Ignat Solzhenitsyn came to playing the piano very organically. The house his family moved into when he was a child had a piano in it.
“It came with old couches and furniture and whatever else old houses have in them, and it also came with a small grand piano,” he said. “I suppose I would have come to music somehow, because I loved hearing music from a very early age, but this was the practical point that really gave direct impetus to my desire to play music.”
When he wouldn’t stop banging around on that piano, his parents found him a teacher and he began lessons.
Now, of course, he’s a world-renown conductor and pianist. Solzhenitsyn is the Conductor Laureate of the Chamber Orchestra of Philadelphia and the Principal Guest Conductor of the Moscow Symphony Orchestra.
He’ll return to conduct the Elgin Symphony Orchestra’s season finale, Solzhenitsyn Plays Mozart and Bruckner. Performances will be at 7:30 p.m. Saturday and at 2:30 p.m. Sunday in the Hemmens Cultural Center in Elgin. Pre-concert discussions will begin one hour before the concert start times.
They will perform Mozart Piano Concerto No. 12 in A major, K. 414, and Bruckner Symphony No. 4, “Romantic.”
Solzhenitsyn, 41, is no stranger to the ESO – he’s performed with them several times in the past.
“We have an excellent working rapport, and we’ve done different kinds of repertoire in the past, all with good results,” he said. “I’m looking forward to this new challenge with this particular program to see what will happen when we put it all together.”
At this concert, Solzhenitsyn will showcase his ability to lead an orchestra while simultaneously playing piano during the performance of Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 12. This is a feat he says only works for repertoire designed to be performed that way.
“Which for practical purposes means Mozart and Beethoven,” he said. “It works very well to have one person direct from the keyboard, or the violin or whatever the solo instrument.”
Physically and mentally, it’s a challenge to make it all work; but the beneficial result is a greater unity in the performance than is usually possible than when a soloist’s point of view has to be melded together with the conductor’s view, he said.
“It’s something I think orchestras enjoy doing, and the results can be very fresh,” he said.
The performance will be a study in contrasts between the composers, he said, but also these were two men who were “very much shaped by their native Austria in terms of the ease and elegance of their melodies and the lilt, the dance, that permeated so much of their music,” he said.
He will be available to meet patrons afterwards and answer any questions they might have or hear any comments.
“It’s the least any performer can do. People come and take time from their schedules and arrange a babysitter and take time from work or change family plans, and they buy a ticket and come and listen with an open heart and an open mind. And if they would like to say something or ask something afterward it’s the least I can do to hear their perspective.”
He entertains the most profound, thoughtful observations to the most mundane comments that have nothing to do with music.
“The comments that mean the most to me are along the lines that people feel they are hearing this music as if for the first time,” he said. “That is particularly gratifying.”