Let’s say this straight off: Behzod Abduraimov is one of the nicest, most self-effacing people you would ever want to meet.
His humility is especially striking because this young, globe-hopping virtuoso has a lot to be proud of.
Since winning the 2009 London International Piano competition, Abduraimov, 24, has been touring solo and with the world’s greatest orchestras. He also has recorded two CDs with the prestigious Decca label. All the while, Abduraimov continues his studies at Park University’s International Center for Music.
Abduraimov has performed twice with the Kansas City Symphony, but he will give his first solo recital in Kansas City on Friday at the Folly Theater. He’ll perform music by Ludwig Van Beethoven, Frederic Chopin, Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky and Sergei Prokofiev.
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It was Stanislav Ioudenitch, the Van Cliburn gold medalist, who discovered Abduraimov in Uzbekistan and brought him to Park University in 2007. Ioudenitch is director at Park of the International Center for Music.
Ioudenitch guided Abduraimov and honed his immense native talent into that of a world-class virtuoso. The payoff was in 2009 when Abduraimov won the London International Piano Competition with a searing performance of Prokofiev’s Piano Concerto No. 3.
Abduraimov’s life has been a whirl of activity ever since, but he still maintains his studies with Ioudenitch at Park University, and in August he was named artist-in-residence at the International Center for Music.
“I’m so honored and very happy to take that position,” Abduraimov said. “I’ve studied at Park for seven years, and I can call Kansas City my hometown now. I am so grateful for my collaboration with Stanislav Ioudenitch, who gives me a lot of attention and devotes himself to developing my career. My first recital in Kansas City will also be the first since I’ve been artist-in-residence.”
Abduraimov’s Kansas City recital will be the latest in a string of recitals, including performances in China with the Boston Symphony Orchestra conducted by Charles Dutoit and Japan with the NHK Symphony Orchestra of Tokyo conducted by Vladimir Ashkenazy. In the U.S. he’s played with the Los Angeles Philharmonic at the Hollywood Bowl and in Disney Hall, also with Mariinsky Orchestra conducted by Valery Gergiev at Carnegie Hall, where he also performed a solo recital.
It’s hard to imagine a more in-demand pianist. Needless to say, Abduraimov’s recital Friday is a don’t-miss event. For his Kansas City solo debut, Abduraimov has chosen a powerful program that will display his technical prowess as well as his emotional depth. He’ll start things off with Beethoven’s Piano Sonata No. 23 “Appassionata.”
“It’s very emotional and one of the most symphonic sonatas of Beethoven,” Abduraimov said. “You can feel emotions from the first to the very last note. It can be compared to the eruption of a volcano. People will be blown away, I think. It’s full of dynamic contrasts. It’s serious and leaves a big impression.”
Abduraimov will then play Chopin’s Ballades Nos. 3 and 1, in that order. Chopin took the troubadour’s ballad and turned it into a one-movement musical form for the piano.
“A ballade is a story,” Abduraimov said. “I think Chopin was one of the first who invented this genre into piano music. The third ballade is written in a dance manner, very charming. It’s very graceful with simplicity and elegance.
“The first ballade takes us on an amazing journey from lyricism to tragedy. It’s like a memory of a beautiful past, and then we’re brought to the tragic catastrophe of the present. The first ballade was one of Chopin’s favorite pieces.”
The second half of the recital will begin with Tchaikovsky’s Theme and Variations in A minor. This is not one of Tchaikovsky’s better-known works, but it’s one of Abduraimov’s favorites.
“In that piece you can hear the influence of (Robert) Schumann on Tchaikovsky,” he said. “There is joy and excitement, and I think people will like it as much as the Chopin Ballades or the ‘Appassionata.’”
The concert will conclude with Prokofiev’s Piano Sonata No. 6. Written in 1940, one year before the Nazi invasion of the Soviet Union, it’s the first of Prokofiev’s three “War” sonatas. According to the great pianist Sviatoslav Richter, it introduced “the terrifying pulse of 20th-century music” to Prokofiev’s music.
“This sonata reflects the developing atmosphere of violence of that time,” Abduraimov said. “It has a lot of contrasts. I think this sonata could easily be orchestrated, and then it would be a perfect symphony. There is always an imitation of other instruments from the orchestra.”
In spite of his prodigious resumé and being named artist-in-residence, Abduraimov still hasn’t graduated from Park University. At this point, his eventual graduation will be almost an afterthought. But Abduraimov does intend to graduate, as soon as he can find the time to finish his studies.
Abduraimov is genuinely excited to give his first solo recital in Kansas City. He’s chosen a program that should satisfy a variety of tastes and is almost certain to be one of the most memorable concerts of the year.
“It’s pretty simple,” he said. “I am playing some of the greatest pieces ever written. All of them masterpieces. I’m very happy to play recitals in Paris, Madrid or London, New York and everywhere else, but it’s a special moment to play at home for the first time, and hopefully people will enjoy it.”
8 p.m. Friday. Folly Theater, 300 W. 12th St. $25-$100. 816-474-4444 or follytheater.org.
