“On the move” doesn’t begin to describe the travels of committed young musicians like Russian pianist Yury Favorin, 26. On May 17, he performed at the “Spirit of Piano” festival in Canton, China. And then he was flying to the other side of the world—to attend opening events for the Van Cliburn International Piano Competition.
Favorin began learning the piano at age five. And though he’s told interviewers he would rather not pick one favorite composer, a memory of Beethoven is one of his earliest.
“I was trying to play the ‘Moonlight’ sonata by Beethoven,” he tells us. “I had not big enough hands to take a minor ninth in the first movement. When I succeed, it was a rather happy moment.”
In other words, from the word go, this was a young man very serious about his music.
A student at the Moscow P.I. Tchaikovsky Conservatory, Favorin took early training at the Gnessin Specialized Musical School in Moscow. (He studied both clarinet and piano, but eventually chose to concentrate on the latter.) He has played in many of the major concert halls of Europe, and won fourth place both at the Olivier Messaien Competition (2007) and the Queen Elisabeth International Music Competition (2010). Favorin has worked with such leading conductors as Pierre Boulez, Marin Alsop, Kazuhiro Koizumi and others.
And he likes “approximately everything” about having the chance to work with world-famous conductor Leonard Slatkin at the Cliburn competition. “He is a great artist,” Favorin says.
Favorin has a pet hamster, and says cryptically: “My hamster’s name is Barasha. Or Abrasha, depending on the situation. I like to vary the first two letters.” (We think there’s some Russian wordplay going on here; Abrasha is a nickname for Abraham/Avram—but that’s as far as we got!)
In a (slightly) more serious vein, Favorin tells us he likes jazz, and why: “Jazz is something nearly opposite from what a classical performer does on stage. Jazz is largely improvised music. Often, you don’t know what you will play the next moment.”
His movie favorites aren’t of the “summer blockbuster” type. He is a big fan of Michelangelo Antonioni’s 1960s film Blow-Up, but adds other classic films to his list of favorites: Joseph Losey’s Monsieur Klein (a 1976 drama set in World War II, in which an art dealer, profiting from buying up art from fleeing Jews, himself becomes a target of the Nazi roundups); Mikio Naruse’s Repast (a 1951 working-class drama from one of Japan’s lesser-known masters of film); and experimental Filipino director Raya Martin’s 2005 epic about colonialism in the Philippines, A Short Film About the Indio Nacional.
Favorin (like all the Cliburn contenders) keeps up a frantically busy pace. But he took the time recently to offer an online tribute (through music journalist Luis Dias) to pianist and teacher Noel Flores, who shepherded him through his first master class in Europe. Here’s what Favorin told Dias after Flores’ death in 2012:
“I remember the first time when I came to him with a Mozart concerto to play. Something was not getting on at all: I could not make the sound clear….Noel Flores stopped me, took my hand, pulled my middle finger, then bent it at an obtuse angle and put it on the key, saying: ‘Play it again”. Extending and radiant sound, which is so specific for Mozart’s clavier concertos, started flowing. I was beside myself with delight! Noel’s face lit up: ‘All of genius is simple. That’s true!’”
◊ Here is Yury Favorin playing Beethoven Sonata No. 29 in 2010:
Yury Favorin's Van Cliburn International Piano Competition Repertoire:
Preliminary Recital, Phase I
SCHUBERT Sonata in E-flat Major, D. 568
WAGNER-LISZT Overture from Tannhaüser
BOUCOURECHLIEV Orion 3
Preliminary Recital, Phase II
LISZT From Harmonies poétiques et religieuses
LISZT Bénédiction de Dieu dans la solitude
LISZT Pensées des morts
LISZT Cantique d'amour
MESSAIEN Le Courlis cendré (from Catalogue d'oiseaux)
PROKOFIEV Four Etudes, op. 2
LISZT Valse oublée No. 3
ALKAN Symphony for piano solo, op. 39, nos. 4-7
FRANCK Piano Quintet in F Minor
BEETHOVEN Concerto No. 5 in E-flat Major, op. 73
RACHMANINOV Piano Concerto No. 3 in D Minor, op. 30
◊ To see a slideshow of all of the competitors, with bios and links to our profiles of them, click here.