A Selective Guide to the Arts in Los Angeles

Simon Trpčeski performs at Disney Hall. / photo © Simon Fowler - EMI Classics

Simon Trpčeski returns to Walt Disney Concert Hall for a solo recital on Tuesday, Feb. 22. The program includes music by Haydn, Chopin and Prokofiev, as well as fellow Macedonian Pande Shahov.

Culture Spot interviewed Trpčeski before his performance last spring with the LA Phil and conductor Jaap van Zweden at Disney Hall. We followed up with him to see what he’s been up to during the past year and find out what to expect at the recital.

The program includes a California premiere of “Songs and Whispers,” a suite for piano by Pande Shahov, who is a friend of yours. Tell us how this piece came to be, what your role in its creation was, and what audiences can expect.

I like Pande not only as a very talented composer, but as a wonderful human being as well. The collaboration was as smooth as someone could wish for. We have known each other since our student days, although he is older than I. He was a great supporter from the early stages in my career, when he just moved to the U.K. One of the qualities that I respect is that he is open to the ideas of the performer and I think that my suggestions in a few parts made a point, and the overall result is more than positive — at least at the places where I have performed it.

I was invited to open the season of the International Piano Series at Queen Elizabeth Hall in London, and since it was the starting season of Chopin anniversaries and I chose to play Chopin’s Nocturnes, I suggested to Pande to write a piece connected to Chopin somehow, but which would include Macedonian roots too. I insisted on a piece not too contemporary but with obvious signs of today’s “way” of thinking, which in its creation and development included a wide range of styles and influences, from Bach to Scriabin, Debussy, Prokofiev, Satie and jazz musicians. The combination of Chopin’s soul with the Macedonian soul in the folk songs, made in his own vision, was a good source of inspiration I think. I added a small cadenza of my own in the last piece, Quasi Toccata, for even greater dramatic momentum. The potential of Macedonian folk music is huge and I personally believe that it can lead to a newer, if not a completely new, perception of contemporary classical music. I hope that the audience, especially the folk and jazz lovers, will like it. I expect Pande to be present himself, which is an honor for me.

Why did you select the other pieces in the program?

I always try to make a varied program which will show the diversity of my capabilities and tastes. I try to accommodate to the promoter’s wishes as well. It is really not easy at all because in different periods, the artist performs different programs which are very demanding, although both artists and management try to make it more sensible as a plan.

I wanted to play Haydn. I had to move Mozart’s two sets of Variations to the other recitals because L.A., like Washington, D.C., wanted a major work. So, to the Chopin Nocturnes and Pande’s piece, I added Prokofiev’s Sonata No. 7. I think that this program covers a large amount of tastes, so I hope that most of the audience will be satisfied. Haydn is soft and “minor,” but also dramatic in a language suitable for that time — the sturm und drang period — as is the atmosphere in Chopin, especially with the ending of the Nocturne in c-minor, like Haydn.

Shahov is suitable to both Chopin and Prokofiev because it quotes Chopin in two movements of the Suite, and the language and the year suits Prokofiev as well. Let’s hope for the best!

How do you feel about returning to L.A. and Disney Hall since your concert last spring?

How can one feel? Wonderful, inspired, motivated and honored. I am very happy that the L.A. Philharmonic is presenting me in their Recital Series, which is great support and trust, but at the same time responsibility. Having great memories from there, I will do my best to make people satisfied and be left with a memory which will keep them “hungry” until my next performance there.

How has the last year (since you’ve been in L.A.) been? Do you think you have grown musically through your many concerts in North America?

I have had some very nice projects since then. For example, I went to Houston after L.A. and had a very nice time there. Same state, Texas, but different than Dallas. I like diversity, which included a visit to Milwaukee, for example. Then I played with the Strasbourg Philharmonic in France. Being in Europe always brings a kind of charm.

I was very glad to be involved in two Schumann projects. One in Macedonia, which was  organized by the non-governmental organization which I collaborate with back home — KulturOp — and was supported by the German Embassy, where I brought top-class musicians from Ukraine, Russia, Germany and Norway, including the wonderful violist Maxim Rysanov. The other one was in Seattle with the Seattle Symphony.

I opened the 50th anniversary concert of the Ohrid Summer Festival in Macedonia with the Russian National Orchestra and Mikhail Pletnev, followed by a sold-out Royal Albert Hall concert at the Proms and the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic with Vasily Petrenko in London. I also visited Brazil for the first time in my life, and that was amazing in many ways.

Other highlights filled the autumn, like the Carnegie Hall debut with the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra and Marin Alsop — which was really successful and received a standing ovation — and receiving the Diapason d’Or Award in Paris for the Best Concerto CD in 2010 for the Rachmaninov Concertos Nos. 2 and 3 with Petrenko and the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic.

The calendar year finished with two concerts in two days, in two countries with two concertos. London Symphony and Pappano in Rachmaninov 1 and the following day — an event of historical dimension — the first-ever British orchestral visit to Macedonia, with the London Philharmonic and Jurowski in Prokofiev 3. That was an event of significant importance for such a small country like Macedonia, so I am really proud of it.

Prior to L.A., I finished recording all of the Rachmaninov concertos in Liverpool with Petrenko for Avie Records, and I continued my Hong Kong Philharmonic cycle of the Rachmaninov concertos as well as gave recitals in Seattle, D.C. and Vancouver.

All of these concerts — as well as every public performance — mean a lot to an artist, since each of them is a story on its own that must be perceived by the artist in its whole dimension because of the once-in-a-lifetime experience. This might sound philosophical, but it is true. And that is why we, the musicians, are blessed with this privilege. In that sense, my experiences in the U.S.A., with the sincerity of the audience that I am wrapped in, is an important part of my life because it gives me inspiration to go on.

What music have you been working on recently, and have your tastes or interests changed at all?

I have been working on Rachmaninov’s Concerto No. 4 in the last period, apart from all the other pieces that I have played (and there have been many, including a huge chamber music program that I played in Chicago — trios by Rachmaninov, Shostakovich and Tchaikovsky). Rachmaninov No. 4 was the last one that was missing in my repertoire of his pieces for piano and orchestra, and the last one to be recorded in the set of all of them with the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic and Vasily Petrenko for Avie Records.

My interests have always been big enough to satisfy my needs as a personality in general. So, I was glad that I had a rare chance to return to Haydn and Mozart. I also learned Liszt’s Concerto No. 2, which I am performing in my debut with the Boston Symphony in April. I have always wanted new things which will refresh everyday life, which is I guess very normal for every person. I am looking forward to more of them in the next season, when I will play more of Liszt and Schubert as well. I am also looking forward to greater variety in my repertoire in the future, which I hope will be interesting for the audiences as well. We are here for them, after all.