Hector Berlioz was perhaps the most over-the-top composer of the Romantic era.
His massive symphonic and choral works and operas were the epitome of Romantic excess. How brilliant, then, to have Terry Gilliam, whose fantastical films like “Time Bandits” and “Brazil” indulge in similar spectacle, direct and stage Berlioz’s opera “Benvenuto Cellini.”
Not often performed, Berlioz’s opera about the great Renaissance sculptor and jeweler, Benvenuto Cellini, gets the full-blown treatment it deserves. Set in Rome during carnival season, the plot revolves around Cellini’s commission from the pope to cast a statue of Perseus. The carnival revels provide Gilliam a colorful and rumbustious background against which to set this extraordinary opera.
1 p.m. Wednesday and May 17. Tivoli Cinemas in Westport, 4050 Pennsylvania Ave. $10-$15. 816-561-5222 or www.tivolikc.com.
KC Symphony meets Disney
When Walt Disney created his groundbreaking animated film “Fantasia,” he wanted it to be totally immersive, with the finest sound possible.
So Walt and his brother Roy sought the assistance of David Sarnoff, the president of the Radio Corporation of America. They wanted to “create the illusion that the actual symphony orchestra is playing in the theater,” Walt Disney said. The stereophonic technology developed by Disney and RCA gave “Fantasia” a depth of sound never heard in a movie theater.
But who needs stereophonic sound when you have a live orchestra?
The Kansas City Symphony will provide live accompaniment to “Fantasia” on Friday, Saturday and May 17 at Helzberg Hall. The Symphony going full throttle in Helzberg’s outstanding acoustics should create a sound beyond the wildest dreams of Disney and the RCA engineers.
Harpsichordists end Bach series
The Westport Center for the Arts will present its last concert of the season on Friday.
Harpsichordists Rebecca Bell and Marian Thomas will perform the last eight preludes and fugues from Johann Sebastian Bach’s monumental “Well-Tempered Clavier,” Volume 1. This will conclude Bell and Thomas’ traversal of all 48 preludes and fugues from both volumes. Thomas will play a harpsichord tuned to the Werckmeister III temperament, and she’ll explain the significance of that before the performance.
12:10 p.m. Friday. Immanuel Lutheran Church, 1700 Westport Road. Free. For more information, visit www.WCAkc.org.
Just a little more than two months after the death of John Obetz, Kansas City has lost another extraordinary organist. Bruce Prince-Joseph died on April 25. He was 89 years old.
Prince-Joseph had a remarkable and very colorful career that included serving as music director at St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York, studying Gregorian chant in France, composing music and hobnobbing with classical music greats around the world.
He also inspired music lovers right here in Kansas City with his organ and carillon playing at St. Mary’s Episcopal Church and St. Therese Little Flower Catholic Church.
Prince-Joseph was born in 1925 in Beaver Falls, Penn., to a mother whose family, Prince-Joseph said, was descended from counts who fought in the Crusades and a father who came from the Ahbaidullah family, the oldest Christian family in Iraq.
After the stock market crash of 1929, his family moved to Kansas City. He was introduced to classical music, singing in the choir at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church and listening to weekly radio broadcasts by the New York Philharmonic.
New York City called to the young Prince-Joseph and after he graduated from Westport High School, and he saved enough money to move to the cultural capital of the United States. Prince-Joseph pursued his organ studies at St. Patrick’s Cathedral and in 1943 was appointed music director. He eventually was admitted to the undergraduate organ program at Yale University where, in addition to organ, he studied composition under Paul Hindemith.
After stints around the country and time spent in Europe studying organs damaged during World War II, Prince-Joseph returned to New York and took a teaching position at Hunter College. In 1953 he became organist and harpsichordist for the New York Philharmonic, important positions he held until the mid-’70s.
Throughout the 1950s, Prince-Joseph made several recordings, including one with violinist Erick Friedman of the music of Bach that received a Grammy nomination. He also was one of the first to fuse jazz and classical with the albums “Swingin’ Harpsichord” and “Anything Goes.”
He was a well-respected musician and composer, who was a friend and collaborator with some of the greatest recent figures of classical music, including Maurice Duruflé, Igor Stravinsky and Leonard Bernstein, who conducted Prince-Joseph’s composition “Symphonic Suite of Dances.”
In 1986, Prince-Joseph returned to Kansas City where he became organist at St. Mary’s Episcopal Church. The high church atmosphere of St. Mary’s was appealing to Prince-Joseph, who was passionately devoted to Gregorian chant.
He built a superb music program at the church and developed relationships with local classical music groups who started using the church as a venue.
While at St. Mary’s, he acquired the 305-bell Liberty Memorial Carillon, which he restored. For years, Prince-Joseph would give weekly lunch-time concerts on his beloved carillon.
In 2009, he became music director of St. Therese Little Flower Parish, where he remained until his death.
Scholar, musician, composer, harpsichord collector and raconteur, Prince-Joseph was one of a kind. He left his mark on the music world and warm memories with music lovers, especially those in his hometown.