Gavrylyuk makes annual pilgrimage to ‘musical home’

Matt Burkhartt | Staff Photographer
Alexander Gavrylyuk performs Mozart’s Rondo in D Major during a solo recital Wednesday in the Amphitheater.

One of Chautauqua’s favored sons makes his return to the Amphitheater stage this weekend, and he’s bringing another transcendent Chautauquan with him.

At 8:15 p.m. Saturday, pianist Alexander Gavrylyuk will make his ninth appearance as a soloist with the Chautauqua Symphony Orchestra, this time under the direction of guest conductor Daniel Boico.

Gavrylyuk first performed with the CSO in 2006 and has returned each season with a greater appreciation for the venue.

“[Chautauqua] really is a highlight for my year, each year,” he said. “As a performer, I feel the unique energy of the people and everything that happens there. It’s so enjoyable and inspiring to perform there.”

Before becoming a Chautauqua regular, Gavrylyuk established himself as one of the world’s premier pianists, winning the prestigious Arthur Rubinstein Competition in 2005.

Even as demand for his talent grows and his travelogue expands, he credits his time on the grounds as some of the most impactful.

“Both with my personal and professional development, I can see how I’ve opened up artistically as I continue to return,” he said. “Somehow, my sense of freedom was learned there.”

For tonight’s audience, Gavrylyuk will be performing George Gershwin’s noted “Rhapsody in Blue.”

Gavrylyuk suggested the piece to Boico and Chautauqua Vice President and Director of Programming Marty Merkley not only to celebrate the 90th anniversary of “Rhapsody in Blue,” but to also recognize the man himself.

One of the most celebrated American composers, Gershwin famously composed much of his Concerto in F in a practice shack on the grounds during the summer of 1925.

The shack is still in use today among the field of facilities next to Elizabeth S Lenna Hall. Gavrylyuk admits that yes, even he has poked his head in Gershwin’s former quarters and played on the Steinway inside.

“It’s more special, of course, to play the rhapsody here knowing its history and Gershwin’s history,” Gavrylyuk said. “I’ve performed it a few times in Belgium, New Zealand and Russia, but this will be my first time performing Gershwin on American soil. It means a lot to me to do it here.”

In Gavrylyuk’s experience, he said it is increasingly rare for classical soloists to establish a longtime bond with individual symphonies and programs — a look at his yearly calendar shows him not state-hopping so much as breezing through country after country.

But year after year, he has returned to a tiny corner of southwestern New York.

“I really don’t think it’s about me. It’s just music,” he said. “The connection between the musical universe and the audience is uncompromisable. It’s like a zen state. There are moments where people are united in ways that are only capable through music. It’s an inspiration on the largest scale.”

Though Gavrylyuk functions as the centerpiece of tonight’s concert, Chautauquans should also note the presence of Israeli-American conductor Daniel Boico.

Boasting recent stints with the New York Philharmonic, the Johannesburg Philharmonic Orchestra and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, Boico is the last of eight guest conductors vying for the open music director position to lead the CSO in 2014.

He and Gavrylyuk haven’t worked together previously, but that’s far from a concern for the veteran Boico.

“I’m very excited and curious to work with him,” he said. “We are musicians who live through music; our job is to convey that to the audience, and Alexander is wonderful at that.”

As the final candidate to go through the interview process on the grounds, Boico will have the opportunity to have the last word and cue the last note of the season.

Going last is a popular choice for many interviewees, but Boico doesn’t see it as an absolute positive.

“It can really go both ways depending on the situation,” he said. “For example, by the time I got the list of the CSO’s repertoire, there were serious constraints based not only on instrumentation, but the orchestra’s policy of not repeating music.”

Faced with the restricted selection, Boico asked Institution leadership whether he could deviate from the repertoire. He received permission and selected a pair of symphonies that weren’t otherwise available.

One of the two, Symphony No. 1 in G minor by Vasily Kalinnikov, will close tonight’s concert. Johannes Brahms’ Piano Quartet in G minor, Op. 25,  arranged by Schoenberg, will be the final piece of not only Boico’s program on Tuesday, but the CSO season as well. In addition to works by Gershwin and Brahms, Boico will lead the CSO through “Les préludes” by Franz Liszt.

“In the end, I think and feel like we have programs that are as approachable to the audience as possible,” Boico said. “Ultimately, it’s about the audience, and I think sometimes we musicians forget about that.”

Boico’s philosophy as a musician can best be described as “simplicity through variation.” Self-described as a man averse to anything resembling a label or stamp of “only playing x by Composer A and y by Composer B,” he said he believes nothing is more important than having the trust of concert patrons and musicians alike.

“Music is music,” he said. “Once we start titling and boxing ourselves in, certain qualities are lost. Without titles, the focus is just on creating and enjoying beautiful music.”