Damir Duramovic reveals the true soul of the Slavic people at Pushkin House

Damir Duramovic at Pushkin House with a refined performance of 19th century Slavic piano music .

Performances of aristocratic style with a refined kaleidoscopic palette of sounds.Culminating in a complete performance of Rachmaninov Preludes op 23 where the volcanic eruptions of the B flat and C minor preludes were followed by the rhythmic drive of the fifth in performances of breathtaking depth and drive.

It was in the study by Scriabin op 2 offered as encore that the true Slavic soul was revealed with playing of great weight and sentiment.Not a trace of the sickly sentimentality that we hear from lesser mortals who do not understand the real poetic soul of a people who were free to express their feelings of a true heart that beats always in the Slavic soul.

A group of rarely heard preludes by turn of the century Russian/Ukrainian composers.Blumenthal is well known to be the first teacher of Horowitz but his own piano music has still to be discovered.A kaleidoscope of subtle sounds of great naturalness.The nuances and colours created a magic atmosphere in a beautiful but sparsely furnished room where the atmosphere was created solely by the streams of beautiful sounds that Damir coaxed from an old but friendly Steinway.There was passion too and a technical command totally at the service of the music.A discovery of a world of a different era with music written by and for the performers themselves.Today we are gradually finding interpreters like Damir or Mark Viner that can make it relive.It needs a great sense of style but above all a sense of colour and polyphony where music is caressed rather than hammered out on the piano .An illusion that with great artistry a box of strings with hammers can be transformed into a celestial harp.An artist that can create the impression that the piano can sing as beautifully as the greatest of bel canto singers.A world that looks back to the world of Chopin rather than to the new world of Stravinsky and Prokofiev.

Tatyana Sarkisova ,the wife of Dmitri Alexeev,former teacher of Damir at the Royal College of Music

Damir is a remarkable musician brought up by musical parents who are used to improvising in Bosnia and Herzegovina where traditional music is heard and performed spontaneously everywhere rather than concert performances.Damir came to the Menuhin school at an early age where he received a unique musical education from artists such as Marcel Baudet and Robert Levin.So it was no surprise that deciding to play the complete Preludes op,23 by Rachmaninov he chose to play them in an order that each one was the dominant of the next.

Friends and colleagues who have come to listen to Damir’s performances at Pushkin House Tolga Antaly Un,Petar Dimov,Can Arisoy,Bobby Chen,DD,Matthew McLachlan

Starting with the hauntingly beautiful prelude in F sharp minor with its brooding left hand so reminiscent of the second of Chopin’s preludes op 28 and the final repeated chords each one played so differently as it dies away to a murmur just like so many of Chopin’s Preludes and Studies.

I will keep to the printed order just for clarity and so to the mighty B flat Prelude which Damir ended with.A tour de force of sumptuous sounds with the wonderful tenor melody in the central section just revealed rather than hammered out as is so often heard in lesser hands.A flurry of notes like rush hour leading to the triumphant return of the opening and the excitement and transcendental difficulty of the coda.Fearlessly played chords that carried us on a wave of exhilaration to the final heroic cadence.The quixotic questioning of the third in D minor was answered by the robust beauty of the fourth in D major.A sumptuous string orchestra of Philadelphian richness and beauty,the gentle embroidered meanderings never interfering with the flowing melodic line.The G minor fifth Prelude was played with rhythmic drive and energy that was startling and at times overwhelming.The ending thrown off with nonchalant ease just like his Paganini Rhapsody or the G sharp minor prelude op 32.Rachmaninov was after all one of the greatest virtuosi of his day and he obviously knew how to tease and beguile his audiences as much as ravish and seduce them.Vlado Perlemuter often used to recount the pianist who came on stage looking as though he had swallowed a knife but then would produce the most beautiful sounds he had ever heard.The most romantic of Preludes in E flat was followed by a transcendental performance of the west wind puffing and blowing in the C minor that followed.The romantic meanderings of the eighth were followed by the feux follets difficulties of the ninth in E flat minor.Damir played this most difficult of Preludes with astonishing ease concentrating solely on the musical shape and colour with breathtaking audacity.Surely the haunting beauty of the tenth in G flat is so similar to the sixth of Chopin’s Preludes.It is however imbued with a voice that is uniquely Slavic ,full of nostalgia and brooding.

Can Arisoy and Bobby Chen remarkable pianists from the Menuhin School – Can was a student with Damir studying with Marcel Baudet and Bobby is a distinguished visiting professor.

