One of those people born with the rare gift of perfect pitch (1 in 10,000 among non-Asians), Russian pianist Evgeny Brakhman, who will perform for the 70th anniversary celebration of Rachmaninoff's last performance on Feb. 17, 1943, pretty much had his career chosen for him.
"I was a typical lazy kid. All I wanted to do was eat, sleep and play soccer," Brakhman said during a phone conversation while traveling.
"But very early, at age 3, my parents found that I have perfect pitch. My mother sang me a song. I remembered it because I liked it. The next day, I asked her to sing it again. And she did, but in a different tonality (she doesn't have perfect pitch). I said that's not the same song. I went to the piano and found the exact note that she began the song the day before.
"My mother was a professional pianist who taught children. She graduated from the same conservatory I later did," he said. "So you can imagine that, when they realized I had perfect pitch, my parents had no doubts about my musical future."
Now, Brakhman carries on the tradition of a musical family. His wife, Natalia, was recognized as the best accompanist at a Tchaikovsky competition.
"Our 7-year-old daughter plays violin," Brakhman said, "because we have more than enough pianists in our house."
Although Brakhman has played the music of many other Russian composers, Rachmaninoff has long been his favorite.
"I think I can feel intuitively the images in his music, his soul and heart, his tragic and noble personality," he said.
"Rachmaninoff's style, with beautiful endless melodies, rich harmonies and deepest emotional sense, in my opinion, are the quintessence of Russian romanticism."
For the anniversary concert, on Sunday, Feb. 17, at Alumni Memorial Auditorium, Brakhman will play an all-Rachmaninoff program, although Rachmaninoff played only two of his own works at the 1943 concert at UT.
"The concert will begin with the Etudes-tableaux, composed in 1913-1917," Brakhman said. "They are full of dramatic emotions connected with the upcom
ing October Revolution in Russia and his own migration."
The big, large-scale work on the program will be the "Second Sonata," composed in 1913. "It had a dramatic first movement that is nostalgic. The second movement is very lyrical, and the tremendous final movement is full of virtuosity and Russian Bells," Brakhman said.
"I'm also playing the "Corilli Variations," which was the last solo work composed by Rachmaninoff in the United States.
"As dessert, I'm going to play some preludes, which are so famous and loved by any audience."
Rachmaninoff's 1943 concert almost didn't happen. Already sick before arriving in Knoxville, he insisted on playing the concert because he had cancelled a Knoxville concert earlier and didn't want to do it again.
This anniversary concert was the vision of Dr. Fred Tolhurst and his wife Jane, of Maryville.
Brakhman had stayed with the Tolhursts last February when he came to perform on the Young Pianists Concert Series.
"Evgheny asked Jane to take him to see the Rachmaninoff statue at World's Fair Park," Dr. Tolhurst said. "When Evgheny mentioned that he would like to play an all-Rachmaninoff concert, Jane said 'we can make that happen.' "
And they have. They personally raised the money and enlisted the support of the Young Pianist Series, the College of Arts and Sciences at UT and WUOT as sponsors.
Through the efforts of the Tolhursts and others who contributed, Sunday's 8 p.m. concert is being presented free to the public.
© 2013, Knoxville News Sentinel Co.
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