Close Encounters with Music Presents “Rachmaninoff and Russian Orientalia”

Photograph of Pianist Vassily Primakov

Music Mystical, Meditative and Sensual à la Russe to Be Performed by Renowned Interpreters Pianist Vassily Primakov and Cellist Yehuda Hanani

For many in classical music, Sergei Rachmaninoff (1873-1943) was one of the last links between 19th century romanticism and modern times. As pianist or conductor, his grand presence on stage (he was 6 foot 6!) embodied bygone artistic values and a style of expression missed greatly by the public. The oceanic, enveloping sound Rachmaninoff’s music generates and his ability to stun audiences with performances of his fiendishly difficult pieces helped make him one of the highest paid performers of his time, one of the most influential pianists of the 20th century, and a veritable “rock star” of classical music.

No doubt one of the secrets of his immense popularity is the power of nostalgia. His grip on us relates to a universal wish to rescue an irretrievable past. Although he worked in the West and was a fan of the Jack Benny show from his Hollywood home, he remained an exile, staunchly steeped in nostalgia and continuing the great Romantic Russian tradition of his teacher Tchaikovsky.

The mesmeric Russian pianist Vassily Primakov joins distinguished cellist Yehuda Hanani in a program that explores the many facets of this enigmatic and prodigious figure. The magnetic appeal of the mysterious East attracted Rachmaninoff’s artistic predecessors (Rimsky-Korsakov’s Scheherazade became the best-known example of Russian musical Orientalism), and he followed suit beginning with some of his earliest compositions. The sumptuousness and ecstatic expressivity of the Sonata for Piano and Cello and the early Prelude and Orientale organically entwine Orientalism around his thoroughly European palette. His Variations on a Theme of Corelli, miniature character pieces, is a pianistic tour de force, requiring the highest levels of piano performance.

Rachmaninoff’s reputation has skyrocketed since the years when he was dismissed as a “Hollywood composer” (he never wrote a note for a movie though his music was appropriated for 50 films!). Vassily Primakov has made the music of Scriabin and Rachmaninoff a specialty. Yehuda Hanani was the first Western artist to record the cello/piano sonatas of Nicolai Miaskovsky, another great Russian melodist. Timothy Sergay, professor of Russian Studies at SUNY Albany, will lead a discussion on the subject of Russian Oriantalia at the Afterglow reception, onstage at the Mahaiwe, following the performance, over wine and local reception fare.

For Concerts at the Mahaiwe
Tickets, $45 (Orchestra and Mezzanine) and $25 (Balcony), are available at The Mahaiwe Performing Arts Center box office, 413.528.0100. Subscriptions are $150 ($130 for seniors) for the remaining 4 concerts in the series. Visit our website at

In recent years, Vassily Primakov has been hailed as a pianist of world class importance. Born in Moscow in 1979, his initial piano studies were with his mother, Marina Primakova. He entered Moscow’s Central Special Music School at the age of eleven and at seventeen came to New York to pursue studies at Juilliard with the noted pianist, Jerome Lowenthal. At Juilliard Mr. Primakov won the William Petschek Piano Recital Award, which presented his debut recital at Alice Tully Hall, and while still at Juilliard, aided by a Susan W. Rose Career Grant, he won both the Silver Medal and the Audience Prize in the 2002 Gina Bachauer International Artists Piano Competition. He took First Prize in the 2002 Young Concert Artists International Auditions. In 2009, Mr. Primakov’s Chopin Mazurkas recording was named “Best of the Year” by National Public Radio and that same year he began recording the 27 Mozart piano concertos in Denmark. BBC Music Magazine praised the first volume of Primakov’s Mozart concertos: “The piano playing is of exceptional quality: refined, multi-coloured, elegant of phrase and immaculately balanced…..By almost every objective criterion, Vassily Primakov is a Mozartian to the manner born, fit to stand as a role model to a new generation.” His extensive discography includes Beethoven Sonatas, Chopin Concertos, and music of Tchaikovsky, Schumann, and Scriabin for Bridge Records. Recent engagements have been with the Johannesburg Philharmonic Orchestra, the Cape Philharmonic, and the KZN Philharmonic in Durban, South Africa; at the Newport, Manchester and Woodstock Mozart festivals in the US.

