Roman Rabinovich

Roman Rabinovich, piano

Thu, June 22, 2017, 7:00pm


Winner of the 2008 Arthur Rubinstein International Piano Master Competition, Israeli pianist Roman Rabinovich brings a “warm and generous tone and supple touch” (The Cleveland Plain Dealer) to his Caramoor debut. In performing Chopin’s quartet of ballades, Rabinovich tackles not only a form that Chopin invented but some of the most challenging pieces in the piano repertoire. Along with a composition of his own, Rabinovich rounds out the program with a duo of Haydn sonatas championing a composer he particularly adores – “His wit, emotional depth and musical invention have been a source of inspiration for me.”

“Mr. Rabinovich performed with uncommon sensitivity and feeling.” – Anthony Tomassini, The New York Times

Chopin Ballade No. 1 in G Minor, Op. 23
Haydn Sonata No. 20 in B-flat Major, Hob. XVI:18
Chopin Ballade No. 2 in F Major, Op. 38
Rabinovich Memory Box (World Premiere)
Chopin Ballade No. 3 in A-flat Major, Op. 47
Haydn Sonata No. 61 in D Major, Hob. XVI:51
Chopin Ballade No. 4 in F Minor, Op. 52

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Roman Rabinovich

Roman Rabinovich, piano

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Praised by the New York Times for his “uncommon sensitivity and feeling,” the eloquent young pianist Roman Rabinovich is the winner of the 12th Arthur Rubinstein International Piano Master Competition. He has performed throughout Europe and the USA in such prestigious venues as Leipzig’s Gewandhaus, London’s Wigmore Hall, the Great Hall of Moscow Conservatory, Cité de la Musique in Paris and the Millennium Stage at Washington DC’s Kennedy Center.

Dubbed “a true polymath, in the Renaissance sense of the word” (Seen & Heard International, 2016), Rabinovich is also a composer and visual artist. In summer 2016 he embarked upon the Haydn Project, encompassing recitals of Haydn’s complete keyboard sonatas at Lammermuir Festival in Scotland and the Tel Aviv Conservatory, as well as artwork inspired by Haydn. After his recent debut recital at Lincoln Center the New York Times hailed Mr. Rabinovich’s Haydn Sonatas as “admirable interpretations, performed with a rich, full-blooded sound, singing lines and witty dexterity.”

Rabinovich began drawing at age 10 [and] since 2010 he has created art on his iPhone and iPad.

Rabinovich, “whose mature, self-assured playing belies his chronological age” (San Francisco Classical Voice) made his Israel Philharmonic debut under Zubin Mehta at the young age of 10, having immigrated to Israel a year before from Tashkent, Uzbekistan. Rabinovich’s parents, both piano teachers, taught his earliest lessons, before he began studying with Arie Vardi in Israel. He attended Curtis Institute of Music as a student of Seymour Lipkin and achieved his Masters Degree at The Juilliard School, where he was taught by Robert McDonald. Rabinovich was the first of three young pianists to be championed by András Schiff, who selected him for his Building Bridges series in Zurich’s Tonhalle, Berlin, Ruhr Piano Festival, and New York’s SubCulture.

An avid chamber musician, Rabinovich frequently collaborates with the violinist Liza Ferschtman, among others. He has performed the complete Beethoven Sonatas for violin and piano with Ferschtman, as well as a marathon of Brahms’ chamber music in Tel Aviv. He recently recorded ballets by Ravel, Prokofiev and Stravinsky for the Orchid Classics label to critical acclaim.

Rabinovich began drawing at age 10, and though he never took formal lessons, it has been a passion of his ever since. Since 2010 he has created art on his iPhone and iPad, which are much easier to transport when traveling internationally for concerts. Technology is frequently also a feature of his concerts, as he performs from an iPad rather than sheet music.

Program At a Glance

The four Chopin ballades are among the largest and most grandly conceived of his works. Though they differ in many respects from the achievements of the classical sonata, they are still remarkably classical in the homage they continue to pay to the patterns of harmonic tension and release characteristic of Mozart and Beethoven.

Haydn’s keyboard sonatas are not nearly so well known as Beethoven’s, though they similarly served as a resource for private musical experimentation in the shape and layout of multi-movement compositions and in the details of varied approaches to expression and technique. He worked on this genre for most of his career, over nearly four decades.

Roman Rabinovich premieres his own composition, Memory Box this evening.


