Pianist Kirill Gerstein Review – A Spectacular Performance at Symphony Center

The final concert in the Chicago Symphony Orchestra piano series at Symphony Center concluded on June 11, 2017 with pianist Kirill Gerstein in a spectacular performance.  Gerstein website tells more.

Kirill Gerstein

Gerstein’s early training and experience in jazz contributed a unique approach to each of the works on the program.  He was born in Voronezh, southwestern Russia, and studied piano at a special music school for gifted children.  As he was studying classical music, he also taught himself to play jazz by listening to his parents’ extensive record collection.


Kirill Gerstein

When he was 14, Mr. Gerstein came to the United States to study jazz piano as the youngest student ever to attend Boston’s Berklee College of Music. After completing his studies in three years and following his second summer at the Boston University program at Tanglewood, Mr. Gerstein turned his focus back to classical music and moved to New York City to attend the Manhattan School of Music, where he studied with Solomon Mikowsky and earned both Bachelors and Masters of Music degrees by the age of 20. He continued his studies in Madrid with Dmitri Bashkirov and in Budapest with Ferenc Rados. An American citizen since 2003, Mr. Gerstein now divides his time between the United States and Germany.


Kirill Gerstein

Each of the works presented offered an opportunity for amazing technique. 

Bach Four Duets, BWV 802-805
Brahms Sonata No. 2 in F-sharp Minor, Op. 2
Liszt Transcendental Etudes


Bach Four Duets, BWV 802-805

The clarity presented in his playing of the Bach Duets was noteworthy. The program notes point out that the Duets are “examples of the most pure, masterful, and profound plane that the art of counterpoint has ever reached, exciting more pleasures in the mind and more resonances in the heart than it seems possible to capture in just two unadorned ribbons of notes.”


Brahms Sonata No. 2 in F-sharp Minor, Op. 2


I typically don’t think of the works of Brahms in the way that this work began, with power and sweep and hands that moved so quickly across the keyboard you could barely see them but only a rapid movement.  This Allegro ma non troppo ma energico based on a turbulent main theme was thrilling to hear.  The Andante con espressione was gentler and deeply moving.  The entire work in Gerstein’s hands was memorable. 


Brahms spent a significant time with Robert and Clara Schumann; his compositions were influenced by that interaction. The Sonata in F-sharp minor, op. 2, was dedicated to Clara as “a small mark of esteem and gratitude.”


Kirill Gerstein


Liszt's Transcendental Etudes followed the intermission. First composed when Liszt was 17 in 1826, they were revised and somewhat simplified in 1837–38, and 1851.  Liszt was struck by the complexity of Paganini’s playing and reflected the “flamboyant brilliance of Paganini’s playing in terms of the keyboard in his second movement." These works are so difficult that Robert Schumann thought only ten or twelve people in the world would be able to play them. I feel certain that Schumann would have ranked Kirill Gerstein among them. What an outstanding performance by Gerstein!  The thrilled and exhausted audience clapped on and on and went home knowing they had heard an amazing work performed by an outstanding pianist.


Information about all CSO programs can be found at the CSO website.


Photos: Marco Borggreve

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