Pianist Konstantin Shamray on tour with the ANAM Orchestra for Musica Viva

David CusworthThe West Australian
Pianist Konstantin Shamray is back on tour with the Australian National Academy of Music Orchestra at Perth Concert Hall.
Camera IconPianist Konstantin Shamray is back on tour with the Australian National Academy of Music Orchestra at Perth Concert Hall.

Konstantin Shamray is back on tour after the COVID hiatus — and loving it.

“Across the country, I think very few people have done it,” the Russian-born, Adelaide-based pianist says from Melbourne, where he is rehearsing with the Australian National Academy of Music Orchestra for Musica Viva.

“It feels amazing, to be honest. Just blessed.”

In March, Shamray shared the Perth Concert Hall stage with WA Symphony Orchestra — his first interstate trip for 2021.

Now he headlines an multi-date tour with some novel and reimagined works.

At the core of the program is Schnittke’s Concerto for Piano and String Orchestra, a late Soviet-era composition that Shamray admits is challenging.

“It’s very controversial, and I have a feeling that some audience will just love it, and some audience will hate it, which is good,” he says. “That is good value.

“We seem to be loving playing it, it’s a great piece. It’s a bit challenging, but the whole Musica Viva philosophy is not just to give public pleasure, but to give music of the highest quality, which can be challenging as well, and I think this is exactly fulfilling the purpose.

“The piece itself was written in the 1970s for the Soviet pianist Vladimir Krainev. Since then it has been one of the most popular pieces by Schnittke, though not in Australia, and I’m happy that we are bringing it to life.”

Shamray later returns to this theme, perhaps concerned to highlight what he treasures most.

“Sometimes it takes more than once to hear something to understand the beauty of it,” he says. “With good works, the more you play it the more you love it. With bad works, the more you play it the less you love it. And with this one, we all, the whole orchestra, we get more and more in love. It has some phenomenally beautiful moments.”

Konstantin Shamray
Camera IconKonstantin Shamray

The program opens with a setting of Mahler’s Piano Quartet, rearranged for piano and string orchestra by young violinist and Musica Viva FutureMaker Harry Ward.

Mahler wrote the piece aged just 15 and only one movement exists – Mahler’s only surviving instrumental chamber music.

Ward features again after the interval as soloist in an Australian premiere of Estonian Mikhel Kerem’s Lamento, before Tchaikovsky’s ever-popular Serenade for Strings closes the evening.

All of which gives Shamray scope to demonstrate the “powerful Russian sound” his publicity promises, though he is less definitive.

“I cannot think objectively about myself,” he demurs. “Russian powerful sound sounds a little bit scary, almost political. I think I bring my own musicianship, first of all, and my personality and my love for music which I play.

“And when it’s powerful, it’s powerful, and when it’s less powerful I’m trying not to have it powerful when it doesn’t need to be that. Music is very diverse, and I think as musicians we have to be very diverse as well.”

In Perth in March he defined diversity, with agile phrasing and rich melodrama in equal measure for Rachmaninov’s Second Piano Concerto on his WA debut.

Working with ANAM is another first, under the direction of violinist Sophie Rowell.

“It’s very exciting to play with those young people because they always have a lot of energy, they are very keen to work,” Shamray says. “We have been rehearsing extensively and everybody seems to be happier and happier about doing that much playing. That’s superb.”

Winner in 2008 of the Sydney International Piano Competition, Shamray has been based for four years in Adelaide where he lectures at the Elder Conservatorium of Music.

“I used to spend a lot of time in Russia until COVID,” he says. “Now I haven’t been for more than a year now.

“In terms of long plans, we never know where life brings us, so it’s hard to tell what will happen, especially now.

“As always my goal is to be playing as much as possible, and also teaching, quite extensively.

“Now almost everybody I think takes day by day and it’s not the worst way to be. You appreciate every new day in a different way to how you used to.”

Konstantin Shamray and the ANAM Orchestra are on tour. Their Perth concert has been postponed by COVID concerns. Check for details at https://musicaviva.com.au.

Pianist Konstantin Shamray at Perth Concert Hall with WASO.
Camera IconPianist Konstantin Shamray at Perth Concert Hall with WASO. Credit: Rebecca Mansell

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