Exclusive Interview: Pianist-Composer and Honens Winner Nicolas Namoradze on His Carnegie Hall Debut

Fresh off winning Canada’s 2018 Honens International Piano Competition, New York-based pianist and composer Nicolas Namoradze will be making his Carnegie Hall debut Feb 10. Concerts at London’s Wigmore Hall, Konzerthaus Berlin, and other international venues are also upcoming, along with recordings on the Honens and Hyperion labels.

The Honens prize, a triennial award considered one of the classical music world’s most prestigious, includes a robust artist development program as well as prize money. Namoradze emerged victorious from a field of 50 quarterfinalists.

At his Carnegie Hall recital Namoradze will play music by Scriabin, Schumann, and J.S. Bach, along with his own Etudes and the world premiere of his Arabesque.

He was kind enough to speak with us about his background, musicianship, and composing.

You were born in Georgia (the country) but grew up in Budapest. You’ve said Hungarian composers have influenced you, and so has Georgian folk music. How so?

My interest in Georgian folk music was, interestingly enough, partly a result of my time at the Liszt Academy in Budapest, where ethnomusicology was a mandatory subject: studying the relationship between Bartók and Hungarian folk music made me look at Georgian folk music in a different light, and later on it began influencing my own compositional style. As for Hungarian composers, perhaps Ligeti has had the greatest impact — I’m fascinated by his oeuvre, so much so that my doctoral dissertation is about his late piano etudes!

Where and how did you begin your music studies? And when did you become interested in composing?

As a child I was always obsessed with music, and often spent hours on end glued to the record player. I was seven years old when I decided I wanted to begin learning an instrument, and felt piano was the right choice. After a few years of private instruction I moved to the pre-college program of the Liszt Academy.

I constantly scribbled in the first few years of my musical studies, but stopped writing as a teenager. I only began studying composition properly during my Master’s [studies] at Juilliard, where the atmosphere of experimentation and interdisciplinary collaboration encouraged me to look beyond the piano. It was also at Juilliard that I studied electronic music, which has since become a significant part of my activities as a composer.

You’ve studied piano with Emanuel Ax among others, and composition with John Corigliano. I had the opportunity to interview Emanuel Ax about his Variations CD, and he talked about the “emotional scope” of the works. Is that something you look for in your concert programs?

It’s certainly a central concern when I construct a concert program. When looking at the emotional scope of the works, I’m especially interested in how the pieces relate to one another, in order to create a kind of dramatic narrative across the entire program — rather than it being merely a selection of works I happen to like.

Your repertoire of solo, chamber, and concerto music is quite large and varied for a young pianist, ranging from Bach, Brahms, and Liszt to Ligeti, Rautavaara, and even Conlon Nancarrow. (I’m listening to your Honens performance of Brahms’ Piano Concerto No. 2 as I compose these questions.) All these works encompass a vast emotional as well as stylistic range. Am I correct in surmising that you’re an artist who likes to explore widely and challenge himself?

Absolutely! I’m a voracious learner with a fascination with the entire body of music written for the piano, including its less-explored corners. This appetite has actually extended beyond my instrument: I used to study conducting due to my love of the symphonic repertoire. However, I’ve set aside the baton for the time being — piano and composition is more than enough for now! I’ve also always been a bit of a daredevil, constantly challenging myself to learn pieces considered prohibitively difficult, such as the Godowsky Studies on Chopin Etudes and the Ligeti Etudes, which I began studying in my early teens.

How did you work out the program for your upcoming Carnegie Hall debut?

This recital program explores a number of interesting cross-temporal musical relationships. Some of the pairings I had already tried out in previous programs, such as the Scriabin and Bach, and juxtaposing my own Arabesque with the Schumann Arabeske felt natural, as there are structural similarities between the two pieces. Though the ordering of the works is hardly conventional, it in fact weaves a thread from one work to the next in a manner I think is interesting.

What draws you to Scriabin, and particularly to the “Black Mass” Sonata? What’s the significance of pairing it with Bach’s Sinfonia in F Minor?

Scriabin is actually one of my favorite composers. I am fascinated by the uniquely gradual yet dramatic stylistic transformation across his lifespan, from the early musical language influenced heavily by Chopin all the way to a highly experimental approach that stretches, and eventually steps beyond, the boundaries of traditional tonality. The music at each stage of this evolution is astonishing, and I have learnt a great deal from studying his compositional procedures. I am especially drawn to the later works, such as the “Black Mass” Sonata, with its remarkable juxtaposition of tenderness and terror.

What’s interesting about pairing it with the Bach Sinfonia in F Minor is that it highlights features in the work of one composer typically associated with the other — in this case, the intricate polyphonic textures in Scriabin’s Sonata and the daring chromaticism of Bach’s brief Sinfonia. There are also further relationships between the two pieces, such as those of key centre, that makes this a revealing pairing.

Along with your three brief Etudes, you’re premiering a new original Arabesque. Does it look back to Debussy?

Though Debussy was not a conscious model, given that my piece is based on principles that define arabesques in visual art — those of ornate, spiraling and interlacing patterns — one can find similarities with the undulating textures of the first of Debussy’s two Arabesques for piano.

The Laureate Prize at the 2018 Honens International Piano Competition includes an artist development program, with management, concert bookings, and recordings, including your debut CD with Hyperion. What are some highlights of your upcoming schedule, and have you made decisions on what you’ll record?

Following my upcoming recital at Carnegie Hall, I’ll have debuts at venues including Wigmore Hall in London, Koerner Hall in Toronto, Konzerthaus Berlin, and Tokyo Bunka Kaikan, and appearances with orchestras such as the London Philharmonic. Selections from my performances at the competition will be released on the Honens label in a few weeks, and in March I’ll be recording Schumann and some of my own piano works for Steinway. As for the Hyperion recording, I’ll be doing a disc of previously unrecorded pieces by York Bowen — a wonderful composer whose music deserves to be played and heard much more often!

Visit the Carnegie Hall website for tickets to the Feb. 10 recital. 

This post was last modified on January 28, 2019 5:01 pm

" Jon Sobel : Jon Sobel is a Publisher and Executive Editor of Blogcritics as well as lead editor of the Culture & Society section. As a writer he contributes most often to Culture, where he reviews NYC theater; he also covers interesting music releases. Through Oren Hope Marketing and Copywriting at http://www.orenhope.com/ you can hire him to write or edit whatever marketing or journalistic materials your heart desires. Jon also writes the blog Park Odyssey at http://parkodyssey.blogspot.com/ where he visits every park in New York City. And by night he's a part-time working musician: lead singer, songwriter, and bass player for Whisperado, a member of other bands as well, and a sideman.."
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