Ballade No. 1 in G Minor, Op. 23

About the Composer

Chopin began studying composition at the age of twelve with Jozef Elsner, director of the Warsaw Conservatory, in 1822. His pianistic talent had been recognized even earlier: he had appeared in public playing a concerto of Adalbert Gyrowetz a month before his eighth birthday. And even then he had begun to compose little piano pieces. When Elsner took him in hand, he hoped that his gifted pupil would one day compose the great Polish national opera, but it was not to be. Eventually Elsner realized that the young man had such remarkable gifts that it was useless to impose an outside taste on them.

Chopin never wrote an opera. Indeed, he never composed a work that did not include the piano, but on his chosen instrument he was most original, always inventing new sonorities and techniques that set him apart. In 1829, at the age of nineteen, he went to Vienna and attracted a great deal of attention with his overtly Polish works. After that he spent the remainder of his life in Paris or other parts of France, partly because an 1830 Polish rebellion, harshly put down by Russia, made it unsafe, but also because the cultural life of Paris was a far greater attraction to a gifted composer.

A Deeper Listen

Chopin invented something new with these works. Since a “ballad” is a narrative poem or song, the listener can justifiably expect some kind of unfolding “story” in a composition that bears the title ballade. These are not, however, program pieces with a plot or scenario buried in them, but rather extended compositions that seem to be unfolding a series of moods that might imply an unstated story. Chopin accomplishes this by novel uses of traditional methods—particularly by drawing heavily on the sonata idea, usually basing the work on two contrasting thematic ideas that create a dramatic contrast. The first ballade is in 6/4 time, the others in 6/8 time, and this compound meter has been identified as a “narrative” rhythm.

Chopin sketched Ballade No. 1 in G minor, Opus 23, in 1831 and completed it in 1835. When it was published a year later, he gave a copy to Robert Schumann who declared it to be the “most inspired” of any Chopin work that he had seen so far. The opening sets up an extraordinary harmonic tension. We normally expect the first chord to be the home key, but here we soon learn that this is not at all the case. After seven bars of pregnant introduction, we find ourselves just ready to begin—at which point the main theme insinuates itself almost as an afterthought. The elaborately dramatic and colorful key changes project the ballade on the largest scale; the second theme is distantly derived from the first, and Chopin provides a real contrast in the form of a waltz in the middle of the work. Both of the main themes are transformed, over the course of the work, from their quiet, almost insouciant beginnings to thunderous and rapturous climaxes.


Sonata No. 20 in B-flat Major, Hob. XVI:18

About the Composer

Haydn composed keyboard sonatas over a span of three decades, from the mid‑1760s to the mid‑1790s. Though he was not a virtuoso performer, Haydn was nonetheless at home on the keyboard instruments of his day—clavichord, harpsichord, fortepiano—and throughout his life he employed them while composing. He could experiment on these in private, so to speak, before putting his musical surprises forth in bigger and more public genres like the symphony.

His earliest keyboard works were composed largely under the inspiration of Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach, but his own creative drive found original solutions to artistic problems, and he used the keyboard sonata as a kind of laboratory over the years to work through “private” trials of artistic issues that might eventually turn up in such “public” works as the symphonies.

A Deeper Listen

The B-flat sonata has been connected by scholars to the period of 1766-67 on the basis of their stylistic similarity to some securely dated sonatas of that period. Prince Nikolaus Esterházy, Haydn’s patron, purchased a new harpsichord in 1777 whose keyboard reached a high f (keyboards were not yet standardized as to the number of keys), and since Haydn wrote that pitch into this sonata, he probably intended it for that instrument. During this period Haydn composed sonatas in both two and three movements. The shorter works are sometimes identified as “chamber works”—sonatas to be played more privately, though for this early period of Haydn’s work, public concerts hardly existed anywhere, so it is hard to distinguish the locale and nature of performances or audiences.

Even though it is a quite early work, the opening movement suggests a broadly conceived development. The second (and final) movement is in sonata form, both these elements look definitely toward the future.


Ballade No. 2 in F Major, Op. 38

The second Ballade is one that might actually have a scenario lurking in the music; it is supposed to be a musical retelling of a poem by Mickiewicz called “Switezianka,” which recounts the tale of a youth seduced by a water nymph who dwelt in Lake Switez. But, as in most such cases, a knowledge of the poem does not add much to the already beautiful shaping of the work, from its dreamy outset to the stormy middle section. The essence of the work is created by two alternating sections; one the rocking figure in F major, the other the stormy opposite in A minor. Both of these return in their original keys with some variation and the closing section, which recalls both the earlier thematic ideas, is in the second key—a quite modern decision for the time.

