magazine.