Novgorodsky inspires on the piano

Amelia Perron

Dmitri Novgorodsky, teacher of piano, presented a solo recital Sunday, Feb. 13, giving the packed hall a full program of virtuosic and moving music.
The program was varied, including Beethoven’s Sonata op. 110 in A flat major, Rachmaninov’s “Variations on a Theme of Corelli,” Godowsky’s “Symphonic Metamorphosis on Themes of Johann Strauss,” and Liszt’s Sonata in B minor.
Before playing, Novgorodsky warmed up the audience – and himself – by offering impromptu yet engaging program notes for each of the pieces.
He began by discussing the connection between the two sonatas bookending the program. “The Liszt is the quintessential Romantic sonata,” Novgorodsky explained. “But it wouldn’t have been possible without Beethoven laying the foundation for the Romantic era. It’s an incredibly emotional piece, unifying the personal with the universal.”
Coming from the other end of the Romantic era is the “Variations on a Theme of Corelli,” the last major piece Rachmaninov wrote.
Rachmaninov was the black sheep of composers at his time, being unwilling to give up tonality and many of the other 19th-century conventions of composition.
“This piece is so anguished – it is closing the door on tonality, but also on his life,” Novgorodsky said.
Of Godowsky, he said simply, “This guy was nuts.” In reference to the many virtuosic melodic lines that occur simultaneously, Novgorodsky said, “He makes you do the impossible.”
Finally, Novgorodsky discussed Liszt, the first “pop idol” of the musical world. The sonata, however, reflects not the showman but the artist, in the emotionally effective contrasts of “light and dark, demonic and celestial,” he explained. “There’s passion, drama. He strives for the unattainable.”
With Novgorodsky’s introduction, the audience was fully prepared to appreciate the impressive performance. Piano performance major Brent Funderburk said, “Professor Novgorodsky’s performance was, as always, astounding and profoundly inspiring for me as a performer. “He is so focused on the mood that he is trying to convey and it, without fail, reaches to my emotional core.”
Novgorodsky has also left his mark as a teacher. “I have learned so much from him, not just in the musical department but also in terms of life lessons and putting everything into perspective,” Funderburk continued.
“I have taken away so much from being around him just two hours a week.”
Novgorodsky’s wisdom comes from a number of experiences that have taken him around the world. Born to a musical family in the former U.S.S.R., he was educated from the age of seven in strict Soviet conservatories.
Unlike American schools, which may shelter children from hard work, the Russian culture “doesn’t consider children unable to do these things,” Novgorodsky explained.
“It’s focused on results. It toughens you up – although the teachers aren’t mean, of course. You become able to weather the trials and tribulations of being a professional musician.”
But Novgorodsky also has favorable remarks on the American liberal arts system.
“Liberal arts are a great school for life,” he observed. “You are swamped with choices, which is how it is in life, too.”
Novgorodsky came to the U.S. in order to attend the Yale School of Music, and “I could never leave – I liked it so much.