An hour of real music making from a poet of the piano.A true illusionist who can transform this old black box creating an intimate atmosphere in a rather cold room.Making us believe for a moment that we are in the most sumptuous of salons in one of the great pre revolutionary palaces.

The first pieces in the concert are by the Russian Romantic composer Anatoly Lyadov (1855-1914), known for his piano miniatures, a number of orchestral works and folksong arrangements. In 1870 he entered the St. Petersburg Conservatoire to study composition with Nikolay Rimsky-Korsakov. On graduating, Lyadov became a professor, teaching composition for more than three decades, his students including Sergei Prokofiev, Nikolai Myaskovsky and other notable figures. 

A young member of the audience in discussion with Damir about his eclectic programme

Next in the programme, the Preludes from 1931 by one of Lyadov’s students, Sergei Bortkiewicz (1877-1952) – a Ukrainian Romantic composer and pianist of Polish ancestry, born in Kharkov, then a part of the Russian Empire. After studying in St. Petersburg and Leipzig, from 1904 he spent ten years in Berlin. When the First World War began, he was deported back to Russia. Soon after, the Bolsheviks occupied his family estate, and later took Kharkov. In 1920 Bortkiewicz and his wife fled the country. Spending time in Istanbul and in Belgrade, they finally settled in Vienna. The music of Bortkiewicz is influenced by Chopin and Liszt, as well as Tchaikovsky and early Scriabin. In an interview from 1948 he said, “Today, one is probably inclined to dismiss all melodicists as epigones. Certainly, very often wrongly. As far as I am concerned, romanticism is not the bloodless intellectual commitment to a program, but the expression of my most profound mind and soul.“ 

Tolga congratulating Damir as Petar looks on.
They are all guests at the Kew Academy

The concert will continue with the 1890s pieces by Felix Blumenfeld (1863-1931). He was born into a family of Polish and Austrian Jewish origin, in Yelysavethrad (present-day Kropyvnytskyi city in Ukraine), in Kherson Governorate of then the Russian Empire. Some time after Lyadov, he was a student of Rimsky-Korsakov at the St. Petersburg Conservatoire. Alongside his composition practice, Blumenfeld was a conductor and a prominent pianist. From 1918 to 1922, he was the director of the Lysenko Music and Drama School in Kyiv, before he moved to Moscow, where, until the end of his life, he taught in the Conservatoire, having an influential role as a piano teacher. 

Post concert discussion with the distinguished pianist and teacher Tatyana Sarkisova

The complete set of Preludes Op. 23 by Sergei Rachmaninoff (1873-1943) will close the concert. Composer, pianist and conductor, Rachmaninoff was born into Russian aristocracy in the Novgorod Governorate. He studied in the Moscow Conservatoire with A. Siloti (piano), A. Arensky (composition) and S. Taneyev (counterpoint). Being a famous pianist, throughout his life Rachmaninoff was often travelling abroad on tours. Soon after the 1917 Revolution in Russia, his estate was confiscated by the communists. By chance, granted a tour to Scandinavia, he and his family left Russia, and never returned. For the rest of his life he was living between the United States and Switzerland, focusing most of his professional activity on piano performance.


Anatoly Lyadov 

Three Piano Pieces Op. 57 (1900-05): 

I. Prelude

II. Valse

III. Mazurka

Sergei Bortkiewicz 

Preludes Op. 40 (1931):

No. 3 Con moto

No. 4 Sostenuto

No. 6 Andantino dolente

No. 7 Appassionato

Felix Blumenfeld

Preludes Op.17 (1892):

No.10 in c-sharp minor

No.15 in D-flat major

Etude de concert Op. 24 (1897)

Sergei Rachmaninoff

Preludes Op. 23 (1901-03), the complete set.

Damir Durmanovic is an internationally sought-after performer, who has performed at venues and festivals across Europe and the UK. He has won prizes in numerous international competitions, including the Beethoven Intercollegiate Junior Competition in London, Adilia Alieva International Piano Competition in Geneva and Isidor Bajic International Piano Competition in Novi Sad. Durmanovic is a scholar at the International Academy of Music in Liechtenstein and regularly participates in the courses organised by the academy.

Durmanovic began his studies at age of eight in his home country, Bosnia and Herzegovina, with Maja Azabagic before continuing his studies at the Yehudi Menuhin School where he studied with professor Marcel Baudet. He is a graduate from the Royal College of Music where he studied with Dmitri Alexeev. He is supported by the Keyboard Charitable Trust, as well as the Talent Unlimited Scheme.



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