Adelaide has been the wellspring of some remarkable pianistic talent in recent years and Konstantin Shamray is no exception.
We’ve seen pianists Ashley Hribar, Michael Ierace and Coady Green achieve notable successes overseas, and now Marianna Grynchuk and Mekhla Kumar, both in their mid-20s, look poised for solo careers. We have produced many fine ‘collaborative pianists’ too, such as Leigh Harrold, Jamie Cock and Mark Sandon, who specialise in working with instrumentalists and singers. And then there is Konstantin Shamray. It would be no exaggeration to say that this young Russian-born pianist, who calls Adelaide home, is already a front-ranking virtuoso. That was made perfectly evident on two occasions this year: at the Coriole Music Festival in May when he played Proko fiev’s acerbic Five Sarcasms, and in the following month as soloist in the same composer’s titanic Third Piano Concerto with the ASO. Shamray was exhilarating in both concerts, playing with fearless command of the instrument, sparkling power, and a faultlessly clear technique. He also happens to be a most watchable pianist. At the keyboard he has a captivatingly dignified bearing and is inclined to gaze out into the distance in slow movements – as if entering a dream world. No wonder this young man has gathered such a large, adorning following. But the question is: what brought this winner of the Sydney International Piano Competition to Adelaide? Following a spectacular triumph at that competition in 2008, in which he not only took out first prize but also picked up six special prizes, he rehearsed here with the Australian String Quartet for its national tour of the Schumann Piano Quintet. He really liked Adelaide, decided to move here, and enrolled in a master’s degree at the Elder Con. Now he is undertaking a PhD in musicology there on bells in French, Russian and German piano music. The 31-year-old Shamray says that as a pianist he is left to his own devices in Adelaide but is able to receive any tuition he needs by travelling regularly back to Russia. So he spends his time between here and Russia, where he has family – his mother and brother are in Moscow, while other relatives live in his birth city of Novosibirsk. “In Moscow, I always play for my professor there, and my first teacher as well. In Adelaide, I always play for Stefan Ammer if I need; he is a musician I can really trust and admire. I’ve spent a lot of time in Adelaide. I am here a bit more than half the year, going back to Russia about three times a year. The world is spread out now, so it doesn’t really matter where you live.” Shamray’s first teacher in Moscow was Tatiana Zelikman. “She did all the fundamental things and has raised me as a musician,” he says. “In technique it was probably most of all about articulation, about how to have strong, independent finger tips. But it was not about playing everything fast; still it includes sound, colour and technique in a broader sense. What was fantastic about her is she had me listening a lot to great recordings. She had a cultural mind, I would say.” His later teachers were Vladimir Tropp at the Gnessin Russian Academy of Music in Moscow and Tibor Szász at Freiburg’s Musikhochshule. They expanded the colour range of his playing, he says. “It is hard to be objective about this, but I think what has happened is after school my playing was very ‘boney’, if I could say, because I had long slim fingers. This is what happens especially with young males: they have a lot of strength and energy, and they force a lot. Sometimes I would give too much sound, playing too fast, dry or sharp. “ This is exactly what my next professors wanted me to improve, by using more wrist, and arms as well, to make a rich, warm sound and a soft touch.” Shamray continues to take inspiration from recordings of great pianists of the past: Sofranitsky particularly, Richter, Gilels, Horowitz, and the conductor Furtwängler. It is the enormity and intensity of their creative flow that he says he loves. “How can you compare Jupiter, Saturn or Neptune? They are all overwhelming.” Shamray’s next appearance is an Elder Hall lunchtime concert, on Friday, August 12, in which he takes on Beethoven’s mammoth Hammerklavier Sonata. Often regarded as one of the repertoire’s most demanding piano works, it has most players running for cover. But not Shamray. “It is probably my most favourite piece of music,” he says. “It is very dear for me. I learnt it for the Sydney International Piano Competition and it made a victory in a way. So it is a very special work for me.” Konstantin Shamray Hammerklavier Friday, August 12 Elder Hall Lunchtime Series music.adelaide.edu.au/concerts/lunchtime/