Dynamic teen pianists dazzle with solos, duets

Reviewed by Lee Shepherd

With its concert this weekend, Classical Pianists of the Future celebrated its 10th anniversary. “It’s hard to believe. We didn’t think we’d get beyond the first year,” said Alvin H. Williams III, co-founder and co-executive director with Lance G. Hill, the area’s pre-eminent piano technician/tuner.

The well-attended performance Saturday evening (Oct. 29)  at Binghamton’s United Presbyterian Church brought back two of the finest performers of the last decade for a gala program of duos and solos.

Anastasia Rizikov first performed here at the age of nine. Now 17, the Canadian pianist has made it so big that she’s difficult to book. Ever since winning the 2006 Vladimir Horowitz International Young Pianists Competition in Ukraine and several other prestigious prizes, she’s been featured in concerts worldwide.

Nineteen-year-old Michael Davidman, a New York City native, was back for his third concert in Binghamton. He, too, has won a host of competitions, and the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia student is in demand on the concert stage.

They are poster children for the Classical Pianists mission to showcase and nurture up-and-coming concert pianists outside of competitions.

It’s beyond comprehension that they could put together this phenomenally difficult concert with just a few days of rehearsing together. Rizikov and Davidman seem perfectly matched. They both possess superhuman piano technique; passionate musicality, flair and style, and utter fearlessness. They went where older concert pianists fear to go,  choosing dense and difficult works by Rachmaninoff, Liszt and Chopin.  Davidman even transcribed an opera aria by Puccini – and it was lovely.

Both young adults seem unaffected by fame – open, egoless, unabashed by their talent and obviously happy to please the audience. They’re showmen. Both use an unemployed hand to conduct the music. Both rock on the piano benches; Rizikov fairly dances as she plays.

As a veteran duet and two-piano player, I know that logistics — negotiating the shared use of the keyboard and pedals — can be very tricky. The young pianists accomplished the task flawlessly, their hands moving over and under each other’s, sometimes with a speed that blurred vision.

The concert really took a village to bring off. That included the series’ many financial supporters and the devoted audience members. Seated in what I think are the best seats in the house (the right balcony, where you can see the piano keyboard), I was joined by concert pianists Gleb Ivanov and John Covelli. The audience was filled by some of the best piano teachers/accompanists in the region, including Mary Lou Muratori, Barbara Garges, Natalia Karlgut and Nan Borton.

A true case of musical chairs added some moments of levity to the evening. Piano benches were switched before every piece — by Hill, by Anastasia, by Anastasia’s grandmother (also the evening’s page turner) and by Davidman. The “high priced help” also included singer Steven Nanni (a board member of Classical Pianists), who ran to the sound board and quickly fixed some feedback sprouting from one speaker. And Hill gave the piano a quick tune-up during intermission after the poor Steinway had taken a beating. (Yes, there was a piano tuner in the house!)

The concert ended with a built-in encore, Rachmaninoff’s Italian Polka, and a show-stopper – Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue — performed as only two piano prodigies could: jazzy, bluesy and, of course, as fast as humanly possible.

FYI: Both young pianists were taped this week for WSKG’s Expressions program. For an air date, check wskg.org/program/expressions/.

Next on the Classical Pianists of the Future series: Alexei Aceto of Ithaca will perform 7:30 p.m. March 25, 2017. at United Presbyterian, 42 Chenango St., Binghamton. Call 237-7185 for ticket information, or visit www.cpotf.org. Tickets also will be sold at the door.

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