Alexey Chernov first heard about Texas pianist Van Cliburn as a young boy studying music in Russia. He remembers listening over and over again to the recording of Rachmaninov’s second piano concerto—Cliburn at the keys, Kyril Kondrashin conducting. It’s a very happy memory.
Now, he’ll be playing in Cliburn territory.
It’s been said that the Russian people believed Cliburn played “like a Russian” himself. What does Chernov think about that?
“I agree with those who say this,” he tells us. “It is not possible to say in a few words what that means. It is something that is felt by the soul. Someone needs to analyze, and write a great treatise on this subject, of why Cliburn’s playing is ‘Russian’—but I am not ready to do it!”
At age 30, Chernov has won prizes in more than 20 international piano competitions, including a dozen first-place awards. He won first prize at the 2012 International Competition for Piano and Orchestra in Cantu; in 2011, he took second at the Cleveland International Piano Competition, third at the Marie Canals competition in Barcelona, and fifth at the International Tchaikovsky Competition. As a longtime admirer of Van Cliburn, he (of course) wants to play well in Fort Worth. But he’s content to show, not tell, what he hopes to do.
“Seriously, I think my piano playing and my music will tell more about me than any words. Wait for my performance in Fort Worth, or find something on YouTube [see link below]!”
He’s a serious musician who seems to think the usual journalist questions are just a bit silly. (Well, they are sometimes!) Asked if he can name his favorite composer for piano, he says: “No, I cannot! I can only name my favorite works or even parts of works—and they are changing all the time.” He mentions Kurt Vonnegut’s The Sirens of Titan as a book he was “very impressed by” this year—but won’t be pinned down to much else.
If there’s a clue to the musician inside, it may be in listening to the music he composes himself. Chernov has written pieces for solo piano, as well as works for both piano and string quintets. “Right now, I am preparing two works for symphony orchestra. If I can say anything, very primitive, about my style: it is a combination of romantic and many modern features.” [There’s a video of Chernov performing such a piece at the bottom of this story.]
Chernov is married to another musician, Elena Chernova. He studied at the Moscow Conservatory and at the Royal College of Music in London. These days, home base for Chernov and family is Moscow, where he grew up in a family of musicians. He’s quick to defend the Moscow weather.
“In recent years, it is a fable that Moscow is very cold in winter time,” he says. “I think it is not colder than Cleveland, for instance. I like a lot of snow, and like when the weather changes—otherwise, it’s boring. I don’t know how it is possible to live at the Equator!”
Coming to Texas in May and June, he may be about to find out.
◊ Here is a video of Alexey Chernov playing Beethoven’s Sonata No. 32 in C minor, Op. 111 at the Arthur Rubinstein Piano Master Competition in 2011:
◊ And here he is performing his own “Fantasy in Three Mazourkas” in 2009:
Alexey Chernov's Van Cliburn International Piano Competition Repertoire:
Preliminary Recital, Phase I
BACH Toccata in G Minor, BWV 915
SCRIABIN Three Etudes, op. 65
RAVEL Gaspard de la nuit
Preliminary Recital, Phase II
BEETHOVEN Sonata No. 32 in C Minor, op. 111
LIGETI Etude VI: Automne à Varsovie
GRIEG Waltz in A Minor, op. 12, no. 2
GRIEG Waltz in E Minor, op. 38, no. 7
GRIEG Valse-Impromptu in E Minor, op. 47, no. 1
LISZT Mephisto Waltz No. 1
BARTÓK Etude, op. 18, no. 3
SCRIABIN Sonata No. 5, op. 53
PURCELL Suite in C Major, Z. 666
SCHUMANN Symphonic Etudes, op. 13
DVOŘÁK Piano Quintet in A Major, op. 81
BEETHOVEN Piano Concerto No. 4 in G Major, op. 58
◊ To see a slideshow of all of the competitors, with bios and links to our profiles of them, click here.