– Steven Ledbetter


b. 1985
Memory Box, World Premiere

Memory BoxMemory Box is a suite of six miniatures. The opening movement, “Forgotten dreams,” starts with an ascending gesture. The intervals of this gesture provide the material for the rest of the piece. This fragmented movement goes back and forth between the arpeggiated chords and the rhetorical repeated notes. These bits and pieces never seem to resolve and evoke a dream-like state. It ends with a distant pastoral tune that hangs in the air. “A bar scene” is a comedic depiction of being a little tipsy, perhaps with slightly slurred speech. The asymmetrical rhythms and meters in the middle section evoke an attempt to walk straight when one clearly can’t. “Antiquity” is a glimpse into ancient ruins where time seems to stop. The distant bells remind us of the brevity of life while the piece ends with a nostalgic sigh. The fleeting and quirky “Cicada gigue” is a palette cleansing vignette. This delicate movement finishes before it gets any momentum and disappears into the ether. “Impatience of the heart” starts with the heartbeat in the left hand and develops into a perpetual motion figuration. Out of this emerges a lamenting song of intense emotion, inspired by the work of Stefan Zweig. The cycle ends with a series of kaleidoscopic scenes in different musical styles that lead into a grooving crescendo. Finally, the initial gesture of the first movement appears once again as the piece bursts towards its conclusion.

The painting depicted above is part of a series of paintings called, “Memory Box.” My piano piece came from the same creative impulse as these paintings, and I think of them as “cousins,” if you will.

– Roman Rabinovich


Ballade No. 3 in A-flat, Op. 47

The A-flat Ballade grows out of two motives contained in the opening bars—a bit of an ascending scale and a two-note response. The continuation subtly hints at a contrapuntal layout, the melody being placed in the bass. The 6/8 meter gives rise to a consistent iambic pattern in the rhythm which dominates both the opening material, in A-flat, and the second theme, in F major. Though Chopin plays rather freely with it, the single movement work unfolds with a distinct bow to sonata form, in which the contrasting themes are deployed and developed to build tension masterfully to the grandiose climax, then melting to a reversed restatement (with the second theme appearing in its original key at the end of a modulation from the climax) and the first theme closing the work again in A-flat.


Sonata No. 61 in D Major, Hob. XVI:51

Some of Haydn’s last contributions to instrumental forms, the symphony and the keyboard sonata, came during his two extremely successful visits to London between 1791 and 1795, where he was hailed as the greatest living composer and fêted as a social figure much in demand. In 1795 he had witnessed the marriage of a fine English pianist, Therese Jansen, to Gaetano Bartolozzi. Therese was the highly regarded piano pupil of Muzio Clementi; she received dedications from her teacher and from Dussek, as well as Haydn’s final piano sonata and his final piano trio.

Either that year or the year before, Haydn composed for Therese the last of his two-movement keyboard sonatas, which contains a slow opening movement, Andante, followed by a closing Presto. The D-major sonata is a short (two-movement) work that came between large and dramatic sonatas in C and in E-flat and serves as a foil between them. The dramatic and harmonically wide-ranging sonatas are, so to speak, protected from one another by the little “buffer” inserted in between them. The opening movement consists essentially of three statements of the material, always in the home key, and getting progressively shorter with each repetition. The Finale Presto is in a vibrant ¾ time with many accentuations on the final beat of the measure, which show how close—especially in rhythmic vigor—the young Beethoven was to his sometime teacher Haydn.


Ballade No. 4 in F Minor, Op. 52

The last Ballade, composed in 1842, is considered to be one of Chopin’s greatest achievements. It came at a time when he was finding it more and more difficult to fix his music on paper. He became increasingly self-critical and would draft and edit new works repeatedly. This partly is because of his frequent fusion of two musical worlds—the contrapuntal detail of J.S. Bach and the elegant decorativeness of Italian bel canto opera as exemplified by Bellini.

The fourth ballade unfolds in some ways like a sonata-form movement, with first and second themes presented in different keys and later returning with some unexpected, yet logical, alterations of the traditional classical pattern. Within this framework, the first theme develops like a set of variations, both in the “exposition” and later in the return. And the nature of these variations is to move from a theme-with-accompaniment style increasingly to more contrapuntal textures, denser and richer as the work unfolds.

The middle part of the structure serves the purpose of “development,” ending with a cadenza leading back to the first theme, heard in two variants. The first of these begins with the most explicitly contrapuntal texture in the ballade, while the second showers forth the ornamental fioritura ornamentation of an Italian aria. The second theme returns in an innocent guise, in a darker key, from which Chopin builds a powerful, frenzied peroration to close the ballade with swashbuckling heroic power.

– Steven Ledbetter