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Thursday, 25 February 2021, 6:00PM - 7:00PM
LSO St Luke's

Russian Piano Masterpieces: Stravinsky

Professor Marina Frolova-Walker

Stravinsky’s solo piano output may be modest in size, but it contains one of the absolute pinnacles of piano virtuosity, the Three Pieces from Petrushka. To call these pieces “arrangements” from the ballet score would be true, but misleading: they are brilliant recompositions from the ballet’s material, stranger and more elusive, and with the added dimension of extreme virtuosity (he was never brave enough to give a public performance himself). 

Unlike many composers, Stravinsky always wrote his music at the piano, and the feel of chords-under-fingers, pushing against each other, overlapping and colliding goes a long way towards explaining the unique harmonic imagination that still has an international influence that stretches far beyond the confines of modernist classical music. Where the Romantics had turned the piano from a complex machine into a living, breathing musical being, Stravinsky wanted to unpick the illusion, and bring the mechanical aspects to the fore. He often sought to bypass the pianist’s predilection for “expression”, and even turned to pianolas for a time, which dispense with the need for a performer altogether. 

The clockwork character of his writing tends to dehumanise his source materials, whether these happen to be Russian folksongs, Baroque and Classical idioms or the latest jazz. Where does this leave a pianist who is prepared to meet this challenge?

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Marina Frolova-Walker is Gresham Professor of Music. She is a Russian-born British musicologist and music historian. She is Professor of Music History and Director of Studies in Music at Clare College, Cambridge. 

Professor Marina Frolova-Walker is a specialist in the Russian music of the 19th and 20th centuries. She has published extensively on Russian music and is a well-known lecturer and broadcaster for BBC Radio 3. Among her many awards and appointments, she is a Fellow of the British Academy and was awarded the Edward Dent Medal in 2015 by the Royal Musical Association for her achievements in musicology. She was a Visiting Professor of Russian Music at Gresham in 2018-19. 

Professor Marina Frolova-Walker said:

“I am honoured and excited to take up the position of 36th Gresham Professor of Music, and I am delighted to have such eminent predecessors as John Bull and Iannis Xenakis. Bringing knowledge about music to a broader public has always been one of my passions, and the work of several recent Professors of Music such as David Owen Norris and Roger Parker has been an inspiration for my own activities as a public lecturer. 

“My first lecture series features the artistic project of the Ballet Russes, brainchild of the great impresario Serge Diaghilev. Prior to Diaghilev, no one thought that ballet could be transformed into a provocatively modern art, a platform for cutting-edge experiments in music, choreography and design. The project had its roots in Diaghilev’s inspired marketing of “Russianness” in the Parisian arts world, and he continued to develop his ideas until his circle had become an international hotbed of artistic innovation. “Surprise me!”, Diaghilev would say to anyone with a new proposal, and he did indeed bring about a stream of artworks that still surprise and delight us today.” 

You can find more information on Marina and her research interests here: https://www.marinafrolova-walker.com/

Professor Frolova-Walker's lecture series are as follows:

2020/21 Russian Piano Masterpieces

2019/20 Diaghilev and the Ballets Russes

2018/19 Russian Opera and the State

All lectures by the Gresham Professors of Music can be accessed here.

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