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2019-03-21 

A young Israeli pianist is making waves thanks to the way he looks at pieces written by famous composers

As young Israeli pianist Boris Giltburg begins to talk about piano works and his unique interpretation, his eyes noticeably light up, radiating excitement and enthusiasm.

For him, music evokes imagery in the same way as poetry does. The music notes are intricately woven, within which the composers deftly and wittily conceal their wildest fantasies and subtlest sensitivities.

Though having been to China almost every year since 2007, for this year's China tour, Giltburg is faced with a particularly intense schedule.

Just hours after his arrival in Beijing, he presented a three-hour piano recital at an art salon.

However, Giltburg says that music never tires him.

"Performing for me is a pleasure. If anything, I get energy from the audience, from the interaction and from the music itself."

Among the pieces Giltburg performed at the recital was Etu des-Tableaux, Op. 39, homage to Sergei Rachmaninoff, one of his favorite composers.

He has recorded a number of Rachmaninoff's representative piano works, including his most recent recording, which came out earlier this year - Rachmaninoff's Piano Concerto No. 3 and Variations on a Theme of Corelli.

While his dexterity is widely recognized, as his previous recording of Rachmaninoff's 2nd Piano Concerto was awarded Best Soloist Recording (20/21st century) at the Opus Klassik Awards, what is more interesting is how he channels the composers through his performance.

"While it is obvious that everything is deeply felt, what we hear seems a portrayal of the composer's musical imagery, rather than the soloist's take on it," music critic Patrick Rucker said of Giltburg's previous Rachmaninoff recording.

This is in fact how Giltburg approaches each piano piece he plays.

His approach, largely visual, searches for the composer's vision that lies deep within the notes, instead of actively creating a certain imagery based on his previous experience.

"It's really important not to come up with an idea before you actually play the piece. It means you already closed off all the other possibilities of looking at the music," Giltburg says.

"It's much better when after having played a piece for maybe three, four months, you suddenly realize that something begins to grow from the music. And it's always a lot stronger and more organic because it's really connected with the music."

With the Etudes-Tableaux, literally meaning "study-pictures", Giltburg vividly illustrates his concept, exemplified evidently by Etude-tableau Op. 39, No. 6, entitled Little Red Riding Hood and the Wolf, which offers a darker yet more thrilling account of the famous fairy tale.

"It's now not one wolf, but three, because there are three voices playing in the same line, one after another, louder as the wolves chase her. And it ends with the growl of the wolf. So in this version, it's the wolves who survive in the end.

[Photo provided to China Daily]

"But then you look at these three wolves in the middle, and you see that the lines which are playing very low in the keyboard are the same lines as the previous red riding hood motif. So it is as if it was not the wolves that were chasing her, but some kind of copy of her, like a doppelganger. So what does it mean that the wolves are growling in the end?" says Giltburg.

In looking for the interpretations from within, Giltburg exhibits a level of reverence for the music itself, an influence that comes predominantly from Israeli classical pianist Arie Vardi, whom he has studied from for 15 years.

Giltburg, who was born in Moscow, Russia, in 1984, first started learning piano from his mother, a piano teacher, at the age of four.

But the family soon moved to Tel Aviv, where Giltburg started learning piano systematically from Vardi.

"He taught me almost everything I know today. In terms of the approach to the musical text, of seeing the notes, the score, as the highest truth and the highest authority." Giltburg says.

Later, after winning a range of awards, including the second prize at the Anton Rubinstein Competition in 2011 and the first prize at the Queen Elisabeth Competition in 2013, Giltburg was approached by Klaus Heymann, the founder and chairman of the Hong Kong-based Naxos Music Group, in 2015 marking the start of his long-term cooperation with Naxos.

Giltburg says his current plan centers on recording more pieces from his core repertoire.

"Recordings advance you tremendously, with the kind of concentration and focus on preparation you need for the recording sessions. So, when you come out from the studio you always know the piece much better than you did before."

Apart from performing and recording classical music, Giltburg, as one with various interests including reading, writing, cooking and photography, also enjoys writing about classical music.

The stories and listening guides he writes on his blog, Classical Music for All, have been published by various media, including the Guardian, Gramophone magazine, and BBC Music Magazine.

"My friends, who are not musicians, once told me that there's so much going on when you play, especially with orchestra. It's like chaos.

"But for me, it's the exact opposite of chaos," says Giltburg.

"And I thought, maybe that's what I need to do. I need to tell people what's going on, so then they can follow."

Giltburg says he plans to continue writing about his interpretation of piano pieces and his performances.

"There is such power in classical music. The ability to touch your soul in such a direct and timeless way. Some of the pieces we're playing today were written more than 300 years ago, and they still are relevant. They still say something to people in the 21st century," says Giltburg.

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