Yehuda Hanani’s charismatic playing and profound interpretations bring him acclaim and reengagements across the globe. An extraordinary recitalist, he is equally renowned for performances with orchestras such as the Chicago Symphony, Philadelphia Orchestra, Baltimore Symphony, St. Paul Chamber Orchestra, Berlin Radio Orchestra, Israel Philharmonic, BBC Welsh Symphony, Irish National Symphony, Buenos Aires Philharmonic, Honolulu Symphony, Orquestra Sinfonica del Estado de Mexico, Belgrade Philharmonic, Jerusalem Symphony, Lithuanian Chamber Orchestra, Chamber Orchestra Kremlin, and Taipei and Seoul symphonies, among many others. He has been a guest at Aspen, Chautauqua, Marlboro, Yale at Norfolk, Round Top (TX), Blue Hill, Bowdoin, Great Lakes, and Grand Canyon festivals, Prades Festival (France), Finland Festival, Leicester (England), Ottawa, Oslo, and Australia Chamber Music festivals, and has collaborated in performances with preeminent fellow musicians, including Leon Fleisher, Aaron Copland, Christoph Eschenbach, David Robertson, Vladimir Fedoseyev, Itzhak Perlman, Vadim Repin, Dawn Upshaw, Yefim Bronfman, Eliot Fisk, the Tokyo, Vermeer, Muir, Lark, Avalon, Colorado, and Manhattan quartets. In New York City, Yehuda Hanani has appeared as soloist at Carnegie Hall, the 92nd Street Y, Alice Tully, and the Metropolitan Museum’s Grace Rainey Rodger Auditorium. His pioneering recording of the monumental Alkan Cello Sonata received a Grand Prix du Disque nomination, and his other discs have won wide recognition. On CD and in live performances, he has premiered works of Nicolai Miaskovsky, Lukas Foss, Leo Ornstein, Joan Tower, Paul Schoenfield, Osvaldo Golijov, Robert Beaser, Pulitzer Prize winners Bernard Rands and Zhou Long, among other composers. His engaging chamber music with commentary series, Close Encounters With Music, has captivated audiences from Miami to Kansas City, Omaha, Calgary, Scottsdale, the Berkshires, and at the Frick Collection in New York City. A three-time recipient of the Martha Baird Rockefeller grant, Mr. Hanani’s studies were with Leonard Rose at the Juilliard School and with Pablo Casals. Aimed at outreach for classical music, his weekly program on NPR affiliate station WAMC Northeast Radio, “Classical Music According to Yehuda,” has gained thousands of fans for the direct broadcast and podcast. His recent TEDx talk is available on YouTube. An addition to his concert activities and educational mission is the founding of the Catskill High Peaks Festival, a teaching and chamber music festival in Rensselaerville, New York.

A consummate artist, Yehuda Hanani possesses élan and panache in spades, and “delivers with commanding assurance” (The Strad).  His cello speaks a powerful instrumental and emotional language!

“Rightly rewarded with cheers from the audience.”  The New York Times


Close Encounters With Music stands at the intersection of music, art and the vast richness of Western culture. Entertaining, erudite and lively commentary from founder and Artistic Director Yehuda Hanani puts composers and their times in perspective to enrich the concert experience. Since the inception of its Commissioning Project in 2001, CEWM has worked with the most distinguished composers of our time—Lera Auerbach, Robert Beaser, Kenji Bunch, Osvaldo Golijov, John Musto, and Paul Schoenfield among others—to create important new works that have already taken their place in the chamber music canon and on CD. A core of brilliant performers includes pianists James Tocco, Adam Neiman, Walter Ponce, Lydia Artymiw, Roman Rabinovich, and Jeffrey Swann; violinists Shmuel Ashkenasi, Yehonatan Berick, Vadim Gluzman, and Erin Keefe; clarinetists Alexander Fiterstein, Charles Neidich; vocalists Dawn Upshaw, Amy Burton, Jennifer Aylmer, Robert White, Lucille Beer and William Sharp; the Vermeer, Amernet, Muir, Manahattan, Avalon, Hugo Wolf quartets, and Cuarteto Latinamericano; and guitarist Eliot Fisk. Choreographer David Parsons and actors Richard Chamberlain, Jane Alexander and Sigourney Weaver have also appeared as guests, weaving narration and dance into the fabric of the programs. Close Encounters With Music programs have been presented in cities across the U.S. and Canada—Miami, Fort Lauderdale, Omaha, Cincinnati, Calgary, Detroit, at the Frick Collection and Merkin Hall in New York City, at Tanglewood and in Great Barrington, MA, as well as in Scottsdale, AZ.  This summer, performances took place at the Clark Art Institute in Williamstown, MA; and the Catskill High Peaks Festival continued the educational mission of Close Encounters With Music with 50 international students in residence in the Great Northern Catskills in an immersive course of study and performance.


Sergei Rachmaninoff and Russian Orientalia, Saturday, March 21, 6PM

Surveying the Centuries – The New York Wind Quintet, Saturday, April 18, 6PM

Debussy and Schubert – The Avalon String Quartet, Saturday, May 16, 6PM

Invitation to the Dance, Saturday, June 13, 6PM

These six performances are at the Mahaiwe Performing Arts Center
14 Castle Street, Great Barrington, MA.
A reception with light refreshments follows each concert.
“CONVERSATIONS WITH…” —  A series of talks with notable composers, writers, performers, and cultural avatars “Touching the Sound” with filmmaker Peter Rosen at the Berkshire Museum, Sunday, November 2, 2PM. $15 per person includes light refreshments.

“Unsilent Composer” with composer Phil Kline at The Stables at The Mount, Sunday, May 3, 2PM.  $15 per person includes light refreshments.