Andrey Gugnin, 2014 gold medalist in Gina Bachauer International Piano Foundation competition, returns to SLC Nov. 11 with Rachmaninoff, Stravinsky, Ravel works

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Russian pianist Andrey Gugnin has good reasons to love Rachmaninoff. At the age of 28, in 2014, Gugnin took the gold medal at the Gina Bachauer International Piano Foundation Competition in 2014, with his performance of the composer’s Third Piano Concerto. Two years later, after winning the gold media at the Sydney International Piano Competition, he played the same concerto in an appearance with the Utah Symphony.

It has been six years since his last appearance in Utah but Gugnin returns this week in a solo program highlighting classic Rachmaninoff works, along with Stravinsky’s transcriptions of sections of his Petrushka ballet score and a piano sonatine by Ravel. Part of Bachauer’s season featuring competition gold medalists, the concert will be Nov. 11 at 7:30 p.m. in the Jeanné Wagner Theatre at the Rose Wagner Center for Performing Arts.

In an interview with The Utah Review, Gugnin says he is thrilled to be back. “I remember how special and warm the competition was, which is more welcoming than other competitions I have been in,” he recalls, adding that he is looking forward to staying with the same family who hosted him when he competed eight years ago. 

Andrey Gugnin.

As with so many Bachauer gold medalists, winning the competition in Salt Lake City was a major career boost, as he has performed around the world in solo recitals and in guest appearances with major orchestras. His performances of Shostakovich’s 24 Preludes and Liszt’s Transcendental Etudes have been enthusiastically acclaimed. Gugnin has been invited to perform as a guest artist with notable orchestras worldwide, such as the London Philharmonic Orchestra, the State Academic Symphony Orchestra of Russia, the Netherlands Symphony Orchestra, West Australian Symphony Orchestra and the Sydney Symphony. He has also collaborated in chamber music with the Asko Schönberg ensemble, Orchestre de Chambre de Genève, Jerusalem Camerata and Camerata Salzburg and on several occasions as the duo partner of violinist Tasmin Little. As a recording artist, Gugnin has published a broad scope of repertoire ranging from solo piano to symphonic works. His release of Liszt’s Transcendental Etudes (Piano Classics, 2018) were commended as Editor’s Choice, and distinguished Gugnin as “one to watch” (Gramophone).

Earlier this year, worried about the uncertainties in Russia as war expanded with Ukraine, he relocated to Zagreb, Croatia, where he already had established a presence in music. He has been offering concerts to support charities providing aid to Ukrainians who have been displaced by the war.

If the reaction after performing the same program in Seattle is any indicator of Gugnin’s selections, audiences will thoroughly enjoy the music for the concert which is billed as “Classic Rachmaninoff.” The concert theme is timed as an advance reminder of the composer’s 150th anniversary of his birth, which will be marked in 2023 with numerous concerts around the world celebrating the Rachmaninoff legacy.

The major work is the Op. 32 book featuring 13 of the 24 Preludes that the composer wrote. This is undoubtedly a gold standard in the solo piano literature. But, Gugnin has added a treat for the opener, a “Bachmaninoff” mashup, with Rachmaninoff’s transcription of three movements of Bach’s Partita for Solo Violin in E Major, BWV 1066. In 1933, he arranged the Prelude, Gavotte and Gigue but his transcription is much more than merely translating the solo violin part. Rachmaninoff makes the work his own by adding contrapuntal lines to flesh out the harmonies, which make this famous Bach work that much more thrilling.

In a program of meaty and brawny works by the two Russian composers featured, Gugnin decided to insert a 10-minute interlude that is much more than a mere palate cleanser. Ravel’s Sonatine’s three movements are generally considered easier in technique than other works by the French composer including his concerti and Gaspard de la nuit. A pianist who worried about his keyboard skills, Ravel often performed the first two movements of the work but stayed away from the final movement because he considered it too difficult to play.

A decade after the 1911 premiere of Petrushka, Stravinsky decided to write a suite of three movements from the ballet score, specifically for pianist Arthur Rubinstein. Stravinsky, of course, did more than merely transcribe the original score, beefing up the technical demands to satisfy Rubinstein, whom he targeted as a worthy ambassador to help build his visibility as a composer. The three movements are Danse russe (Russian Dance), Chez Pétrouchka (Petrushka’s Room) and La semaine grasse (The Shrovetide Fair).

For tickets and more information, see the Bachauer website. 

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