"Prokofiev's music is my first and strongest passion"
Sergei Redkin was born in Krasnoyarsk in 1991. His first piano lessons he learned at the Musical Lyceum of Krasnoyarsk State Academy of Music and Theater (class of Galina Boguslavskaya, Honored Worker of Culture of the Russian Federation). He then studied under Olga Kurnavina at the Special Secondary School of Music of the St. Petersburg Conservatory and was actively involved in composition in the class of Professor Alexander Mnatsakanyan, one of Shostakovich's last students. Sergei graduated from the Rimsky-Korsakov St. Petersburg State Conservatory in 2015, followed by a post-graduate course tutored by Honored Artist of Russia, Professor Alexander Sandler, which he completed in 2017. These days Sergei Redkin is one of the most sought-after young pianists, touring extensively in Russia and abroad. Winner of the International Prokofiev Competition (2013). Winner of the most prestigious Tchaikovsky Music Competition (2015). Prokofiev's music is Sergei's strongest inspiration, and Igor Stravinsky Circus Polka: For a Young Elephant helps him to live in harmony with the world, while the musician's artistic journey began with an ordinary child's curiosity...
Sergei Redkin: My parents are not musicians: my mom works in kindergarten and my dad is driver. My grandmother on my mother's side is the most musical person in our family; for as long as I remember her, she is always humming something. By the way, I suspect that she has an absolute pitch, because she always hums her songs in the same key. However, we had a piano in our house in Krasnoyarsk - my mother went to music school for a couple of years when she was a kid, then she abandoned it. That piano was where it all began, or rather, that they decided to sell it when it was no longer needed. When things started to move around that strange box, people started coming in, opening it, pressing keys, that's when I took my first interest. I was five. Mom pulled out of the closet an old Soviet self-study book of piano playing, which explained the basics of music - keys, notes, bars, values, you could learn some elementary melodies. I loved it all so much. Then my mom said, "If you want, we'll send you to music school, you'll learn to play. So I said yes. The piano, accordingly, remained at home.
The St. Petersburg Music House (SPDM): What do you do when you’re having trouble with something in your performance, when you struggle with a piece? Does that happen?
Sergei Redkin: I usually realize that I'm struggling with a piece quite late, usually only after the first or second recital. Before that, I don't ponder in such categories, I just take what I want to play and work as I see fit. Yes, sometimes it suddenly turns out that I'm either not yet ready for that piece, or somehow I am not up to it at the moment, don't resonate with it for various reasons. In this case, there is only one option - put it on a back burner.
SPDM: How did you know you could write music?
Sergei Redkin: I vaguely remember, it was kind of natural, I started making something up and writing it down right away, at the same time as I started playing. I'm sure it came from my first teacher, Galina Mikhailovna Boguslavskaya. She was very committed to developing me as a versatile musician: we listened to a lot of music together, parsed scores, she always willingly listened to and analyzed my childhood compositions, enrolled me in the improvisation class of Eduard Markajic, who also in fact became my first composition teacher.
SPDM: There was a phase in your career when, on a fellowship from the Music House, you did an internship in Italy. What can an aspiring musician learn from such internships?
Sergei Redkin: I spent most of 2011 at the Piano Academy at Lake Como. It was a very fruitful time, I had the opportunity to learn from amazing musicians such as William Grant Naboré, Dmitri Bashkirov, Fou Ts’ong, Malcolm Bilson, Peter Frankl, Vladimir Mischuk, John M. Perry, and others. You can hardly overestimate the importance of professional conversations with musicians of such a caliber. The knowledge I gained there has been useful to me to this day.
SPDM: Does young musicians (the question is not just about you) need support, or can talent make its own way also be quite successful?
Sergei Redkin: Support is certainly needed, but it can be in different ways. Any story of a great musician is also the story of those who were by his or her side. You can easily find such people in the biography of any of the greats. Perhaps, other things being equal, the talent is more likely to find that very support, somehow draw attention to itself. But there is no doubt that it is needed.
SPDM: Your next recital of the "Music of Stars" is scheduled for October in Kislovodsk - Shostakovich's Second Piano Concerto...
Sergei Redkin: I've played this concerto very little so far, and I will probably rebuild and rearrange it several times before October, so it's difficult for me now to speak intelligibly about its imagery, about what falls into the zone of interpretation in one way or another. The concerto is dedicated to the composer's son, and the central mood is childlike and pioneering, emphasizing optimism; in the middle of the concerto there is a disarmingly simple andante; and in the finale there is a soloist panting ridiculously over technical exercises. Here, it seems to me, there is neither the spooky grotesque of the First Concerto nor the bitter sarcasm of the Piano Preludes - this is probably the most good-natured humor that Dmitri Shostakovich was capable of. However, as in any composition of a great master, there is a depth here, a secondary meaning. I think, simply, that here it is not in the typical Shostakovich contrast of spoken and implied, but somewhere subtler, on the level of Schumann Kinderszenen or Ravel My Mother Goose. It's a kind of children's music that is not actually for children.
SPDM: You've already toured the world with concerts and performed with famous musicians. What was your most memorable performance?
Sergei Redkin: Right now the performances of last season are the most vivid in my memory. For example, last summer I participated in a unique project in the Klavier-Festival Ruhr, where all Beethoven Symphonies in transcriptions for solo piano by Franz Liszt where performed. I had the lot to perform the Third Symphony, but I also listened to most of the other symphonies from the audience. All nine were played over two festival days, which was incredibly interesting.
SPDM: You had plans to set a world record for performing all five Prokofiev concertos without stopping. Was the experiment successful?
Sergei Redkin: I was, after all, too late to set a world record - at least not long ago, Alexei Volodin performed all of Prokofiev's concerts on the same evening. However, I think he did make small breaks between them. The primary target was to have all five in the repertoire, something I had accomplished back in 2017. But, of course, it is still sometimes difficult to put the 4th or 5th Concerto in the program; the audience, orchestras, and conductors know them very little. That's why you hear me more often with something from the first three. I have had many different musical fascinations, but Prokofiev's music was probably the very first, and still remains the strongest of them all. Prokofiev has an enormous piano legacy, much of it still remains unplayed, incomprehensible, undiscovered. I definitely want to do all this, but for now I'm still trying not to narrow myself down as an interpreter so radically, to give myself a chance to seek my own things in completely different areas, and, as it seems to me, sometimes not without success.
SPDM: Is there a piece that you can say that it is absolutely right in your worldview, your idea of harmony?
Sergei Redkin: Stravinsky Circus Polka. They say the first thing that comes to your mind is the truest.
Interview by Tatiana Mikhailova