From Russia, With Love at ASO

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Whatever you do, dont call Yuliya Gorenman a prodigy.

Oh, no! I would never call myself a prodigy, laughed the Russian-born pianist during a rehearsal for her featured performance with the Alexandria Symphony Orchestra this weekend. Maybe if I had started playing when I was two or three, but I didnt start until I was seven.

Despite being a late-bloomer, the vivacious Gorenman is now a world-renowned concert pianist, having achieved international acclaim in 1995 as a prizewinner of the prestigious Queen Elisabeth Competition in Belgium.

I actually lived a normal life as much as possible, said Gorenman, who was born in Odessa, Ukraine, when it was still a part of the Soviet Union. For all the faults and ills [of the Soviet regime], I did get a first-class education.

At the age of 17, Gorenman left Odessa to audition for the prestigious and ultra-competitive St. Petersburg Conservatory. We were given one hour to learn a piece we had never seen before, said Gorenman recalling her early years as a performer. I realized I had to do something different to be remembered so I not only learned the piece, but memorized it as well.

Gorenman immigrated to the United States in 1989, studying first at the San Francisco Conservatory and then at the Peabody Conservatory before landing in Washington, D.C., in 1995 as a professor of piano and musician in residence at American University.

Throughout her career, Gorenman has earned a steady procession of awards and honors, performing in numerous television and radio broadcasts that have been carried around the world.  As a fellow at the Tanglewood Festival, she appeared in a PBS educational video for Sony Classical with Seiji Ozawa and Wynton Marsalis and gave a joint concert with Billy Joel, performing classical pieces she had arranged.

I dreamed of music as a career even before I began playing, said Gorenman, laughing as she recalled her youthful antics. When I was a little girl, I would listen to concert recordings and when the applause would play, I would practice taking a bow. The rest, actually learning to play an instrument, was just a detail.

For the ASOs upcoming concert, Gorenman, who recently celebrated her 40th birthday, will be performing Mozarts Piano Concerto No. 21 arguably the most popular of Mozarts piano concertos. People recognize it as the theme from the movie Elvira Madigan, said Gorenman as she waited for ASO Maestro Kim Allen Kluge to arrive for rehearsal Monday evening. It was a Swedish movie from 1967 and the music completely upstaged the film. There were more fans of Mozart than the movie after the film came out.

This will be Gorenmans second appearance with the ASO and she especially enjoys working with Kluge, who is celebrating his 20th season with the symphony. Kim is really fun to work with, said Gorenman, who can hardly contain her own effervescence. Sometimes conductors are stuffy and it can be a dreadful experience. But Kim is fun as well as a thorough musician.

Gorenman has just finished recording the complete cycle of the 32 Beethoven piano sonatas but shows no signs of fatigue as she sits down with Kluge to rehearse for Saturdays performance.

Mozart wrote this piece in 1785 and had 22 performances in 34 days, said Gorenman, who warmed up with daunting technical passages that flowed as effortlessly as if she were playing chopsticks. I have no reason to complain knowing what he was able to do.

Given her own lively personality away from the keyboard, it is no surprise that Gorenman consistently earns praise for her artistic fire and unique sparkle during her performances. She possesses an unflappable poise and vitality and is clearly a natural-born performer, just as she dreamed before ever learning a single musical note.

Theres no doubt, said the engaging and brilliantly talented Gorenman. Once you taste success on stage, theres no going back.

Gorenman will perform Mozarts Piano Concerto #21 with the Alexandria Symphony Orchestra Saturday during a concert of thanks of the season titled O Thankful Voice.  Also featured will be Wilders Suite for Horn and Strings with Amy Horn on French Horn. Concert begins at 8 p.m. at the Rachel M. Schlesinger Concert Hall, 3001 N. Beauregard St. Tickets from $20. For more information, visit www.alexsym.org or call 703-548-0885.

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